Arthur Simmons:
Legendary Horseman of the 20th Century

(A Daughter's Memories)

By Jane E. Simmons
Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles
  Patricia 

Crane logo A Legendary Horseman of the 20th century! Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Jane E. Simmons.
© copyrighted horse article.
 
The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, entitled "Arthur Simmons: Legendary Horseman of the 20th Century - A Daughter's Memories." It covers my chapter about our move from Omaha, Nebraska to Mexico, Missouri in February 1949. I also have included recent information about my family's former home and barns being designated The National Arthur Simmons Stables Historic District.

*** My parents could not ever have guessed in December 1948 that the horse barn they had just purchased in Mexico, Missouri would become a national landmark 56 years later in December 2004, because of their unprecedented business success.

The winter weather of 1949 wrapped both Nebraska and Missouri in cold that culminated by mid-February into a scary Kodak Moment for my 35-year-old Dad. The final load of horses arriving in Mexico on February 20th braved a full-blown blizzard. He greeted his horses and the men on the truck at the front door of his Simmons Stables with what surely was a prayer of thanks for their safety. Ice lay hidden under the snow. It was bone chilling cold, a tough time for moving...especially moving large four-legged animals wearing steel shoes. The storm had moved into mid-Missouri as the van neared Mexico. All who experienced it, talked about it for years afterward.

Even before February, Saddle & Bridle Magazine covered Dad's move in a January 1949 piece that the local Mexico newspaper reprinted on February 8, 1949. The article said, in part: "We welcome Arthur Simmons back to Missouri - his home state.... Mr. Simmons has become one of this era's greatest trainers; we are proud of him, as all the show world is; we will look forward to even greater feats on his part in the years to come, with his own stable. Though we regret the fact that there will be no more stars bearing the Almarel banner (the site has been sold by Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Billings), we feel that with the return of Mr. Simmons to Missouri, a new era is in store for the Show-Me State."

Dad initially shipped 54 head of show horses to Mexico in February 1949, according to the trucking receipts I found. Another two dozen horses arrived for training, I think, trucked in by their owners. In addition, there were broodmares and colts placed at the local farm of Jay F. Brown, Jr., until my parents purchased their own farm in March 1953 on Highway 15, north of Mexico. Mom told me that of the "100 head we had then, over 30 head went to Jay's farm." The overflow horses were placed in stalls at the nearby Audrain County Fairgrounds, where William "Bill" Cunningham was housing his horses.

The famous horse property amid the cold of February 1949 was a beehive of activity. On Tuesday, February 15, 1949, 16 more horses arrived from Omaha to the newly named Arthur Simmons Stables. Already trucked to Mexico by this time were 29 horses safely in their new 36-stall home. The left-over horses were taken down the Boulevard to the Fairground's barns. Nine more horses arrived in Mexico within several more days from Almarel Stables. Dad told a Mexico Evening Ledger reporter he was "starting at once to add another barn" on his new property. When Dad got to the Mexico Savings Bank, after unloading the last truckload of horses, he received the actual Deed of Trust on February 26, 1949. The bank note was for $25,000.

Upon arriving in Mexico, Dad quickly laid plans to build a small 30-foot by 90-foot barn. He designed the 18-stall barn, located close to the blacksmith's shop that faced the huge grain bins. By the third week of March, "the little barn" was nearly completed. By the end of March, Dad had already sold four horses: Lovely Sensation for $6,500, with one trainer getting an $800 commission; Aletha Rose; and two others.

As each truckload of horses arrived, so did a barn employee and his family. By mid-February, five employees were moved into the homes my Father had helped to find. The men were: Assistant Trainer Ross Drake with his wife and baby; Head Groom and Barn Foreman W. G. "Spike" Caulk with his wife Molly and two daughters, Rosemary and Nancy; Blacksmith Wayne Lowe with his wife and two children; and Grooms Ray Tolle and George Johnson, with his wife and three children.

Dad had arranged a rental house for us at 532 S. Olive Street. The first part of March, we moved into the one-story white frame two-bedroom Victorian-style house. I remember the sizeable kitchen heater was the center of our universe on winter mornings because hot air rises...especially in rooms with 12-foot ceilings. When the alarm went off to start each school day, our Dalmatian dog Speck jumped from either Brother Jim's bed or mine and ran to the warmth of the kitchen. We were right behind him. Fortunately, the bathroom was next to the kitchen, allowing Mom to keep the door open to it, so it would be at least halfway warm as we washed for breakfast.

Through each winter there, Mother kept a stiff upper lip (or maybe it was frozen that way) because she knew the favorable rent meant she and Dad would be able to afford her dream house sooner.

This house on Olive Street was conveniently one block from our St. Brendan Catholic School and Church, where we attended Mass. Mother, Brother Jim and I had arrived in Mexico in early March, after all the horses and equipment had been shipped. Mom's records indicated the move to Mexico cost $1,461.32, and that included our brief stay at the Hoxsey Hotel until our furnishings were moved into the rental house.

January and February had been filled with packing and more packing. While Head Groom "Spike" was supervising the packing at the barn, Mother was ramroding everything going into boxes at the house. Jim and I helped. We carried items to her as she wrapped them in newspaper. If we got too helpful, she sent us outside to play.

