By Margaret Warden
April, 1966 Western Horseman Magazine
It was a big horse
that lay covered in the hallway of the barn at Harlinsdale Farm,
Franklin, Tenn., the afternoon of November 7, 1965. Indeed,
he was a big horse in every way - in stature, name, fame, and
Midnight Sun, a young 25, had become a legend years before his
death that Indian summer afternoon. On his
record, he was the big horse of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.
He was the first stallion to become world champion of his kind.
That was in 1945 and 1946 at the Tennessee Walking Horse National
Celebration at Shelbyville, Tennessee. Then he sired
horses that were grand champions there seven times; grand-sired
the supreme winner five times; and was the great-grandsire
of nearly EVERY year's champion since that time. On only FOUR
occasions since 1949, have horses NOT descended from
Midnight Sun, in a straight male line, been world champions of
If Midnight Sun had been foaled in 1930 instead
of 1940, he would have acted on a small stage before a small
audience, and for only local fame. However, he flashed on
the scene with perfect timing. The nationwide discovery of
the Tennessee Walking Horse afforded this remarkable individual, a
big stage on which to perform before a large audience, and he
responded gloriously to the opportunity.
From being a
humble, back-country type known in a few southern states, the
Walking Horse started going places after the registry society was
formed in 1935. It seemed that nearly everybody was reading
about the Tennessee Walking Horse, and wanted to see this
distinctive "new" breed in action. Great singers, actors,
athletes, and horses are "box office", and the big, black,
storybook stallion was prominent among the performers to sell the
breed to the public.
Horses are not a big money crop in the
Volunteer State, but in the last 30 years, the Tennessee Walking
Horse has brought in a lot of cash and numerous lookers, and
Midnight Sun was high among those responsible.
For years a
guest book was kept at Harlinsdale by owners A. F. and W. W.
Harlin, but the books filled up fast, and after the novelty wore
off, they were discontinued. Some days the champ was brought out
of his stall 20 times for visitors to see and have their pictures
made with Midnight Sun. He was never ill-natured. A child could go
into his stall and pet him. Many a youngster was given the thrill
of "riding Midnight Sun."
The big horse was cast in the
heroic mold. When he finally matured, he averaged 1,350 pounds and
appeared much taller than the "just under 16 hands" that he
measured. He was distinctly large for a Walking horse, a robust
but not tall breed. His home was his stall. He was never turned
out in a paddock, but exercised daily under saddle between 30
minutes and an hour. The day before his death from colic, he was
ridden at the walk and running walk about 30 minutes. The
Tennessee Walking Horse may be thought of as a Cinderella breed,
and Midnight Sun as an ugly duckling that matured into a swan.
It was a farmer, the late Samuel M. Ramsey, at Viola, in the
Tennessee hills west of Chattanooga and near McMinnville, who bred
Ramsey's Rena, a bay mare of about 15.2 hands, to
Wilson's Allen, a chestnut, at
nearby Pelham. This was a couple of months before the latter's
death from pneumonia on August 22, 1939. Rena died
young after producing just 3 foals.
Wilson's Allen was by
Roan Allen, by
Allen, from Birdie Messick by Allen,
the Standardbred No. 1 foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking
Horse. Rena was about 90% Standardbred. She was by
Dement's Allen by Hunter's Allen, by Allen
F-1, and her dam was by Bell Buckle, a registered trotter of Bow
Bells and Wedgewood blood. The Registry gives the next
dam as by John Covington's Hal, and the next as by "Galleston".
This was a trotter, but not an American Standardbred. Old-timers
in the Woodbury area who remember him say that the name was
Galson. He was an imported black German Coach
stallion, "nearly 17 hands and 1,500 pounds", owned by a stock
company, and had cost $2,600. (English, German and French
coach horses were imported to the U.S. periodically to produce
heavyweight hunters and carriage horses, or farm horses and mule
mares, but the English Cleveland Bay is the only one hanging on
today.) German coach horses were a brief experiment in
middle Tennessee from about 1903-1915. Galston is the only one
with any known descendants. He contributed size, color
and stride to a prolific champion that has put his name far back
in many a pedigree.
He sold as a suckling because he was
one of the last crop by Wilson's Allen,
and the buyer was stuck with him for nearly 3 years.
Nobody could see anything promising in that solid black colt that
was plain, thin, and gangly. What horseman is wizard
enough to foretell what kind of mature horse, a weanling will
make? Alex and Wirt Harlin were among those who didn't
want the black colt until they saw him perform under saddle in
January, 1944, when he was turning 4 years old. Then
they paid $4,400, including the commission, and legend has it,
that they were prepared to pay $10,000.
In 1956 at the
Harlinsdale dispersal during the Murray Farm sale in Lewisburg,
Tenn., Mrs. G. M. Livingston and daughter, Geraldine of Quitman,
Ga., paid $50,000 for Midnight Sun. The champ had new
owners, but they wanted him left at Harlinsdale under the same
management. So there he lived out his years. In 1962,
he left home for his last personal triumph at the Celebration.
He paraded with 7 other former grand champions, including his old
rival, Merry Go Boy, and drew more
applause than any other.
