The cast of characters is a curious one. The Governor of California, later U.S. Senator. Builder of the first Transcontinental Railroad. Then, eccentric photographer, the first motion pictures, Morgan horses, a prestigious University, murder, and intrigue all figure into this tale. The story begins with Leland Stanford, who served as the eighth Governor of California from January 1862 – December 1863. Born in New York in 1824, Stanford studied law and took an apprenticeship with a prominent firm of lawyers, Wheaton, Doolittle and Hadley in Albany, New York, After three years of study, he was admitted to the bar in 1848 and first began practicing law in the Supreme Court of New York State.
Leland Stanford Jane Lathrop Stanford, from painting by Bonnet
Soon after this, he moved to Port Washington, Wisconsin, where he set up a law practice with Wesley Pierce for a short time, and then established a firm of his own. His father, Joseph Stanford, who was a farmer of some means in the vicinity of what was then known as Watervilet, New York, presented him with a law library that was said to be the finest anywhere north of Milwaukee.In 1850, Leland Stanford was married to Jane Elizabeth Lathrop in Albany, New York, whose father, Dyer Lathrop was an eminent merchant of that city. Stanford and his bride returned to Port Washington, where he continued to practice until his law offices were destroyed by fire in 1852.
By this time, California had come alive with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Four of Stanford’s brothers had already answered the call and had gone to seek their fortunes on the west coast.
Quite a few Morgan horses were making the arduous journey across the plains as well. One of first registered Morgans documented in California was the remarkable stallion St. Clair #48, who made the overland trip to California in the lead of a team of oxen in 1849.
St. Clair was a grandson of Barden Morgan (Cock Of The Rock [Sherman Morgan x mare by Justin Morgan] x mare by Justin Morgan), and his dam was a Canadian mare, very likely from the Dansereau family of pacing Morgans, as old St. Clair was a pacer. He was a handsome, muscular horse with a deep chest, powerful shoulders, short back, and excellent feet and legs. He was dark brown in color with a heavy flowing mane and tail, and large intelligent eyes. St. Clair was about 15 1/2 hands tall, and weighed about 1015 pounds.
On arriving in California, St. Clair passed through several owners. He was used as leader in a stage team, and saw very severe service. One day he was pulling a dray cart in Sacramento when, by a providential stroke of luck, the man who had brought him across the plains happened to see and recognize him. His pedigree was restored and he was purchased by John E. Miller of Sacramento, who advertised him for stud as a full-blooded Morgan, to stand both at his Miller’s Ranch east of Sutterville, and Miller’s Stable in Sacramento. St. Clair was a very popular stallion and soon recognized as a source of speed among both trotters and pacers. He had sired between 600 and 700 foals by the time he died in a stable fire in 1864. Many of his offspring also won premiums at the California State Fair. Unfortunately very few of these found their way into the Morgan registry, but remarkably enough, the blood of old St. Clair survives today among the Standardbred, the trotters of France, .as well as Swedish Warmbloods.
When Leland Stanford’s law office burned in 1852, he decided to go and join his brothers who had set up a mercantile business in Sacramento, California. Jane’s father, however, was not well and he believed California to be a wild and barbaric place to which he was unwilling his daughter should go. Jane made the difficult decision to remain behind and nurse her ailing father. Dyer Lathrop died three years later in 1855, and Leland Stanford then traveled back east to bring his wife out to the west coast. It was a difficult journey, and he promised Jane that the next time she wanted to go east she would be able to travel in comfort as he intended to see that a transcontinental railroad was built.
Leland then bought out his brothers and expanded his mercantile to be one of the largest and most successful in California. He became very involved in the Republican party, and became California’s first Republican governor in a landslide election in 1861. However, on his inauguration day in January 1862, the northwest was in the midst of the largest flood ever to strike Oregon, California, and Nevada, with Idaho, Utah, and Arizona also being seriously impacted. The flooding was so extensive in fact, that Governor Stanford was obliged to use a rowboat to get from his residence to the capital to deliver his inaugural address. And by the time he finished and was ready to return home, the water was so high he had to enter through the second story window. Afterward he chose to renovate his mansion, making it four stories instead of two.
California went bankrupt as a result of this flood, losing a quarter of her taxable real estate, nevertheless Stanford proved a steadying influence during this difficult time. Among other accomplishments of his brief two year term, he cut the state’s debt in half and established the first Normal school, which is now San Jose State University.
However, he declined to run for a second term and during the next several years focused his energy on the Central Pacific Railroad, of which he was President. He became deeply involved with his partners in building the first transcontinental railroad. Stanford, Collis
Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins were known as the “Big Four” . They had their work cut out for them, not only in crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but wealthy proprietors of toll roads, stage lines, and express companies all stood to lose the fortunes they were making on freight and passenger travel over the mountains once the railroad was completed. Stanford persisted however, and under his direction, 530 miles of railroad were finished in 293 days.
On May 14, 1868 a son, Leland Jr. was born to the Stanfords, and a year later, on May 10, 1869, Leland drove the final golden spike joining the Central Pacific Railroad with the Union Pacific at Promontory Mountain, Utah, overlooking Salt Lake. A telegraph
wire was attached to the silver hammer he used so the great news was flashed across the nation the moment he struck the final blow. The 3300 miles of iron rails connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific also included fifteen miles of railroad Leland’s father had built from Albany to Schenectedy when he was a boy, which first planted the seed of interest in him to complete this work.
It was after this supreme effort that Leland’s doctor suggested that he take up driving horses to relieve his mind from the great stress he had been under Stanford took his doctors advice and soon discovered he enjoyed driving fast. In 1870, he bought a horse that showed speed in a scrub race. This horse was a small brown Morgan gelding named Occident, and he was a grandson of old St. Clair. In his early life, Occident had worked hard in a team hauling dirt for construction of a levee. Though he was a small horse, weighing about 900 pounds, he managed to keep his end of the whiffletree, however heavy the load. Occident proved to be quite fast, and Stanford quickly became fascinated with his new hobby.
Occident (Medoc by St. Clair x Mater Occidentis) was very much Morgan in type and resembled his grandsire, old St. Clair. He was at first inclined to pace and it is possible to see the pacing conformation in the slightly dropped rump and narrower hindquarters. Leland Stanford disliked the pacing gait however, and since he could trot just as well, this was the gait that was developed. He hired the noted trainer, Charles Marvin, and Occident became known as the California Wonder. In 1873 he tied the world record of 2:16 3/4 made by the famous mare Goldsmith Maid, thus displacing Dexter (who made the legendary
match race against Ethan Allen in 1867) for title of World Champion Gelding.
In study the gaits of his horses, Leland Stanford became convinced that the way artists portrayed them in paintings and drawings was wrong, and hired the photographer Eadweard Muybridge to do a series of photographic experiments to prove the point once and for all. Muybridge at first did not believe this would be possible, but soon became fascinated. It was Muybridge’s frame photos of Occident and other horses belonging to Stanford which became the very first motion pictures which he showed to rapt audiences with his new invention, the zoopraxiscope.
Eadweard Muybridge from the frontspiece of Animals in Locomotion
Occident, 1873 World Champion Gelding, tied world record of Goldsmith Maid 2:16 3/4, known as “The California Wonder” is shown driven by trainer Charles Marvin using Muybridge’s fast frame photos taken in 1878. Next we will discover more about the eccentric Muybridge and just how he accomplished this, and see some other examples of Morgans trotting more than 135 years ago.
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© 2016, Brenda L. Tippin. Please do not copy without permission