Over the last few years of my Ghost Tracks series, I have tried to uncover obscure locations where race tracks once existed. But I don’t think I have seen a more remote location that could possibly be more historically equine significant than Farmington, Tenn.
The location was first noteworthy due to a Civil War battle in 1863, where as part of Major General Joseph Wheeler’s October Raid, an entire regiment of Confederate soldiers deserted after being routed by a Union Cavalry Charge.
|This photo shows the locations in Farmington, Tenn., of Harrison Dawes' training track, house and bar.|
The second reason was because of an illiterate Marshall County (Tenn.) native named Harrison Dawes. Whereas Dawes may not be a household name today, he is responsible for developing one of the most famous pacers of the 1800s.
Dawes was a visionary of sorts as he recognized long ago that if you plied people with alcohol and got them to a racetrack, you could make money. And as he owned a bar that was within walking distance of his training track, he did just that. Every Saturday afternoon the races at his track helped bring people to his drinking establishment and his customers there helped support his training.
One of the first champions he trained was a big roan trotter named Bonesetter. He bought the horse from Samuel Davis in 1877 and he developed so fast, he took him up north the following year to compete against some of the better horses in the country for much better purses. He went on to win 30 races over the next three years and ended up being sold for $3,000 to Daniel Hibbard in 1879 after trotting a 2:19 mile at Rochester, N.Y., as an 8-year-old. Hibbard resold him later that year to H. V. Bemis of Chicago, who was a founder of the McAvoy Brewing Company of that city.
That same year shortly after he had sold the trotter, a scrawny pacer named Little Brown Jug who had slipped through the cracks came into his barn. Ozro N. Fry of Mooresville, Tenn., actually owned Little Brown Jug twice. He bought him as a yearling for $50, sold him for $75, and then bought him back for $60 from the same party in a condition described as “skinny as a snake” from plowing fields and not being properly fed.
Dawes put some weight back on the gelding and started training him. Before long he was racing so well that he too was shipped north to compete for the big money. Deciding to once again cash in on his training success, Dawes avoided the middleman this time and sold Little Brown Jug directly to Bemis for $3,000. After beating the likes of Mattie Hunter, Rowdy Boy and Sleepy Tom, he then went on to become the fastest pacer of his day, recording a mile in 2:11.1 at Hartford, Conn., in 1881. Bemis then resold the champion to Commodore N. W. Kittson of St. Paul for $25,000.
The classic pacing stake held each fall at Delaware, Ohio, is named after this champion pacer.
|Photos courtesy of the author|
|This was the building that housed Harrison Dawes' bar.|
The success that Little Brown Jug had on the track put Tennessee on the map in the harness racing world. His previously unknown sire, Tom Hal, was now famous and his bloodlines were sought out for decades after the emaciated plow horse set a new world record.
Dawes would also breed trotter Frank Buford but sold him to C. L. Roberts of Murfreesboro as a 2-year-old before he made the races. Another man who made Tennessee famous, Edward “Pop” Geers, would develop the pacer and guide his career.
Although famous among his contemporaries, not much in the way of records can be found about Harrison Dawes today. However it can be said that he knew how to train horses. Because he sold his stock when he thought the market was right, he never actually was listed as trainer for any of the records his horses set. But history shows he is the primary reason that their successes were realized.
The small man with an Amish-style beard died in his fifties and is said to be buried “somewhere” in Farmington, although an exact location is not known. But I would wager it’s within walking distance of his bar and racetrack, where he felt most at home.
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