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Texas Trails

published: May 13th 2022
by: Clay Coppedge

The legendary race that never happened
    Cowboys and horse racing enthusiasts tend to rhapsodize about horses they call Steel Dusters, or sometimes “Steeldusts.”  Though sometimes refer-red to as a separate breed, the horses can trace back to single horse named Steel Dust, a progeny of legendary sire Sir Archy, which was foaled by a Kentucky thoroughbred mare and brought to Texas in 1884 by Middleton Perry and  Jones Green.
    Steel Dust was muscular, with a big jaw that made him look just more determined than other horses. And he was smart, with more common horse sense and durability than other of his ilk, but it was his speed that made him famous.
    Steel Dust raced against horses owned by Texans and Indians at his place on Ten-Mile Creek and he beat all comers. They said Steel Dust was so fast his jockey coated the horse’s back with molasses so he wouldn’t fall off. He was as well known in Texas as Sam Houston— and more universally admired. A considerable amount of coin, currency and barter changed hands when Steel Dust raced, and the smart money was usually on him. But not always.
    Anticipation of a race between Steel Dust and Monmouth, another “un-beatable” horse was so high that the courts in McKinney, site of the race, shut down to watch it. The local money went to Monmouth, especially after Steel Dust showed up looking half-asleep.
    Today, Monmouth is best remembered for losing that race. Another horse that couldn’t be beat, Brown Dick from Hopkins County, also carries a loss to Steel Dust as his main claim to fame. But there was yet another horse that people said was unbeatable: Shiloh. 
    Shiloh, also a progeny of Sir Archy, was foaled in Tennessee in 1844 and brought to Texas in 1849 by Jack Batchler. Like Steel Dust, Shiloh’s speed around a short track was astounding. The two horses were set for the “Race of the Century” at a well-groomed track on the outskirts of Dallas in 1855 but it never happened.
    In his eagerness for the race, Steel Dust reared up against the starting chute, breaking a board and running a splinter through his shoulder. Technically, Steel Dust lost by forfeit. Later, he went blind. His racing days were over but his sex life was just beginning. Steel Dust and Shiloh became the foundation sires of the American Quarter Horse.
    The King Ranch began using breeding lines from Steel Dust and Shiloh in 1916 to form the foundation of the famous King Ranch herd, which produced Triple Crown winner Assault and other notables. Steel Dust died in 1864 and was buried at Ten Mile Creek (there are conflicting stories about this) on Middleton Perry’s farm. Shiloh lived for 30 years and might have lived longer had he not slipped into a corral with another stallion and taken a severe kicking that eventually put him away. He was buried on Bear Creek in Ellis County in 1874. The bloodlines of both horses live on in today’s quarter horse.
    “The important thing is that there were such horses as Steel Dust,” historian Robert Moorman Den-hardt emphasized in his book Quarter Horses: A story of Two Centuries. “They lived, worked, ran and begot sons and daughters and founded a mighty race, the American quarter horse.”

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