An important pioneer in Washington racing
by Susan van Dyke
onsidered the Father of Thoroughbred
Racing in Washington State, George H. Drumheller (1874-1945) was among
the original sponsors of the bill that legalized horse racing in Washington in
1933 and was the states leading breeder for six consecutive years
From Wheat to Thoroughbreds
Georges father, Jesse Drumheller, first arrived
in Walla Walla in 1852. Born in Tennessee, Jesse was just 17 when he boarded
the Ezra Meeker wagon train bound for the Washington Territory. He later
married fellow pioneer Martha Maxson in 1859 and they had six sons and one
daughter. Jesse Drumheller became a prominent grain farmer and also founded the
Drumheller Company, which retailed hardware and agricultural supplies. The
Drumheller building in downtown Walla Walla was built in 1904 (and renovated in
George followed in his fathers
footsteps and became one of the premier wheat farmers of his era. He was also
known for his mules. He became active in the fledging rodeo circuits and many
of the early horses he purchased were slated to improve the speed and quality
of the relay horses and other mounts that his children, specifically Allen and
Jessie, needed to successfully compete in that exciting and rough and tumble
In the 1920s, George began to acquire the
stock that would make the Drumheller Farm the largest of the eight Thoroughbred
farms in existence in 1933, when racing was once again allowed in Washington.
Among the horses he purchased was 1921 Toboggan Handicap winner Gladiator, who
would sire the first Washington-bred winner of the Longacres Mile, Campus
Fusser, in 1941. The son of Superman*Lotawanna, by *Trenton, led the
state sire rankings in both 1940 and 1941 (records were not found for prior
years). Linden Tree, a 1930 son of Gladiator, won the Don Stakes at two and the
San Mateo Stakes as a five-year-old. Both runners were bred by Drumheller.
From 1940 through 1948, Drumheller stallions were
number one on the Washington sire lists. Three-time leader Fort Churchill
(1942, 1943 and 1945) was a 1917 son of *HoneywoodTamiga, by Emperor of
Norfolk. He had been originally acquired and used exclusively as a stock
horse sire, the demand in the area being for range work horses of size and
early speed. The Fort Churchills began to show such zip in ranch races and
rodeo relays the big horse was tried on Thoroughbreds. Among the runners
he sired was 1941 Washington Futurity winner Prince Ernest, who went on to win
the 10th Longacres Mile in 1945 after having run second the previous year.
Prince Ernest earned $71,565, a significant amount for that period of time.
Fort Churchill also sired Washington Breeders Handicap winner
Kellys Rose and Northwest Futurity winner Bay Hill.
The most successful sire among the Drumheller trio was
Black Forest, a 1928 son of the famed Black Toney out of Day Lilly, by
Olambala. Black Forest was Washingtons leading sire five times (1944,
1946-1949). Among his many winners was Hank H., a half-brother to Campus Fusser
and only the second Washington-bred to earn in excess of $100,000. Foaled in
1943, Hank H. became the third Drumheller-bred to win the Longacres Mile when
he won the 1947 version over Bymeabond. Hank H. was also victorious in the
Washington Futurity, back-to-back Washington Championships and the Peter Clark
Handicap. He finished second to El Lobo in the 1947 San Antonio Handicap at
Santa Anita. At the time of his retirement, Hank H. was Washingtons
leading earner of all time at $130,700 with 26 victories among his 69 starts.
Black Forest also sired stakes winner Georgie Drum, who was named in honor of
George, Sr.s grandson. Georgie Drum earned $86,730 and counted among his
victories a win over Equifox, *Rounders and 1944 Kentucky Derby winner Pensive
in the Stars and Stripes Handicap and two tallies in the Sheridan Handicap.
Black Forest sired the stakes winning fillies Seattle Belle (Fashion Handicap)
and Our Judy (Spokane Futurity).
From 1935 through
1951, George Drumheller bred the winners of 238 races with $104,837 in earnings
to rank first in races won and fifth in earnings in the state (his son, Allen
Drumheller, led the earnings list with $497,537 during that same period). It
was noted in an article in the April 1952 issue of The Washington Horse
that The figure is actually much higher, however, as the late Mr.
