FIGURE’S INFLUENTIAL SONS
Most of the people interviewed by Linsley, Herbert and Battell had better recollections of Figure’s get than of the sire himself. Farmsteads in the early 19th century, just as today, usually did not maintain their own stallions, but many farmers kept one or two mares from which they hoped to raise colts intended as geldings to replace older horses as they wore out. For this reason, most of Figure’s colts were gelded. Ungelded sons of which we have record include Billy Morgan (1810, dam unknown); Brutus (1794, out of a Dutch Hartdraaver mare); Chanticleer (1794, dam unknown); European (1810, out of a Canadian mare); Fenton (1808, dam of unknown parentage); Jowett’s Copperbottom (1809, out of a Narragansett Pacer mare); Hawkins horse (1806, out of a partCanadian dam); Highlander (1810, out of a Canadian mare); Red Robin (1816, out of a mare of unknown descent); Revenge (1815, out of a Narragansett Pacer mare); Tom Hal (1816 out of a Narragansett Pacer mare); Voyageur (1809, out of a Canadian Pacer mare). Most of these left at least a few descendants so that their names still occasionally appear in the pedigrees of living Morgans.
The three “major” sons of Figure ---Sherman, Woodbury and Bulrush, described in more detail below---sired more foals, so that one or more of their names appear in almost all Morgan pedigrees. Descriptions of the dams are important because they show the variety of mares to which Figure and his sons were put.
Nearly all living Morgans descend primarily from Sherman and Woodbury. Bulrush remains important through surviving mare lines. Foaled in 1812, he was a bay standing 14:2 hands. His dam was a dark bay Canadian or partCanadian mare standing about 14:3 hands and weighing 1,000 pounds with a heavy black mane and tail. She was a very rugged, hardy individual who had been used for long-distance wagon hauling. The draftiest of all Figure’s ungelded sons, Bulrush took after his dam in having a low and compact build with heavy limbs and large joints. His neck was rather long, with a well-shaped head, which, however, he did not carry very high. He was a “sharp” trotter--in other words he showed some knee and hock action in movement---but was somewhat slow and ponderous. He died in Walpole, New Hampshire, in 1848 at the grand old age of 36.
Woodbury Morgan---also sometimes called the Burbank Horse or the Walker Horse---was foaled in 1816. He was a dark, rich chestnut color, standing 14:3 hands and weighing 1,040 pounds when in breeding condition. He had a blaze and a stocking on the off hind. His mane was a little lighter in color
than the body coat, and full without being extraordinarily heavy or long. His tail had been docked as a colt leaving about ten inches of hair, which grew thick and curly. Woodbury was close and compactly built with heavy quarters and deep flanks. His chest was good, with finely-shaped shoulders, a short back, and broad, muscular loins. His legs, like those of most horses sired by Figure, bore some long hairs down the back side but were hard, compact and well shaped. Woodbury was a larger horse than Sherman Morgan but not so massive as Bulrush. His head was small and lean with a fine firm muzzle, very large full nostrils, wide between the eyes with a straight facial profile.
Woodbury’s style in movement is described as “bold and resolute,” and his temperament was so “nervous”--it is not clear whether the old writers meant “eager” or “skittish,” and perhaps it involved some of both---that when taken out with a bridle it was almost impossible to keep him still. He was a fine harness horse but better still under saddle. In hand and in the breeding shed, he showed a gentle, pleasant and playful disposition.
Woodbury’s dam, like Sherman’s described below, is a very interesting individual. She stood over 15 hands but weighed only 1,100 pounds, which jibes with the report that she was somewhat long-backed and rather slab-sided. She was of a deep bay color with sparse mane and tail, a star on her forehead, but no other marks. She had an excellent chest, fine shoulders and hips, and excellent limbs. Her head was very fine. She was a fast and free driver, reported to be a “fast walker” who both paced and trotted. From this description, Woodbury’s dam appears to have been a cross of Thoroughbred and Narragansett Pacer, in other words---as we saw in the last installment ---exactly the type of mare “bred for racing” common in New England, Maryland and Virginia at the time.
