Horsemen of The Barham Family

By Joan Gilbert
Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles

Crane logo The Trainers Christian Barham and son Eddie Barham, written by Joan Gilbert for Saddle & Bridle Magazine. © copyrighted horse article.
Good story leads come in interesting ways, but one of the most recent is unique: Connie Burres of St. Peters, Mo., asked Jane Simmons in Florida for help in finding out who is riding Easter Cloud in one of the best known pictures of him. Jane, aware that I have many old horse magazines and have several times written about Easter Cloud in connection with the late John T. Hook, referred the request here. Mrs. Burres had told Jane that the rider looked to her like Christian Barham, her husband's grandfather, and she further explained her quest. Her son, Christian, graduated from high school this year and she wants to give him as much information as possible about his forebears. The family had little data about early days of Barhams in the show ring.

The picture in question, sometimes identified as being at the Old Coliseum in St. Louis, shows Easter Cloud passing by an edifice with what appears to be columns made of stacked brick. His rider is natty in grey with what could be one of the soft hats Hook favored because they so easily flew off when he began to rack his horses, emphasizing the animals' quick acceleration. One of my articles named Hook as the rider because that was the information the picture had repeatedly carried, including that in Jack Harrison's book, Famous Saddle Horses and Distinguished Horsemen. However, I received a letter (now reposing somewhere in an AWOL Easter Cloud folder) from someone correcting me, saying that the rider was his own father, and I believe the name given was Christian; such an unusual name sticks in the memory. At the time I agreed that the rider probably was not Hook.

Comparison with pictures of him, known to be authentic, seem to show Hook as a heavier, taller person. Still, the rider has his gloves "turned back" - the cuffs folded forward - which Hook told me was one of his own trademarks, giving his wrists maximum freedom while adding a little early 1900s coolness to his image. Maybe Barham did the same. Meanwhile, there is another reason for researching the Barhams. Lee Cloud of Iowa, an endless resource for show world facts and color, has several times urged my checking the family out. "They were very important in their day," he says. "Much respected and admired. They made great contributions."

So here, for Barham descendants and the show world, is what can most easily be gathered about the family from J.H. Ransom's series Who's Who in Horsedom and from Susanne's series called Famous Saddle Horses. A few old magazines offered details as well, but the story is far from complete here, embarrassing to a researcher who tries to be thorough. One reason for the gaps is that the writers mentioned above worked mainly after Christian Barham's death and while Edward "Eddie" Barham's career still was in full swing. They could not sum it up, at that point, beyond saying that he was carrying on his father's tradition as an exceptional trainer and exhibitor, with special talent at picking young horses with great potential.

Like his father, Eddie enjoyed great popularity as a show ring judge (Cloud says "He probably judged every show of importance in the U.S."). In 1949, the year of Christian's death, Eddie owned a farm in Germantown, Tenn., and a simple, utilitarian advertisement for this establishment, listed its offerings as showing, training, boarding, and selling. One magazine described it in detail, in glowing terms.

But to go back to the beginning: The first show world generation of Barhams is apparently embodied in William Coke Barham, born in Tennessee, a man active in horse matters, including showing, until late life when his son H. Christian took over the operation that had become a joint one. The father was a charter member of the American Saddle Horse Breeders Association and was among those who helped decide which early sires qualified for the registry. For more than 20 years, Barham senior was partner in a thriving grocery and hardware store in Milan, Mo., with horse dealing on the side. Or maybe the store was actually the sideline. Barham's barn became widely known as a good place to find fine young horses. We're told that some leading trainers bought there by the railway boxcar load.

Barham's own leading stallion, King Duluth by Duluth by Cabell's Lexington, carried impeccable and sought-after blood. Ransom terms this well-chromed animal "about 40 years ahead of his time." He sired offspring with more white on their bodies than had been considered quite desirable up to then, but their beauty and performance were such that the white had to be accepted. Who can say how much Barham's produce has to do with today's taste in Saddle Horses?

Among this first show world Barham's firsts: he topped the Tattersalls sale in 1910, paying a record price, $1,675, for Star McDonald an own son of the mighty Rex, described as "a beautiful horse of extreme finish." Young Christian Barham showed Star McDonald, according to a Milan publication, 104 times in a single year and they took 100 of the championships, trophies or blue ribbons at stake in those classes. One of Star McDonald's most celebrated victories was over the mare, Edna May, who had almost never been defeated.

Barhams bought Easter Cloud as a three-year-old from J.O. Broadman of Carlisle, Ky., and Christian showed him only a few times in 1912 before H.A. Greenwell of Lakenan, Mo., offered $1,000 for him. Easter Cloud had just won a junior championship at St. Louis, but this was a very good price for a junior horse. Greenwell's wanting Easter Cloud was a great compliment to the animal and to the Barhams, for Greenwell was another of Missouri's superb horseman, talented at every aspect of the game. He was fated to produce a dynasty of talented offspring which still today is represented by half a dozen or more high-status individuals.

