Rescuing Saddlebred History

It all began in Mexico, Missouri: 1887…

simmons stables horse sale barn mexico missouri audrain countyThe West and many parts of the continental US are still unsettled and unruly by our standards. Geronimo only surrendered last year and the last big cattle drive to Dodge City happened just 6 years ago. In two more years, the Oklahoma Land Rush will take place, the last major section of the US to be opened to settlement. There is no television or radio; vaudeville is just being organized on the east coast. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show made its debut in Omaha only four years ago.

Horseracing and horse shows are entertainment everyone can participate in. Race tracks existed outside of Mexico before the town was surveyed for settlement. (In fact, one was moved two miles closer when the city was started.)

Horses were a primary form of transportation, in addition to the railroad and declining river freight. The time was ripe for Cyrus Clark and his brother-in-law Joe Potts to build a big barn to house the the activities of their Clark & Potts Sales Company, which had been doing business for several years. Clark needed a barn to house his famous line of trotters.

The barn took over a year to build and was built by the traditional “post and beam” method, which is a 2,000-year-old traditional method of building. It was a popular style for barns as it could hold the weight of a large roof over a large loft space – in this case, over 250 feet long and over 40 feet wide. (The loft of this barn can hold around 5,000 bales of hay.) This barn had room for at least 36 horses, with a 20 foot wide center aisle which could be used as an indoor ring during inclement weather.

From its start, it quickly gained the reputation as “America’s No. 1 sales barn,” helping Mexico become the original “Saddlehorse Capital of the World.” The barn continued in this role over the next hundred years, as the Lee Brothers, B. B. Tucker, Bill Cunningham and finally Arthur Simmons took over ownership and operation in the late 1940’s.

This barn has housed a long line of champion horses, such as Miss Rex, Forest King, Columbus, Rex Blees, King Lee, Mr. B, Roxie Highland, Courageous Peavine, Ann Rutledge, Blarney Stone, Miss Lori and others. One well known early Saddlebred horse, Lee Rose 832, was a winner at the World’s Fair of Chicago in 1893.

Many harness-class champions were produced by Simmons’ Stables. Colonel Boyle (six-time world champion), Tashi Ling, Stonewall Lee, Vanity Again, Perfect Stranger, Personal Touch and Gypsy Dream Girl are only a few of these.

Of the trainers who have worked at this barn, probably the most famous was Tom Bass. Others were John T. Hook, Splint Barnett, Hugh Dempsey, Del Holeman, Lee Butler, Ross Drake, Jim Hitte, Arthur Simmons and Jim Simmons.

An extension of the premier horse sales legendary in Mexico, owner Art Simmons started the Heart of America Saddle Horse Sales at the American Royal in Kansas City. This annual auction quickly became the nation’s premier public auction for Saddlebred horses.

In June 2003, Simmon’s Stables was announced on “Missouri’s Ten Most Endangered List of Historic Sites” by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation. Efforts to preserve this piece of history were started in 2001 by Bobette Balser Wilson, who soon had help with the formation of the Simmons’ Stables Preservation Fund, Inc.

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1. Even after the dissolution of their business, both Clark and Potts remained active in the horsebreeding business. Clark went on to become a member of the Missouri legislature and was largely responsible for the establisment of the Missouri State Fair, underwriting the first $1,000 stake there. Potts was the first president of the fair and also was one of the founding directors of the American Saddle Horse Breeders Association.