McWhirter (1874 ch. c. by Enquirer – Ontario by Bonnie Scotland (GB))
Breeder/Owner: Gen. Abraham “Abe” Buford II (Bosque Bonita Farm)
Trainer: Abraham “Abe” Perry (1876-1878); Raleigh Colston (Fall 1877)
Female Family 3
“Only when the last race is run, and the last thoroughbred horse shall be buried, will the name McWhirter be forgotten. Long after these events have happened will the children of unborn generations, far down the vale of time, relate the history of his glorious death, and thus excite the sympathetic admiration of eager listeners charmed to silence by the marvelous episode.” (The Spirit of the Times, as republished in the Louisville Courier-Journal, 07/15/1878)
“McWhirter was a very pretty chestnut, gracefully built, well proportioned, and his only fault, probably, was a lack of strength and large bones. He was nearly 16 hands high and worth about $3,000.” (St. Louis Republican, 06/06/1878)
“…if I can pass through the pearly gates of heaven in a chariot drawn by Enquirer and McWhirter, I would shout with great joy…” – Gen. Abraham Buford (The River Press (Benton, MT), 05/31/1882)
“To this day he [McWhirter] is cited as the most remarkable example of courage known in the history of the thoroughbred.” (Daily Racing Form, 04/14/1912)
By the Leamington (GB) stallion Enquirer and out of the Bonnie Scotland (GB) mare Ontario, McWhirter’s pedigree could cause one to think that he was a product of Belle Meade Stud; however, that is not the case. At the time of McWhirter’s foaling in 1874, both Enquirer and Bonnie Scotland had yet to arrive at the storied nursery.
A blood bay standing just over 16 hands, Enquirer (1867), by Leamington (GB) and out of the Lexington mare Lida, was a “high type thoroughbred” bred by H. F. Vissman of Louisville, KY.
Purchased for racing by Gen. Abraham Buford, Enquirer, who was named for the Cincinnati Enquirer, would only win one race (George Elliot S.) in three starts at the age of two. However, he would come into his own as a three-year-old, going undefeated in six starts (Citizens S., Continental Hotel S., Kenner S., Phoenix Hotel S., Robbins S., and an unspecified stake at Cincinnati) and earning around $20,800.
Republican Banner (Nashville, TN), 08/04/1870
One of Enquirer’s sophomore races was the Continental Hotel Stakes, a series of one mile heats run at Long Branch, NJ (Monmouth) in August 1870. A bad start would cost Enquirer (listed as “Inquirer” in the chart at left) the first heat, and he would ultimately finish third behind winner Lynchburg, a highly-regarded Leamington colt who was also bred by Gen. Buford. During the second heat, Lynchburg would step in a hole, breaking a shoulder. Enquirer would subsequently win the final two heats with ease.
Note on Lynchburg: Following Lynchburg’s injury, a fundraising campaign spearheaded by the Long Branch Racing Association raised $4,000 for owner Major T. G. Bacon in order to help him recoup perceived losses from his out of commission colt, who was valued around $10,000 at the time of his accident. Lynchburg would ultimately survive his injuries and enter the stud.
The field for the Continental Hotel was rather extraordinary in regards to future impact on the breed, as in addition to Enquirer it included the Australian (GB) filly Maggie B. B. and the Lexington filly Susan Ann. This race wasn’t the first time that Enquirer and Maggie B. B. had faced off, but it was the first time that Susan Ann joined the fray. Maggie B. B. would foal the great Iroquois in 1878, and her influence as a broodmare is still felt today through the influence of her many daughters, while Susan Ann would foal the great racemare/broodmare Thora in 1878.
An ankle injury would necessitate Enquirer’s premature retirement to stud at the age of four (he would briefly attempt an unsuccessful comeback as a seven-year-old, finishing fourth in a two mile race at Lexington in September 1874), and he would spend the first nine years of his stud career at Gen. Buford’s Bosque Bonita Farm in Lexington, KY.
