Gonzales Joe Bailey

by Phil Livingston

(Excerpt used with permission from the book LEGENDS 2: Outstanding Quarter Horse Stallions and Mares by Phil Livingston, Jim Goodhue, Frank Holmes, and Diane Simons; publisher Western Horseman, copyright 2005)

Through the 1930s and 1940s, a common statement from south Texas horsemen was, “If you want a good colt, breed your mare to that old horse at Gonzales.” They were referring to the Joe Bailey who sent so many good sons and daughters to the match racetracks, the dusty rodeo arenas, and the working ranches of the area.

While no one knows exactly, it is estimated that during his long career at stud, the blaze-faced chestnut stallion was responsible for at least 1,500 live foals. Since that figure includes foals for some 20 years before the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association in 1941, only a small portion of his blood came into the AQHA studbook in the first generation.

He lived for about 7 years following the establishment of the AQHA and many of his later offspring became well known. Some of them made an indelible mark on organized Quarter racing of the time and in the show ring. Gonzales Joe Bailey was designated as one of the 19 foundation sires by the fledgling AQHA in 1941, and therefore received the number P-4.

In the early years of the 20th century, there were three well-known Quarter Horse stallions in Texas named for the controversial, but popular, Joe Bailey, a U.S. Congressman and later a senator from Gainesville. The trio of stallions did as much for the Quarter Horse as their namesake did for his home district.

According to an article In the July 1947 Quarter Horse, the first of the Joe Baileys was foaled in or about 1900. In either 1902 or 1903, Tom Stephenson and H. Kimble Woods went to Missouri and purchased two young stallions, full brothers, sired by Diamond Deck, who was by Cold Deck and out of a Missouri Mike mare. One of these young stallions, a dark chestnut who eventually matured into a powerfully built animal of 15.1 or 15.2 hands, was sold to Dr. J. W. Nixon and named Joe Bailey after the aforementioned legislator who was in his political prime.

When the horse was 3 or 4, he was sent to the John P. Nixon Ranch in Medina County. From all reports, he was not too well broke. Only one attempt to race him was made, at Hondo, Tex., as his owners gave up after the horse repeatedly threw the jockey. His pedigree, however, made him a popular sire with south Texas horsemen. He was kept at the ranch and bred to the Nixon mares, mostly of Billy stock going back to Old Billy, the W.B. “Billy” Fleming horse. This Joe Bailey became know as Nixon’s Joe Bailey, and he contributed strongly to the pedigree of the third Joe Bailey, who became known as Gonzales Joe Bailey.

The second Joe Bailey was Joe Bailey of Weatherford, known today as Old Joe Bailey. He is discussed in the previous chapter.

The third of the Joe Baileys was foaled in 1919 on the ranch of Dr. J. W. Nixon. The ranch was located west of Gonzales, near Belmont where Billy Fleming had bred his “Billy horses” who were so well known in Texas during the 1880s and 1890s. Fleming’s original stallion, Old Billy, was by Shiloh and out of Ram Cat, by Steeldust.

Gonzales Joe Bailey was named after his maternal grandsire, Nixon’s Joe Bailey. Gonzales Joe Bailey was to spend his life near the little town on the Guadalupe River and become one of the most significant sires of his time. And the name of the town where he was foaled was usually added as a prefix to his name to distinguish him from Weatherford Joe Bailey. Gonzales Joe Bailey was Quarter Horse royalty if there ever was, since he was blood kin to all the top Quarter running horses in south Texas during the early 1900s. His sire was Little King, by Possum. (Possum causes confusion because he was first known as King when he was raced in Texas. When he was sold into Arizona, where he earned a reputation as a sire, his name was changed to Possum. And he was also sometimes referred to as King Cardwell.)

Possum was by Traveler, who established Dow and Will Sheley of Alfred, Tex., as premier Quarter Horse breeders shortly after the turn of the century.

The bottom side of Gonzales Joe Bailey’s pedigree was also solid speed. His dam was known only as the Brown Nixon Mare and was described by the Nixon family as “a very nice mare.” Her sire was Nixon’s Joe Bailey, purchased by Dr. Nixon when the horse was taken to south Texas as a 2-year-old. Nixon’s Joe Bailey was by Diamond Deck, by Old Cold Deck.

The Brown Nixon Mare was out of a mare known as Fanny. She was by Billy Dibrell (sometimes spelled as Dibbell), by Anthony, by Old Billy (the Fleming horse). Dr. J. W. Nixon was a long-time Texas breeder of top horses, having received his first Quarter mare when he was a child in either 1864 or 1865. He raised good horses his entire life and passed the interest, and the bloodline, on to his children.

According to an August 1963 article in The Quarter Horse Journal, by Bob Denhardt, Gonzales Joe bailey matured into a solidly built chestnut stallion who stood just 15 hands and weighed 1,150 pounds. He had a white blaze that stretched from just below the poll to the nostrils. His legs below the knees and hocks were roan, shading to almost white at the hoofs.

