On March 14, 1940, Anne and James Goodwin Hall invited a group of influential ranchers and an earnest young history professor for dinner at their finely appointed home in Fort Worth, Texas. The ranchers were in town for the annual Fat Stock Show, a livestock show and rodeo that was the biggest social event of the season. The 27-year-old professor was there because of the ranchers.
"Miss Anne," as she was known throughout ranch country, had inherited a keen interest in good horses, along with the Four Sixes and Triangle ranches. Hall, her husband at the time, was an attorney and a competent horseman, although not as savvy about cows and cow ponies as Anne and the gentlemen gathered.
We don't know the menu that evening – logic tells us it included beef – but we know that the dinner conversation focused on Steeldust horses, as some called them, or Quarter Horses.
The only poor boy in the bunch was Bob Denhardt, a Californian who had accepted a $1,500 annual stipend to teach history at Texas A&M University. Knowing he'd be traveling through the land of the Steeldust horses, Western Horseman commissioned him to write a story on them.
For all Denhardt knew, Steel Dust himself was a myth. The bulldog-type cow ponies said to be his descendants were becoming increasingly rare. Coke Roberds of Colorado gave Denhardt the first real evidence that there was a Steel Dust when he brought out an old folder on Peter McCue's sire, Dan Tucker, who traced to Steel Dust. Denhardt spent all his free time tracking the lineage of Quarter Horse-type cow horses. As he discovered their common ancestors, he became convinced these horses should have their own registry.
Denhardt invited owners of these horses to meet in March 1939, during the Fort Worth livestock show, to discuss what was originally called a western Quarter Horse breeders association. But the timing wasn't right yet; few shared his passion.
The next year, determined to try again, he reserved a meeting room at the Fort Worth Club for March 15.
Dinner at Miss Anne's the night before locked in the support of individuals with the power, influence and money to transform Denhardt's concept into reality. They were men like Dan and Jack Casement of Kansas and Colorado, Bert Benear of Oklahoma, J.E. Browning of Arizona, and a raft of Texans: George Clegg, Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch, Jack Hutchins, Raymond Dickson, L.B. Wardlaw, W.B. Warren, Walter Hudgins and Jim Minnick. After dinner, they finetuned the proposed charter, and the next day, they all bought stock in a new organization that they incorporated as the American Quarter Horse Association.
Denhardt later wrote, "We doubted if there were over 300 horses of the type we wanted to be registered in Texas, and probably less than a thousand in the country. We were trying to preserve a nearly extinct line. ... We misjudged what the future would hold for the Quarter Horse."
AQHA has registered more than 5 million horses since its inception in 1940.
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American Quarter Horse Association
1600 Quarter Horse Drive
Amarillo, TX 79104