Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Few Desperate Moments

Geronimo had been in custody for 367 days when the second Wyoming Territorial Fair opened on September 6, 1887.  In Sundance, Wyoming, Harry Longabaugh, alias the “kid” (yes, that Sundance Kid) and his accomplice, were busy stealing Tom McCoy’s horse.  In May, Montrose, ridden by Isaac Lewis, beat Jim Gore in the Kentucky Derby.

Cheyenne’s newspapers bannered headlines that ran the gamut from the sensational:  He Will Be Hung, to the mundane: Compulsory Education.   According to one paper it was a world that still lived in fear of Indian uprisings, while it raced headlong into the modern era.

And although the Wyoming Territory had mandated Women’s Suffrage in 1869, it would not become a state until July 10, 1890.

September 6, 1887 was a very long time ago.

Attendance needed a boost after the disappointing opening day crowd in 1886.   The Cheyenne and Laramie Club Cup Race, sure to draw large crowds, would be the highlight of the fair’s opening day. The clubs were comprised primarily of rich cattlemen, those who survived the devastating, cattle-killing winter of 1886-1887 with more than the shirts on their backs.   The eligibility rules were simple: only members could participate.  The horses, themselves thoroughbreds, must all be Wyoming bred, “or (from) so close to the line of the territory as to be acceptable to the committee.”  This was particularly helpful to the owners of three of the mounts entered by Davis and Choate.  N.R. Davis was president of the Cheyenne National Bank and his partner, fellow Bostonian and jockey E.C. Choate, owned the Owl Creek Ranch located 12 miles south of Cheyenne in Weld County, Colorado.

The jockeys must also be members of the “club,” and weigh a hefty 150 pounds.  The winner’s bounty was $100, bragging rights for a year and a Tiffany trophy, itself valued at $500.   Win the race twice and the trophy was yours to keep!

By afternoon the streets of Cheyenne were all but deserted.  It was “a trifle too hot, but this did not particularly worry those who occupied the reserved seats in the grandstand.  The grandstand “is bright in the interior with sky-blue painting.”
The track for the 1-1/8 mile Cup race was “conceded by the horsemen to be in the best possible condition.”  Happily, “the enclosure about the track was lined with carriages and the grandstand was well crowded.  Many of the spectators were ladies who naturally added to the interest of the occasion and contributed to the excitement during critical stages of the racing.”

Three horses were entered by Davis and Choate.  Climax, a sorrel gelding, was ridden by F. M. (Francis Morgan) Ware, son of a prominent Boston Unitarian clergyman.  His silks that day were crimson and purple.  Climax was sired by Huerfaus by an unknown dam.
Resplendent in magenta and black silks, E.C. Choate rode Bashaw, a chestnut gelding. The third member of the Davis and Choate cabal, Wyoming, a bay mare, was ridden by Captain Wyndham Quinn who wore blue and white.

F.M. Ware and Climax September 6, 1887

There were four other entries: co-favorite Endebar, a grey gelding ridden by Sterling Birmingham, Trouble, a bay gelding ridden by G.A. Saportas and Dee Dee, another bay gelding ridden by F.T. Islin.

Betting was heavy on the two favorites, Endebar and the difficult to manage mare, Wyoming.  There was nearly $2000 in the betting pool.

“Cantering” to the starting line, the horses were nervous, even impatient, “evidently understanding that a great struggle for supremacy was about to ensue.”  With Dee Dee on the pole the horses were “off like the wind” as the flag dropped.

 Wyoming drove to an early lead with Dee Dee, Trouble and Climax in pursuit, followed closely by Choate’s Bashaw.  Birmingham, riding co-favorite Endebar, evidently a closer, “pulled his horse and dropped back until the 3/8 pole was reached.”

The race was “for blood.”

Early front runner, Wyoming, gave way to Dee Dee at the half mile while Climax lurked in third place with Trouble trailing the field.  The tough mare, Wyoming regained the lead at the ¾ mile mark.

 At the 3/8 pole Endebar began to close on the leaders with a burst of speed under Birmingham’s whip and spur. But Endebar’s run came to naught, he was just too far back.

 “Up the home stretch it was a race for life.”  Trouble racing from “hindmost” in a headlong charge gained the lead in the stretch.  Nearing the finish-line it was Saportas’ sorrel gelding, Trouble, head and head with Climax.  Both horses were nearly identical in appearance with Trouble being a “trifle” smaller.