He had exceptionally good legs and feet, with dense, flat bone and clean, hairless fetlocks-as free from feathers as if they had been clipped. His withers were high and the shoulders well laid back. He was deep through the heart and had a tremendously powerful rear end and good muscling both inside and outside of the gaskins. Joe Bailey was not excessively wide between the front legs, and he had a good, but not exceptional, head. All in all, he was a horse built to use as well as run.

He passed on the conformation and coloring to his offspring to the degree that a Gonzales Joe Bailey could be easily identified. Old-time horseman N. Y. “Jack” Plume, of Yoakum, grew up some 30 miles south of Gonzales during the 1930s, owned a few of the Joe Baileys, and looked at a bunch more of them. He commented, “The Gonzales Joe Baileys were of good, blocky, quarter Horse type; with most of them light sorrel with a mealy mouth (muzzle shading of almost white) and the legs the same way; light manes and tails and white markings on the face. When I was growing up, a lot of the ranch and rodeo horses in this country were by him, and you could tell ‘em at a glance.”

While the pedigree of Gonzales Joe bailey reads “speed,” there is no record of where and when he raced…but he evidently did. An excerpt from an article in The Quarter Horse (June 1947) reads: “And though a horse of excellent performance on his own account-he was a 23-second horse on oval tracks-it was as a breeder that he earned his fame.”

Bob Denhardt verified Gonzales Joe Bailey’s speed. He had the opportunity to ride the horse when he inspected him for registration in 1941. In The Quarter Horse Journal of August 1963, Bob commented:

“He had a tremendous start. When we (Joe and I) were much younger, I rode him. The wind whistled in my ears and my eyes were watering when I dismounted. I doubt if I have ever ridden a faster horse. I have been on many horses, and felt them leave a chute after a calf or goat, but none left with the absolute abruptness of Joe Bailey, and none had the same sensation of sheer speed.”

Gonzales Joe Bailey’s races must have been under the ownership of Dr. J.W. Nixon and were probably at such south Texas tracks as Cuero, Eagle Pass, Skidmore, Columbus, and Kingsville. During the 1920s and 1930s, these small-town racetracks were the proving grounds for the Quarter Horse. Gonzales Joe Bailey may have also participated in the match races that Texans of the time were so fond of. Undoubtedly, the chestnut stallion upheld the reputation of the Traveler family at enough of theses affairs to interest mare owners in breeding to him.

In 1927, Dr. Nixon decided to sell or trade the horse. No comments have come down through history as to why the decision was made. As an 8-year-old, this Joe Bailey was taken to Gonzales where he was traded to Orange Thomas for a breeding jack. The trade was made with no boot money changing hands on either side, which gives an indication of the value placed on a Quarter Horse stallion, and on a good jack, at the time. Perhaps the swap took place during one of the monthly trade days found in small towns, or maybe Dr. Nixon had decided to go into the mule business.

Thomas was a trader, and he wasted no time in turning his new horse into cash. Joe Bailey was sold to brothers-in-law J.B. Ellis and C.E. Dickinson of Gonzales for $225. That was a hefty sum for any Quarter stallion in November of 1927. Once home with the Ellis-Dickinson partnership, Gonzales Joe Bailey made it a 20-year stay and brought into existence a family of terrific using horses.

Ellis and Dickinson bought Gonzales Joe Bailey as an investment and as a breeding horse. At $10 per mare, it didn’t take long to pay for their new stallion. At first, only local horsemen brought their mares to Joe. Then, his owners began to send the stallion on a circuit of the surrounding towns every spring. One of them either rode or led Joe to the various ranches where mares would be waiting. Later on, a pickup and homemade trailer were acquired, and the trips were made in relative ease. A lot of mares could be bred each year in that way.

L.T. “Buster” Burns Jr. of Yoakum was in the horse business at the time; track stars that he owned or raised included Chicaro Bill and Arizona Girl, as well as a number of polo ponies ridden by such players as Tommy Hitchcock. Burns remembered, “They used to pull that ol’ stud around in a slat-sided, homemade trailer, That’s the only way they could have bred all the mares they did. You couldn’t go to a ropin’ or a race meet without seein’ a whole herd of Joe Bailey colts…and they could all run a little,” which is horsemen-speak for blazing speed.

One of the first Gonzales Joe Baileys to make a name in the AQHA record books was Little Joe Jr. He was a horse who could do it all: win at halter, racing, and rodeo. Foaled in 1937, Little Joe Jr. was bred by Preston Johnson of Rosanky, who took his good mare Dumpy, by Little Dick, to Gonzales Joe Bailey in 1936. His idea was to raise a rope horse, but the results were so good that Johnson was talked into selling him. Larry Baumer of Utopia and W.E. Richardson of Concan bought him at 10 months of age for the high price of $150.

Little Joe Jr. went into training at the Boerne track when he was old enough, and soon showed that he could run in the best of company. Early in 1941, Little Joe Jr. went up against Clabber, Nobodies Friend, and Balmy L at Eagle Pass in a race that has become one of the classics in Quarter Horse history. Clabber came out on top, but Little Joe Jr. pushed him to the limit and was barely defeated. Later that year, Baumer took Little Joe Jr. to Tucson, where he quickly showed his ability to sprint down the track at Hacienda Moltacqua.