Enquirer was a impressive looking individual, and a write-up in the Lexington (KY) Press would elaborate on his physical type:
“A magnificent bay colt, standing fully sixteen hands high, with a slight star, and left hind foot white, extending almost half way to his hock; he has no other marks. Upon the first glance he is a leggy-looking colt, but as you approach him you find that his body is well in keeping with the length of his legs. Combining a wonderful structure of body with a most noble and majestic figure, he takes more after the dam side of the house of Lexington than his sire Imp. Leamington; he has a good head and neck, running into powerful and well-inclined shoulders; his length is great, and he appears to couple loosely, but with the hips and quarters, immense stifles and nerve, more length from the point of the hip to the whirlbone and thence to the back, we venture to say, than any horse on the turf; he stands high on his legs, but has a great deal more body than his sire; has good feet and legs, easy, graceful, and active, he cuts down all his opponents with his immense strides.”
Additionally, Enquirer’s physical measurements were reported by Sanders Dewees Bruce in the 1883 edition of The Horse-Breeder’s Guide and Hand Book as:
“16 ¼ hands high, girth 73 in., length of shoulder 29 ¾ in., circumference of arm 22 in., around the leg below the knee 9 in., from point of shoulder to turn of the buttocks 69 in., from point of hip to point of hock 38 ½ in., around the gaskins 18 in., and weighs 1,200 lbs.”
Enquirer would have immediate success in the stud for Gen. Buford, with his first crop including the outstanding colt Searcher (1872). His success would continue in successive crops, and by the time Enquirer was sold to Gen. W. G. Harding of Belle Meade Stud in Nashville, TN for $10,000 in June 1879, he had become known as “the greatest of living American stallions.”
Grave of Enquirer on the grounds of Belle Meade. Photo: Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Shortly after Gen. Harding’s purchase of Enquirer, Pierre Lorillard reportedly offered Harding $18,000 for the horse. He would decline the offer, and Enquirer would continue his success at Belle Meade, siring Inspector B. (1883), among others.
Upon Enquirer’s death at Belle Meade in September 1895, it was written in the Nashville American that “It has long been an axiom of the American turf that ‘you never had an Enquirer beaten until the wire was reached.’ They are, almost without exception, game to the finish.”
His son McWhirter was the embodiment of this statement.
Ontario (1865), by Bonnie Scotland (GB) out of the Monarch (GB) mare Lady Lancaster, was a stakes winning heat racer (Mobile Colt S.) bred by John Reber of Ohio, and raced by S. Leonard and E. A. Smith of Cincinnati, OH.
By all accounts, Ontario was an attractive individual, taking first premium in the class for Thoroughbred mares, three years and under at the 1868 St. Louis (MO) Agricultural and Mechanical Association Fair. At the same fair, her then fifteen-year-old sire Bonnie Scotland would win first premium for Thoroughbred stallions of any age, having already taken first premium in the class for Thoroughbred stallions, four years and over.
Ontario’s dam Lady Lancaster was a successful broodmare, with one of her noted foals being Ontario’s full brother Malcolm (1862). While a stakes winner on the track, Malcolm is best known today as the sire of the filly Marian (1871), herself the dam of El Rio Rey (1887), Emperor of Norfolk (1885), The Czar (1886), and Yo Tambien (1889), among others.
Photo of Pan Zareta as published in Hoofprints of the Century.
Owned by Gen. Buford by the time she produced her first foal in 1871, Ontario would pass through various hands during her breeding career, producing at least fifteen foals through 1889. In addition to McWhirter, she would later produce the Iroquois (GB) colt Rancocas (1887), himself the sire of Caddie Griffith (1901), the dam of Pan Zareta (1910).
Burnie Bunton at Worth Race Track (Chicago, IL), ca. 1902.
Photo: SDN-000633, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.
Rancocas would have impact on the foundation of the American Quarter Horse, as in addition to the aforementioned Caddie Griffith, he would sire the sisters Burnie Bunton (1898) and Miss Anxious (1903), as well as the colt Booger Red (1905) (who was himself out of a half-sister to Burnie Bunton and Miss Anxious). All three mares would ultimately become foundation dams of the American Quarter Horse, with Booger Red becoming a foundation sire.
Owned by M. Byrnes of Eatontown, NJ at the time of her death, Ontario would pass away at Belle Meade Stud in late 1891 at the age of twenty-six. A full list of her progeny is located at the end of this post.
THE EARLY YEARS
Named in honor of Captain A. J. McWhirter of Tennessee, the equine McWhirter was reportedly “about blind in his left eye and weak in his right.”
