By Jane Simmons © 2004
Only two museums in the world are exclusively dedicated to preserving
the history of the American Saddlebred Horse and promoting a better understanding
of the breed: one is in Lexington, Kentucky which opened at the
Horse Park in 1985 and the other is in Mexico, Missouri
which opened in 1970.
Since its official inception in 1966 and the completion in August 1970
of its new building, the Missouri museums growth and success has
flourished under the guidance of devoted local community leaders. The
groups efforts over the years can well serve as a matrix for others
interested in establishing a horse museum in their communities.
Its story started in 1966 when the Audrain County Historical Societys
leaders selected several of their dedicated members to help guide the
not-for-profit organizations plan to honor Mexicos favorite
title Saddle Horse Center of the World with
a museum dedicated to the American Saddlebred Horse.
Sarah Janet Nesheim, the first and only chair of the Societys horse
museum committee, was directed by its Board of Directors "to make
it happen." She is the last of the original committee members,
who included: Irma K. Rogers and Nathalie Godfrey. The project depended
largely upon Irmas many years of teaching equitation and knowledge
of horses, owners and handlers, Jan told me, and Nathalies
She told me Betty (Mrs. Bob) Hook, Hilda (Mrs. Leonard) Hook and Ollie
(Mrs. Arthur) Simmons also helped over the years. Jan told me that my
mother had loaned the museum a number of silver trophies for dedications
and was always available with a helping hand. The museum has Irmas
double sidesaddle in its collection, the one she used for on-horse teaching
For the horse museum committees meetings, we used the Brides
Room on the second floor of the Societys mansion, Janet said.
The little room also served then as the display area for our comparatively
small collection of horse items, until the museum building was built
as a part of the Societys museum facility.
St. Louis-based Saddle & Bridle magazine carried in its June 1966
issue an article about the proposed museum and then-Editor Virginia Powell
called for support for it. The magazines former owner, Bill
Thompson, came to the Museum following its construction and helped us
with various valuable suggestions, Jan noted.
This committee of horse lovers worked ceaselessly to create support
for the American Saddlebred Horse Museum as part of the Historical Societys
11-acre antebellum mansion complex perched on a hill on the small
towns west side, according to Dana Keller, who currently directs
the Societys publicity and marketing program.
Before the Civil War in the mid-1880s, General Ulysses S. Grant
was a visitor in the Ross familys home, now known as Graceland.
The Society has restored the mansion with authentic period furnishings
and filled it with archival mementos depicting the history of Audrain
County. It was dedicated on May 13, 1961, Dana said. By January
1964, the Society had 600 members.
Dana said the property had been purchased for $35,000 in September 1958
from owner Sam P. Locke, with the Society paying $10,000 for the house,
and Mexico paying $25,000 from its recreation funds to create a new city
park on Gracelands grounds.
The first official mention of the horse museum in the Societys
Minutes was November 29, 1966, when it was reported that $6,756.39 was
in the proposed museums fund, Jan pointed out. By the following
months Minutes, the fund had increased to $12,500, she noted.
A Kansas City Philharmonic concert and Missouri Arts Council support
brought in $2,040.25 earmarked for the Horse Museum in 1966.
In January 1968, the Board commissioned Kramer & Harms Architects
of St. Louis, Jan said, to draw up the planned building in
keeping with the historical architectural period of Graceland and
to attach it by a walkway to the north side of the mansion.
Jan said: in October 6, 1969s Minutes, the Board voted to
approve $40,000 for Rheinhardt Construction Company of Centralia to build
the museum, without a basement.
Also helping in garnering museum support was Nancy (Mrs. Jack) Atkinson
of Fulton, Missouri, and Martha Staley of Mexico. Nancy accompanied
Mrs. Walter Staley to Lexington, Kentucky, to an American Saddle Horse
Breeders meeting. They presented the idea and a picture of
the proposed museum, and solicited funds from the group.
The Breeders contribution plus some local funding produced
the $40,000 required to start construction of the museum. In those
early days, Jan said, the museum committee worked every day including
Sunday afternoons to create the best museum possible.
The door key to the new American Saddlebred Horse Museum building
was turned over to us on January 5, 1970. The following month, Jan
was appointed Chair of the committee that was to create the collection
which would convert the new empty building into a display-filled museum.
Thanks to local newspaperman, L. Mitchell White, the Society
had a vast collection of Currier & Ives prints for inclusion.
He had been housing this collection and hundreds of boxes of horse
artifacts and memorabilia in an airplane hanger at the Mexico airport,
The University of Missouris Director of Displays offered suggestions
to us for special museum effects, and we solicited help too from the Missouri
Historical Society for proper display techniques. We were committed to
displaying ONLY items that could be identified, Jan emphasized.
She encourages everyone, as she has since 1970, to come see this
fantastic educational and historic collection.
The Preview Dedication was held on August 8, 1970, and the
Official Dedication of the Horse Museum was the following week on August
16, when U.S. Senator Stuart Symington gave a speech, along with
other dignitaries, Jan noted.
A hallowed site on the Societys grounds is the official grave of
legendary black stallion, Rex McDonald. Actually, what is buried there
is the famous horses stuffed hide.