In the rhythm of their hooves there were desperate moments as each horse reached its limit, their lungs burning with jagged breath, nostrils flaring and blood red with effort.  It was Climax by “half a neck” at the wire, or was it Climax by a head?  The result was reported both ways.  Many said it was a dead heat, “…there was a decided confusion of tongue.”  Climax was declared the winner and “…the great throng of people on the grandstand rose to their feet and cheered loudly.”
The game Trouble was followed home by Bashaw, Endebar, Wyoming and Dee Dee.  After the race Captain Quinn, who rode the troublesome Wyoming, made it clear to anyone who would listen that it was not his fault that Wyoming finished fifth, because “… he was not acquainted with the peculiarities of his mount.”

And the winner is...

Climax’s race passed in 2:16, a snail’s pace when compared to the North American record of 1.45 flat set in 1988 by a four-year-old, Simply Majestic, who carried just 114 pounds.
 Davis and Choate prided themselves on bringing their horses along slowly over several years, so it is no surprise to find that Climax, born in 1878, was 9 years old when he crossed the finish line in 1887.  Considering his age and the weight he carried, Climax ran a pretty good race.

The winner’s circle photo shows a thirty-year old Ware sitting comfortably astride Climax.  After the style of the day his stirrups are very long, and he appears to be wearing spurs.   The face behind his brushy florid moustache is without emotion.  He seems comfortable with success and in fact success seemed to follow him.   He is a Harvard graduate, Class of 1879, and during his lifetime he will write three books concerning the horse (still available with a Google query) and many articles for magazines such as Outing.  Interestingly, he wrote extensively about harness racing.
He also managed The Brockton Fair Horse Show for 28 years and served as manager, treasurer and auctioneer of New York City’s American Horse Exchange.  These are just two of his many successful enterprises.  F. M. Ware died of pneumonia in 1926.

 It is the brand, ND over a bar raised in scarred relief on Climax’s left shoulder that first grabs your attention.  The brand is a derivation of one registered in 1872 by N. R. Davis, once the largest cattle rancher in Weld County, Colorado.  But horses were his passion and in 1887 Davis owned more than 200 mares with foals at their sides.

Climax is alert, his ears pricked, and he stands rock steady facing the photographer. His features are refined and dominated by a broad white blaze and one white stocking.  He is muscular but not particularly tall.  After another fashion of the 1880’s, his tail is cut quite short which robs him of the length and grace his body possesses.

The voice on the phone belongs to Roda Ferraro of the Keenland Library, “We don’t run into too many dead ends, but on this one we did.”

The Cheyenne and Laramie Club Cup race is Climax’s only race of record. * **
In the horse-drawn world of 1887, horses lumbered over rutted roads carrying us to work, to school, and to war.  That horses could still bring us to our feet, could make us cheer ourselves hoarse, could give us moments of escape from the stifling boredom of humdrum lives and the prison of backbreaking labor is still a thing of wonder.  Climax was one of those horses.

*Confirmed by Allan Carter, Historian, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
**Climax has been a common name for thoroughbreds.  From 1885 through 1889 another horse named Climax raced along the East Coast from Gravesend and Saratoga to Lexington, Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans. In five years he raced 53 times and was in the money 79% of the time.

United States Census 1880, Massachusetts, Suffolk, Boston
Northwestern Livestock Journal 9/9/1887, Pg.4 Col. 3 & 4, #12
Cheyenne Daily Sun 9/7/1887, Pg.6 Col 3 & 4, #173
Cheyenne Daily Leader 9/6/1887, Pg. 3 Col. 1, #173, Pg.2 Col 1, #287
Cheyenne Daily Sun 9/6/1887, Pg.6 Col. 3 #151 (#25)
Cheyenne Daily Leader 9/7/1887 Pgs.3&4 Cols. 2,3,4 #265 & #101
Alan Carter National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
Jennifer Alexander Wyoming State Museum
Linda Fabian Wyoming Historical Society, Laramie City Chapter
Sources Cont’d:
Daniek Long, Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum
Roda Ferraro, Keenland Library, Brand Registration
Molly Countryman, Northwest Livestock Journal 8/19/1887, Pg.4 Cols. 1,2,3,4
John J. Devine, Research Services Department, Boston Public Library.
Two Minutes to Glory: The Official History of the Kentucky Derby, by Brodowsky and Philbin, Pgs. 66 & 67

Author’s Collection

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