When the time came to begin his racing career, McWhirter joined the Buford string then under the guidance of successful African-American trainer Abe Perry. Horse and trainer would become tightly bonded, with Perry later stating that he thought more of McWhirter than he did of any person living. With the exception of a brief period during the fall of 1877 when it appears that the Buford horses were placed with Raleigh Colston, McWhirter would remain with Perry for the entirety of his career.
The New York Times, 05/12/1876
1876: (8) 3-1-2
McWhirter’s career debut came at Lexington in the Colt and Filly Stakes (aka Spring Sweepstakes) (5f) on May 11, 1876. Defeating an unnamed colt by Glen Athol and out of Susan Overton (who was later named Allen Pinkerton) for the win, McWhirter’s final time of 1:04 ¾ for the five furlong distance was the second fastest ever recorded at Lexington, falling only behind the time of 1:04 ½ set by Aristides.
Travelling next to Louisville for the Alexander Stakes (4f) on May 15, McWhirter would not repeat his previous winning effort, instead finishing second by three lengths to the Phaeton (GB) colt Lisbon. Gen. Buford was irate following McWhirter’s loss, and it was later reported that McWhirter was to be sold to an unknown party for $10,000 had he won.
Remaining at Louisville, McWhirter then finished third by approximately four lengths behind winner King Faro (Phaeton (GB)) in the Tennessee Stakes (6f) on May 19.
“Much difficulty was experienced at the start, a dozen false attempts having been made before the horses got off. The McIntyre entry and Buford’s McWhirter showed a disposition to lead, and by the time the horses did get off, the latter was killed, so far as the race was concerned.” (The Daily American (Nashville, TN), 05/20/1876)
Louisville Courier-Jounral, 09/13/1876
McWhirter would then take a lengthy absence from the track, not returning to the barrier until the Colt Stakes (6f) at Lexington on September 12. After a poor start left him forty yards behind the others at the onset, McWhirter would gain ground to dead heat with King Faro for the win. The race was ultimately decided with the two colts dividing the purse.
Continuing on to the Louisville fall meeting, McWhirter followed up on his (co-)winning effort with a win over the Australian (GB) colt Baden-Baden in the Belle Meade Stakes (6f) on September 22. McWhirter’s winning time of 1:17 in the six furlong dash was reportedly a new stakes record.
Remaining at Louisville, McWhirter next ran in Grand Sweepstakes (1 mi.) on September 27, finishing third behind the filly Belle of the Meade (Bonnie Scotland (GB)) and Baden-Baden. On the same card, McWhirter’s five-year-old half-brother Kilburn (Ringmaster) would take the first race, winning two out of three heats in a one mile association purse.
McWhirter ran unplaced in two other races in 1876 – the Sanford Stakes (1 mi.) at Louisville on an unspecified date, and a second unknown race on/at an unknown date/location.
1877: (7) 4-1-1
McWhirter’s sophomore campaign commenced at Lexington with a third place finish behind the longshot War Dance filly Bradamante (aka Brademante) and Planet filly Classmate in the spring edition of the Phoenix Hotel Stakes (1 ⅛ mi.) on May 12.
Every expectation was on McWhirter to win the Phoenix Hotel, and when he did not:
“This race nearly broke Woodford county, whose citizens always come to the Lexington races enthusiastically in favor of some Woodford county horse. The defeat of McWhirter was a great blow to them, but no greater than it was to his owner, General Abe Buford, who stood out in the cooling-ground during the race; where he could see every step of the course. When he returned to the stand he did not look like a happy man.”
(Louisville Courier-Journal, 05/13/1877)
Remaining at Lexington, McWhirter regained the favor of his fans by winning a 1 ½ mile race on May 17 over Whisper (Planet) and Emma C. (Planet).
It was announced on May 18 that the six-year-old Phaeton (GB) horse Ten Broeck (already the holder of American records at three and four miles) would make two attempts against time at Louisville in the coming weeks – the first on May 24 in an attempt to break the one mile record, and the second on May 29 in an attempt to break the two mile record. Upon hearing of Ten Broeck’s upcoming schedule, Gen. Buford stated that McWhirter could beat Ten Broeck at one mile, and was displeased that his colt was not allowed to line up against the horse in the trial on May 24.