[George] Drumheller had been breeding Thoroughbreds for some 15 years previous
to this period and, totaling the victories of other horses bred by him before
1935, indications are that this figure would probably be in excess of
400. Among the other stakes winners the senior Drumheller bred were My
Reverie, Bonnie Omar, Blarney Stone, Pat, Linden Tree and Glad Mart.
In addition, his son Allen, an ex-rodeo champion rider
who was named to the Washington Racing Hall of Fame in the trainer category in
2003, was Washingtons leading breeder for eight years. (See October 2003
Washington Thoroughbred for his Hall of Fame story.)
Drumheller is also a name that was widely respected in
rodeo circles. The famous Mabel DeLong Strickland, the Lovely Lady of
Rodeo, was a friend of the Drumheller family. Upon her graduation from
high school in 1916, she accompanied the Drumheller entourage as a relay rider.
The talented performer was later inducted into several rodeo hall of fames,
including the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Another Cowgirl Hall of Famer
influenced by the Drumhellers was Puyallup born Reba Perry Blakely, who would
say the horse riding of the Drumheller family of Walla Walla, Washington
inspired her dreams. Blakely, who died in 2002 at age 94, was also a
noted rodeo writer and researcher. Blakely wrote the following story about the
Drumhellers, which is reprinted from the July 1976 issue of The Washington
That Magical Name
by Reba Perry Blakely
hat is more exciting than to pay tribute to
a horse family whose impact upon racing can track back two hundred and
twenty-four years, even pre-dating this Bicentennial! And their name was
Drumheller, [a name] well documented in the archives of international horse
racing. For they did race in Tijuana, Mexico, in the Dominion of Canada and
What is even more relevant to
King County and Longacres Race Course at Renton is the fact that through the
fine and delicate nudging of George J. Drumheller and his son
Allen, Longacres was given a helping hand and their capable assistance to the
late Joe Gottstein was instrumental in creating Longacres in 1933. Allen
Drumheller, Sr. of Walla Walla was a member of the first Washington State Horse
Racing Commission and was also highly successful as a horse breeder and owner,
but won most of his recognition as a conditioner of horses for other owners. At
one time, Allen Drumheller trained Bold Bazooka for the comedian Lou Costello
and the runner was Californias top two-year-old of the season.
Since that time the magical name of Drumheller has
momentarily vanished from horse racing a condition that shall always be
subject to change. Who knows what the future will bring and possibly within
another decade some Drumheller may hear the whisperings of their ancestors now
long departed [which unfortunately has not been the case], such as Dewalt
Drumheller who first settled on patented land in Rockland Township, Berks
County, Pennsylvania in 1752, and return to the Sport of Kings (or is it
Queens!) horse racing!
Helen Cabell Self,
an expert author, horsewoman and educator wrote a fine book, many in fact, upon
the art of horsemanship, training and conditioning and it was she who wrote
When those first Hollanders arrived in what is now the State of
Pennsylvania they brought with them those sturdy, small horses who later
crossed with English Thoroughbreds became foundation stock for some of
Americas first Quarter Horses.
information bears even closer study, for in the early part of the 1800s there
were three Drumhellers whose impact upon horse racing, livestock ranching and
later the Thoroughbred industry in our Pacific northwest was invaluable! Thomas
Drumheller, 1827, later settled at or near Petaluma, California, first and then
came to Spokane in 1847. He was followed by his brother Jesse, who located in
the Oregon Territory in 1852 and later moved to Walla Walla in 1854. Still a
third brother, Daniel M. Drumheller, followed his two other brothers and
arrived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. In 1861, he became one of the first
cattlemen to drive beef on the hoof up the Caribou of the upper Okanogan Basin
to the miners of Canada. Pertinent to this material is the fact that
Uncle Daniel, who later settled in Spokane in 1880, rode the first
so-called documented Quarter Horse mare into the Oregon Territory.
The story goes something like this. Old Arch
was a red and white pinto mare he rode for 2,000 miles and who he loved until
his death. She never lost an ounce of flesh on that memorable journey. So
she must have been a descendant of those sturdy horses first imported to
America during the era of 1752 when the Dutch settled in Pennsylvania.
