A look at one of the Quarter Horse foundation sires King P-234 and the man who bought him for $800 during the Depression.
When the American Quarter Horse Association became established, you rarely saw King’s name without the P-234 with it. The P indicated that he was in AQHA’s permanent registry, not tentative, and the 234 was, of course, his number.
But when I first saw King, he had no number because there was no AQHA at that time. I was visiting “Cuter” Wardlaw at Rocksprings, Tex., during the summer of 1938 and we were talking about Quarter Horses in general. He mentioned that one of his neighbors, Jess Hankins, had recently bought a bay stallion he sure wanted to see. We agreed to go over the next day.
The following day about ten o’clock, we were all sitting on the Hankins porch drinking coffee. King, like the pet he was, was wandering around the front yard. He was an impressive stallion. I judged him to be a little short of 15 hands and weighing about 1,050 pounds. He had expansive britches, good shoulders, and just the hint of a star. He had adequate bone, considerable quality, and the disposition of a gentleman.
There was never any doubt in my mind that he was an exceptionally good Quarter Horse, but I have to admit I did not recognize in him the great foundation stallion he was to become. Jess, on the other hand, was sold on his bay stud and predicted great things for him. He had bought him about a year earlier for $800. This was during the Depression and you could pick up all the good horses you wanted for $100. So $800 was a lot of money when you could buy a new car for less than that. In any case it was an unusual price for an unknown and unproven stallion-it also proved to be a fantastic bargain. Today, King’s descendants are found in every state as well as in Mexico, Canada, England, and Australia. King sired over 600 registered get, including 18 AQHA Champions. In AQHA’s 1963 tabulations of “Sires of Performance Contest Winners,” the first 5 sires on the list were sons of King, 10 of the top 16 were from his family, and 22 of 49 on the list carried his blood. That’s an impressive record.
Although King is best known as a sire of arena horses, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t sire speed when bred to the proper mares. He proved he could when Squaw H began burning up the quarter tracks for Jess’s brother, J.O. Hankins. There were several of King’s offspring who did well at the track, but the fact of the matter was that Jess, and the men who brought mares to King, were just not that interested in racing. During the early days of the association, the cow horse aspects of the Quarter Horse were much more in favor than pure speed.
Although I have known Jess Hankins for a period of over 40 years, it was during the early 1940s that we saw each other with some regularity. When I first met him in 1938, he had only recently acquired King. King was to assure Jess, as well as himself, a secure place in Quarter Horse history. Jess would have been an outstanding breeder even if he had not purchased King; but with King he became a national leader among Quarter Horse breeders.
Time may well list him alongside Ott Adams, Coke Roberds, and the earlier William Anson and Sam Watkins. They all had some things in common-each bought his greatest sire, and each recognized what they had and bred accordingly.
During the 1930s and 1940s Jess was busy building his ranching interests to provide his family some security. It was hard to realize there was anything more important during the years of the Depression. We tried our best to get him to become active in the new Quarter Horse association we were trying to organize at that time. We wanted him to be an officer or director. But he felt he had a full-time job providing for his family, and he did not want to assume any additional responsibilities. He said he would help when he had time. When Jess had his own house in order, he became active in AQHA, becoming a director in 1951 and president in 1964.
The Hankins family moved to Texas from Arkansas early in this century, and they settled on a ranch in Terry County. When Jess was through with grammar school he was sent to the academy at San Marcos. While there he met a lovely girl, Olga Burney. She and Jess were both active in school sports, and soon became fast friends. When they finished school they were married and Jess took his bride back to Terry County and their ranch, but neither was happy in that wide-open high-plains country. They made a visit to see Olga’s parents, who lived on the rolling tree- and brush-covered hills of the Edwards Plateau. Jess liked that country and they soon purchased four sections near Rocksprings. This was in 1926; he bought King some years later.