McWhirter’s third start of 1877 would come not against Ten Broeck, but instead against ten rivals in the third edition of the Kentucky Derby (1 ½ mi.) at Louisville on May 22. Never a threat in the race, McWhirter would finish fifth behind winner and familiar rival Baden-Baden, who took the race by two lengths over Leonard (Longfellow).
Two days later on May 24, Ten Broeck sets a new one mile record of 1:41 ¾ in his first trial at Louisville.
Baden-Baden, McWhirter, and Derby fourth place finisher Vera Cruz (Virgil) made a quick return for the Clark Stakes (2 mi.) at Louisville on May 28. Only in its third year of existence, the Clark was at the time restricted to 3-year-olds and considered to be a “sequel” to the newly established Kentucky Derby. It was not until 1902 that the Clark would be re-branded as a handicap for horses 3-years-old and up.
Drama would fill the pre-race festivities, as Derby winner Baden-Baden was sold to William Astor of New York for $12,500 ten minutes prior to the race. Baden-Baden would ultimately finish last behind the filly Hyena (Longfellow) in the four horse field.
Louisville Courier-Journal, 05/29/1877
Despite being ten pounds overweight, McWhirter came running in the final half-mile to win the Clark by approximately eight lengths over Vera Cruz. His final time of 3:30 ½ in the race was a new American record, lowering the previous record set by the Lexington horse True Blue at Saratoga in 1875 (3:32 ½) by two seconds.
“Yesterday, when Gen. Buford’s horse McWhirter won the Clark Stake, a dash of two miles, in 3:30 ½, the fastest time ever made, the old soldier’s exuberant feelings so carried him away that he took the head of the gallant animal between his two hands and lovingly kissed him. A very young person on the Grand Stand exclaimed that ‘she would rather it was the horse than she that received the kiss.’ ” (The Daily American (Nashville, TN), 05/31/1877).
With Ten Broeck’s two mile race against time scheduled for the day after the Clark, McWhirter’s unexpected record added some additional excitement to the festivities, causing observers to question whether Ten Broeck would even be able to approach McWhirter’s extraordinary time.
Louisville Courier-Journal, 05/30/1877
The concern was unwarranted. With the largest crowd ever assembled at the Louisville Jockey Club cheering him on, Ten Broeck (racing against stablemate pace horses St. Louis for the first mile and Necy Hale [aka Neecy Hale] for the second mile) would lower McWhirter’s two mile record by three seconds (3:27 ½), becoming the sole American record holder for one, two, three, and four miles (with all records set at the Louisville track).
Despite no longer being an American record, McWhirter’s time of 3:30 ½ remained both the fastest two miles ever run by a 3-year-old and the fastest run under actual race conditions.
Following on the heels of his record setting effort in the Clark, McWhirter headed up to Chester Park in Cincinnati, defeating the Longfellow gelding Odd Fellow (aka Oddfellow) by three lengths to win the Ohio Derby (aka Cincinnati Derby) (1 ½ mi.) on June 2. His time of 2:40 was reportedly a new stakes record.
With McWhirter in increasingly good form, Gen. Buford continued to maintain that in a race between McWhirter and Ten Broeck, McWhirter would win, and remained eager to set up a match between the two at Louisville later in the year, expressing that in his opinion, “running a horse against time on a smooth, solid track, with running mates, and putting a horse in a full field of starters to take the rough-and-tumble changes on the home stretch, are too [sic] vastly different things.” (Louisville Courier-Journal, 06/07/1877)
After five races in less than a month, McWhirter entered an extended absence from the track, not returning to the races until mid-September. Now under the temporary care of trainer Raleigh Colston, he made two starts in quick succession at Lexington, finishing second to Vera Cruz in a 1 ¼ mi. sweepstakes on September 17 and winning the fall edition of the Phoenix Hotel Stakes (1 mi. heats) on September 19.
His comeback would be short lived.
“Late intelligence leaves no doubt of the fact that McWhirter is broken down. He is hurt in the tendon of one of his forelegs, and will never be fit for service on the turf again. His race on Monday, when he slipped and fell against another horse, and the severe driving he was subjected to on yesterday, finished him.” (Cincinnati Commercial, 09/20/1877)
1878: (2) 0-1-0
McWhirter’s leg troubles would develop into a lingering problem, delaying his 4-year-old debut until the end of May. Following a second place finish to Solicitor (Enquirer) in the Galt House Stakes (2 mi.) at Louisville on May 24, it was decided that due to his continuing soundness issues, his next and final career start would be the Greeley Stakes (3 mi.) at St. Louis’ Cote Brilliante track on June 5.
