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The Kissee Family

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The Kissee Family, Old Fox and Blankenship Diamond

By Clyde Connelly

kisseeOne of the prominent pioneer families of Southern Missouri who greatly affected the development of the early Fox Trotting horse, was the Kissee family of Christian County, Missouri. Richard Kissee was born in June, 1870, just a few short years after the Civil War ended. In 1895 he married Laura Ann Watts and to this union eight children were born, four boys and four girls. Richard, and later on his four sons, were all heavily involved in the Union Stockyards located in Springfield, Missouri. He and his sons enjoyed the reputation of being some of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas’ most active and widely known cattle buyers.

Ellis Kissee owned Old Fox, and Knial Kissee owned the Kissee Fox

Richard’s oldest son, Richard “Ellis” Kissee was born on December 2, 1898 and died at 55 years of age due to a lingering heart condition. It is Ellis who has received credit for buying the noted stallion Old Fox, who was reportedly shipped in with a rail car load of horses to the Springfield stockyards back in 1924. Richard’s second son, Willard,was born on June 21, 1901 and died at the age of 57 having been shot nine times with a 22. caliber pistol in the hands of an angry woman. A few of the early registration papers carry the name “Willard Kissee Diamond”, but other than this notation it has not been shown that Willard had any great interest in horses. The third son, Raymond, was born December 19, 1904 and died November 4, 1955 from a fatal disease that he fought for over two years. Raymond was very successful as a livestock buyer and had very little interest in horses. Like his father, it was reported that over a thousand people were in attendance at his funeral. However, it was the fourth and youngest son, Knial, who probably did more for the early Fox Trotting horse, and the early walking horse, than he has ever received credit for. His influence on what at the time were called “Plantation” horses has not been equaled. History will prove that Knial was what many would consider a “Master Horseman”. He stood good horses at stud, he raised good horses, and he showed good horses. Knial was born November 20, 1906 and died July 5, 1959 from injuries received in a car accident while returning home from the Bolivar, Missouri horse show. It was Knial who stood at stud the famous Fox Trotting stallions Old Ted, Kissee Fox and Diamond. Old Ted was the sire of Dina, who was the dam of the 1962 World Grand Champion, Lucky Strike. Old Ted was the sire of the Howard West mare, who was the dam of the 1964 World Grand Champion, Red Warrior. And Old Ted was the sire of Nancy Ann, who was the dam of the 1966 World Grand Champion, Golden Rawhide. Nancy Ann was also the maternal granddam of Zane Grey and Missouri Traveler, who are considered two of the greatest sires of Fox Trotting horses. It was Knial who owned the mother of Sandy, who was crowned the first World Grand Champion Missouri Fox Trotting Horse. It was Knial who owned the noted broodmare Betty Fox, who was the dam of Blankenship Diamond, and who also was the dam of Blankenship Diamond’s younger maternal brother, the famed Golden Governor. It was Knial who owned the 1943 Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion, Black Angel, whom he continued to promote heavily at area horse shows during that time. And it was Knial, who bred and raised one of the most famous walking stallions of all time, the great Midnight Mack K.

Too Many Old Foxes and Too Many Diamonds

Early registration papers list the names of Old Fox, the Kissee Fox, the Kissee Diamond, Blankenship Diamond, and a host of other Foxes and Diamonds. It is important to remember that these horses lived several years prior to the establishment of the Charter Registry for the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse , and was one of the reasons why the men from Ava determined that a registry was needed. It was common procedure during the days before a registry for the horse to carry the name of their owner in order to differentiate one horse from another. A case in point is the Old Fox horse, and the Kissee Fox horse. Several of the old registration papers list the stallion Old Fox as a sire, and several more will list the Kissee Fox as a sire. The difference between them was that supposedly nobody knew who Old Fox was sired by or even where he came from, but the Kissee Fox was sired by Old Ted, who in turn was sired by Cadmus Dare. Cadmus Dare carries the registration number #7852 in the American Saddlebred Registry. It has been stated that Old Fox arrived in Springfield, Missouri by rail car, included in a load of horses, and that he resembled Kentucky saddle horses in appearance. There are also reports that he came from the Bolivar, Missouri area where Cadmus Dare stood for a period. Regardless where he came from, this stallion proved in short order that he was of a caliber not often found, and he was in high demand. The question could be raised that if this horse was as valuable as he was found to be later in his life, then shouldn’t he have been just as valuable as a using horse and a stallion in his younger years? During the great depression horses flooded the market going to slaughter, but this was still the “roaring twenties”, and it was still a time of relative prosperity. Horses, especially good horses, were greatly appreciated. A horse with a reputation, especially a good reputation would be in demand. So why was Old Fox included in a group of horses and sent to an area where absolutely no one knew anything about him? Was it only coincidental that the Old Fox horse had the appearance of a Kentucky saddle horse, or was there a valid reason for it? Ellis Kissee owned Old Fox, and Knial Kissee owned the Kissee Fox. Why did the Kissee brothers, who both basically lived in the same area, during the same time, both stand stallions that were named closely the same?

