Byrne James and his wife were driving down a street in Laredo, Texas, one day in the early 1930’s when they saw a yearling colt they had to own. He was a blood bay colt with black mane and tail and black feet. Here was royalty on four legs.
A Mexican boy led the yearling down the dusty thoroughfare at a walk. James slowed his car for a better look. Yes, it was quite a colt. And they followed the boy and the colt all the way to their destination–the home of a Laredo horseman named Charlie Alexander. There, after a brief bargaining session, they bought the yearling for $300.
It turned out this was no run-of-the-mill cowpony. Alexander had acquired him from the Mamie Benevides Ranch at Laredo, and the youngster was a son of the noted running sire, Zantanon. That $300 James paid for the colt was a flock of currency in those days and no doubt some of his neighbors in the sagebrush and rattlesnake country around the James Ranch at Encinal might have figured Byrne got the short end of the deal. Turned out this was more than just another horse. He was to become King P-234, the most famous Quarter Horse that ever lived.
Once back at the James Ranch, Byrne’s missus didn’t take long to hang a name on the yearling. You’ve heard the expression “King of Beasts”? Well, to me, he was the King–superior to all the rest…” Some thirty-five years later she recalled that the colt was a good-natured kind with an even disposition, yet a good stallion. In those days Byrne James was a professional baseball player in the spring and summer and a rancher the rest of the time. There was plenty of hard work to be done running cattle and in those days it was mostly still done on horseback. As soon as he was big enough, young King found himself with a saddle and a ranch hand on his back, doing general ranch work. King’s future as a sire of “registered” Quarter Horses wasn’t even dreamed of. The formation of the Quarter Horse registry was still some seven years in the future. In those days, James remembers, “ranchmen used horses for work. Very few of us ever took the trouble to find out the exact breeding on one.”
But James did take the trouble to find out about King. Not only that but he took the trouble to go out and buy both the sire and the dam of that colt. He paid $500 for Zantanon and he also acquired Jabalina, (by The Strait Horse) King’s dam. Further, James put a bunch of miles on his car to establish that the colt is bred just like his papers say he is bred. The colt’s birthdate was June 2, 1931. Byrne was to own two full sisters of King before the young stallion passed into other hands. One of these came to a tragic end. She was about nine or ten months old, as James recalls, and we had to rope her to get a hackamore on her. She fell over backward and broke her neck.
King’s other full sister, Maria Elena, had a long and productive career as a broodmare, producing some outstanding colts.
What delighted Byrne James and other ranchmen in the area was that King represented an ideal stock horse, despite the fact that his sire was a small horse. Zantanon (See Texas & Southwestern Horseman, Nov., 1965) has been described as standing slightly under 14 hands in height. Yet he was, in his prime, a heavy muscled animal of excellent balance and conformation. Many of his colts, including King, inherited his muscle and some had more height to boot. King’s dam, Jabalina, stood 15 hands or taller. As King reached maturity, says James, he stood between 14:3 and 15 hands and weighed from 1,150 to 1,200 pounds. By that time, King’s obvious quality had attracted wide attention in the south Texas area. King became a roping horse in 1933 partly because of James’ pro baseball career. When he took off his boots in favor of baseball spikes that year he decided to loan King to a friend and neighbor, Win DuBose. In those days, DuBose was one of the good young ropers in that part of Texas–where roping has long been almost a way of life. And while Byrne James played infield for the New York Giants, his young stallion was back home learning to “rate” a calf. The work came easy to King. Win DuBose, who lives near Uvalde, Texas, remembers how easy it was to teach the horse.
“He was very quick to learn,” remembers DuBose, “and good natured for a stallion. He had a lot of cow sense. I wouldn’t say he was the fastest horse I ever rode but there was no lost motion. He was quick out of the box and quick to get to a calf.” “A neighbor named Lester Gilleland and I would take turns roping calves in the arena and after about thirty days we started taking him to small ropings…at first we had used a hackamore bit on him but then we changed to metal.”
Soon Win and another roper, Johnny Stevens, were hauling King to the tough ropings throughout west and southwest Texas and they were winning their share. By the time Byrne James got home from the baseball wars he could see that friend DuBose wanted to own the stallion. And so King changed hands for the third time, on this occasion bringing $500. “That was a big price then,” James smiles now. “We were in the depths of the depression.”
During the following eighteen months that Win DuBose owned King he recalls breeding about 25 mares to the stallion…”but we didn’t keep a record, not knowing at the time that Quarter Horses would ever be registered.” “After a few years,” DuBose wrote in 1966, “most of his (King’s) colts in this immediate vicinity were bought and taken away…I sold every direct offspring of King’s that I owned and started breeding a few mares to King April, owned by Morris Witt.”
