They Left Their Mark In Oakford, 1872

Oakford Center of Quarter Horse Lore
Page 65

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 century.

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 McQue.

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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Illinois Ancestors