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Texas Quarter Horse Stallion Superstars: Copper Bottom, Steel Dust, Shiloh 




The quarter horse was essential to Texas cowboys after the Civil War as a crackerjack cow pony. Quarter horses were also known as extremely agile sprint racers on the quarter mile racetrack. Horse racing was as crucial to entertainment in the American West as were the dance parties with live musicians that people traveled from miles around to attend. 

Men were ever eager to match their horses for cash, liquor, jewelry, saddles, spurs, or deeds of land. A famous sire, Sir Archy, gave bloodlines to a breed of horse known as the quarter horse. Steel Dust was a progeny of Sir Archy, as well as Copper Bottom and Shiloh. Sir Archy never made it to Texas. His offspring did with undeniably amazing historical results. 

Quarter mile horse racing flowed through the American frontier like a strong river current from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, through the Louisiana bayous, into Texas and Indian Territory, on westward to California, and north to western Canada. Texas cannot claim to be the originator of the quarter horse, but horse breeders in Texas did highly develop the breed. The quarter horse became essential to the cowboy on the range and in their cattle drives to the railheads in Missouri. The quarter horse found a natural home in Texas and lives today in the present with impressive lineages, but the quarter horse also owns the history of the frontier cowboy.  

The quarter horse heroes that I am highlighting today all begin with a great legend, Sir Archy, from Mount Airy in Virginia and bred by Colonel John Tayloe III. Sir Archy was probably foaled at Tree Hill, near Richmond, Virginia. The foundation stallions of the modern American quarter horse in Texas, Copper Bottom, Steel Dust, and Shiloh, trace their lineage back to Sir Archy. 

Physical Description of the Quarter Horse 

There are three types of quarter horses, bulldog, thoroughbred, and intermediate. The bulldog has imposing muscles, large, strong hindquarters, and shoulders with a barrel of a body. The intermediate also has massive muscles, but with fine bones, a short back and a full barrel of a body. The thoroughbred lineage into the quarter horse is a cross between the bulldog and the intermediate. Thoroughbreds are lean in muscle with fine bone structure in the legs and appear sleek. Although quarter horses come in a variety of colors, appaloosas, paints, and pintos are not included in the quarter horse breed.

Short History of Lineage of the Quarter Horse

The quarter horse breed comes from a diverse lineage. We can trace Sir Archy back to 1724 to The Goldophin, foaled in Yemen. The Goldophin moved locations several times before finding a permanent home in England. 

Spanish explorers brought horses to the North American continent, Central America, and the South American continent. The Spaniards traded horses with the Chickasaw tribe for many reasons. The Chickasaw tribe of the southeastern U.S. quickly learned how to break, train, and swiftly utilize these new creatures from Spain. 

The Spanish Conquistadors had ridden their horses into Mexico, Central America, South America, and the southern U.S. by 1600. Anglo settlers began crossing the Spanish horses with their equine English brethren. One man from Virginia imported Janus, the thoroughbred grandson of The Godolphin who lived in the mid-1700s in England. Colonel John Tayloe III of Mount Airy, Virginia, and Captain Archibald Randolph of Ben Lomond, in Goochland County, Virginia, foaled Sir Archy. Sir Archy’s namesake is Captain Archibald Randolph. 

The Arabian breed, Spanish breed, and mixed Chickasaw breeds of the future quarter horse all contributed to what we recognize today as the American quarter horse. 

Sir Archy

To get to the Texas quarter horse breeds, we have to begin in Virginia with Sir Archy. More than likely, Sir Archy was foaled in 1805, probably at Tree Hill, near Richmond, Virginia, by Captain Randolph and Colonel Tayhoe. Captain Randolph sold his interest of Sir Archy to Colonel Tayhoe’s nephew, Ralph Wormeley; Colonel Tayhoe did the same. Wormeley retained full ownership of Sir Archy. 

Quarter horse historians believe that Sir Archy was born at Tree Hill, Virginia. Sir Archy’s racing career began at his age of three on an unknown length of racetracks. He accomplished seven heats and four wins. A horse had to compete in two heats to be a winner. The racing standards where Sir Archy earned his reputation were not set in concrete. 