“During the three days and nights previous to the race, Abe Perry, McWhirter’s trainer, was continually bathing his legs, both day and night, and it was very much feared that he would not be able to make the race. If he had held out during the race it would have been his last one anyhow, for Gen. Buford had determined to take him off the track.”
(St. Louis Republican, 06/06/1878)
On June 5, McWhirter, with his mane festooned with ribbons in the red and white Buford colors, took to the track for his career bow in the Greeley Stakes.
“The saddest and most heart-rending scene ever witness on any race-track in the world happened in the three-mile dash, yesterday, when McWhirter’s forelegs broke down on the back stretch while the third mile was being run.
McWhirter, Mahlstick, Red Bluff and Joe Rodes were the starters in the race, the former too soon taking the lead and keeping even neck and neck until after the three-quarter pole had been passed in the second mile. About midway between the three-quarter and eighth-mile posts McWhirter stumbled. Old horsemen standing near that part of the track knew immediately that the horse’s career on the race-course was ended forever, for it was only too evident that his foreleg had broken down. Mr. Geo. Cadwallader shouted for the rider to stop the horse, but with a persistence unexplainable he kept ahead, pushing McWhirter to his utmost speed, as was perfectly evident to all.
By the time the first quarter of the third mile had been reached McWhirter had dropped behind Mahlstick a length and a half, and when just entering on the back stretch he stumbled again, and before the half-mile post was reached, Joe Rodes had passed him, and Red Bluff was pretty close behind. Just about at the second turn Red Bluff was seen to pass McWhirter, and at the same time ran against him, throwing him down and sending the jockey into the dirt. A little further on, Red Bluff stumbled and fell down. As soon as Mahlstick and Joe Rodes had passed the judges’ stand, a great rush was made for that part of the track where McWhirter fell.
A most sickening sight met the eyes of the crowd as it gathered around McWhirter, who by this time was on his legs again, but only on two feet. The poor horse was hobbling around on the stumps of his forelegs, the limbs having become unjointed at the pastern joint; and the hoofs were hanging loose, joined to the legs by only a small portion of the skin. The jockey, Link, stood near the head of his horse, crying and saying that they “musn’t blame him for it; he didn’t know the horse’s legs were that way.”
It was decided immediately that the horse must be shot, and Officer Keeble, of the Fifth district, was detailed to the unpleasant job. When the officer pulled out his revolver, and placed the muzzle against McWhirter’s head, the poor dumb brute did not even wink; and when the shot was fired he only jumped a little with his forelegs, and the second shot did not affect him much more. Neither of these shots was placed where it should have been. But the third shot, near to the left eye, was evidently more painful than the first shots, and made the horse jump, and he finally started across the track, hobbling on the bare bones of his fore-legs.
It was then that the spectators turned away, sickened from the horrible sight, and quite a number cried out to the officer “to end his miserable job without any more blundering,” and he did, shooting the racer for the fourth time in the forehead. The horse reared on his hind legs and then fell down, but not dead by any means. He laid on the ground kicking for several minutes, and when hauled away a few moments afterward was still alive.
As soon as he was down a number of jockeys and stable boys gathered around with pocket-knives in their hands and began to cut off little bunches of his mane and tail for mementoes, but the officer did not allow them to make very many hauls of the long chestnut hair. The celebrated racer rests under an elm tree in the southeast corner of the grounds, near the track, where in after years, they said he could hear the other racers speeding over the track which was his death-bed.
From all that can be learned of the unfortunate affair, it seems that McWhirter’s right foreleg broke down when he stumbled the first time, and the other leg when he stumbled the second time. He ran nearly a quarter of a mile after the second leg broke down before the bones broke through the skin, and then he ran about a quarter on the bare bones before Red Bluff ran against him. Such a spirit of gameness could only be exhibited by a thoroughbred horse, and not many of them would do the same thing.
