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--- California Harness Racing History ---

One Such Man Alive

Billy The Kid Stole The First Horse John Richmond Owned

IT WOULD seem very doubtful that many men, who today are driving and racing their own Standardbreds, can say that the first horse they ever owned was stolen from them by Billy the Kid. To make such a claim one would have to span a powerful number of years ...

However, there is one such man alive, and it's a good guess that he is the oldest active race driver in America—or anywhere else for that matter! He is John S. Richmond of Yakima, Washington—now in his 84th year.

He owns, trains, and drives the good pacing mare, Baby Woollen, a ten‑year‑old that he has had since she was six months old. He won with her in 1949, and, regardless of Billy the Kid or anyone else, he expects to do the same with her in 1950.

It was a long way back down the dark tunnel of time—a matter of 76 years—when an eight‑year‑old youngster sat with his father by a New Mexico camp fire and broke bread with the most notorious outlaw that then roamed the western plains.

Richmond senior and junior were freighting out of Independence, Missouri, 28 teams of six horses each. The latter was mainly going along for the ride, just to see the Indians and the world. Billy the Kid was an added, and an unexpected, attraction. He wanted dinner, and he wasn't the sort you argued with. After the dinner he wanted a fresh horse—the sheriff wasn't too far behind him. He particularly liked the looks of a sleek young mare which Richmond senior had given to his son only a short time before.

Result—one kid was ahorseback, and the other was afoot. Right then John Richmond figured he'd own more horses, and hang onto them. There might have been some consolation in the fact that the sheriff caught up with Billy the Kid only a few days later, and killed him.

At the age of 14 John Richmond was driving his own six horse team in his father's freighting train. They toiled over the badlands of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and New Mexico, their great high‑wheeled wagons rolling the rugged roads of western civilization, bringing supplies up along the steel‑ribbed trails of destiny which marked the forward progress of the "Iron Horse." The day they tooled their teams into Tacoma, Washington, ahead of the first construction crew of the Northern Pacific, they had come to the end of the line. There was nothing ahead but water, and these two—man and boy—were drivers, not sailors. The freighting job was done.

They turned back inland and settled in the Yakima Valley 69 years ago. With the exception of seven years spent in Humboldt County, California, John Richmond has been there ever since. He helped to open up the region for future settlers, being active in developing its first irrigation projects. He cleared, leveled, and planted hundreds of acres of land.

He prospered and grew, and his love of horses grew proportionately. He wanted to hold the lines on something faster than those cumbersome freighters, and now he could afford to.

While serving in the First Cavalry of the State of Washington he acquired his first Standardbred. That was in 1896. He got him in payment of a debt, and won his first race with him, beating the major and one of the lieutenants of the troop, all of them going under saddle.

After the Spanish‑American war Richmond journeyed to Humboldt County in northern California, and there met and married Olive Ford, the daughter of a prominent rancher. She too had been raised with horses. Her father's ranch had a mile training track on it. It was natural enough that they own and drive their own stock.

The Richmonds have never owned many race horses—one or two at a time was all. They train and drive for the fun and the sport, doing a majority of their own work around the stables.

The pride and joy of the Richmond stable at the present time is Baby Woollen. Through the nine years which they have raised and raced her, they have made her a family pet. Some years ago when John had his leg broken, Olive Richmond took over the reins and kept the mare in training. Being 78 then, John was a bit doubtful about staging a comeback. However, he wouldn't give up. He told his wife to keep Baby Woollen going—that someday he'd be back in the rig.

Today, 84 years young, he is very much in that rig. Perhaps his courage and determination constitute both a lesson and an inspiration for all those in the game of harness racing in the Northwest. More to the point, perhaps they should prove so to all of us in the bigger game of living life.

John Richmond

VETERAN SULKY pilot John Richmond of Yakima, Washington, poses proudly with his favorite steed of the harness turf, Baby Wollen.