We  know that by the mid-1700s, short dash horse races of a mile or less were common in the Deep South. By the mid-1800s, four-mile heat horse racing was popular in the Deep South. Even so, the quarter-mile dash race gained popularity in the 1800s even in the Deep South. 

Sir Archy died in June  1833 and was buried at either Mowfield or Ben Lomond in North Carolina; both places claim him as their own. William Carter Trevathan (1830–1908), from North Carolina said, “Sir Archy got more distinguished racers than any horse in America, perhaps in the world, from all sorts of mares, with all kinds of pedigrees, and some with no pedigrees at all. It might be said with truth that he filled a hemisphere with his get."

Before we can place Sir Archy’s bloodline as the patriarch of Man O’War, Seabiscuit, and Secretariat, we have to place his lineage in Texas in the mid-1800s. Among three of Sir Archy’s progenies of Texas was the incredible Copper Bottom, the great stallion brought to Texas in 1839 by General Sam Houston. Along with Copper Bottom,  Steel Dust and Shiloh are considered as the foundation stallions of separate American quarter horse breeds, and all three trace back to Sir Archy. 

Sir Archy died at the end of his 17-year stud career after his early racing career at age 26 at the Mowfield Plantation, which is west of Jackson, North Carolina. Both Mowfield Plantation and Jackson, North Carolina, claim to own Sir Archy’s final resting place. This question of his burial location has fueled a heated debate for many years. Sir Archy is credited with siring hundreds of champion racers throughout many generations. 

Copper Bottom

We know less about Copper Bottom’s lineage due to the era that was the new and sovereign Republic of Texas in 1839. Copper Bottom was a chestnut-colored horse foaled in 1828 and bred by Edward Parker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

General Sam Houston shipped Copper Bottom to the port in New Orleans, Louisiana, from Lancaster, then to the port in Galveston in 1839. First, General Houston took Copper Bottom to Chambers County, Texas, then to Walker County, and next, Hopkins County. Copper Bottom traces back two times on his dam’s side to Sir Archy from Janus.

Copper Bottom, beginning at age 11 in his Texas career, begat numerous swift-racing colts in Galveston who set racing records all along the Texas coastline. Copper Bottom’s blood still runs in Texas quarter horse strings to this day. The American Stud Book lists Copper Bottom’s progeny in the Appendix to Volume VII. An entry for Margaret W, a brown mare foaled in 1890, bred and owned by George H. Williams, of Paris, Texas, which adjoins Hopkins County. Margaret W traces directly to Copper Bottom. 

Copper Bottom is known as one of the founding sires of the American Quarter Horse. Copper Bottom sired the second oldest family of American Quarter Horses in the post-Colonial period of the U.S. The third President of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), R.L. Underwood, bred many bloodlines with his stallion, Golden Chief, who is directly traced to Copper Bottom.  

Steel Dust 

Steel Dust sired a strain of quarter horses whose bloodline is still alive in his quarter horse breed today. He was an undisputed champion in Texas horse racing. 

Steel Dust’s sire was Harry Bluff, the son of Short Whip, and bred with a thoroughbred mare named Big Nance, from Timoleon stock. Sir Archy sired Timoleon. Steel Dust sired a strain of quarter horses whose bloodline is still highly sought after in the quarter horse breed today. When Steel Dust’s racing career ended, ranchers flocked to buy his progenies. 

Steel Dust earned his own Texas Historical Marker which reads:

19th century Texas frontier champion who became foundation sire for the most popular quarter horse strain of the 20th century. A Virginia type horse foaled by a Kentucky thoroughbred mare, Steel Dust was brought in 1844 as a colt to the Texas Republic by settlers Middleton Perry and Jones Greene. On Ten Mile Creek (near Lancaster, SE of Dallas) at the farm track of Thomas McKee Ellis, father-in-law of his owners, Steel Dust outran all challengers. He was about 16 hands high and so quick that his jockey coated his back with molasses in order to stay on. Steel Dust won a spectacular race in McKinney against local favorite Monmouth in 1855; soon afterward defeated Brown Dick, from Hopkins County. Later in 1855, going against Shiloh, a horse from Tennessee, Steel Dust was hurt at the starting gate. He soon went blind, never raced again, but survived at stud for years. The famed King Ranch in south Texas began to use breeding lines from Steel Dust and Shiloh in 1916, winning many honors at the State Fair of Texas. From this ranch has come stock for circuses, rodeos, and polo teams. The American Quarter Horse Association was formed in 1940. Quarter horses are now as much in demand for racing as for farm and ranch work.