CAUSE OF THE DISASTER
Some time last fall one of McWhirter’s forelegs became weakened in some of the fall races, and since that time everything possible has been done to give strength to the affected limb and it is thought that by too much attention being given to one leg the weakness in the other was not noticed. Although the colt did not exhibit any signs of lameness, it was known to those familiar with him that his career on the race course would necessarily be very short.
During the three days and nights previous to the race, Abe Perry, McWhirter’s trainer, was continually bathing his legs, both day and night, and it was very much feared that he would not be able to make the race. If he had held out during the race it would have been his last one anyhow, for Gen. Buford had determined to take him off the track.
McWhirter was a very pretty chestnut, gracefully built, well proportioned, and his only fault, probably, was a lack of strength and large bones. He was nearly 16 hands high and worth about $3,000. He was not insured. In the Clark stakes at Louisville last fall he made two miles in 3:30 ½, and he has beaten Solicitor in 3:34. He also ran in the Cincinnati Derby and made a mile and one-half in 2:40 ½ .
Abe Perry, Gen. Buford’s trainer, feels the loss very much as he was strongly attached to the pretty chestnut colt from having been with him so long and given him so much attention. After the accident yesterday Perry sat around the stables, looking as though he had lost his best friend, and in conversation he said he thought more of McWhirter than he did of any person living. Gen. Buford, too, was very much affected by the loss and it is certainly a very said affair to all.” (St. Louis Republican, 06/06/1878)
“The bones of the legs were not broken, but the tendons gave way and both the legs slipped from their sockets at the fetlock joint.” (The Galveston (TX) Daily News, 06/11/1878)
The tale of McWhirter’s horrific final moments would not remain solely within the confines of the track, but rather was published in newspapers across the United States, enshrining his memory in the public consciousness.
“The death of McWhirter at St. Louis in the presence of 8,000 ladies and gentlemen while gallantly doing his master’s will, under circumstances that sent a thrill of pain keenly and directly to every one who witnessed the sickening scene, and almost as sensibly to the whole nation as the electric fluid conveyed the sad tidings to every section of the Union of his giving up his life in the midst of fidelity to duty, carried with it none of the mortifying regrets that must be felt by every true turfman when contemplating this unfortunate affair.
McWhirter left the arena upon which he had acted so prominent and so brilliant in part amid such a halo of glory, gathering, as he went, a diadem about his name, thickly set with jewels far richer than ever decked the brow of prince or impelled respect for monarch. We joined thousands in the earnest, almost prayerful hope, to be spared another spectacle so cruel, so sad, so lamentable, so torturing. But it was like the dying of a soldier, a great soldier in the storm of battle, struggling for the ascendancy of liberty, for victory in the name of justice, and, though he breathes no more, though the brilliancy of his triumphs are over, though he has passed into history, the name he bore is as immortal as the love of the people, for the sport of kings shall be lasting.
Only when the last race is run, and the last thoroughbred horse shall be buried, will the name McWhirter be forgotten. Long after these events have happened will the children of unborn generations, far down the vale of time, relate the history of his glorious death, and thus excite the sympathetic admiration of eager listeners charmed to silence by the marvelous episode.” (The Spirit of the Times, as republished in the Louisville Courier-Journal, 07/15/1878)
Upon later reports, McWhirter was buried at the head of the Cote Brilliante track, beside an oak tree on the north side of Page Boulevard, about 200 feet west of King’s Highway in St. Louis. Following the track’s closure, McWhirter’s resting place would quickly be lost to the ages until the spring of 1895, when one story indicates his skeleton was unexpectedly uncovered by excavators digging a cellar on the site in preparation for the construction of a home. Research was conducted into the potential identity of the remains, which was positively identified as being that of McWhirter. His grave was then exhumed and reportedly moved “east.”
However, an alternate story indicates that McWhirter’s remains were merely relocated a short distance from his initial burial site, if they were even relocated at all.
McWhirter’s death in June 1878 would be the first in a string of personal tragedies for Gen. Buford. Having already lost his son William seven years prior, Gen. Buford’s wife Amanda would pass away at Bosque Bonita in February 1879 following a long illness.
In mid-March 1879, it is reported that in the coming months Gen. Buford planned to sell Bosque Bonita and disperse his stock. Shortly after the sale announcement, news arrives that Gen. Buford’s brother, Col. Thomas Buford was charged with the March 26 assassination of Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge J. M. Elliott in Frankfort, KY. Gen. Buford, whose financial situation was already in precarious waters due to a speculation habit, spends a sizable amount in his brother’s defense. Following an acquittal following a sentence to life in prison, Col. Buford was confined to the Central Lunatic Asylum in Anchorage, KY.
