On Three Wyoming Ranches
Those Hancock Horses
By Chuck King - November 1982, Western Horseman Magazine

"Whenever there's cowboyin' to be done - out in the open or in the
rodeo arena - the Hancocks have proven they can handle the job."

Blue Valentine. "Old Blue" at the Hyde Merritt Ranch at Tie Siding, WY. Old Blue was 23 years old when this photo was taken by Jim Jennings of the Quarter Horse Journal.
(November 1982 WH Magazine)

His dam's breeding is shrouded in mystery. "It has been said Joe Hancock's dam has half Percheron. His brilliant racing record and great colts make this seem unlikely and unimportant," states Volume 1, Number 1, of the Stud Book and Registry of the American Quarter Horse Association, printed in 1941. Whatever - whether she carried draft blood or not - Joe Hancock's mother mated well with John Wilkins by Peter McCue by Dan Tucker, according to the studbook, to produce a colt that has had tremendous impact on the roping horse world.

Anyone who has ridden a good Hancock Quarter Horse might argue with the "unlikely and unimportant" portion of the above statement. Some old-time ranchers from time to time crossed a little draft horse blood into their saddle horses to get a stout horse they could ride, or drive hooked to a wagon. If there was some Percheron blood in Joe Hancock's veins, did it make him a better Quarter Horse, or was it so over powered by the racing blood of his sire that it did not hurt him? It would be interesting to know, but that's a question for which we have no answer.

Ace Spratt roping a calf at the 1981 Wyoming High School Rodeo Association Finals. Like many of the Spratt horses, this sorrel gelding is an all-around roping horse. He's the same gelding that is shown being faced-up in the photo of the Spratt brothers team roping (below).  (Jan Spencer photo)

What we do know, thanks to the individuals who compiled and furnished information for that first studbook, is that Joe Hancock was a brown stallion foaled in 1923. A full-page advertisement in the book states that the Tom L. Burnett Estate, Fort Worth, had "select registered mares headed by the famous stallion Joe Hancock." His son Roan Hancock is also listed in the ad. Like his daddy, little is known of the breeding of Roan Hancock's dam. She is simply listed as "riding type - breeding unknown." Roan Hancock, red roan in color, was foaled in 1935. That original studbook also carries a reproduction of a photograph of Joe Hancock, and viewing it makes dismissing the half Percheron theory hard to do. I think that most horsemen would agree that there's cold blood showing.

The Hancocks really came into their own as arena horses shortly after World War II. Hancock breeder Hyde Merritt of Cheyenne and Tie Siding, Wyo., owner of one of three ranching operations to be mentioned here (the others being Hayes Ranch, Thermopolis, Wyo., and Spratt Ranch, Lysite, Wyo.), says this of his introduction to the Hancocks. "This year (1982) marks the 35th anniversary of the King Merritt Single Steer Roping. At the first roping, the men to beat were four Oklahoma cowboys, and each was a top steer ropers; Shoat Webster was riding Popcorn, a bay horse that was a good-looking sucker, Everett Shaw had Peanuts, Jim Snively was on Rock, and Clark McEntire was riding a brown or bay horse named Joe. Joe was sired by Joe Hancock and the other three were by Roan Hancock. They were all big, stout geldings. Snively's horse was the most refined of the four. Each horse had the triangle brand from the Burnett Estate on the jaw. They were exceptionally good horses and that's when I got to looking at the Hancocks."

Years later in a conversation with Hyde, Shoat said that Joe was the greatest tie-down horse, for both calves and steers, that he had ever seen. He was equally good in either event. Shoat also said that he liked the sons of Joe Hancock for calf roping, but preferred the sons of Roan Hancock for steer roping. The reasons being that Joe Hancock's get stopped hard and worked a fast get-back on the calf rope, while Roan Hancock's get usually were more steady at logging (dragging) on a steer rope.

Fred Lowry, a great old-time roper from Lenapah, Okla., married to a relative of Shoat's, was persuaded by Shoat to buy Roan Hancock from the Burnett Estate to cross on Lowry's Zantanon-bred mares. Roan Hancock geldings were sold by Lowry to calf-ropers, steer trippers, and team ropers all over the West.

If Hyde needed more proof of the value of Hancock breeding for cow horses, after seeing those four good geldings at the first King Merritt roping, it was not long in coming. New Mexico roper Cotton Lee soon showed up in the north country riding another good Hancock, a blue roan stud. He roped steers on the stud and eventually sold him to one of the Moore brothers up around Midwest, Wyoming.

Along about this time, Hyde and his future father-in-law, Buster Hayes of Thermopolis, Wyo., heard of a son of Joe Hancock named Texas Blue Bonnet. This grulla stud, foaled in 1939 and bred by the Tom L. Burnett Estate, was owned by Marcus Snyder, who ranched in northern Wyoming and southern Montana. Buster and Hyde went to Hardin, Mont., to look at the stud, liked him and his colt crop, and decided the Hayes brothers (Buster and Laurie) should own him. The purchase was made and Texas Blue Bonnet moved to the Hayes Ranch.

