In this shot, Peter McCue is 4 years old and still in racing condition. A big horse at 16-plus hands and 1,400 pounds, he had plenty of “bone” with substantial knees, ankles and hocks. Long-bodied, Peter McCue is quite different in conformation from the punchy, ponylike Missouri Rondos and Texas Billys featured in previous articles, and yet his physique is, like theirs, very muscular. His big hindquarters are given extra leverage by a long, prominent ischium (the part of the pelvis behind the hip socket). The picture of racing aptitude is completed by a spectacular elastic shoulder, prominent withers that carry well back, well-shaped neck, quality head and the small, pricked ears which are often found in Quarter Horses.
Readers of this series will recognize the sprinters Old Billy, Dolly Coker, Steel Dust and Monkey who trace directly back to the original Printer and *Little Janus. Note that Peter McCue carries multiple crosses to two of the most popular Thoroughbred sires of the 19th century: four to Sir Archy (via the mares Mistletoe, Gamma, Maria West and Gabriella), and three to the elegant imported distance horse Glencoe. Peter McCue is transitional in the Thoroughbred parts of his pedigree, with an almost even split between Eclipse and Herod sire-lines, with one to Matchem. The most interesting, and one of the most telling, parts of his pedigree is the tail-female, which goes directly to the Godolphin twice via two Colonial-era horses, the stallion Tayloe’s Bellair II and Randolph’s Chatsworth mare. At the root of Peter McCue’s tail-female lie multiple crosses to royal hobbies and Old Bald Peg, who are the ultimate sources of speed in both the Thoroughbred and the Quarter Horse.
Peter McCue’s sire, Dan Tucker. As with other color renditions in this historical series, this was produced by working directly from an enlargement of the image of Dan Tucker on page 91. A halfbred, Dan Tucker is smaller and more closely coupled than most Thoroughbreds.
Peter McCue daughter Mary McCue (ca. 1910; out of a mare by Old Fred) was match-raced until 4 years old, but she made her reputation primarily through her most influential foal, the stallion Ding Bob (1926), by Brown Dick, a seven-eighths Thoroughbred double-bred to St. Simon. The McCue “Thoroughbred” daughter Carrie papers Nation of (ca. Peter 1900) call her Belle of Oakford—Oakford being the residence of Sam Watkins’ cousin Hugh Watkins. This mare’s pedigree is still often quoted as “by Bowling Green out of Trixey W, by Fib,” i.e. pure Thoroughbred. In actual fact, there’s no mistaking her as a daughter of Peter McCue—she and Mary McCue are as alike as two peas in a pod, with their long hindquarters, long ischia, long backs, high withers, substantial hocks, clean elastic shoulders, and short, wedge-shaped heads. I agree that Carrie Nation's dam was in fact Trixey W—a mare bred by Sam Watkins and later sold or loaned to Oakford—but my "educated guess" is that Trixey's sire was not Fib but Dan Tucker, and that Carrie Nation’s sire was not Bowling Green but Peter McCue.
on the development of the American Quarter Horse really begins after the turn of the century. The most important fact to be gained from study of his pedigree is that, unlike most of the good quarter-milers of the previous century, Peter McCue is three-quarters rather than one-half Thoroughbred. Although muscular, his skeletal frame is large, long and narrow, hewing more to the many crosses to Herod and Eclipse in his pedigree than to the punchy, ponylike Printer, Brimmer and Janus-bred Billys and Rondos.
Redheaded Sam Watkins learned to love fast, well-bred horses from his father John D. Watkins, a Kentucky farmer who also worked as a farrier. As a young man, Sam courted Mary Woldridge in Kentucky and married her in Menard County, Illinois, in 1863 after his father helped him secure the Little Grove acreage. There Sam prospered by raising hogs, cattle, corn, alfalfa and horses. The hard-working young couple built a beautiful house and raised a magnificent barn. They also raised eight children, some of whom are pictured in a priceless historical photo that shows the barn, the family, the horses and hired hands both black and white as they looked in about 1892.