Despite announcing the imminent dispersal of his stock and lands in March 1879, it is not until March 1881, with his financial difficulties mounting, that Gen. Buford sells the heavily mortgaged Bosque Bonita to D. A. Lyons for $30,000.
Following on the heels of the sale of Bosque Bonita, Gen. Buford’s racing stock was dispersed in a March 23 vendue at Lexington. Included among the horses offered were McWhirter’s full siblings McHenry (1875) and Lizzie McWhirter (1879), who sold for $130 and $1,300, respectively. Other notable horses up for bid on the day included the 7-year-old Enquirer mare Mannie Gray, who was acquired by Barak G. Thomas of Dixiana for $725. Mannie Gray would become a successful broodmare, foaling Correction, Domino, and the prolific broodmare Lady Reel, among others.
Upon the sale of Bosque Bonita, Gen. Buford moved to the home of his nephew D. O. Buford in Louisville. While there would find comfort in religion, becoming baptized in February 1882, and shortly thereafter renounced the sport of horse racing.
Upon the news of Gen. Buford’s baptism, his pastor Dr. Yancey spoke with the Louisville Courier-Journal regarding Gen. Buford’s newfound feelings towards the turf:
“He still thinks that racing can be carried on legitimately and not inconsistent with moral or religious principles. But he says that as it is now conducted on all public courses it is abused and coupled with abominations which are destructive of its true objects. I don’t think he will ever be seen on the track again. I shall counsel him against it.”
In May 1882, Gen. Buford takes to the pulpit and states his own feelings on the matter in a lecture titled “Church and the Turf” at the Campbell Street Christian Church in Louisville, KY, elaborating on his feelings towards the conflict between Christians and gambling, and the difficult position the sport of horse racing was put in as a result.
Regardless of his sudden change of heart towards racing, Gen. Buford retained great fondness for his previous charges, stating:
“My earthly career is drawing rapidly to a close, and my great aim now is to win the race for eternal life; and, as you have before said, if I can pass through the pearly gates of heaven in a chariot drawn by Enquirer and McWhirter, I would shout with great joy…”
(The River Press (Benton, MT), 05/31/1882)
Ultimately, Gen. Buford’s renunciation of the turf was short-lived. While speaking with a reporter of the Louisville Courier-Journal in July 1882 regarding the recent success of his former racer, the Enquirer colt Goodnight (a full-brother to Mannie Gray), he unexpectedly changes his tone.
“Speaking about this victory, it was a handsome one. Goodnight is a fine animal. I tell you, young man, I have had some of the grandest horses in the world,” continued the General, as he led the thermometer a few lengths.
“How was it you said Goodnight was beaten at St. Louis?”
“That was the race with Lord Murphy. McLaughlin, Dwyer’s rider, pulled him, because his boss had money on the other horse. Why, Goodnight finished the mile in 1:42, and was as far ahead of Lord Murphy as that house across the street is from where we stand. Why, another length and he would have shut him out.”
The reporter remarked that, after all there was some very fine sport in horse racing.
A reflective look came into the old General’s eye, and then he broke out suddenly, “I’m going back to the turf. Yes, I will have to go back; I can’t keep away from it. I tell you I am going to own a fine horse, and that very shortly.”
“Are you going to leave the church?”
“Leave the church?” italicised the General; “leave it? Why, bless your soul, no. Why should I? A man can own a fine horse, and run him, too, and go to heaven.”
Gen. Buford wastes no time returning to the turf following his proclamation in July 1882, serving as a judge at Louisville in September and at Memphis in October. While in the Bluff City, Gen. Buford receives notification that his brother Tom had escaped from lockup, reportedly heading for Indiana.
In November, Gen. Buford ceases his affiliation with the sporting publication Turf, Rod, and Gun, stating his intentions to launch a Christian turf paper tentatively named the Christian Turfman and Farmer. However, he would instead take charge of the Southern Bureau of Dunton’s (Chicago) Spirit of the Turf.
