Oakford Center of Quarter Horse Lore
Peter McQue when he was about a ten year old
In recording the Oakford history we find a
chapter must be reserved for the qreat quarter horses
--- Oakford's claim to fame through the turn of the
No one family of horse can claim all the glory
from the magazine articles. However most of the
stories can be condensed into the following families:
Watkins, Thomas and Duffs.
Some of these early family histories were not
available for research. They shared the love of fast
horses and enjoyed nothing more than watching their
best horses perform on the local tracks. They were
always breeding in hopes of a faster horse to
challenge their neighbors on some special occasion.
Watkins. Thomas and Joseph Watkins came to
Clary's Grove area about 1821 bringing their breeding
stock of quarter horses from Kentucky. Throughout
their family history, they were known to possess this
desire of horse racing. Several descendants of these
Watkins settled in the Oakford area Sam, Beverly,
William, Eli, Kay, Korky Bill, and Fiddle Bill's boys
Charlie, Hugh and George Watkins.
Sam Watkins (Red Sam) is recognized in many
horseman magazines of today as one of the great
horse breeders of the country. His most famous horse
that played such a part in Oakford History was Peter
In 1895 Sam raised this colt and named Peter
McQue for a resident of the Oakford area. While the
horse was only a yearling, he leased him (a common
practice of Sam's) to his nephew Charlie Watkins a
son of Fiddler Bill's who lived a few miles east of
Oakford (Richard Eilks farm)
According to tapes, Dick Hornback, then a young
man and working for the Watkins boys says Charlie
put the horse in training and that he helped break him
to ride. For months they trained on the farm running him for time on the road east of the house. Charlie discovered
his speed and racing form and decided to take Peter McQue to the
big races at Chicago. They went by rail to Cicero, Illinois and
immediately began training. The racing circuit took them throughout
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and to Windsor, Canada. Peter McQue
lost only twice and these were on long races.
Due to a misunderstanding between Charlie and Red Sam the
horse was returned to Red Sam's possession while Charlie was
attending a show in downtown Chicago.
Later, Peter Mcque was returned to the circuit by another group
of promoters. During this tour, he slipped on a loose track and broke
a leg. The horse was shipped back to Menard County and put in a
sling until his leg mended.
Shortly after the turn of the century, Sam leased the horse to George
Watkins, Charlie's brother. For a few years, George stood him
at the south edge of Oakford in Harmon Baker's barn. At the time George
stayed with Baker.
During these years the following great horses were sired: Carrie Nation,
Buck Thomas, Harmon Baker, Cricket Ray, Oakford Queen, Bridget and
the Chase Mare. Undoubtedly, other good horses were born in the community
but were never promoted.
Carrie Nation Days In Oakford
Carrie Nation. While Peter McQue stood at
Oakford, Ed King of King & Kendall Groceries, used
a mare to pull a grocery wagon through the country.
Her colt by Peter McQue was named Carrie Nation.
Joe Bennet, a farmer west of town gained possession
of her and later list her in payment of a gambling debt
to Porky Jim Thomas' boys.
Jim, Jesse and Ole Thomas were soon racing her
on the Oakford tracks. With her great speed (21seconds
for a quarter, some say 22 seconds) Carrie Nation gained
fame during the early 1900s as late as 1906 or 1907.
Old timers say every Saturday was set aside for
Carrie to race. Drinking, gambling and betting were a
large part of the events. Horse racing reached such
fever here, Oakford became known throughout the
country as the town of great quarter horse races.
Crowds came by train from Peoria, Springfield and
other areas to see and bet on the horses.
Gypsies. With each racing season, the Gypsies
came with several horses and camped in Cohee Lane
and Betty Thomas corner. Each year they traded horses
hoping to acquire one that could beat Carrie.
Some of their famed horses were Burnt Back,
Coyotee and Gattlin Gun. Carrie Nation was never
defeated at the Oakford tracks. When Jim Thomas
died in 1906 Carrie was sold to a Texas rancher as
was many of the area's great quarter horses.
Thomas. Porky Jim Thomas father of the
Thomas boys, came from a farm near Robinson Mills
When Oakford was founded, he opened a saloon on
Main Street which he operated the business until the
town was voted dry in 1908.
The first record of his racing stock was prior to
1890. After opening his saloon, he built a blind fence
around several lots east of his tavern (the Bull Pen)
and always kept a horse on stand. While Porky Jim owned the undefeated Dobbin,
he challenged Red Sam Watkins famous thoroughbred,
Dan Tucker. Although perviously retired. Dan Tucker was
returned to the tracks for this great race. The Watkins'
claim that Tucker won was generally accepted.
Korky Bill Watkins. "By Cracky" i e. Korky Bill,
another group of the same Watkins, lived southeast of
town and also bred racing stock. Some of this noted
horses were Rohme Sam and Barnsdale: he owned
many others. The Daley boys stayed at Korky's and
jockeyed all his horses on the circuits. Sam Daley
rode Barnsdale in Chicago the last time winning a
purse of $700. Korky sold Barnsdale after the race for
$700. Korky would rather unhitch from a cultivator in
the field and go to a horse race than anything.
Beverly Watkins. The best in racing stock could
be found southwest of Oakford on the Beverly Watkins
farm. In 1880 he challenged anyone to race his
thoroughbred, Steel Dust, through an advertisement
in the local paper.
His son, Crit Watkins, was raised with many great
horses. During 1907-1908 he traveled the racing circuit
from New Orleans, California, and Seattle with his great
horse, Turnway. According to newspaper accounts he
was always winning. Later, Crit and a Watts of Petersburg
shipped many yearlings to horsemen in California.
Duffs. The Duffs were great horsemen. Records
show their ownership of the great "Cold Deck" when
it was a 14 year old in 1887. The old timers say this
family always had a good horse on hand. Some of the
family lived just north of Fiddler Bill Watkins farm.
Cricket Ray. Another great horse sired by Peter
McQue was Kay Ray's (son-in-law of Fiddler Bill's )
mare, Cricket Ray. She was one of the last of
Oakfords great quarter horses. In 1907 she ran
against Blakeley's horse. Peter McQue II at Long
Branch. The crowd was so large several deputies
were required to maintain order. A brawl erupted and
so much violence developed in Kilborne the village board
of Kilbourne ruled against any more races being held.
Cricket Ray won the race. The last account of her is
in 1908 when 6,000 spectators gathered at the
Menard County fairgrounds to see her win a race.
Racing Fever Faded. Due to so much violence
at these races, the village of Oakford voted the town
dry and the racing fever faded away. About this same
time, farmers were beginning to farm larger tracts and
needed stouter horses. J.C. and Cyrus Lounsberry
introduced the Morgan strain of horses to the community.
This type of horse was used by the wagon trains going
west and could be used for riding and light farming.
Several years later, Cyrus J.C. and Elisha
Armstrong introduced the Persian and Coach
horses to the area. Armstrong sent to Germany
for a $2,500 thoroughbred. This horse was kept
on stand on the Armstrong farm west of Oakford.
Years later, the horse perished in a barn fire
during an electrical storm.
Today, Homer Lounsberry is the only horse
breeder in the community raising Appaloosa and
Morgans as a hobby. He has raised horses all his
life as his father J.C. Lounsberry did.
Cyrus and J.C. Lounsberry acquired a Persian horse named "American," which is shown in above picture.
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