What forbearers and what handlers
produced Midnight Sun? Nobody knows yet what two horses to breed
to get a certain champion. No skilled trainer-rider can make
a champion of just any horse he rides.
pedigree contains out-crosses that have probably added much vigor.
Instead of Roan Allen in both lines,
he had Hunter's Allen on the dam's
side and some of the stoutest trotting blood of his ancestors'
Midnight Sun's sire,
Wilson's Allen, was on a pedestal when he died, for among his
get was Strolling Jim, Grand Champion of the first Tennessee
Walking Horse National Celebration in 1939.
Hendrixon of Manchester bred three of the last crop of Wilson's
Allen and hastened to get 6 others as sucklings. He paid
$500 for the black colt, but buyers passed him by. They
liked the smooth, early maturing ones such as H-Boy. There
was a scramble to get him. The Harlins were among the ones
who lost out.
When the slow maturing black colt was a two
year old, Hendrixon trucked him and several mares to Shelbyville
and offered them for sale on a lot near the Celebration grounds.
He was still too thin and awkward to show what he could do, and
Alex Harlin again declined to buy him. Who could have
predicted that the gawky colt would, three years later, be supreme
champion of the breed, a few hundred yards from the scene of his
rejection, and then proudly owned by those who had repeatedly
But the next time the Harlin brothers (of Red
Kap garment fame) saw the black stud, they hastened to buy him.
About October, 1943, the late Winston Wiser, then at Wartrace,
acquired "Joe Lewis Wilson", as Hendrixon had registered him, and
two or three months later rode him to the late Henry Davis' barn
to show him off.
1946 portrait of Champions (left to right):
Strolling Jim, Melody Maid, Black Angel, City Girl and Midnight
The dean of
Walking horsedom was so excited over the horse's performance that
he couldn't sleep for nights, and he told Wirt Harlin about that
"once in a lifetime, honest to goodness, old time saddle horse."
So, the very next day, after the purchase was made at Hendrixon's
in January, 1944, Henry Davis took the stallion from Wiser's barn
to Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin, about 50 miles away.
any stage, a star performer needs and deserves an attractive name.
"Joe Lewis Wilson" did nothing for the future champion. It was
Bill Ashley of Franklin who suggested Midnight Sun soon after the
horse arrived at Harlinsdale. "The noonday sun is the brightest
and strongest thing we know and this is the blackest and strongest
horse" said this imaginative admirer.
Except for the
Get-Of-Sire classes, the big horse's show record is soon told, for
he competed relatively few times, among the best. The new wonder
wasn't really ready in 1944. His big frame hadn't filled out, nor
had he hit his "big train" stride, but people were expecting to
see him in competition and would have wondered why he wasn't
shown. The Celebration constituted his debut and his only
appearance of the year. In the stallion championship, he was
second to Wilson's Ace, with Old Glory third. In the Open Stakes,
he placed sixth, with the first three being City Girl, Black
Angel, and Wilson's Ace. Carl Lee, the stallion's handler at
Harlinsdale, rode him in the stallion event, and Winston Wiser was
up in the grand championship.
In 1945 and 1946, the
Midnight Sun was un-eclipsed. In 1945, he won his class and
the championship at Murfreesboro, Franklin, Columbia, Shelbyville
(PTA Show in June), Lexington Junior League Show, and the
Celebration where he topped stallions four years and over, the
stallion championship, ladies-amateur (Mrs. Henry Davis up), and
the grand championship. Cotton Pickin's Mac and Merry Wilson were
second and third.
In 1946, with Fred Walker as
trainer-rider again, Midnight Sun competed in just three shows;
the Shelbyville PTA, the Celebration, and the Tennessee State Fair
at Nashville. At the first ones, he won the stallion class
and open stake, get-of-sire, and the grand championship. In
the finale, the junior champion, Merry Go Boy, forced the reigning
monarch to give his utmost to stay on top. Third and fourth
were Merry Wilson, good enough to be champion anywhere, and Black
Angel, 1944 Celebration champion.
1947, Merry Go Boy, then four years old, challenged successfully
with Winston Wiser up. Midnight Sun won the stallion
championship (Merry Go Boy was not
present) at the Celebration and the State Fair, but
Merry Go Boy won the four years and
over stud class, and Grand Championship for 1947 and 1948.
When a person dies, it is customary to take the point of view that
his or her history is complete, but this cannot be so if the
subject is a stallion that sired approximately 100 foals a year
for 20 years, and whose sons and grandsons, and female offspring
too, have proved themselves consistently to be winning producers
of World Grand Champions.
In 1972 Geraldine Livingstone
commissioned a statue of Midnight Sun. This statue was sculpted by
Lee Burnam of Hawthorne, Florida, and presented as a birthday gift
from Geraldine to her mother, Eleanor. The bronze black patina
statue stands 7 feet tall and rests on a base of rose colored
granite. It was placed on the South side of the Dixie Plantation
house, beyond the pool, in a position so that it could be viewed
from Eleanor's bedroom window. This is the only statue of a famous
walking horse in existence today.