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Peter McCue * Photo Courtesy of The American Quarter Horse Journal Archives

Part 1: How the Pioneer Horse Breeders Affected Current Breed Standards

Pioneer Horse Breeders is a book by Ed Roberts, Frank Holmes, Carol Plybon and Randy Witte, much of the information in this article can be found with more depth in the book. This series of articles contains notes from retired Palomino, Paint and Appaloosa judge Wayne Laske in italics.

The Pioneer Horse Breeders

Some of the greatest stock horses were the result of a small but select group of breeders that just so happened to live in a region of Colorado where the horse was an esteemed animal, Routt County, Colorado.

These families had one goal in breeding that was based on a common love of type and using ability. Color was secondary because there was no organized breed registries at that time. Those breeders contributed to the development of the Quarter Horse (QH), Appaloosa (AP), Paint (PT), and Palomino (PL) breeds as we know them today, we call them the Pioneer Horse Breeders.

These breeders were located in northwestern Colorado, namely the families of Coke Roberds, Si Dawson, Marshall and Mavis Peavy, and Dan and Jack Casement. From that nucleus sprang up Hank Wiescamp, Walter Merrick, and Quenton Semotan to name just a few more.

They soon recognized the animals that traced to Old Fred (PL), Peter Mccue (TB), Steel Dust, Shilo, Old Billy (QH) and the imported Sir Archy (TB) of Colonial times.

Pioneer Horse Breeders Coke Roberds and Si (Siria) Dawson

Coke Roberds was born in 1870 in Bogus, Texas and at the age of three moved with his family to near Trinidad. He grew up an avid roper. In his youth he was a close friend of Si Dawson and became a life-long friend. They eventually were both great contributors to the Appaloosa and Quarter Horse breeds.

In 1901 Roberds went to visit Si Dawson near Hayden, Colorado. He moved his wife and horse operation from the Oklahoma panhandle and bought a ranch near the Dawsons.

One day a friend of Roberds saw a nice horse they thought suited Roberds. The horse was called Circus Horse and was with a traveling circus in Trinidad. Coke liked the horse and bred his running mare to him. The next year Arab was foaled.

The Steel Dusts

In 1898 a man came through the area with nine mares he called Steel Dust horses. Roberds liked them and bought all nine to breed to Arab (not a reference to the breed of that name). Some of the foals by Arab and out of the Steel Dust mares were solid colored, a few roans, and a few with Appaloosa characteristics.

Jim Goodhue, AQHA registrar in the 1960’s, researched the Steel Dusts and concluded Steel Dust was sired by Dan Tucker. The uniformity of Steel Dusts was phenomenal. The ApHC was formed in 1938 and they accepted a number of roan mares that traced to Coke Roberds.

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For 45 years Wayne Laske judged for the American Paint Horse Association, the Appaloosa Horse Club, the Palomino Horse Breeders of America, and the National Reining Horse Association. * Photo Courtesy of Wayne Laske

If you look at the pedigrees of some of the early-day horses you will find color. More than one old-time registered Quarter Horse produced loudly colored Appaloosas, such as Wapiti.

Wapiti was by the registered Quarter Horse stallion Gold Heels (also a foundation Palomino breeding horse) and out of the registered Quarter Horse mare Cuadroon. Cuadroon goes back to the famous Thoroughbred Man O War. Another such Appaloosa was Bright Eyes Brother (Billy Maddon (QH) x Plaudette(QH) x King Blaudit (TB)).

Wapiti and Bright Eyes Brother became cornerstones of their breed. Another influential appaloosa bred by Coke Roberds was Leopard (AP) (by Old Fred (QH)), who produced Blue Vitriol. Blue Vitriol (by Brown Dick (TB)) was bred to Red Dog and produced the famous Appaloosa Joker B. That horse made Carl Miles a big-time breeder around Abilene, Texas. Blue Vitriol was a half-sister to Ding Bob.

It was quite evident the Steel Dusts had an important influence on our modern stock breeds.

There was a time when the Quarter Horse breed was growing rapidly and the registration department was very cautious about registering some roan horses because they may have Appaloosa blood and produce colored foals in subsequent generations. It was not uncommon for some breeders to not disclose the true breeding of their horses because they were colored horses, so occasionally records of their pedigrees were incomplete or subject to debate.

These pioneer horse breeders started their programs 125 years ago. The disregard for color accounts for an occasional crop-out even recently. It might be a Paint or an Appaloosa. The result, many double registered horses today.

Pioneer Horse Breeder Billy Anson

Billy Anson came to the United States from England and ranched near Cristoval, Texas.

According to Jim Goodhue, Billy Anson was the first to breed “Quarter Horses” on a large scale. His horses carried a lot of Steel Dust, and as a breeder his horses became known as “Billy Horses” having descended from Old Billy (Shiloh x Ram Cat x Steel Dust). Anson also felt the need to infuse Thoroughbred blood into his “Quarter Horses.”

Billy Anson was so highly respected as a horseman that he was engaged by the government to procure thousands of horses and mules for World Wars I and II. They were even engaged in the Boer War where Great Britain defeated the Boers in Africa (1899-1902).

In the 1930’s plans were taking place to organize the Quarter Horse as a breed. There was significant discussion about type. There were those who preferred the “bulldog” style and a faction leaning toward a more refined animal. They eventually compromised, and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was formed in Ft. Worth in 1940.

Old Fred’s Origins

Sometimes a wreck turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Such was the case for Anson. He was moving to Colorado by rail, and the train derailed, injuring his first stallion Primera so severely he had to be put down.

Coke Roberds often shared breedings with Anson and went in search of a replacement stallion for him. Roberds found an exceptional horse for a replacement, but it was a palomino. It was Old Fred (Black Ball x Mare by John Crowder x John Crowder). The story is, Mr. Roberds bought Old Fred while he was hitched to a freight wagon. It is said Old Fred was the most difficult horse to purchase. He cost $300.

Old Fred was crossed on many daughters of Steel Dust, so a lot of appaloosa blood appeared in the foals. Early pictures of Old Fred showed a lot of color, too, as previously mentioned, white markings were prevalent.

Roberds couldn’t have picked a better stablemate when he acquired Peter McCue for himself, and the two stallions stayed at Anson’s.

The breeding of Peter McCue also raises questions. Photos of him strongly indicate he was a Thoroughbred. Though in his early racing days he was faster than most at the 440 but was very mediocre beyond that.

Some speculate he was by Dan Tucker (QH) and out of Nora (TB). Regardless, he was a strong influence on the Quarter Horse breed, and the more people saw his foals the more popular he got.

Si Dawson was at a race at Overland Racetrack in Denver and decided he had to have Peter Mccue rather than one of his sons. So he traveled to Cheyenne, Oklahoma, and bought him for $5,000 when he was 18 years old. Several of his sons went on to make great breeding horses, namely Frye’s Peter Mccue and Jack McCue.

When Si died unexpectedly his widow gave Peter McCue to Coke Roberds. If there is any doubt about Peter McCue and Old Fred, look at the breeding of Hank Wiescamp’s horses from Alamosa, Colorado. Many of his horses went back to Peter McCue three times and Old Fred twice.

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