Home Magazine Snippets George Drumheller – An important pioneer in Washington racing history

George Drumheller – An important pioneer in Washington racing history

By Susan van Dyke

Considered 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 state’s leading breeder for six consecutive years (1935-1940).

From Wheat to Thoroughbreds
George’s 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 2002).

George followed in his father’s 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 world.

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 *Honeywood—Tamiga, 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 Kelly’s 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 Washington’s 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 Washington’s 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 Washington’s 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 Horse.

That Magical Name “Drumheller”

by Reba Perry Blakely

What 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 throughout America.

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 California’s 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 America’s first Quarter Horses.”

This 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.

Upon Daniel M. Drumheller’s 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 Baskett’s 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.

His 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 Gottstein’s 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. 

When George’s 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 men’s and women’s 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 “America’s 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 and regulations.

It wasn’t 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 State.

It was at these fairs [that] Allen Drumheller, his close boyhood chum Darrell Cannon [future trainer of Joe Gottstein’s 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.

From 1913 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.

Very 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 men’s 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 America’s 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!