By Clyde Connelly and Samantha Mullin
Florine Barham’s father, Franklin Hopkins was born and raised in the Dunnegan, Missouri area which is located in Polk County. During a recent visit to Barham Stables, Florine had the following to say about her father, friends Elmer and Alice Hicks, and good fox trotting horses.
My father, Franklin Hopkins, was born the 8th day of November in 1899, and my mother Lula, was born in 1900. Dad was born and raised in the Dunnegan, Missouri area, and mother was raised in Bismont, another small community like Dunnegan. Not a lot remains of the old communities now, but at the time Dad was born they were both thriving communities. When Dad got married, he bought the farm that his brother was living on, which was located only a quarter mile from the farm house that he was born in. At that time there was a settlement of three farms that was all owned by Hopkins, his two brothers and him (Dad). My grandfather, and also my great-grandfather, had all lived in that same area. People back then didn’t have the transportation to move away very far, so families tended to stay close together. I was once told by a very old man, years ago, that all of the Hopkins’ came here from an area just north of Fair Play, Missouri. The old man said that was at a time when homestead land was still available and none of the land around there had any settlers on it.
He told me that those Hopkins looked toward Dunnegan and homesteaded land from just north of Fair Play all the way to Dunnegan. The Hopkins he was referring to was probably my great-grandfather and my grandfather. My granddad, my Dad, and both of Dad’s brothers all ended up owning big farms. There’s been a lot of changes during the past hundred years.
Dad was always interested in fox trotting horses. At the time he was growing up, people had to depend on horses to both make a living and for transportation. Trucks and automobiles were a rarity in rural areas, and good horses were valuable. Dad made his living being a livestock trader, and he kept horses that would get him from place to place in the shortest time. He had to have a horse that would allow him to go farm to farm as quickly as possible as he made his living as a livestock dealer, and other livestock dealers were in competition with him. He once rode a fox trotting horse from where he lived in Dunnegan all the way to the stockyards in Springfield, a distance of 44 miles. He rode fox trotting horses because they were comfortable and reliable. At that time there was a rail head and stockyard at Dunnegan, so that is where he would deliver the livestock that he had either bought or traded for. Back then there weren’t many trucks or trailers to move livestock, so if you moved them at all you either had to move them by foot or on horseback. Tighter traveling horses were used for driving livestock as they were slower, and looser going horses were used for transportation whenever you needed to get somewhere in a hurry.
Dad also traded in hounds, and he especially liked fox hounds. He traded them all the time. Listening to fox hounds provided a lot of entertainment in those days, and the hound men would build a fire at night and sit around and listen to their hounds run. I went with Daddy many times to listen to the hounds. He’d always stop somewhere and get a bag of marshmallows or something like that and then build a little fire out where we could hear the hounds.
Usually several men would show up, and everybody could identify their dogs by the way they barked. They would sit around the fire and say ‘there goes ole so-and-so’, ‘she’s behind’, or ‘she’s in front’ or he’s about to figure that old fox out’. They would chase the fox until it went in a hole, and when it went in a hole the fox hunt was over. They never wanted to kill the fox, and you were looked down upon if you did.
Prior to the war, every farm had work teams, but when the war came it seems like everyone wanted a tractor. Some people still kept around a team of pulling horses as tractors back then weren’t always affordable. Dad kept two teams, and he also kept his fox trotting riding horses.
A lot of people got down to just one horse to ride in order to be able to run into town to get groceries or whatever. It cost a lot of money to operate a vehicle, and most people didn’t have it.
Dad told me that the first horse he ever bought was when he was eight years old. I don’t know where he came up with the money but I guess it was from doing odd jobs around the farm. Dad’s family wasn’t considered a ‘poor’ family, so his mom and dad probably paid him for some of the work he did. Dad was raised during good times.
Bad times didn’t come around until the depression, and that was after Dad and Mom were married and Dad had bought his farm. Times during the depression were very hard, and Dad and Mom didn’t get their farm completely paid off until after Rex and I were married. My grandpa Hopkins had a grocery store in Dunnegan, and when his daughter, Dad’s sister, grew up she put in another grocery store. So, at that time Dunnegan had two grocery stores.
Her husband also had the feed mill so they had a grocery store/feed mill combination. My grandfather’s name was Blecker Hopkins. During the depression you had to have stamps in order to get lots of things like shoes, sugar, gas or even tires for your car. If you didn’t have the right stamps, then you did without. Stores carried a little of everything and some were also the post office where people would pick up their mail.
I had two brothers but by the time I was old enough to do much, both of my brothers had gone off to war. I was kind of a tomboy growing up and I spent a lot of time helping Dad. Dad had a team of horses, Frank and Fred, and when I was real young I would walk out to the field where he was working them just to be able to ride one of them back. I can still remember Dad telling me when I was riding old Frank, ‘Sis, you’re about to make Frank fox trot.’ That was the first time I remember hearing the word ‘fox trot’ and I was about five years old. One thing that I’ll always remember is once Dad and I were out in the field doing some work with a team, and Dad had let a colt follow one of the mares that we were working. That turned out to be a bad mistake. Dad walked up behind the colt and was just going to pet it, when the colt kicked out with both hind feet and caught Dad square in the chest.