In writing about Little Joe Jr. in a 1942 issue of Racing Quarter Horses, published by the Southern Arizona Horse Breeders Association, Melville H. Haskell said, “As a race horse, Little Joe Jr. rates well up toward the top. He runs every jump of the way from the gate to a full quarter. Finished second to Clabber in the 1941 World’s Championship and, in 1941, he won two stallion races (beating Joe Tom, Chicaro, Bartender, and Shadow), and was second in a free-for-all behind Don Manners, beating Blueberry Hill.”

Little Joe Jr. was not only picked among the top 20 competing at Hacienda Moltacqua during 1941, 1942, and 1943, but his time for the 1/8-mile was excelled only by Chicaro and Redman. His time was better than that of Shue Fly, Joe Reek II, Nobodies Friend, Pay Dirt, Domino, and Prissy. He was listed as covering the quarter in :23.2. The AQHA awarded him one of the first Registers of Merit for his performance on the track.

At the big Tucson horse show in 1942, Little Joe Jr. received the judge’s nod as the grand champion cow horse stallion, proving that he had the kind of conformation that horsemen were looking for. Photographs of Little Joe Jr. were widely circulated in various publications as an example of what a top quality Quarter Horse stallion should look like. This helped to spread his fame, as well as that of his sire.

Any stallion with Little Joe Jr.’s looks, breeding, championship ribbons at halter, and his racing record was not long for the racetrack. And so Little Joe Jr. was purchased by the Diamond 2 Cattle Company of Kirkland, Ariz., and retired to stud. He sired 180 AQHA-registered foals out of 24 crops. Forty of those went to the track, where they earned $34,469, 24 ROMs in racing, and 1 Superior rack award. His leading money-earner was Mousie’s Little Bay, out of Mousie, with winnings of $5,610.

Probably his best son was Joe Jimmy, out of Brownie High, who outran the sensational Miss Panama, among other horses. Little Joe Jr. also sired 9 AQHA halter winners, who earned 55 points, and 8 performance point-earners with 89 points. The latter included Dooly M, who earned both a performance ROM and a Superior in cutting.

Other Joe Bailey of Gonzales offspring who achieved recognition on the short tracks included Blueberry Hill, who could cover a quarter in :23 and went 350 yards in :11.4 at Hacienda Moltacqua; Image Joe; Little Foot; Little Joe II; Little Johnnie; Sally Rand; Sleepy Joe; Sleepy Lou; Commando, who not only could run but also earned an ROM in performance; Flicka F, who set a new track record of :12.5 seconds for 220 yards; Joe Bailey’s Image; Pokey Joe; and Boiling Joe Bailey.
In the early days of the breed, the racetrack was the proving ground, and the name stallions and mares all demonstrated their ability to sprint. The get of Joe Bailey of Gonzales were no exception; they all showed that they had the speed to either race or catch a calf. The conformation went along with the run as far as horsemen were concerned.

Other top Joe Bailey of Gonzales horses were: Menton Northington’s Little King, who was sold to the Mullendore Cross Bell Ranch for a big price; Conformation, a daughter who won numerous ribbons before ending up in R.L. Underwood’s broodmare band; Little Joker, the O’Conner Ranch stallion who sired so many good using horses along the Gulf Coast; Bacchus, owned by J.D. Cowsert of Junction, the sire of the well-known Hoddy P-5982; Spencer and Teddy Bear, used by Helen Michaelis; Hot Shot, owned by Jack Frost; Anton Joe Bailey, who carried the colors of Anton Jerseck of Halletsville; Joker Joe, owned by the Spanish Springs Ranch of Reno, Nev.; and the good mare, Maggie Bailey.

For years, Joe Bailey was credited as the sire of the sensational painted Joe, since the spotted speedster was also from the Gonzales area. Even Melville Haskell listed the pedigree that way in Racing Quarter Horses, which he published for the Southern Arizona Horse Breeders Association in the 1940s. It wasn’t until 1965, when the American Paint Horse Association was formed, that new evidence proved that the horse was sired by rondo Joe, by Grano de Oro, by Little Joe, by Traveler.
Joe Bailey sired so may horses who could run well that it was natural to assume that any exceptional individual coming out of the area around Gonzales was his offspring.

The grandsons and granddaughters of Gonzales Joe Bailey were literally legion, both registered and unregistered. For a quarter of a century after Joe’s death, south Texas abounded with good-minded, solidly built, sorrel and light chestnut horses who shaded to almost white below the knees. These were horses who could catch a calf in money-winning time, win a match race, or go to the pasture in that little jog trot that covers so much country quickly. They were Joe Baileys and the men who rode them were proud of the fact.

According to the June 1947 Quarter Horse, Joe Bailey of Gonzales died quietly when he was just 2 days short of turning 28. He had come home from a short breeding campaign at a ranch near Gonzales, between Luling and Lockhart. During the night of May 2, he became ill, went down, and got stuck on his back in a break he kicked in the stall wall. Mr. Ellis, at whose ranch Old Joe had lived for 2 decades, heard the noise, went to the barn, and got the horse up. He lived through the next day, but late that night, he died.

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