Foaled in 1843, Middleton Perry and Jones Greene brought Steel Dust to Texas as a yearling in 1844. Steel Dust was reported to be 15 or 16 hands high, weigh 1,100 or 1,200 pounds, and so lightening fast on the quarter-mile track that his jockeys rubbed molasses on his back to keep from falling off during his races.  

Steel Dust sired the line of quarter horses with the qualities a cowboy profusely needed in a cow pony. After retiring from racing, Steel Dust continued with a remarkable stud career. Along with strong physical abilities that gave the quarter horse its speed, they had exceptional intelligence. Cowboys needed that lightning speed in a cow pony, and they could earn extra money or lose everything at the racetrack with their quarter horse cow ponies.

The line of quarter horse breed sired by Steel Dust became known as “Steeldusts”. The Steeldusts were characterized by heavy muscles, small ears, and big jaws. The Steeldust breed acquired fame in mythical proportions on the racetrack and on the range. Steel Dust died in 1864, and his owner buried him on Ten Mile Creek on Middleton Perry’s farm in Dallas County. 

To learn more about this legendary quarter horse, you can find a copy of “Quarter Horses: A story of Two Centuries” by Robert Moorman Denhardt on who said, “The important thing is that there were such horses as Steel Dust. They lived, worked, ran and begot sons and daughters and founded a mighty race, the American quarter horse.”

Shiloh

Five years after Steel Dust arrived in Texas, Jack Batchler, a blacksmith who lived in Ellis County Texas brought Shiloh, another progeny of Sir Archy, to Texas. 

Shiloh was foaled in 1844 in Tennessee. Shiloh’s record on the racetrack was legendary. Jack stored more stock in the racetrack than in his forge. We know little about Shiloh. What we do know is that Shiloh sired the strain of the Billy quarter horse. Shiloh was the fountainhead of the Old Billy Family of South Texas quarter horses. 

Old Billy bred with a mare named Paisiana, a daughter of Steel Dust, and together, they produced 20 foals. Some of their most famous offspring include Anthony, Red Rover, John Crowder, Pancho, Joe Collins, and Whalebone. Shiloh was 30 years of age when he pushed his way into his corral containing another stallion who kicked him so severely that he consequently died from the injuries. His owner buried Shiloh on Bear Creek in Ellis County in 1874.

The Race of the Century Between Steel Dust and Monmouth

By 1850, Steel Dust had gained a reputation as one of the fastest horses on the quarter mile racetrack in Texas, bar none. 

Also by 1850, Kentuckians had fostered blooded stock and designed superb racetracks. Their races were longer than a quarter mile and became the event that we know of today as the Kentucky Derby. But, out in the Wild Wild West such finery in a racetrack was unknown, and the quarter mile horse race was the biggest event around on the frontier racing circuit. 

In 1855*, Steel Dust was set to race a Kentucky short horse, Monmouth, in McKinney, Texas, in Collin County. Monmouth was a fabulous sprinter and fabled in Kentucky with many wins on the racetrack. Monmouth’s owner, Harrison Stiff, moved to Collin County, Texas in 1850. The anticipation of the race between Steel Dust and Monmouth moved county officials to close down the courts in Sherman, Texas, on the Red River, Jefferson, in deep east Texas, and in other counties for miles and miles. 

Businesses also closed in all the adjoining counties. The crowds before the day of this race were so dense that Foote House, which held all high social and political events in McKinney, were occupied exclusively by the wives and the intended of their male counterparts to witness this race. Their men were simply left to find a place to sleep in private homes, storerooms, and barns. 