Sam Watkins started by buying quality broodmares, among them Nora M., Butt Cut, Bird, and June Bug (see Peter McCue pedigree, opposite), and then (in as-sociation with his cousin and neighbor Hugh Watkins) breeding more including Nona P., Trixey W., Mollie D., Hattie W. and Lucretia M. He also stood three good stallions: the part-bred quarter-miler Dan Tucker (Shiloh-Steel Dust, whose dam was the very fast mare Butt Cut), and the Thoroughbreds The Hero (Touchstone-Lexington) and Duke of the Highlands (also
known as Rathernod, West AustralianBonnie Scotland). A clipping from the Bloomington, Illinois, Pantagraph of August 21, 1883, notes that “Nora M., a 3 year old by Voltigeur, dam Kitty Clyde, owned by Samuel Watkins of Menard Co., was entered in the race [open to] all ages, five furlongs, run at Saratoga, New Jersey on the 8th of this month, and won with ease.” Like other racehorse men of the day, Watkins owned a boxcar with one end fixed up as living quarters, the other fitted out with stalls and hay storage. Travelling on a circuit with stops at tracks in Illinois, Indiana, St. Louis, Detroit and Windsor, and eastward all the way to New Jersey and New York, Watkins would be gone for the season, but the 1880 census for Menard County indicates that besides hired hands, Sam’s parents, sister, brother, a nephew and niece were all living at Little Grove at the time, so there was no lack of help to run the home place.
When Nora M. foaled Peter McCue in 1895, Sam was 53 years old with several of his children grown and married. His parents had passed on, so Sam was needed at home. In 1897 he had the dark bay colt broken in by a neighbor and then put him in race training with a nephew, Charles Watkins. “Thoroughbred” papers in hand, Charles campaigned Peter McCue heavily as a 2 year old, scoring 16 wins in 27 starts at distances of from a half mile to 4 1/2 furlongs. In the 1940s, Quarter Horse historian Robert Denhardt interviewed Milo Burlingame, an Oklahoma jockey, horse breeder and trainer who first met Peter McCue at a St. Louis race meet in 1897. Burlingame recalled, “I never saw him raced with horses that could make him straighten his neck out. There were 2,500 horses stabled at St. Louis, and after he had run two races, it was common knowledge that
he was by far the best and fastest there.”
Historian Jack Goodhue, writing in Legends Vol. 2, relates that while at the St. Louis meet, Charlie Watkins decided to run the colt wide open against the watch, with Burlingame up---just to see how fast the stallion could really go. “Those were the days before gates,” recalled Burlingame. “We went to the track at daylight, and there were five watches put on him, all clicking from flags, two at the start and three at the finish. Well, I broke from an 18-ft. score and really pushed him out. It was the
closest to flying I ever felt. When I got back, the five watches had been brought together. As I got off, I saw them all with his time, just as they were snapped. Two were under 21 seconds and three were exactly 21 seconds. All five watch-holders were experienced race timers and handicappers, and knowing the horses of his day and their times, I can say quite honestly that I believe the watches that morning were correct. I feel sure it would be under 22 seconds from a gate in our day.” One quarter-mile in 21 seconds equates to a speed of nearly 43 mph, near the maximum ever recorded for any equine, wild or domestic.
Charlie Watkins continued to campaign Peter McCue until October of 1899, logging 12 wins in 18 starts as a 3 year old and 10 wins in 12 starts as a 4 year old. In addition to competing at recognized venues, the stallion ran dozens of races on pothole-ridden, ill-maintained “bullpen” tracks, which were the norm at county fairgrounds. His racing career ended as a 4 year old
Peter McCue proved valuable as a sire, esteemed not only for his speed but for height and weight: As a mature horse, he stood fully 16 hands tall and in breeding condition weighed more than 1,400 pounds.
when unrelenting heavy use began to take its toll, resulting first in a strained tendon and then in a fractured left fore pastern. Irate, Sam demanded that his nephew return the horse to Little Grove, where he was retired to stud.