Chip Merritt, eldest son of Dede and Hyde Merritt, roping in the slack at the 1981 Cheyenne Frontier Days. Chip is riding a dun gelding regsitered in the AQHA Appendix as Scalp Dancer, but nicknamed Romeo. He is TB on the top - Roman Sword by Roman - and out of Blue Easter by Texas Blue Bonnet by Joe Hancock. Romeo was raised by Buster and Laurie Hayes. Thermopolis, Wyoming. Jan Spencer photo.

Lory Merritt, son of Dede & Hyde Merritt, calf roping on Crow Creek (by Blue Valentine and out of a Plenty Coup mare) at a college rodeo at Lamar, Colorado.

Those early Hancocks were easy to distinguish. They were rugged, big-boned, some roman-nosed, lots of roans, duns, and buckskins, and were loaded with cow savvy. Some people associated the tough, muscular look of the Hancocks with a broncy disposition. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sure - as with most any strain of horse - some were broncy. But others had great dispositions. The best horse I have ever owned is a Hancock by Blue Boy Appelt by Roan Hancock Jr., and there's not a mean bone in his body. There were some smooth-made horses among those early Hancocks, but not near as many as you'll find among the strain today.

Texas Blue Bonnet sired many good horses for the Hayes brothers. One was a buckskin calf-roping gelding named Hindu that Buster, Laurie, Hyde, and Jim Wilkinson all won on. Everett Shaw, an outstanding roper and rope horse trainer, said that Texas Blue Bonnet might just be the best son of Joe Hancock. He would have no doubt gotten plenty of argument on this because there were many other good sons of the old horse. But Texas Blue Bonnet certainly was on of the best, and one of his sons, Plenty Coup, was an outstanding sire that Hyde borrowed from the Hayes brothers from time to time to use on the Merritt Ranch mares. The horse was a colorful light buckskin with a bald face, and the Merritts got some good geldings and fillies by him.

Bill Spratt, Lysite Wyo., cattle rancher and Hancock Quarter Horse breeder, roping on Stripe at the National Finals Steer Roping in Laramie, Wyo., in 1976. Stripe, a big powerful sorrel gelding, is a son of Salty Roan by Blue Valentine. Bill rode Stripe to win the steer roping at Cheyenne in 1976.

Plenty Coup was out of Glassy who was by Patron, a sorrel stud owned by King Merritt, Hyde's dad. Patron was bred by John W. Zurick, Stead, N.M., and was by Keeno, a chestnut foaled in 1928. King Merritt was a pioneer Quarter Horse breeder in Wyoming, and a champion calf and steer roper. He ranched at Federal, near Cheyenne, and as Hyde says, "he was after those rodeo horses." That's the horse he wanted to raise-one that would excel at roping, bulldogging, or cutting.

Because of an outstanding calf roping horse, Old Baldy, that carried Ike Rude, Clyde Burk, Troy Fort, and others to many rodeo winnings, King bought Baldy's sire, a chestnut stud named Old Red Buck 9, to head up his breeding program. Foaled in 1924, Old Red Buck 9 was bred by John Dawson, Talala, Okla., and went back to Berry's Cold Deck on the top and Printer on the bottom.

Hyde says, "Because Old Baldy ad set the world on fire as a calf horse, everybody was clamorin' for sons of Old Red Buck 9. A horse called Ribbon that Joel McCrea rode in most all his movies was by Old Red Buck 9. A lot of the Oklahoma Star horses that ended up in rodeo were out of Old Red Buck 9 mares."

Then, according to Hyde, Kind bought another stud because of the performance of a mare in the arena. Jimmy Nesbitt had a 'dogging mare named Little Sue that was a dandy. She was by Sam Watkins by Hickory Bill. She was bred to San Siemon by Zantanon by Little Joe, and she foaled a black stud colt 1937. He was named Black Hawk, and King bought him because of the dam's winning ways in rodeo. A year later Little Sue foaled Joe Barrett, a full brother to Black Hawk. The early AQHA studbooks list Bert Benear, Tulsa, Okla., as the breeder of both Black Hawk and Joe Barrett. Black Hawk crossed well on the Old Red Buck 9 mares and produced a lot of good rodeo horses. He was also a good calf roping horse.

Ambrose was another stud used by the Merritts back in those early days of the AQHA. He was foaled in 1938 and was bred by I.W. Blake, Morrow. Ark., and owned by Coke S. Blake, Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was by Shiloh and out of Lonesome by Blake's Traveler. Hyde's brother, Cotton, and Coke Blake were real good friends and Coke, then an old man, let Hyde and Cotton purchase Ambrose, "the last of the Coke Blake horses."

Hyde Merritt (foreground) is heading in team roping while riding Mocoso, a sorrel gelding by Plenty Coup and out of a mare by Ambrose. Ambrose was the last of Coke Blake's horses.