Closely examining the background of these particular
Drumheller brothers, Thomas, Jessie and Daniel M., it becomes impressive how
much so few gave to so many in our Pacific northwest and Canada, with respect
to ranching, livestock production and the mining industry. Samuel Drumheller [a
son of Jessie who discovered] coal and [which led to the development of] the
town site of Drumheller in Alberta in 1910.
Daniel M. Drumhellers return from California, he helped transport meat to
the miners in both the Caribou and later up the Chilicoot Trail to Alaska. He
became active in the Oregon State Legislature and no doubt was instrumental in
helping Oregon found its first fair at Oregon City in 1861. That exhibit later
was moved to Salem and there became the Oregon State Fair in 1863. Horse racing
was part and parcel of that very first county fair effort, and just for the
novelty of it, Oswald West (from his Famous Horses and the Pioneer
Period) names some of those animals in 1870: Lacelles Greyhound, Rexfords
Buckskin Bill, Bakers Whitestockings, Thorps Jim (was this the F. M. Thorp of
Ellensburg? Chances are it was indeed!); also Basketts Dixie, Scoggins
Jack and Minnie Miner.
In 1869, William Bigham,
who later settled on Crab Creek in Grant County, as well as T. B. Hoover and J.
C. Chambers, settled at or near Fossil, Oregon. It is their history that
established the first registered Thoroughbreds brought into the Pacific
northwest by the pioneers.
All of this history was
and is linked to Daniel M. Drumheller. When he moved to Spokane in 1880 he
became engaged in both mining and transportation and later became mayor of
Spokane. He was a most avid booster in that city. He served in many other civic
capacities and consequently more or less removed himself from active
participation in the Thoroughbred world.
brother Jessie Drumheller, who continued to live in Walla Walla. married Martha
Maxson around 1860 and raised the family who is still most actively linked
directly to the Thoroughbred industry. It was his son, George J. Drumheller,
who did enter into horse racing before 1900 and was active in the field until
he sold out in 1934 to Mrs. Gladys Edris [wife of William Edris, Joseph
Gottsteins friend and business partner for whom the famous Washington
racehorse Sidre Edris spelled backwards was named.] of the
Elttaes Stables of Seattle.
George J. Drumheller
led almost a charmed existence in both horse racing, fairs and the wild west
world, that later fostered contemporary rodeo. What led him into this field of
outdoor spectator sports was no doubt influenced by the opening of the Walla
Walla Fair in 1866, which was right in his domain. Later when his son Allen
started growing into his teens he became enamored of the wild west, for less
than 45 miles away the fabled Pendleton Round-up came into being in 1910.
George, an affluent grain farmer, and his cousin, Tom
Drumheller of Ephrata, now a prominent rancher and sheep man in this period of
1910, enjoyed competing [with] their animals and their [ranch] hands against
neighboring ranchers. Neighborhood competition was the name of the game at
first. Community fairs and rodeos were engaged in by those first pioneering
families where [the] horse or mule was still king; because all the ranch work
was performed by these animals. It was said of George J. Drumheller that
he farmed 5,000 acres of wheat with 500 mules . . . This record is
amply documented in our state archives.
Georges children started growing up, first Allen, then a daughter Jessie,
and still a second son Dewey, [they] were all active, healthy and daring
youngsters who constantly rode horseback to school and later entered into rodeo
competition in mens and womens relay and pony express racing, both
at the Walla Walla Fair and the Pendleton Round-up.
Their father purchased excellent short distance horses
for them and hired trainers to school the animals and drill these energetic
children on the fine arts of horsemanship. Further instilling in them the
desire to excel and to practice good horsemanship, they became the best of
their age group. This encouragement possibly was part of the character building
for his children . . . Allen, Jessie and Dewey enjoyed the thrilling excitement
generated by riding in competition against world famous performers of the likes
of Lucille Mulhall and her troupe from Mulhall, Oklahoma. They had heard that
she was called Americas First Cowgirl and they of course had
read of her and her father, Colonel Zack Mulhall. Lucille Mulhall was also a
world champion steer roper against all comers. These were the type of
professionals performing at the first Pendleton, Oregon, round-up. Also entered
was the C. B. (Charles Burton) Irwin family with his trio of world champion
relay and competing cowgirl daughters Joella, Pauline and Frances [who later
married Mannie Keller and trained two Longacres Mile winners] from Meriden,
Wyoming. The Irwins history was also outstanding and most impressive. C.