Woodbury stood at stud in the vicinity of Bradford, Vermont, until 1836, when he was sold and taken to Gainesville, Alabama. He died there only two years later at the age of 22 years. Like Bulrush and Sherman, Woodbury got over 100 foals. His most influential descendants come from his son, the Gifford Morgan, who sired Hale’s Green Mountain. From him come many of the finest Morgan stock horses and show horses as well as the important Lippitt strain which is described below.
Sherman Morgan, foaled in 1809, was a bright chestnut standing 13:3 hands and weighing 925 pounds, with off hind stocking and facial strip. His head was lean and well shaped, ears small and fine, eyes small but full, prominent and lively. There was some long hair growing down from
the back sides of Sherman’s legs, but less than in a draft horse, and the limbs were hard and sinewy. He had a “capital” chest with the breastbone very prominent; shoulders long and sloping; excellent neck carried in an arch; mane and tail full but not remarkably heavy. Sherman’s hips were like those of his sire, long and deep with broad and muscular loins, but he was longer in the back and more tubular-bodied---what is called “soft backed.” Sherman died in 1835 at the age of 26 years, having sired over 140 colts and fillies.
Sherman's dam is described as a bright red “Jamaica” mare---this being the name of Spanish stock imported from the Caribbean to New England. “Jamaica horses” were the opposite of “Surinam horses,” which as we saw in “Horses of the American Colonies” (EQUUS 468), were Narragansett Pacers that had been crossed with Spanish stock imported from the Caribbean. Surinam horses were bred in Rhode Island for export to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Surinam. Thus there was considerable shipping of horses in both directions, thanks to the so-called Triangular Trade. James Sherman and his wife, who bred and owned the stallion who took their name, recalled his dam as being “of Spanish breed.” The modern reader must be reminded that such horses were not “Andalusians,” i.e., horses shipped from Iberia, but rather, they came from the islands and were taken from the population of horses already in existence there. Over the succeeding centuries, these horses became the Caribbean Pasos as we know them today.
Sherman Morgan’s dam was said to be “14 hands high, high-spirited and elegant,” bright red chestnut in color, with three white feet and a blaze. She was somewhat slab-sided and bony, rather long-backed, and “never carried much flesh”---a description perfectly in accord with a large fraction of country-bred horses of the Caribbean, Central and South America, and also the Banker Ponies that are the descendants of 18th-century shipwreck survivors. Sherman Morgan’s dam resembled them too in being very biddable and pleasant in temperament. Sherman Morgan himself is remembered as high-spirited yet tractable, a keen and rapid driver possessed, like his sire, of great strength and endurance. Sherman’s most influential get were Black Hawk (1833), Billy Root (1829), and Vermont Morgan Champion (Knight’s Horse, 1826).
CYCLES OF BOOM AND BUST
Writing in 1937, historian John Hervey observes “in my boyhood the entire United States was populated with horses of Morgan blood. They were the favorite ‘light’ horse of the whole country. And they could be picked out from any and all other breeds, kinds and types on sight, by anybody … that knew a horse from a cow. Small, symmetrical, plump and pleasing in outline; tough, wiry, and long-lived in constitution; wonderful roadsters and clever nimble saddle horses; as sure-footed as a goat and as hardy as hickory; full of life and spirit but so tractable that women and children could do anything with them; as intelligent as they were goodtempered. The world has never seen their like.”
During the century that elapsed between Figure’s death and the selection by Battell of horses to be included in the Morgan Register, the population of Morgan-related horses underwent cycles of boom and bust, which
extinguished numerous bloodlines. Between 1785 and 1850, Morgans burgeoned as the population and territory of the United States grew. Then in the 1860s came the Civil War, during which the descendants of Figure were everywhere pressed into service. Literally tens of thousands of these horses died in the war, and many valuable bloodlines were lost so that Battell’s efforts 20 years afterward really did amount to a last-ditch effort to save the breed.