Speaking of Ambrose, Hyde says: "He was a rich-colored chestnut and only stood about 14-1 hands. When Cotton and I got him he was an unbroken nine-year-old, but he was gentle and we'd wrangle horses on him bareback at daybreak with just a halter on his head. You'd never know he was a stud. He had the nicest, easiest lope ever. He sired a lot of our foundation mares, and the reason we wanted Ambrose was because Old Red Buck 9 had proven himself, and he and Ambrose were both Blake horses. Raymond Hollingsworth, long-time AQHA secretary, once said that Ambrose could win a halter class with just his head sticking out of a stall. He had an ideal Quarter Horse head with big, kind eyes."

Writing about Quarter Horse families, Helen Michaelis, then secretary of the AQHA, had this to say in 1943 in the Stud Book and Registry: "The Blake Horses were established in 1900, and founded on Steel Dust, Shiloh, and Brimmer lines. They were developed by Coke S. Blake, Pryor, Okla., through Cold Deck, Telegraph, White Lightning, Brimmer, and Bertrand strains. Blake Horses were well known in Oklahoma, western Arkansas, southern Missouri, and Kansas. The Blake Horses have been well preserved in Oklahoma and represent some of the best bloodlines in existence."

Another Hancock came to Wyoming when Dell Haverty brought Blue Valentine to the state. Dell is married to Connee, a sister to Hyde's wife Dede. Hyde says, "Dell was raised in Arizona with Ken Gunter, and he broke a lot of horses for Ken. Ken had Red Man, a full brother to Roan Hancock by Joe Hancock, and Dell got the pick of Ken's colt crop one year. He picked a black weanling that shed off to be a blue roan and was named Blue Valentine. Dell trained Blue Valentine to be an arena horse, and did everything on him - roped calves, team roped, tripped steers, and even won the steer decorating at Calgary on him one year. Dell sold the Hayes brothers a half-interest in Blue Valentine, and I later bought Dell's remaining half-interest. We bred our mares a little earlier down here in southern Wyoming than the Hayes brothers did on north in the state for several seasons, so we hauled Blue Valentine back and forth so we could both use him. Then we eventually kept him down here at the Tie Siding Ranch, just south of Laramie, full time.

"By then, we were calling him 'Old Blue,' and one year at Cheyenne Frontier Days after I tied a steer down on Old Blue, I rode past Everett Shaw, who was flagging the roping. Everett asked, 'Did you train that horse?'

"I replied, 'No, Dell Haverty trained him.'

"Then Everett said, 'He's the best steer horse in the arena." Hyde took this to be a great compliment, because he says, "Everett Shaw was the dean of the steer horse trainers."

Blue Valentine was foaled in August 1956, and died at 24 years of age after making a great contribution to cow horses in Wyoming. Two of his sons, Gooseberry, a red roan foaled in 1973, and Rowdy Blue Man, a blue roan foaled in 1977, head up broodmare bands on the Merritt Ranch. And another son, Salty Roan, out of Glassy, the Hayes mare that also produced Plenty Coup, heads the broodmare band on the Spratt Ranch at Lysite, Wyoming.

T. J. Spratt roping at the 1980 Wyoming High School Rodeo Association Finals. The gelding he is riding was trained for the event by Olin Young, one of the greats of rodeo roping. The horse is by Salty Roan and out of a Tom Hancock mare that came from Bob Moore's horses. Tom Hancock was by Joe Hancock.

Bill Spratt, who won the steer roping at Cheyenne in 1976 on a son of Salty Roan, says the Spratt Ranch broodmares are all of Hancock breeding. He got them from the Hayes brothers or from Bob Moore at Midwest, Wyoming. Stripe, the horses that Bill won Cheyenne on, is a big sorrel, standing 15-2 and weighing 1,425 pounds. He is out of a mare by Johnnie Cake by Red Man. Johnnie Cake is owned by Jake Frank, Park City, Montana. Dick Braten, formerly of Wyoming, now managing an Arizona ranch near Prescott, team ropes on a full brother to Stripe. And here is one of the variables in horse raising: the full brother is small.

Bill says that he received some of his best mares from his friend Buster Hayes. "The mares got to be 15 or 16 years old on the Hayes Ranch and they needed to be kept up and fed hay," said Bill, "and I told Buster that I sure could do that and would take good care of them. So he gave them to me."

The Spratt Ranch runs around 20 head of broodmares and sells most of the fillies and some broke geldings. The ranch's saddle horse remuda always has from 50 to 70 head of geldings. The ranch carries about 1,000 head of mother cows plus around 3,000 yearling steers, so there is plenty of saddle horse work every day. On horseback is the only way to cover much of the country, and there's always roping to be done as cattle are doctored and cared for. And whenever there's cowboyin' to be done - out in the open in the hills or in the rodeo arena - the Hancocks have proven they can handle the job.

Salty Roan, a red [bay] roan stud by Blue Valentine, on the Spratt Ranch, Lysite, Wyoming. Salty Roan is out of Glassy who was also the mother of Plenty Coup by Texas Blue Bonnet by Joe Hancock. Texas Blue Bonnet and Plenty Coup were owned by the Hayes Ranch, Thermopolis Wyoming.

Submitted by Lou & Janet Wood, Woodland Acres Ranch, Flippin AR

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