Easter Cloud went on to become one of the most distinguished horses in Saddlebred history, defeating at one time or another each of his greatest contemporaries. As one of three top studs at Longview Farms at Lee's Summit, he also sired dozens of champions. In addition, with John T. Hook, he displayed a lovable personality that has made him one of the most written of horses in history.

After Easter Cloud, Christian Barham's career included winning with countless top horses of his time. The list is truly intimidating and it is saddening and incredible to see how few of the reverently listed names mean anything to us now. Just a few that have survived: Lady Babbette, Leatherwood King, Blue Hawaii, Flirtation Walk, Nellie Pidgeon.

Barham specialized in custom shopping for others and in developing show barns. His most notable assignment may have been that of Locke Brown of New Orleans, who aspired to create the biggest show string in history and commissioned Christian Barham to secure the animals needed. No doubt carte blanc was involved; they did achieve a history making assemblage of horses. Leatherwood Farms, home of the 1943 WGC Leatherwood King, was one of Barham's most noted assignments. Another distinction for Barham: he rode in Canada's Royal Winter Show before Queen Elizabeth II of England.

But long before any of this, Barham's personal reputation was such that he was called "Mr. Christian" far beyond his own barns. He is said to have been one of the most strikingly well-turned-out riders in a time when this element was becoming more and more competitive. His riding, we're told, set a standard for grace and elegance Christian Barham was renowned for gentlemanly demeanor, too, though one story in the Milan publication says that he once threatened, with an axe handle, the mayor of Milan when that official came on Barham property to dump out horse water during an anti-mosquito campaign. Another aspect of Barham fame was for meticulous barn keeping for the benefit of animals they had taken responsibility for; employees of both men, we're told, considered them quite fussy in this regard.

About Eddie Barham, much less seems to have been written up to the time of authorities quoted above. WWII took him out of the horse world for several important years, but he returned, when his military obligation was finished, to work with his father at Leatherwood Farms. They showed - to many championships - these among other famous Saddle Horses: Leatherwood King, Sweet Lavender, Lady Babbette, Lady Louise and Nellie Pidgeon. They were the first father and son team ever inducted together into the ASHBA Hall of Fame. A street in Milan, Mo., is named for them.

While working on this article, we were unable to make contact with Eddie Barham; our last account of him was in Westfield, Ind., where his last barn had been, a barn he sold on retirement to one of his long time clients, Zel Corkern. We're told she also is now retired. Given more time, perhaps we could have tracked down more, but the above data may give the Burreses and future horse world researchers some ideas for deeper digging. It may supply some of what would be hardest to find, given the rarity of some of the books quoted here. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what was said beyond declaring that we made nothing up and that all sources are attributed. Perhaps the material's appearance in Saddle & Bridle will inspire some of those with additional facts about the Barhams to get in touch. Such input would always be considered for use in future articles.

The most fun of all:
A side pleasure of research is the occasional mystery that emerges. This time we came upon the picture of a touchingly noble-faced three-gaited gelding named King Christian, whose remarkable career overlapped Christian Barham's. Most of his showing was done by his last owner, a Norfolk, Va., amateur named Oscar F. Smith. Before these two teamed up, however, King Christian had attained an illustrious reputation, including championships at Lexington and Louisville. He had defeated Oakhill Chief under Lee Roby and other horses of such caliber. Some of King Christian's shows are described lovingly by both Ransom and Susanne, exemplifying an era when very long classes were common because fifteen or more championship-holding animals were competing. It was also, they say, a time when crowd demonstrations sometimes stopped shows for half an hour or more.

The overriding question here, though: was King Christian named for Christian Barham, as is sometimes done just to honor an admired colleague? Or was he merely the possession of someone with reverence for the Scandinavian lines of royalty that included many kings named Christian? At first we could find no connection between Barham and this animal's origin or initial training or exhibition. It was hard to concede that the two Christians never met. Finally we found the animal's name buried in a long list of those Barham exhibited for Fernell Blair of Atlanta, Ga. We could find no details there or elsewhere about what King Christian may have achieved in his name-donor's hands.

The record of what King Christian did for his final owner is inspiring, however. He was said to have never been defeated in any amateur event Smith took him into. Susanne said that the bond between horse and owner was obvious, that "they seemed to have a great mutual understanding." So here is a story that probably can never be told, the appealing fantasy that many of us would like to live: finding out what can be done by one horse and one person in a long and exclusive relationship. We only occasionally see these explored for readers.

It would be most interesting to know how Smith managed to campaign King Christian so vigorously and so widely, what kind of background enabled him to ride so well, and most of all, how their lives ended. Were they still together near the end? One thing horse world records need is more attention to what becomes of notable horses and riders. Somebody should make a crusade of finding and categorizing this data so that future stories can be really complete, and so that full credit can be given to those responsible and compassionate people who assure happy ever afters to retired horses.

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