Throughout their life together, Olga was Jess’s constant companion. They hunted and fished whenever they could get away from ranch chores. In the early days, most of the outdoor life was on the ranch, which had doves, bobwhite quail, and white tail deer. When the ranch became a success they hunted and fished all over the United States and Canada.
Today Jess spends much of his time at a house he has on the lake north of Del Rio. His daughters and their husbands take care of their ranching interests.
How did Jess happen to buy King? I was visiting with him some years ago, taped our conversations, and here is what he said:
“Well, Bob, I had a boy working for me at the time by the name of Jack Harris. We were riding along and I was on a pretty good sorrel mare, and I said, ‘Do you know, Jack, if I knew where there was a horse as good as my mare I would just breed her and raise a colt.’ Well, he said, ‘I know where there is a horse that I think is that good.’ I asked him where and he said off down in Uvalde. Jack told me he was a good one, so I said let’s take the mare down there. We drove down there and as we came to the trap (pasture) where the horse was, I said we can unload the mare. He replied, ‘Well, you haven’t looked him over yet.’ I answered, ‘I have seen him well enough!'”
Question. Can you remember anything special about him?
“Well, he carried an awfully good coat of hair, but it was really his conformation that I liked.”
Question. How long did it take you to decide to buy the horse?
“When I went back to get my mare, Winn Dubose, who owned King, said ‘I liked to sold King the other day,’ and I said, ‘Sure enough, I didn’t know he was for sale.’ Well, he said the fellow told him he wanted to turn him into a pasture with 40 mares, and that just kind of cooled him off. I fooled around then, trying to get him to put a price on him I could pay, but he would not give me a price.
“Later, I went back to see Winn and to try again to buy King. He said no, he really did not want to sell the horse and he just talked on and on about everything. Finally, he said if he could get ahold of the horse Cuarto de Julio, a half brother of King’s that Juan Salinas was roping on, he might sell me King.
So we went down to see this other horse at Encinal. He was owned by Byrne James.
“Winn went out and roped a few calves on Cuarto de Julio and then we sat around, had supper, talked, and finally went back to Uvalde. Well, Bob, when we got to Winn ‘s place we sat and talked some more until 2 o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t tell even then if he would sell me King, he just talked and talked. Finally he said he’d let me have King for $800 if he could keep him for two more rodeos he wanted to go to. I didn’t have any mares that needed breeding right then and I wanted King, so I said all right. So Winn bought Cuarto de Julio and I got King.”
Question. What did you like best about King?
“He was always cool headed and friendly. You could rope on him at a show, then ride him over to the fence and tie him among a string of horses and he seldom ever made a move. If he did, all you had to do was say, ‘King!’ and he calmed right down.”
Question. How did you control the number of mares you bred to him?
“In the early days that was not a problem. Later, when he became better known, I just kept upping the stud fee to keep the numbers down, and it worked out fine for everyone.”
Question. How did you breed him by hand, in a corral, or in the pasture?
“We artificially bred him, and also by hand, but not in the pasture.”
Question. Were you ever tempted to sell him?
“Well no, not really.”
Question. What sons of King did you like best?
“Well, there were Cactus King and Poco Bueno, both full brothers out of Miss Taylor. Paul Waggoner got Poco Bueno and B.F. Phillips got Cactus King. I got Miss Taylor from Alonzo Taylor and named her after him. She was by an earlier horse named Poco Bueno that was by Little Joe. She was not what you would call an outstanding individual, but she sure was a great broodmare. I bought her for her bloodlines, not her looks.”
Most breeders today believe that Poco Bueno was King’s best son. He certainly deserved his wide reputation, not just because he was such a superb cow horse, especially in cutting and roping , but also for the excellence and prepotency of his offspring, both colts and fillies.
Poco Bueno inherited his name from his maternal grandsire, an outstanding stallion bred and raised by Ott Adams of Alice, Texas. That Poco Bueno (was sired by Little Joe, as mentioned. The Poco Bueno we are interested in was sired by King and out of Miss Taylor, who was out of a Hickory Bill mare. Hickory Bill was a son of Peter McCue, and owned by George Clegg of Alice. He bred Miss Taylor’s dam.
