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Joe Hancock
By Phil Livingston

("The Working Horse Magazine" April 2003)

Joe Hancock, horse & man

In the fifty-plus years since the American Quarter Horse Association was founded (in 1941) there have been many well-known stallions. Some have left their mark on one or two generations, then faded from the scene. A very few prepotent individuals have continued their influence down through the decades and maintained their popularity with using horseman. One such stallion was Joe Hancock. According to the AQHA stud book, Joe Hancock was foaled in 1923 up in the Panhandle at Perryton, Texas. His breeder was John Jackson Hancock. One of John Hancock's sons, Joe, had moved to Nocona, down near Fort Worth. On a visit home, Joe saw the streak-faced, brown yearling and talked his father out of him. The colt, which didn't receive a name until he reached the race track as a two year old, was a son of John Wilkens by the legendary Peter McCue. His dam was a Hancock family mare sired by a black Percheron stallion and out of a Steeldust-type mare.

While some might decry the presence of draft horse blood in a race horse, the cross did give Joe Hancock the bone and the hooves necessary to stand up to the hard use on the race track. His sire, John Wilkens, was loaded with speed but the side walls of his feet were so thin and delicate that it was almost impossible to keep shoes on him. In one race he threw all four shoes within the first hundred yards. Of course, when he threw a shoe, he would pull up and loose the race. That single flaw eliminated him as a racer, although his son successfully carried the colors for him. Joe Hancock did not have hoof problems, nor did his get. The "Hancocks" were noted for having feet and legs like iron, for their size (over 15 hands) and functional conformation as well as an iron constitution that made them favourites with ranch and rodeo cowboys.

Upon entering the stallion in the first Official AQHA Stud Book and Registry, Secretary Bob Denhardt described Joe Hancock as follows:

455 JOE HANCOCK - Brn. S. 1923: Tom L. Burnett Estate, Fort Worth, Texas: Sire, John Wilkens by Peter McCue by Dan Tucker: Dam Unknown. (It is said that Joe Hancock's dam was half Percheron. His Brilliant racing record and his great colts make this seem unlikely and unimportant.)

Joe Hancock (the owner) and John Elbert Ogle (the man who trained and raced the stallion) both agreed that the horse received some very positive benefits from his Percheron grandsire. Chief among these were his size, bone, appetite (he would eat his bedding), calmness and disposition. Both men felt that they couldn't have improved upon his conformation for a race horse even if they could take a pencil and redraw it.

John Hendrix, writing in a 1939 "Cattleman" commented that, "Joe had the legs of a running horse and the body of a light draft horse."

As a two-year-old the brown stallion showed his speed at a few races around home, easily defeating the competition. That was enough for Joe Hancock to turn him over to John Ogle, a well known race horse trainer headquartered at Claypool, Oklahoma. The first place Ogle took his charge was to the race track at Comanche. When asked his horse's name, he commented that the animal was owned by Joe Hancock of Nacona, Texas so "Just call him Joe Hancock".

Under that name the horse tore up the brush tracks of North Texas and Oklahoma, taking on all comers from the quarter to a half mile. Before Joe's career was over, he was open to the world at any distance from the starting line to three eights of a mile. Ogle even took out an advertisement in the Fort Worth newspaper stating the fact and asking for challengers. The 1920's were the "glory days of match racing" and the brown stallion went up against the best, winning the majority of his starts. No one knows how many times Joe Hancock ran or how much money he earned for his backers.

Joe Hancock was so fast that his backers needed a better place to cash in on his speed. That was the Thoroughbred tracks since pan-mutual betting on the Quarter Horses was still in the future. Like many Quarter Horses of the time, Thoroughbred registration papers were acquired for the Texas speedster. He was registered as Brown Wool, by Wool Winder and out of Maggie Murphy, and foaled in 1925. When the horse matured, however, he had to retire from the Thoroughbred track. He no longer presented the ideal picture of a distance horse even though his trainers kept him racing fit and his mane, tail and fetlocks trimmed.