Time would pass with Gen. Buford’s financial and personal burdens continuing to weigh heavily on his soul. With things too much to bear, he would commit suicide on June 9, 1884, while visiting his nephew Benjamin T. Buford in Danville, IN.
The following letters were found with Gen. Buford’s body:
“DANVILLE, Ind., Monday A. M.
B. T. Buford:
DEAR SIR: Be not affrighted. I have no home to go to, and prefer death to any further struggle with life. My cross is too heavy; I can’t keep it out of the dust. Send my body to my brother, J. H. Buford, Lexington, KY., and may God have mercy on my bewildered soul. My troubles and those of my unfortunate brother Tom have driven me mad.
Beside the letter was the following, scribbled out on a bit of paper:
My financial troubles have driven me to despair. Have lost my only chance to retrieve my unfortunate brother and self, and the future is too dark for me to struggle against any further. I want my body sent to Lexington, KY. My dear friends there will put it away alongside of my dear wife and boy. Peace to all the world, and may God have mercy on my troubled soul.
A. BUFORD” (The New York Times, 06/10/1884)
Later that month, Col. Tom Buford was apprehended after ten months on the run and returned to confinement, where he would remain until his death of chronic dysentery in February 1885.
Ontario was an extremely fertile mare, producing at least fifteen foals through 1889. She would pass away at Belle Meade Stud in late 1891 at the age of twenty-six.
1) Kilburn (1871 ch. g. by Ringmaster)
Winning heat racer.
2) McCreary (1872 ch. c. by Enquirer)
Aka McCreery. Ran in the first edition of the Kentucky Derby (was pulled up after a half-mile). Following retirement, stood at stud for James B. Prather in Marysville, MO. Died April 10, 1880 of a ruptured blood vessel.
3) Curiosity (1873 b. f. by Enquirer)
Owned by Ayres and Sutcliffe of Albany, NY, then by R. W. Walden of Middleburg, MD. Died at Walden’s farm during the last week of April 1879 after foaling a dead foal by Harry Clay.
4) McWhirter (1874 ch. c. by Enquirer)
5) McHenry (1875 ch. c. by Enquirer)
Aka T. McHenry. Winner. Upon the sale of his sire Enquirer in 1879, McHenry was named by Gen. Buford to take his place at stud at Bosque Bonita. Sold by Buford at auction March 23, 1881 to D. L. Bohn of Labelle, MO for $130.
6) McGregor (1876 ch. c. by Enquirer)
7) Marshal McDonald (1878 (Mar. 31) b. c. by Enquirer)
Aka Marshall McDonald or McDonald. Sent to England by owner J. R. Keene, where he raced over both flat and hurdles. Won the All Ages Stakes at Sandown Park on September 6, 1881, where he was sold out of the race for ₤325.
8) Lizzie McWhirter (1879 ch. f. by Enquirer)
Winner. Sold by Buford at auction March 23, 1881 to P. G. Speth of Louisville, KY for $1,300. Died 1884.
9) McElroy (1880 b. c. by Enquirer)
Owned by J. A. Grinstead until sold at auction May 1, 1882 to R. W. Preston for $325. Died 1886.
10) Heva (1882 ch. f. by Mortemer (FR))
Owned by William Astor (Ferncliff Stud) from unknown date to October 1890 when sold at auction (in foal to imp. Kingston) for $1,150 to W. A. Engeman of Brighton Beach, NY.
11) Hercules (1883 ch. c. by Mortemer (FR))
Steeplechaser bred by Pierre Lorillard (Rancocas Stud). Won jump races at Monmouth in August 1887 and at National Jockey Club (Washington, DC) in October 1888. Was owned by J. H. McCormick, then by Peter Small of Toronto, ON by 1893.
12) Hypasia (1884 ch. f. by Mortemer (FR))
Stakes filly bred by Pierre Lorillard (Rancocas Stud). Later sold to A. F. Walcott of New York, NY for $3,500 in February 1886. Dead by 1889.
13) Heyday (1886 b. c. by Iroquois)
14) Rancocas (1887 ch. c. by Iroquois)
Damsire of Pan Zareta; influential in the foundation of the American Quarter Horse. Died 1904.
15) McKeever (1889 b. g. by Iroquois)
Note: The American Stud Book reported Ontario as barren in 1877, 1881, 1885, and 1888.