While he owned King, DuBose stood him to outside mares at a stud fee of $10. And sometimes, unusual as it may seem today, he would keep visiting mares as long as three months–free. One of the things about King that intrigued DuBose in the summer was the horse’s color. Gold flecks would show up in King’s bay coat, giving him a striking sheen. “I never saw another like that,” he says.
In 1937, when there was still no hint of the booming Quarter Horse industry two decades in the future, Win DuBose decided to sell King. He had been in conversation with Jess Hankins of Rocksprings, Texas, a few times about that subject but DuBose understandably was not eager to let a producing stallion go. Still, money was always needed and a man couldn’t own them all. In July Win told Jess he would sell the horse. The agreed-upon price was $800. The deal hit Hankins at precisely the worst time.
“I had just that day spent all the money I had for a bunch of calves,” Hankins recalled later. “So I borrowed the money from Lowell.” (Lowell Hankins, Jess’ brother). The deal was closed July 7, 1937.
Not just everybody figured in 1937 that a cow horse was worth any $800. “People said I was crazy and would go broke,” Jess chuckled long afterward. For a few years there, of course, King did not create any surge of wealth for the Hankins family. The stallion was offered at a $15 stud fee the first year of breeding. Jess raised the fee to $25 the next year–although he remembers “I didn’t get too many mares in those days at any price.” But the south Texan hadn’t bought the horse on a whim. “I liked his conformation,” Hankins says, “and I hadn’t seen a horse around like him. I saw his colts–he was producing some fine ones by all kinds of mares–and he had the speed to produce fast horses too.”
As the years passed and the Quarter Horse registry was formed (in 1940) King began to produce the colts that would make him the most famous sire of the breed. It would take pages to list them all. At the time of his death, King had produced 520 registered foals.
In Jess Hankins’ own judgement, two horses that helped establish King’s breeding fame were his sons Poco Bueno and Royal King–both great sires in their own right. By the fine mare Queen H, King produced Squaw H and Hank H, outstanding running horses. And 89’er by King also ran and produced running horses. But it was in the conformation and “doing” department that this stallion joined the ranks of the immortal breeding animals. Consider these other King colts, picked at random: Old Taylor, Captain Jess, Little Tom B., King Joe Boy, Beaver Creek, Major King and Zantanon H. Among his outstanding broodmares was O’Quinn’s Midget, one of the few Quarter mares ever to produce six AAA offspring.
At his death, King had sired Quarter Horses which thoroughly dominated most phases of the breed’s performance activity–particularly cutting competition. Among his get were 46 Register of Merit qualifiers, eleven of which earned their AQHA Championships. On the list of leading sires of cutting horses, from 1951 to 1956, King led with 24 qualifiers. Poco Bueno by King was second with 24 and Royal King by King was third with 16. Another of his sons, Kings Joe Boy, was fifth with seven qualifiers.
Statistics, however, fail to fully measure this animal’s impact on the Quarter Horse breed. Space prohibits a full list, not only of his own get, but of the thousands of third and fourth generations of King-bred horses that are today the living proof of his potency and quality. Further, the animal’s appearance and the performance of his offspring excited the imagination of thousands of new horse owners in the 1950’s when the breed began to grow rapidly–and the term “King-bred” became a household phrase among horsemen.
Near the end of his long career, Owner Jess Hankins could legitimately advertise King P-234 as the “Cornerstone of an Industry.” That many shared this view was proved by the number of owners who paid substantial fees in the 1950’s to get a colt by King. His breeding fee at the time of his death was $2,500.
To the Hankins family, the stallion represented a lot more than a successful investment. He was one of the family. He remained a gentle horse all of his life and Jess often noted that “any kid who had ever handled a horse could ride him” Mrs. Hankins remembers too that there was one thing in particular King liked: “Every time Jess went out to the corral, he’d stick his head over Jess’ shoulder–for his ears to be cleaned out.”
At the age of 26 King’s life ended–March 24, 1958. He died of a heart attack. Noted the Quarter Horse Journal: No other stallion now living can boast such a record as King’s and only time will tell when another will equal it. Wagon Wheel Ranch Quarter Horses; Mr. and Mrs. Fred G. Gist, owners of Wagon Wheel Ranch Quarter Horses, believe that the blood of King is still needed! Therefore, we have gathered together, and are currently producing the highest percentage King P-234 bred horses in the world today, to the best of our knowledge.
Cow Bo Country @ 46.9% King P-234 is, we believe, the highest percentage King P-234 stallion alive, and breeding today. He heads up our high percentage King P-234 broodmare band of mares carrying up to 53.125% King P-234 blood, and is the sire of two 50.01% King P-234 mares (the first born carrying that high a percentage of King P-234 blood in more than twenty years, we believe).
We are producing stallions, for sale, up to 45.3% King P-234 blood. We do not sell mares over 40% King P-234 blood, however. Our King P-234 bred horses are located near Lampasas, Texas.