Joe Hancock finally ran himself out of competition and, if he had not caught the eye of Tom Burnett of the 6666 Ranch at Guthrie, Texas, he would have faded into the obscurity that surrounds most old race horses. Tom, the son of Pioneer Texas cattleman Burk Burnett, grew up riding usin' horses, raced a few and raised a bunch that could run and savy a cow. In addition to taking over the 6666's, he put together the Triangle Ranch at Iowa Park. His L brand on the left shoulder of a horse meant that he was a sure 'nuf' good one. Tom Burnett decided that Joe Hancock was just the stallion to carry on the line of horses sired by such ranch studs as: Buggins (TB), King O'Neal (TB), Scooter, Brown Rick and others. He paid George Ogle (he had purchased Joe Hancock for $1,000.00, knowing he could resell him to Burnett) $2,000.00 for the big brown stallion.

After buying the horse, Burnett had to have "just one more race". He matched the aged stallion against a speedster owned by the neighboring Waggoners, also noted for owning fast horses. The race was to be run at the Three DDD's (Waggoner brand) race track. According to reports, Joe Hancock won so handily that the jockey riding the Three DDD horse couldn't have hit his opponent with a rock when he crossed the finish line. The stallion was timed at 22 ¾ seconds for the standing start quarter mile.

Joe Hancock spent the rest of his life at the Triangle Ranch near Iowa Park. He was turned out each spring with a select group of mares, most of them by the Burnett stallion, Tom. The resulting colts and fillies made his reputation as a sire. In July of 1941 the stallion almost cut off a front foot on a piece of loose wire in the pasture. It was several days before he was found and screw worms and proud flesh had pretty well taken care of the foot. The cut was cured and by the following spring, he was out with his mares again. Then, in 1943, the horse foundered (laminitis) and his one good foot gave way. Joe Hancock was destroyed on July 29, 1943.

John C Burns, manager of the Burnett Estates, a former Secretary of the American Quarter Horse Association and an internationally known judge of livestock, wrote these words to Bob Denhardt in 1963:

"Joe Hancock could run and he transmitted his speed quite consistently to his offspring. He was a big horse, heavily boned and muscled and quite well balanced in his conformation, and stood on well-set legs. His feet were on the large side, and one could sum him up by saying that he was a big horse, powerfully built, with a lot of speed and action. He would weigh 1450 pounds in just ordinary condition. His offspring were in strong demand as rope horses because of their strength, speed and action."

The AQHA statistics credit Joe Hancock with 155 foals from 15 crops. Six earned ROM's at Racing and two were ROM at Performance. There is no information, other than word of mouth, of how well his offspring did on the match tracks or under the saddles of ranch and rodeo cowboys.

Among Joe Hancock's better-known sons were Little Black Joe, sire of six Register of Merit show horses, including Honest John who sired a string of top cutting and roping mounts; Joe Tom, who stayed home on the Triangle to sire some good cow horses in addition to the race horses Miss Roxy AA and Catch Me Boy A; and Joe Hancock Jr, who not only ran a little but also sired the hardknocking Pelican. Jiggs and Joe were owned and roped off of by John and Clark McIntire, a father and son, both world Champion Single Steer Ropers from Kiowa, Oklahoma. Little Joe The Wrangler (sire of four A race qualifiers) and War Chief (who once outran Clabber) both tore up the short tracks under the ownership of the Hepler Brothers before retiring to stud. Under the ownership of Tex Oliver, War Chief was twice bred to Brown Beulah by Driftwood, producing the well-known stallions War Drift and War Concho. Roan Hancock, another Burnett Ranch stallion, sired Roper, a runnin' fool; Dusty Hancock; the half-brothers Popcorn and Peanuts, who carried Shoat Webster and Everett Shaw to lots of single steer roping money, and other top contest mounts. Big Foot Charlie, Black Lable, Spotted Spider and Wonder Lad, were all geldings by Roan Hancock who earned their way on the track.

Perhaps his best known son was Red Man, a gotch-eared (his ears were frozen off in an ice storm shortly after he was foaled) roan stallion that could race, rope or work cows and sired a whole herd that did the same. Foaled in 1935 on the Triangle Ranch, Red Man was purchased as a long yearling by Byrne James of Encinal, Texas (who also owned King P-234 at one time). James liked to rope, when he wasn't playing professional baseball, and the roan colt rapidly learned what a calf looked like. As a two year-year-old and ill with distemper, he carried James Kenny to win two matched calf ropings in one day. Shortly afterwards he won the reining at both the Tucson and Wilcox, Arizona shows. Kenneth Gunter, of Benson, Arizona, purchased Red Man in 1941 and owned him for the rest of his life. He ranched on the stallion, roped calves and steers on him and raced him. Red Man performed very credibly on the track, outrunning some of the "toughs" of the day and earning two track records at the Hacienda Moltacqua Track outside of Tucson. Among his track triumphs was a dead heat with Cyclone and, outrunning Arizona Girl and Clabber. In the 1943 World's Championship Quarter he finished third to the immortal Shue Fly and Clabber by less than a length.

