Duke could beat any Derby horse

From May 1990 to May 1991 was one of the most enjoyable years of my life. That’s the year I leased the old Hylton place in W-Hollow, a rustic log cabin where Jesse Stuart spent part of his early youth.

I did not live there fulltime. It was a place where I could get away and write or read, enjoy the solitude of nature, and hold an occasional outing for my children and grandchildren.

I once hosted a gathering of local writers. Mary Stuart Nelson, Jesse’s sister who lived at the head of the hollow where my cabin stood, came. She had written several books of poetry.

And Jesse’s and Naomi Deane’s daughter, Jane, (“I am my father’s only daughter, and all of his children, too,” she once wrote in a booklet she published as a tribute to her father following his death in February 1984) came over from the home place two hollows over.

She earned her Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1971. During the 1970s she published several books – two or three novels, some short stories, a collection of poetry. Then, for reasons known only to her, she put away her pen and paper.

But after our little gathering in the cabin, she began writing again. I was the recipient of much of it.

How much, if anything, was published I don’t know. Now 73, she remains a private person, continuing to live in the home place since Naomi Deane joined Jesse in Plum Grove Cemetery in 1993.


One of the greatest pleasures stemming from country living was provided by Princess and Duke. They neighed with excited anticipation as they waited at the gate of the small pasture behind the cabin, watching me approach with sweet apples in hand. They were careful not to nip any skin as they lipped and tongued the fruit from my palm.

Of all the animals that God created, right next to dogs, it is horses that I love the most. It saddens me when I see pictures of a Civil War Calvary charging enemy lines – astraddle those brave but frightened steeds, who had no quarrel with anyone – into the face of rifle fire and exploding cannonballs. Or, farther back in history, those knights of old, their neighing mounts weighted down with armor, slashing and stabbing the enemy, leaving many horses to bleed to death on the battlefield.

“Woe worth the chase, woe worth the day,

That cost thy life, my gallant gray.”

Princess was the mother and Duke her son. She was coal black. Duke more resembled a Palomino. He reminded me of trigger.

My landlords, Roy and Carol Abdon, owned the horses. They were the only livestock grazing on their hillside property. Roy kept saddles and bridals in the barn accompanying the house on the top of the knoll.

Would it be OK if I rode them? Sure, said Roy. He wanted to see them ridden now and then.

My past horseback adventures were few and they usually wound up distasteful. There was the time I straddled Lynn Stephenson’s pony without a saddle and we walked around a little in the pasture. This was quite enjoyable.

Then the fool horse took off at full gallop. I clasped my arms around his neck and held on like a crab holding a chicken neck dangled on a piece of string. I was screaming, “Whoa! Whoa!” The horse evidently thought I was saying, “Go! Go!” He opened it up.

Was he going to jump that three-string barbed wire fence? We were going too fast for me to vacate my position.

Nay, nay, he didn’t jump. He lowered his haunch, straightened his forelegs, and skidded to a dead halt just short of hitting the fence.

The horse stopped, but not me. I flew over his lowered head and over the fence, thankfully flying high enough to escape entanglement with any barbed wire.

My audience on the porch came running to see how many bones were broken. When I jumped up, brushing off dirt and my self-esteem, their concern turned to laughter.

And I swear that horse was laughing, too.

My ride on Duke, a steed which, despite his youth, was blessed with much savvy and compassion (for the guy who fed him apples), was not so eventful.

I certainly didn’t ride like Roy (Rogers that is). My butt was more off the saddle than on. When it was going down Duke’s back was rising up, or so it seemed.


We rode down the paved rode a short distance, crossed a small, nearly dry stream bed and stepped up into a meadow about the size of a football field.

Here Duke, with great imagination, must have thought he heard the gun, the crowd roaring at Churchill Downs. He would make Nyquist, or any of the others in the field, eat his dust.

The saddle, which you can grip with knees and lower legs while holding onto the horn, makes it easier to maintain your position on a galloping horse. After running all out to the end of the field, Duke, always a gentleman, turned and slowed to a leisurely trot as we made our way back to the barn.

Of course, he couldn’t have been running against Nyquist, for my ride with Duke was 25 years ago. That amount of years is a horse’s lifetime, and I wish, how I wish, they could live to be 50.

Recently, after having searched the pastures, and standing at the gate where Princess and Duke once stood, happily awaiting the apples, I stopped by Roy and Carol’s home on W-Hollow Road and inquired about the end of the two loveable horses.

It was then that Carol told me how Duke, in his old age, had fallen into a ditch and couldn’t get up.

“It nearly killed Roy,” she said.

And that night, on my pillow, something inside me died, too.

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G. Sam Piatt

PDT Outdoors Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected].

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