B. Irwin was a member of the Union Pacific employee system, later becoming a
director and their livestock agent form his office in Cheyenne. [Later Irwin
would serve as a mentor to none other than National and Washington Hall of
Famer trainer Tom Smith, of Seabiscuit fame.]
Instead of the Drumheller family staying within their
own bailiwick, they were urged on by and became inspired by the magnitude of
fame and excitement of those first wild west families, which included the
Irwins and Mulhalls. This was all taking place beginning in 1893 when wild west
[shows were] coupled with horse racing being staged in communities throughout
America and Canada.
For those wishing to enlarge
into active Thoroughbred breeding, all the activity helped to train race horses
and learn which animals were speedy enough to race on the large race courses in
the midwest and on the Atlantic seaboard. It was also without parallel the
finest field of all to train outstanding jockeys who first learned their
fundamentals at these smaller tracks. This was necessary for good reason
there just were not that many race courses in the far west.
California did start racing horses at their first state
fair in Sacramento in 1854 and thereafter a number of other tracks opened up.
But so flagrant was the unethical activity behind the scenes in early
California horse racing at first and after 1900, that many large and affluent
Thoroughbred owners and trainers dropped out of horse racing there or returned
to the midwest and to the east where racing was conducted upon more rigid rules
It wasnt until the fairs in
the far west and Pacific northwest started holding race meets during their
dates that horse racing in general got off to a healthy start in Washington
It was at these fairs [that] Allen
Drumheller, his close boyhood chum Darrell Cannon [future trainer of Joe
Gottsteins Longacres Mile winners Kings Favor and Steel Blade] and sister
Jessie Drumheller gained excellent training and great fame in the relay and
pony express world. George J. Drumheller acquired a fine string of top rated
bucking horses, plus a formidable racing string. Many were trained as relay
mounts when this daring and innovative family entered rodeo and wild west
[shows] in earnest.
The Drumhellers staged the
first great rodeo held at the opening of the 1912 Tacoma Stadium, a coliseum
that gained historic attention because of its setting. The structure, right out
on the Narrows of Puget Sound, and the excellence of its very first program,
which included a world championship rodeo staged in part by the George J.
Drumheller family of Walla Walla. Still within that same summer this dynamic
wild west family and racing empire went on to the first Calgary Stampede
(1912), where Allen Drumheller won the cowboys bronc riding championship for
the Pacific northwest and Canada.
through 1916, the Drumhellers also staged the first Walla Walla Stampede and
then went on to stage rodeos at the 1915 Seattle Stampede held at the old
Meadows race track [near Renton]. They continued to Cheyenne, Wyoming; Missoula
and Billings, Montana; the War Bonnet Rodeo at Idaho Falls, Idaho; and to a
great many other fairs and rodeos held annually in the states of Oregon,
Washington and Idaho, as well as Canada.
drastically, a world war was brewing all through this period (1910-1917), and
of course, as history records it, war broke out in 1917 and America was in it!
Many [rodeo] performers did their stint for Uncle Sam.
Allen Drumheller and his sister Jessie both dropped out
of rodeo to a degree, but Allen established a record in the mens pony
express in 1926 at the Spokane Fair that was never erased or defeated.
Jessie then married Darrell Cannon and moved to
California. This marriage was later dissolved and she moved to Salem, Oregon.
Allen Drumheller, from the mid-1920s onward and up
until 1957, was one of Americas most legendary horse conditioners. His
was a most fashionable stable of select owners and fabulous racing animals.
Horses that he developed and took to their fame came from a horse racing career
that brought international acclaim to the The Cowboy from Walla Walla,
Washington and to the name . . . Drumheller!
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.