Some memories credit Blankenship Diamond and the Kissee Diamond as being the same horse, but they were not. The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association has a stallion advertisement dated 1944 where Knial Kissee is advertising his stallions Old Ted and Diamond. Towards the bottom of that advertisement there is the notation that Diamond is a half brother to Ted. Since Old Ted was sired by Cadmus Dare, this would mean that Diamond and Old Ted had the same dam, a mare called Pet. The breeding of Pet is unknown at this time, but she was a proven broodmare as Knial raised several foals from her. Old Ted had two younger full sisters that Knial registered in the Tennessee Walking Horse Association. This proves that Blankenship Diamond was a different stallion to the Diamond that Knial was advertising.

Blankenship Diamond received his name from Elmo Blankenship, a livestock farmer from the Taney County town of Protem, Missouri, even though he was bred and raised by Knial. Blankenship Diamond was sired by the Kissee Fox, and his maternal brother Golden Governor, three years his junior, was sired by Ozark Golden King who was in turn sired by Old Fox. The dams for both was the noted mare, Betty Fox, who was owned by Knial.  Blankenship Diamond was born a rich chestnut color with a diamond in his forehead, no other markings. It has been said that he had one of the prettiest heads ever found on a Fox Trotting horse, especial a stallion. Fate wasn’t as kind to Diamond as it was to his younger half brother. Golden Governor inherited his golden palomino color from his sire, Ozark Golden King. At the time, the palomino craze was going on, and good fortune allowed Governor to end up in Laclede County where he was heavily promoted. Laclede County prided itself in having good Fox Trotting horses and there were plenty of riders there interested in getting those horses into the show ring. Governor not only had the opportunity to breed a lot of mares, but he got the opportunity to breed a lot of good mares. Governor was the proclaimed King of the Fox Trotting world, and he was respected as such.

Diamond on the other hand, lived like the proverbial stepchild with too much work and too little care. He had to make his own living, and he lived without the glory and fanfare that his younger brother was receiving. Each day ended just as it had begun, whatever needed to be done Diamond was expected to do it. It has been said that there wasn’t any better Fox Trotting horse around, he had no equal in the area in either style or rhythm. Mr. Blankenship has no interest in showing a horse, and no record has been found showing that Blankenship Diamond ever entered an arena. While Governor got all the best mares to breed, Diamond’s court resembled the other end of the spectrum. He even had to breed work mares, but each resulting foal had the unmistakable look of a Diamond.

Elmo and his wife, Algia, had three daughters and a son, Max. As those times called for, Elmo and Max worked closely together on the farm. It was Max who handled Diamond the majority of the time,and the horse had a lot of respect for him. Diamond was kept in a small paddock that was close to the school bus stop, and each day when Max stepped off the bus the horse could always be depended upon to nicker when he saw Max.  Later, when Max became a junior in High School, he was involved in a serious auto accident which caused him to lose his life. Elmo took the loss hard as he was very close to his only son. Grief affects individuals differently, some pick up the pieces and continue to go on and some just can’t let go. The later was the way with Elmo. The death of his only son changed him completely from the man he was before. He picked up habits he did not have before, and one of them became a crutch. On the morning of December 17, 1958, Elmo took his own life and once again the old horse changed hands. Blankenship Diamond’s new owner rode him too long and got him too hot working cattle, which almost broke old Diamond’s wind. The horse was never the same after that, and he died not much later. Whatever task the horse was put to, he had the reputation as a horse that wouldn’t quit. Several of the best old time fox trotting horses found in Douglas, Ozark, Taney or Christian Counties (in Missouri) carried old Blankenship Diamond blood.

Father time tends to cloud memories, especially when it comes to horses’ names, bloodlines and dates when those horses lived. Several years would pass since the time some of these horses lived and when the registry was eventually formed. Most accounts stated that the Kissee Diamond and the Blankenship Diamond were one and the same. They weren’t. If the consensus over the years was that these horses were the same, could they also be incorrect about Old Fox and the Kissee Fox being different horses?

The four sons of Richard Kissee all died at a young age, and all firsthand knowledge about these horses died with them.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Mr. Gene Dunn of Protem, Missouri who assisted with this story.