While Brother Jim and I attended what were our last days at Underwood Community Grade School, Mother, amid the packing, was greeting the friends coming and going. She made pots and pots of coffee. My parents had made lifelong friends while in Omaha; most had become like family. Mom felt the pull of leaving them. However, she was at last returning home after a decade of living out of Missouri. So, packing was a happy chore for her.

Buckley's gas station on the corner of 72nd & Dodge Streets got the business of filling up the trucks before they left Omaha to make the 700-plus mile trip to Mexico. The truck drivers' gas and meal tickets showed the trucks drove from 306 South 72nd Street, across the Missouri River, to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Then, they went south through Glenwood and Emerson to cross the state line and head on to Maryville, Missouri. From there, they made it to Chillicothe, and then to Macon, Moberly and on to Mexico. These were two-lane roads, since the Interstate Highway System was launched by President Dwight Eisenhower. "Ike" served from January 1953 to January 1961, when John F. Kennedy succeeded him as President. Along the route's eating establishments, coffee was ten cents in one place and five cents in another. A pork sandwich was $.25 and a hamburger was $.20, with a piece of pie (homemade) just $.15 at one restaurant. The tax on a $.80 tab was two cents. At the Yellow Horse Café (in Glenwood, Iowa, I think), three men ate for $1.02 total.

I have no clear memories of the March trip from Omaha to Mexico - the city that became my "hometown." Mom's notes show three railroad fares for $48. I think these tickets probably were for my 10-year-old self, my eight-year-old Brother Jim, and Ollie Simmons, who turned 31 years old on March 4. Upon our arrival in Mexico in March 1949, Jim and I were enrolled in a new school...full of strangers. We also found something else new to us: teaching nuns.

At the new Simmons Stable, the "big barn," measured 254 feet long, and in addition to the 36 box stalls, had an office, wash rack, a tack room, and a loft over all of the stalls. A "grain room" was mentioned in one early article. That space, I think, was converted by a previous owner into the office, with the guest half bath that I remember. When Dad opened the barn there was no "people" door to the right of the big front door. He did that.

Two narrow one-person-wide wooden walkways spanned the hallway to bridge the lofts on either side. An opening over each stall's manger allowed hay to be dropped into it from the loft, which had a 5,000-bale capacity. Over the years, the loft was home to field mice and an occasional snake. Dad always kept several "mouser" cats to control this unwanted population.

In the 1839 original deed, the property was in the hands of the Muldrow family and it moved down through those heirs until it was sold to Cyrus F. Clark in May 1887 for $8,000. In 1887, lawyer/banker Clark built the barn and painted it red. White paint that could withstand weathering was yet to be developed. The oak structure had three turrets that moved air from above the hallway up through the roof to the outside. A fan-shaped window graced the space above the front doors.

Through those doors came 10-year-old John T. Hook, who worked as a groom, as did Bill Lee and Ben Glenn, according to an August 1978 Saddle & Bridle Magazine article by Lynn Weatherman. Mr. Clark took a partner, his brother-in-law Joseph A. Potts. Trainers who helped them develop their horse business included Tom Bass, Ode and Ed Willingham, Hugh Dempsey, Luther "Splint" Barnett, and Jimmy Victor, according to the 1949 WHO's WHO in Horsedom. When their partnership dissolved, Mr. Clark kept the barn operating until 1904. He leased it to his former groom Bill Lee and his brother George Lee. Trainers who worked for them included Del Holeman and Jimmie Lemon, wrote Mr. Weatherman. Tom Bass and John T. Hook also showed horses from the Lee barn, according to an article on the barn by Linda White of Louisville.

The Lee Brothers bought the barn "for the sum of $1,750" in cash after the Southern Trust Company went belly up and the Missouri Finance Commissioner took control of the property. The State sold it to the Lee Brothers on May 31, 1932. The Lee Brothers operated the barn from 1904 to 1944. In July 1938, they constructed the white fence that still stands, replacing the original picket fence, according to the Mexico Evening Ledger. Earlier that year, in March, George Lee died. In 1943, a year before Bill Lee died in April 1944, he sold the barn to Robert G. Stewart, who painted the barn white and renamed it Dincara Stables.

Later the widowed Mrs. Stewart asked Mr. Cunningham to come from Oklahoma to Missouri to help her get the horses sold. The horses sold at a June 1, 1948 auction, and an ad showing the barn for sale ran in the June Saddle & Bridle Magazine. Dad saw the ad, and on December 18, 1948, the Contract of Sale was executed.

"Dutch" door stalls flanked both sides of the huge barn's wide hallway. The horses could see out through the slats running along the top half of the stalls, including the top door of each stall. Each horse also had an outside window. The land's plat description showed the 254-foot long, 14-foot wide hallway overlaid a city alley, running north to south, to a "length of 621.2 feet more or less."

This plotted alley, established in September 1943, runs exactly down the middle of the barn's hallway. Had the property ever been converted into its surveyed 20 city building lots, the alley was in place to serve the new houses. his is true of the 20 lots across the street. Housing is no longer a potential because the land is now part of a National Historic District. Thus, the barn's east exterior wall will forever be inscribed with the two words: "Arthur Simmons."


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