Many of the Morgans who survived had been taken across the Mississippi before 1865; populations were found in St. Louis and Kansas City and in smaller settlements such as Lawrence, Kansas, that had been founded by colonists from out East who knew the Morgan horse well. More Morgan-related horses were brought west during the wagon-train and cattle-drive eras of the 1870s and 1880s. Of course none of these were “registered Morgans,” because Battell did not see them; but they were nonetheless known as “Morgan horses” and accepted as such because they showed the temperament and physical type. In Idaho, Mormon pioneers crossed them with Mustangs to create the Moyle horse. Henry Miller, holder of vast ranchland in California during the gold-rush era, brought in Morgans from Illinois for use by his ranch managers. My friend and teacher, the great Tom Dorrance, whose father homesteaded in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, told me that their family also raised Morgans. The Dorrances were not alone, because nimble, tough, yet tractable Morgans proved superior for ranch work in a day and age before the Quarter Horse had well been heard of for this use.
As Hervey’s report indicates, the Morgan-related population had recovered considerably by the beginning of
the 20th century, and Morgans were once again the most popular horse in America. Beginning in about 1915, however, there came a sea change that very few people had anticipated: Farm tasks that had previously been handled in the United States by horses and mules became mechanized, while the automobile took over as the primary means by which people travelled and by which goods were moved. In the relatively short period between the turn of the century and the first World War, almost all horses in America became irrelevant for ordinary work.
It got worse. Between the World Wars, during the Dust Bowl and Depression years of the 1930s, the U.S. equine population plummeted to an all-time low. Large and heavy breeds were hardest hit, but light breeds were affected too, both in terms of numbers and in terms of the knowledge---traditionally passed from master to apprentice---of how to properly handle and train horses, for there were few young men of the time who saw any future as horse trainers.
During the Second World War, the cycle turned positive once again and America experienced an economic boom which carried well up into the 1960s. From 1945 to 1965, dozens of new horse clubs and registries were established and old ones, including that for the Morgan horse, were revitalized. While the American Horse Shows Association had been founded in 1917, it was not until the middle 1950s that it began to have wide influence, especially west of the Mississippi. Horse shows became first a fun family activity, but over the next 20 years evolved in many cases into huge competitive and moneymaking enterprises drawing hundreds or thousands of entries. Today, apart from work carried out on horseback in more or less traditional fashion on a relatively tiny number of Western ranches, racing and various forms of horse competition are the only remaining forms of use for many breeds of horse, including the Morgan.
CAVALRY, COUNTRY DRIVING AND CATTLE RANCHING
Beginning shortly after the publication of the first volume of Battell’s Morgan Horse and Register, there came to be four main “schools” of Morgan breeding: government, Lippitt, Brunk and Western working family. All derive from the same rootstock and to a great degree, they are interrelated.
Government breeding: In 1905, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a Morgan breeding program augmented two years later by Battell’s donation of land and buildings. The purpose of this program was, in imitation of a European model, to create horses suitable for use by cavalry officers and troops in the field. The concept was to preserve Morgan type while increasing size. Performance testing was part of the program, including 300-mile rides under full military pack, jumping and sprinting. The government sought to identify the best horses and use them to produce a uniform population of handsome, strong, tough mounts.
The foundation stallion chosen for this task was General Gates (by Denning Allen, a grandson of Ethan Allen, and out of the three-quarters Thoroughbred Fanny Scott, who traced to Jowett’s Copperbottom. His most influential sons were Red Oak (1906), Linsley (1918) and Bennington (1908), who succeeded him in 1925 as chief sire at the government farm. While Bennington initially sired cavalry mounts, it had become apparent that cavalry warfare was soon to become a thing of the past. He was thus increasingly used to create horses for sale to the general public. Out of the mare Artemisia, he produced a succession of excellent colts including Mansfield, Canfield, Ulysses and Querido. Despite the success of the government program, Congress cut off funding for it in 1950, as it had for the U.S. Cavalry in 1947. The University of Vermont took over the management of part of the herd and the rest was sold to private breeders who expressed a commitment to producing this type of Morgan.