The impact from both hoofs knocked Dad out for a little while, which scared me to death. I ran a little over a half mile back to the house to get help for him. Dad eventually got alright, but he was hurt for a long time.
Dad and Elmer Hicks were competitors but they were also good friends. Dad, Rex and I were all interested in show horses, but neither of my brothers were. They usually kept a horse or two around, but the did more trail riding than showing. After Elmer brought Sterling Merry Boy into this country, Dad bred a mare to him and raised a horse that he called Dusty Star. Dad made a good show horse out of him and he won lots of ribbons. Sterling Merry Boy only had four crops of foals before he died. Elmer for one reason or another kept putting off getting him registered; I guess he thought he had plenty of time. But, Elmer got hold of some bad feed and the horse colicked and died.
Some of the stallions he sired that stand out in my mind are April Star’s sire, Blue Ringo Sunny Boy, and Ringo’s full brother, Poole’s Blue Boy. He also sired McBride’s Merry Boy and Zane Grey. He also sired great mares like Silver Bell, April Gold, and Starlite W. You can’t pick up many registration papers today without some of these names being printed on them. Sterling Merry Boy did a lot for the fox trotting horse, and I think he deserves a foundation number. Most other breed organizations will do this, but not ours. If a stallion does something great to improve that particular breed, then they award him with a foundation number. We should do the same. I think anybody would be hard pressed to come up with another stallion that has done as much for the fox trotting horse with only four colt crops as what Sterling Merry Boy has.
When we first got interested in getting show horses, we thought we might want to show walking horses. There were several walking horses around Bolivar then, so we took a trip to Tennessee to see their big show, and while there we went around to two or three of their training barns. We decided real quick that we didn’t want to do to our horses what they were doing to theirs, so we came back and looked up Elmer Hicks and told him that we wanted to buy the best filly out of his stallion that he knew about. Rex told Elmer that he wanted the best one out there that was for sale. Elmer said he knew where she was, but didn’t think she could be bought. We ended up buying her from Bill Fished and we named her Silver Lady. Then we found another Sterling Merry Boy filly that we liked, and her names was Sterling Sugar. We bred Sterling Sugar back to her paternal half brother, Ringo, and we got a filly that we named April Star.
One time Rex took a full sister to April Star, Sterling’s Flame, down to Alden Duncan’s farm at Mountain View, Missouri and bred her to Walker’s Merry Lad. April Star was a grey, But Flame was a red roan. Rex hauled her all the way down to Mountain View, bred the mare, and brought her back on the same day. The next year she had a foal. So, Rex loaded the mare and foal back up and went back down to Alden’s again. The next spring, she had another foal. For two years in a row, Rex hauled a mare down there, bred her once, and brought her back on the very same day, and both years the mare had a foal. That’s pretty amazing.
When April Star was foaled, we could tell by the way she moved that she was going to be good, we just didn’t know how good. Once she was broke, she turned out to be great.
April’s mother was a regular outlaw, you couldn’t ride her unless you rode bareback. Rex was bound and determined that he was going to ride her with a saddle, and the old mare was just as bound and determined that he wasn’t.
Time after time Rex would get on her, and time after time she would find a way to throw him. Neither wanted to give up, and somehow Rex found out that he could ride her bareback and she wouldn’t try to throw him. That’s how we found out that she didn’t like to be cinched up. I made up my mind that April Star wasn’t going to be that way so I would go out there when she was still on the mare, and rub her and rub her around her girth area. I would rub April Star for hours because that was her mother’s problem, her mother couldn’t stand to have anything around her girth area. April’s mother had the prettiest head that I’ve ever seen on a fox trotting horse. She had a little thoroughbred way back in her background and that must be where the meanness came from. She loved to run I started modeling horses back when April Star was a foal, and over-all I was pretty successful. April Star might have been the first foal I ever modeled. I got second in the
foal class during the Show and Celebration at Ava, and April Star wasn’t even registered. At that time you could still get your horses registered on the show grounds, but we didn’t know that you had to have a foal registered in order to show it. Dale Wood and Dale Esther got into a big argument about it, one wanted us to be disqualified and the other wanted us to still be able to show as April Star was just a foal. Back then we could have gotten her mother approved under saddle, except the old mare didn’t like being saddled. From what we heard later on, the argument got pretty heated between both of them. I think that they ended up exchanging more than just words. Rex finally got April’s mother broke good enough to approve, and then we were able to get April Star registered. As a yearling, April Star was registered, and she won her model class at Ava. Then as a two year old, we won the Two Year Old Model Class, and Elmer Hicks showed her in the
Two Year Old Mare Performance Class and won it, then Elmer showed her back in the Two Year Stake Class, and she won it. She won three trophies during that Show and Celebration. Elmer was also showing Silver Bell at that time and he won the Senior Mare Class, I showed her in the Ladies Class and won it, and then Elmer got Reserve World Champion in the championship class, so Silver Bell also won three trophies during that Show and Celebration.