There he proved valuable as a sire, esteemed not only for his speed but for height and weight: As a mature horse Peter McCue was much bigger than any Billy or Rondo, standing fully 16 hands and in breeding condition weighing more than 1,400 pounds. During this period, Watkins bred him to an array of Thoroughbred mares, registering Diamond Joe, Duck Hunter, Edee Ree, Emma Hill, Foregone, Metropolis, Miss Cornet and Nellie Mier---all in reality 15/16ths-breds---as full Thoroughbreds (they are still considered Thoroughbreds by the American Jockey Club). He also produced fiveeighths- and seven-eighths-breds such as Tern’s Trick (1907) and Running Mallard (1903), now considered Quarter Horses because they were known to be out of mares by Dan Tucker. Many of Peter McCue’s get were, however, falsely papered at the time---for example, the great race mare Carrie Nation (ca. 1902) whose sire was probably Peter McCue, not Bowling Green, and whose “Thoroughbred” papers call her “Belle of Oakford,” Oakford being the Menard County residence of Sam’s cousin Hugh. The Watkins’ canting names often tell the truth with a wink. For example, Trixey W.’s “Thoroughbred” sire is said to be Fib, while her dam is given as “Lyon Lady.” In reality, like Nona P. she was probably by Dan Tucker and might have been out of Bird, a “bird” being Midwest patois for someone who “sings,” i.e., habitually tells lies. Of all the horses sired by Peter McCue at Little Grove, three of his sons proved most crucially important to the future Quarter Horse: Harmon Baker and Hickory Bill, both foaled in 1907, and John Wilkins foaled in 1906 (not to be confused with another John Wilkins, also called John Wilkes, this stallion also by Peter McCue but foaled in 1912.
In 1908 Watkins sold Peter McCue to his friend John Wilkins of San Antonio, Texas, thus bringing Peter McCue to the notice of a whole new region. While in Wilkins’ hands he sired the race mare Anna Statia and the stallions Charlie Howell, Jack McCue, Kid, R.O. Sykes and San Antonio. In 1911, the year of Sam Watkins’ death, Peter McCue went to Milo Burlingame in Oklahoma, who kept him until 1916. Burlingame used him to get Badger (1912), A.D. Reed (1916) and Chief (1917), foundational Quarter Horses who were successful both on the track and as sires of broodmares and good ranch horses.
In 1916, Burlingame sold Peter McCue to Si Dawson of Hayden, Colorado. Dawson’s neighbor and fellow short-horse hobbyist was Coke Roberds, who had discovered Old Fred (“The Stuff of Legend,” EQUUS 491) and who had used him to build up a band of sturdy, muscular short-speed broodmares. Dawson paid the high price of $5,000 to get the 21-year-old Peter McCue but it proved to be money very well spent. In 1919 Dawson left Colorado to manage a 250,000-acre fazenda in Brazil, leaving the stallion in the care of Roberds. When Dawson died just a few months later, Roberds dispersed all Dawson’s broodmares but kept Peter McCue, who had been willed to him by his friend. Peter McCue stayed with Roberds until he died in 1923, siring a string of highly valuable foals on Roberds’ Old Fred mares. Of these, the most influential were the stallions Buck Thomas (1921, not the gelding of the same name) and Sheik (1918), the broodmare Mary McCue (ca. 1920) and Roberds’ winning race mare Squaw (ca. 1917).
Peter McCue’s size, long elastic stride, calm temperament and great speed continued to be valued through the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, which led up to the establishment of the American Quarter Horse Association in 1941. The great stallion’s blood runs close up in the veins of such foundational horses as the King Ranch’s Old Sorrel and Wimpy P-1, who won the Fort Worth stock show and thereby earned the first Quarter Horse registration number. Anyone familiar with Quarter Horses will recognize the names of Peppy, Bert, Joe Hancock, Ding Bob, Midnight, Grey Badger II, Pretty Boy, Nowata Star, Poco Bueno, King Fritz, Cowboy P-12, Plaudit, Skipper W. and King’s Pistol---all of whom came into existence because Peter McCue could “multiply.”
The great stallion’s blood runs close up in the veins of such foundational horses as the King Ranch’s Old Sorrel and Wimpy P-1, who won the Fort Worth stock show and earned the first Quarter Horse registration.
THE CAJUN CONTRIBUTION
Paralleling the Watkins clan in Illinois were the short-horse fanciers of Louisiana, who at about the same time as Sam Watkins had begun to topcross their short-horses with Thoroughbreds. By 1900 quarter-mile racing in Louisiana was already a long-standing tradition carried on by a tight-knit
circle of Cajun-speaking horsemen who passed on both know-how and bloodstock to their sons. Black trainers and jockeys who maintained close connections with sprint-horse fanciers in Texas were part of this circle as well. In those days, two types of quarter-mile track could be found in the region: The traditional straight design was typical in Louisiana, but across the Sabine many meets occurred on county fairgrounds with oval tracks, some of which measured only a quarter-mile in length. This meant that the horses would have to contend with a J-shaped or even an O-shaped racecourse with tight, unbanked turns---thus putting a high premium on tough yet agile competitors with sound, substantial legs.