Lippitt breeding: These horses are known as the most “purebred” of Morgans, for they trace back to Figure on a maximum number of lines with a minimum of known outcrosses to other breeds, and no crosses at all to American Saddlebreds. The name “Lippitt” derives from Robert Lippitt Knight who operated the Green Mountain Stock Farm in Randolph, Vermont, from 1927 to 1962. Utilizing select broodmares, Knight sought to preserve and perpetuate the “old” Morgan. Small, short-bodied and upheaded, they display the same trappy gait that seems to have been characteristic of Figure and his immediate descendants.
Foundation stock for the Lippitt include the stallions Ashbrook and Moro and the mares Adeline Bundy, Ne Komia, Croydon Mary and Green Mountain Twilight. They in turn carry
The government sought to identify the best horses and use them to produce a uniform population of handsome, strong, tough mounts.
back to Gifford Morgan, the original Billy Root, and the Hubbard Horse. Foundation stock recognized by the Lippitt Club also includes the stallions Croydon Prince, Rob Roy, Donald, Bob B., Welcome, Sir Ethan Allen (whose name gives rise to the prefix “Sea—” often used to designate his get such as “Sealect of Windcrest”).
Brunk breeding: This strain was established in 1893 by Joseph Brunk at his farm near Springfield, Illinois, and carried on thereafter by various members of the Brunk family. Undoubtedly the handsomest of all Morgans, they were known for their high action, correct legs and feet, and all-round athletic ability. Many of their get went west, and there are many links between the pedigrees of these horses and those of Western working family lines.
The Brunk foundation horses were bred similarly to the Lippitts, utilizing very choice mares tracing back to the original Billy Root, Royal Morgan and the Hubbard Horse. Brunk used the stallion Morgan Rupert by Ethan Allen 3rd (a descendant not of Ethan Allen 1849, the famous trotter, but of Ethan Allen 2nd, a son of Peters Morgan). Later, however, the Brunks brought in the blood of Daniel Lambert, a son of Ethan Allen (1849), to increase speed and size. Through the champion mare Senata, the Brunk program produced the outstanding champions Jubilee King (1927) and Flyhawk (1926). Both these stallions passed on not only the big, springy trot of Daniel Lambert but also his gentle temperament.
Western working family horses: This branch of Morgan breeding came into existence over an extended period from the 1880s to the 1950s through the efforts of numerous ranchers and breeders in the Western states who imported Brunk and government-related
stallions and crossed them with mares tracing back to Black Hawk. Black Hawk brings in Thoroughbred influence, but this breeding group often also carries Thoroughbred influence through Sir Archy and *Diomed, Mambrino, Messenger and American Eclipse.
The cornerstone of the Western working horses was the Sellman Mountain Vale Ranch in Rochelle, Texas, established by Richard Sellman and active from the 1880s to 1925. Sellman’s desire was to preserve the “old-time” Morgan. His foundation stallions included Headlight Morgan (1893, by Ethan Allen 2nd); The Admiral (1903, by Jubilee de Jarnette); Red Oak (1906, by General Gates); and two stallions by Meteor Jr. (of Black Hawk and General Knox breeding), Major Antoine (1901) and Gold Medal (1902). These stallions were used on mares of Old Vermont breeding.
The vast Miller and Lux system of ranches, which had early imported and bred Morgans in California, were gradually broken up and sold off after California statehood. This opened the way for other stockmen such as Roland Hill of the Horseshoe Cattle Co. with holdings in both Nevada and California. At one time the largest breeder of Morgan horses in the United States, Hill’s program produced foundation stock for many other ranches. Horseshoe stallions included Redwood Morgan (1918, by Headlight Morgan), Pongee Morgan (1922, by Allen King),Querido (1923, by Bennington), Winchester (1929, by Mansfield), El Cortez (1937, by Romanesque), Sonfield (1935, by Mansfield) and Sparbeau (1930, by Linsley). Other wealthy Californians who bred good Morgans at about this time include William Randolph Hearst, F.A. Fickert and E.W. Roberts.
The Elmer Brown Ranch in Hutchinson, Kansas, active from 1911 to 1939, produced excellent horses and