Elmer Hicks was quite a horseman. He would train his horses in a way that if he wanted them to go, he would get more of a hold on them, and when he wanted them to slow down, he would let up on them a little. If you would just turn the reins loose on Silver Bell and tell her to canter, she would have one of the best canters. But, Elmer would get a little nervous and he would tighten up a little on Silver Bell and sometimes she would get a little fast. The year Starlite W. won the Celebration, Silver Bell and Elmer had previously won the Senior Mare Class, and Starlite W. and Gene White came in second. However, things didn’t go as well during the Championship Class for Silver. For one reason or another, Silver Bell came into the class and hadn’t made but a round or two and she was wringing wet with sweat. Back then, we rode the horses a lot longer that what we do now, especially in the Senior Stake Class. She just wasn’t at her best and she gave out before the class was over. Since then there’s been horses that have won the Grand Championship Stake Class at Ava that couldn’t do near as much as what Silver Bell could do.
Rex was the one who broke my Dad’s good show horse, Dusty Star. Dusty was also sired by Sterling Merry Boy and out of a mare that Dad had. Dad didn’t want to fool with a stallion so he made a gelding out of Dusty. When Rex first started breaking Dusty, Franklin came by one day and asked Rex how he was getting along with his horse. Rex told him that for the most part he was a pretty good horse but that it seemed like he wanted to booger at just about anything. Franklin said, ‘well, he might get worse before he gets better’. Rex was showing him one night and someone had parked close to the arena and left their blinker light flashing on their pickup. That blinker light scared Dusty Star to death every time he came by the area of the arena where he could see the light. Dusty Star became a pretty good show horse, but he developed some peculiarities. For instance, if you took him to a show and if they played show music that had a fiddle in it, then you might as well load him back up and take him home.
Fiddle music just drove him crazy. You could always tell what kind of ride you would get from him, though. If he went in the gate calm, most of the time you would end up with a blue ribbon. One night we took him to a horse show they were having at Strafford, Missouri, but that show got rained out. Someone said that it wasn’t raining down in Arkansas, so we loaded back up and drove down to the show that they were having at Blue Eye, which is a long way off from Strafford. Well, we didn’t get there in time to show April Star, so we went ahead and entered Dusty Star in the classes we could still show in. Their show grounds had several big metal advertising signs attached to the back fence of the arena, and their judge only stood in the middle of the arena. He looked one way, and he never looked back towards those signs. The wind was blowing just enough to make all those signs rattle. It was all I could do to stay on Dusty when we rode by those signs as he was scared to death of them. But, when we turned the corner and started to go towards the judge, Dusty Star would straighten right out and ‘put on a show’. I ended up with first place as the
judge never saw Dusty make a mistake. In fact, we beat a horse that night that supposedly couldn’t be beat. We really had a lot of fun with that horse. Dad was having a little health problems with his chest about that time, so we got to show Dusty Star a lot. Dad would show him whenever he could, and he won a lot of shows. Dad loved to ride, and he was good with horses. Whenever Rex had a problem with a horse, he would go to Dad to find out what he needed to do. Dad knew a lot of little tricks that seemed to work, which usually took care of the problem.
He was a good hand with a horse and always knew what he was doing. I always thought that the problems that Dad had with his chest was the result of getting kicked in the chest by that colt.
Alice Hicks, Elmer’s wife, loved going to horse shows. If she found out that there was going to be a horse show anywhere, she would start planning on attending. Rex and I drove Alice and Elmer to most of the horse shows they attended before they had to give it up. We would pull a two horse trailer with a car so we could all ride together.
We would go miles and miles, she didn’t care how far it was. Just as long as we could get there during the day and get back home that night she was ready to go.
Alice was also superstitious. The first time they showed Silver Bell, Alice went up to enter her. Elmer and Alice had two grey horses the same age, one named Maid of Silver and the other, Sterling Bell. Alice got mixed up with the names, so when she entered the mare, they had with them that night she said the horses’ name was Silver Bell. Silver Bell ended up winning her class and Alice was sosuperstitious she never would change it. So from that point on Maid of Silver became forever known as Silver Bell.
Alice was also the same way about her clothes. She would wear the same dress to every show because she believed that would bring them luck. But, they were so much fun to be around. Coming home from the show Alice would get pretty quiet. At home they went to bed fairly early so usually it wouldn’t take long for her to fall asleep. Elmer was the kind of guy that was always full of fun, and he always wanted to stop and eat somewhere on the way back home. Alice’s sister, Pearl, most of the time would ride along to the shows too. Anyway, Elmer always had a little song that you could hear him constantly sing. We would be driving home from a show late at night and you could hear Elmer singing that song under his breath. Pretty soon he too would drift off to sleep, but before long he would wake back up and take off singing that song. You couldn’t tell that he’d ever been asleep because he would start back up singing that song wherever he left off and never miss a beat. Rex did all of the driving and there is no telling how many hundreds of miles he drove. Rex always said that if we went to a show and we all did well, we would spend most of the time driving back home talking about the show. But, if none of us placed very high, all of us but Rex would be asleep before we left the show grounds.