Upon his arrival in McKinney from Lancaster, Texas, Steel Dust appeared lethargic, which compelled those in Collin County to wager most of their cash, horses, saddles, spurs, property, and jewelry on Monmouth. J. W. Throamorton, future Texas governor, officiated at this race. Steel Dust needed an expert jockey because he was always testy and raring to go in the starting chute.  

Shortly before this race, Steel Dust’s jockey, Henry Ellis, age 13, had to bow out of this race. Henry’s mother found out that this race was being held on a Sunday. As a devout Christian, Henry’s mother strictly disallowed Henry’s participation in the race. Henry was a slight, boney kid who had to put a lead shot in a money belt around his waist to qualify for a jockey’s legal racing weight. Henry’s friend, Tom McKnight, rode Steel Dust in his place. 

This race took place on a straightaway quarter mile track. It would be Steel Dust’s last win. Steel Dust’s reign on the Texas quarter mile racing circuit would turn into a hugely successful stud career. Steel Dust clobbered Monmouth. 

The Race that Never Was Between Steel Dust and Shiloh

In the same year, a race between Shiloh, who had gained notable fame as a winning short track racer, and Steel Dust, erupted with the same anticipation and charge of excitement as the Steel Dust/Monmouth race. 

This race ended before it began. Steel Dust injured himself in the starting chute. They described Steel Dust as fractious at the start of a race while still in the chute. This race was to take place on a well-maintained racetrack on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas. Two versions of the race that never was exist in two historical accounts. One is more believable. 

Jack Batchler’s son, many years after this race, stated, 

“Steel Dust, eager for a start, reared and plunged in the chute. In making his leap to clear the stall, he struck the wall and ran a splinter in his shoulder, which disabled him. Shiloh then was galloped over the course, and his owner claimed and received the forfeit. Blinded from this injury, Steel Dust never raced again; but his renown was such that he was in wide demand for breeding for many years, during which he had several owners in turn.”

Bill Rayburn, a latter owner of Steel Dust, also had a son who gave a different version of Steel Dust’s injury in the chute said,

“Steel Dust’s trainer sold out the match but neglected to inform the jockey of the deal. As the race was about to start, the trainer caused Steel Dust to rear in the chute and fall to his knees. But the jockey pulled him up, and in spite of a bad start, won the race.” 

The newspaper accounts of this famous race that never happened between Steel Dust and Shiloh burned up in a fire. It is more likely that Batchler’s account is the truth. It would have appeared an embarrassment to Shiloh’s owner and the men who wagered their belongings on him if there was no race with Steel Dust, but with Shiloh winning only by forfeit. It was not a dignified wager or win. 

Equine Bloodlines Run Swift and Deep

These three stallions, Copper Bottom, Steel Dust, and Shiloh, bloodlines live on in quarter horses today. Many a deceptive horse breeder would brag of these stallion’s bloodline in his horses over the years, but thanks to hard work of the American Quarter Horse Association, we can, with almost surety, believe which horses today do and do not carry the blood of these three legendary horse superstars.**

* Some accounts report this race happened in 1853, not 1855. The year 1855 makes more logical sense than 1853 because the race between Steel Dust and Shiloh was to happen in the same year as the Steel Dust/Monmouth race, and we know that the Steel Dust/Shiloh race was to take place in 1855. 

** There is no pragmatic way to cite all of the sources that I drew from in order to pull this story together. I quit counting sources early on in the research process, and I guesstimate that I used over 50 sources. I learned about Copper Bottom from a Bonanza episode recently. In that Bonanza episode, its dialogue entertained the Copper Bottom breed of quarter horses from Texas. At that point, wild horses could not have dragged me away from researching Copper Bottom. So many micro quarter horse stories arched throughout my research of which I unfortunately had to leave out of this account.  

Pictures
  1. Painting of Sir Archy
  2. What Copper Bottom May Have Looked Like, Courtesy: The ideal American Quarter Horse, painted by Orren Mixer and delivered to the AQHA public information committee in 1968. (Credit: courtesy of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum) 
  3. Painting of Steel Dust
  4. Steel Dust Historical Marker
  5. Sir Archy's Lineage
  6. Steel Dust’s Lineage
  7. Shiloh's Lineage




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