Researching the history of Cajun quarter-mile racing has proven somewhat more difficult than other parts of the American Quarter Horse story; historian Jack Goodhue suggests that, because they perceived Robert Denhardt as an outsider and an official of an organization (the AQHA) that might seek to regulate them, some Cajun insiders might have lied to him about the breeding of their horses. Certainly, Denhardt appreciated their contribution as he observed, “Louisiana is in many ways the home of the modern short-horse…. It produced more fast short-horses between 1900 and 1940 than any other single area in the country.” The two most famous and influential Cajun-bred short horses are the indomitable race matriarch Della Moore (ca. 1909-1915) and the stallion Flying Bob (1929).
Della Moore was foaled on the farm of Ludovic Stemmans a few miles from the town of Scott, Louisiana, which bills itself as “the city where the West begins.” Denhardt understood the Cajuns to say that Stemmans owned a favorite
mare called Bell, who they averred was a daughter of Sam Rock, a sorrel sprinter of unknown pedigree. Denhardt’s research later equated Bell with “La Hernandez” by the Thoroughbred Dewey (St. Simon---Bonnie Scotland).
By the time Bell was 4, says Denhardt, Stemmans decided to breed her because “she had taken the slack out of so many horses that she was getting a little hard to match.” He had planned to take her to Dewey (i.e., an incestuous mating to her own sire), when Dewey was matched 265 yards against a newcomer called Dedier (the Cajun pronunciation of Dedier is “Deejay,” hence “Old D.J.”; a three-quartersThoroughbred tracing to Touchstone and Lexington). As a result, Bell ended
up in D.J.’s book and the filly that resulted was the feminine yet highly athletic three-quarter-bred Della Moore.
Long before she was 2, Della Moore had already shown outstanding speed in what the Cajuns called a “milk race.” “Never known for their patience,” relates Denhardt, “and anxious to see what their youngstock could do,” the Cajuns would take mares with foals at foot to a racetrack. While two men held them behind the starting line, their mothers were led 156 yards up the straightaway. When the flag dropped the foals were turned loose, and away they sprinted looking for milk, with Della Moore easily outpacing the lot. As a result, it was not long before her reputation began to precede her and it
became impossible to find anyone willing to match their horse against her. Stemmans therefore sold her and she went through several owners’ hands before winding up in about 1918 with Boyd Simar, a trainer from the parish of Vermilion. Like Sam Watkins, Simar owned a boxcar fixed up with stalls and groom’s quarters, and, figuring that Della Moore had probably already done all the racing possible in Louisiana, he took her to Texas. There, as Denhardt notes, she proved to be a fierce competitor but also a hot commodity, with many horsemen offering to buy her.
Simar finally sold Della Moore to high-plains rancher Henry Lindsay, and this turned out to be the unintended beginning of her career as a broodmare. In 1920, while under Lindsay’s ownership, she was at a big race meet in San Antonio and by chance was stabled near the stallion Joe Blair (Thoroughbred; by Bonnie Joe out of Miss Blair, tracing multiple times to Eclipse through Pot8- O’s and Vedette), famous for setting a world’s record of 39 seconds over three furlongs at the track in Juarez, Mexico. Possibly as the outcome of a nightlong craps game among the stablehands, Joe Blair was allowed to cover Della Moore without the owner’s knowledge. Several months later, neither Lindsay nor his trainer could figure out why the mare’s girth kept increasing despite their efforts to “draw her weight down” for racing, until finally she resolved the mystery by dropping a colt. To Lindsay this was an unplanned inconvenience and so the underweight foal---who later matured into the important foundational stallion Joe Reed---was weaned immediately and raised on the bottle, while Della Moore went back to the track.
At this point, the stories of Peter McCue and Della Moore begin to dovetail. George Clegg, a horseman from
The two most famous and influential Cajun-bred short horses are the indomitable race matriarch Della Moore and the stallion Flying Bob.
MARY MCCUE CARRIE NATION