Poco Bueno had no white markings. He was not quite as chunky as King, but had better bone and better front legs. Both forked well in front and had impressive rear quarters. It would be hard to improve the disposition of either. Both had excellent heads with the distinct Quarter Horse characteristic-big jaws. In my opinion, King and Poco Bueno belonged in the top ten or twelve Quarter Horses active in the 1940s.
King began his life one clear sunny day-June 2, 1932. He was foaled on the Mamie Benevides Volpe place in Laredo. King’s sire, Zantanon, although he had been raced and abused most of his life, carried the best blood to be found in south Texas. His name was variously spelled as Zantanone, Santanon, or Zantanon.
I was secretary of the AQHA in 1939 and when I entered King into the registry it appeared about as follows: Bay, horse born 1932, by Santanon by Little Joe 1//, by Traveller, dam by Yellow Jacket mare. Bred by Burney James, Encinal, Tex., owned by Jess Hankins of Rocksprings, Texas.
When a person is trying to compile pedigrees for 500 to 600 unregistered horses from six or seven states, there is no way to run down all inconsistencies. The executive committee felt that the important thing was to get the first book out; we could correct mistakes later. There were mistakes to correct, and they were corrected.
Helen Michaelis, who followed me as secretary of the AQHA, corrected King’s entry on June 13, 1943. Her entry was as follows: King 234, b. h., 1932, by Zantanon by Little Joe by Traveler, dam Jabalina by Strait Horse by Yellow Jacket by Little Rondo. Bred by Manuel Benevides Volpe, Laredo. Tex., owned by Jess Hankins,. Rocksprings, Texas.
The following people had owned King before Hankins bought him. First there was Benevides Volpe, his breeder; then Charles Alexander of Laredo, followed by Byrne James of Raymondville and Winn Dubose of Uvalde, who sold King to Jess. Both Helen and I were misinformed about who had bred King. Helen made a special trip to Laredo to see Benevides Volpe and Byrne James, and her visit got the matter of his dam and breeder straightened out.
The exact pedigree of King’s dam, Jabalina, was in contention for some time. The problem arose because two people, both closely associated with her, did not remember her pedigree in the same way. Today, this may seem unlikely, but when one is starting a new registry, it is surprising how often it occurs. This does not mean that both individuals were not sincere in their beliefs.
Jess Hankins arrived at what is probably her true breeding, and it has been accepted by the AQHA. There were at least three mares named Jabalina, but the one acknowledged as the dam of King was sired by the Strait Horse by Yellow Jacket by Little Rondo. This final pedigree correction is now officially accepted.
Just a word more about King’s sire, Zantanon. As mentioned before, he was by Little Joe by Traveler, and out of Jeanette by Billy by Big Jim by Rondo. Three of his grandparents traced to Rondo, and one to Traveler. His size was considered normal in 1940 for a Quarter Horse. He stood a bare 14.2 hands, arid when I first saw him, in bad flesh, I doubt that he weighed 800 pounds. He had a world of quality, and passed it down to his offspring.
Byrne James broke King and both raced him and roped on him. James and his partner, John Stevens, roped on King at many south Texas rodeos. Hankins bought him in 1936. It is reported that Winn Dubose stood King for $10. Before King died in 1958 there was scarcely enough money in Texas to buy a breeding.
One factor that helped spread King’s blood was Jess Hankins’ willingness to breed him to outside mares–if they were good mares. Too often the owner of ‘ a great sire will syndicate him, or keep him only for his own mares. Under Hankins’ policy, horsemen trailed mares to Rocksprings from almost every state and Canada. King died March 24, 1958, at the age of 26.
As Coke Roberds once told me, only a few men are ever privileged to own a great sire, because only God can make one. Jess Hankins was one of those men lucky enough to have owned a truly great sire, King P-234.
This article was originally published in the November 1987 issue of Western Horseman.