That quick speed stood Red Man in good stead in the rodeo arena. During the '40's, most ropings were held over a very long score and it took a real race horse to give a cowboy a throw in the money hole. In 1943 Buckshot Sorrells won the calf roping at Cheyenne, Wyoming on him, catching his cattle across that long 30-foot score.

Lanham Riley, a top roper and horseman, remembered his first sight of Red Man back in 1947.

"Dee Burk and I were at the Tucson rodeo and I saw that big roan stud run across that 60-foot score. He could sure catch those brahma calves."

As a sire, Red Man (ROM in both Performance and Racing) produced 125 registered foals from 22 crops. During his early years as a breeding stallion, a number of grade mares were brought to him so there is really no way of telling just how many foals he is responsible for. Among those that went to the track were: Capt 15, ROM; High Gear, ROM; Red Squirrel; Lilly Belle; Wampus Kitty, ROM and a track record holder at Rillito; Roan Dan, ROM; track record holder at Tucson and 3rd in the Nebraska Championship; Johnny Cake, ROM; Red Gown L, ROM; Miss Print, ROM; Red Juniper, ROM, Red Top H, ROM; Red Mama, ROM and Apache Agent, ROM.

While most of the "Red Man's" went to the track, the ranch or the rodeo arena, a few did see the show ring. Those earning Performance ROM's included: Misfortune II; Gunman; Lady Hur; Red Wood Man, Blue Valentine and Cibecue Roan, 1965 AQHA High Point Steer Roping Stallion.

Of all the Hancock's the Red Man's have been carried on the best. The best known of the breeders perpetuating the line must be the Merritt's of Federal, Wyoming. For years they line-bred the Hancocks and, in the process, mounted several generations of ropers on the stout horses. Their stallions were Plenty Try by Gooseberry by Blue Valentine by Red Man by Joe Hancock, beginning with Blue Valentine which Hyde Merritt used, then purchased. Their outcross stallion was Plenty Coup by Texas Bluebonnet by Joe Hancock. This combination gave them a "double dose" of Hancock blood.

Another ranch that utilized Hancock blood in their breeding program was the Haythorns, at Arthur, Nebraska. Many of their horses trace back to War Drift, a son of War Chief by Joe Hancock and out of Brown Beulah by Driftwood. Their 1994 sale set a record average price on geldings - 98 head of broke geldings, a large percentage of Hancock linage, averaged $6,171 each.

Joe Hancock's daughters were highly thought of as producers, passing on the bone, size, speed and athletic ability of their sire. The majority of them went into breeding bands across the Southwest and "did their sire proud". Perhaps the most influential was Joan, the dam of Hot Heels, Jo Chick, Steel Bars, and Joan's Josephine, each of which has AAA or AA produce or get. Hot Heels produced Mona Leta AAA, Bob's Folly AAA, Johnny Do It AAA, Mary Sunshine AAA, Bar Heels AA and Snakey Bend A. Steel Bars was the Honor Roll Halter Stallion in 1957.

Another good Joe Hancock Mare was Julie W. When bred to Leo, Julie W produced Flit, the dam of King's Pistol, 1957 NCHA World Champion Cutting Horse and AQHA Champion. Jim Calhoun, owner and rider of King's Pistol, felt the stallion got his heavy bone, serviceable conformation and easy-going disposition from the Hancock side of the family. The combination of Gray Badger III and Lady Hancock by Roan Hancock by Joe Hancock, resulted in Triangle Tookie, dam of AQHA Champion Two Eyed Jack.

The list of sons, daughters, grandget and great-grandget goes on and on; the majority of these horses with size, substance and speed. In many cases, these horses are well-known throughout the Quarter Horse industry as top performers under saddle. Today, the demand for performance horses tracing back to Joe Hancock is stronger than ever. A recent sale at McAlester, Oklahoma even held a special "Hancock Session" for animals carrying the blood of the streak-faced brown stallion that didn't receive a name until he went to the track. Among the calf and steer ropers, the popularity of the Joe Hancocks remains undiminished. They know, that to win, "they gotta' be mounted." With a Hancock…. a man is.

submitted by Hayden Dunsworth & his father

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