Rex McDonald 833, out of Rex Denmark and Lucy Mack, lived and was shown
both in Missouri and in Kentucky.
Foaled in 1890, he was sold at four months for $105 to Mexicoan R.T. Freeman.
In 1893, the stallion won the Audrain County Fairs $800 stake and
the $1,000 Mexico Spring Stallion Stake in 1894. Later that year, he was
sold for $3,050 and sent to Kentucky, according to Mexicoan Leta Hodges
book A Gathering of Our Days.
In 1898, Rex McDonald was purchased for $5,000 by Colonel F.W. Blees of
Macon, Missouri, and stabled at the Lee Brothers barn on West Boulevard
(later to be known as Arthur Simmons Stables). The stallion was bought
for $6,500 by a St. Louis man, and was shown by Mexicoan Bob Hisey, who
kept Rex at his stables, Mrs. Hodge wrote.
In 1903, the famous stallion was honored as the Champion Saddle Horse
of America at the St. Louis Fair. He was retired by a Columbia, Missouri,
owner. Then, in 1910, Mexico trainer Ben Middleton paid $2,750 for the
20-year-old horse and rode him at special events seemingly to the delight
of the old stallion, according to Mrs. Hodges account.
Rex McDonald died in Mexico in 1913. His hide was stuffed and displayed
in the lobby of the Mexico landmark the Ringo Hotel. When it burned
in 1918, fire fighters saved Rexs remains. Tom Bass took the stuffed
horse to his barn where people could still see it. Finally, in the 1930s,
the remains were buried at the Fairgrounds. At the opening of each years
Audrain County Fair, the audience stood in silent tribute as a wreath
was placed on the stallions grave near the inside quarter stretch
of the race track.
The horses remains were moved to Plunkett Park when a school was
to be built at the Fairgrounds. When a school was started at the Park,
Rexs body was moved across town to Graceland in the
front yard of the Saddlebred Horse Museum. A simple stone marks the site
Horse Museum Curator Jan Nesheim was born in McCredie, Missouri, on August
30, 1929, the daughter of Jesse Boone, Sr. and Edith Virginia Baber. Her
father was a descendent of Daniel Boone. Her parents lived in the tiny
community that today is part of the area known as the Kingdom City junction
at I-70 and Highway 54. In 1929, they were putting in Highway 40
at that time.
She grew up loving animals, and from childhood, I was
around horses of one breed or another, Jan told me.
Her father, at the time of her birth, was a blacksmith, who shod
horses, created machinery parts and repaired all types of farm equipment.
Earlier in his life, he traveled for International Harvester and
Shapleigh Equipment until he wanted to have a more settled home life.
Jan has one brother, Jesse Boone, Jr., who is 13 months older and
currently lives in Mexico. She arrived as part of her fathers
second family; when she was born, she had one half-brother and one
half-sister, both of whom were grown.
Interestingly, my Uncle Jack Harrison wrote my bible on horses,
called Famous Saddle Horses & Distinguished Horsemen. She said:
He may have been the first equestrian trainer at Stephens College
in Columbia, Missouri. I found in the book some fabulous old photos and
an extensive history of horses and people from the mid-1880s to the early
1930s. Mr. Harrison, in a note in the front of the book, dated June 15,
1933, gave permission for using its information if proper credit
is given this publication.
In 1933, her father moved the family to Hatton, where she
grew up with two Draft horses but we didnt ride them.
Like most families, we attended the Audrain County Fair every summer
and thrilled to the magnificent horses that showed their stuff at the
Jan attended Flint School near Hatton. She was graduated
from the Fulton school system in 1947 and worked as Secretary
to the President of the Callaway Bank there.
In 1953, Jan joined two college friends in St. Louis to attend
night school at Washington University. She was working for the Dr.
L.D. Le Gear veterinarian pharmaceutical company run by his son, Daniel.
She lived in University City, going to the college classes by streetcar.
On a vacation in 1957, Jan traveled with a girlfriend to Havana,
Cuba. Both girls were surprised and a bit frightened by men
with machine guns atop the Presidential Palace, as we sat in the park
writing cards to friends. It was the beginning of the revolution.
When traveling home to visit her family on weekends, she would ride
the Wabash train between Delmar Station and the Mexico depot. It
was on one of these trips home that Jans life moved into a very
Her mother had an appointment with the family doctor one weekend when
Jan arrived with a sore throat. Her mom convinced her to
accompany her for an appointment with osteopathic physician and surgeon,
Dr. Harold Invold Nesheim.
Even though, I had known Dr. Nesheim all of my life as one of my
familys doctors, my heart did a flipflop when he walked
into the room that day, Jan revealed.
Dr. Nesheim told Jan he traveled to St. Louis frequently and
asked if she would be interested in going to the citys next
Field Trials during quail time in February. After all,
he said, she might meet some potential ad buyers for her veterinarians
drug publication. Jan said Nesh was President
of the Missouri Open Championships for several years. He also
was on the Board of Directors of the National Amateur Field Trial Clubs
of America, as well as many other related organizations. Bird-hunting
was his hobby and he pursued it all of his life.
He called Jan and they rode horseback together at the Trials in
the spring of 1958. Soon thereafter, he asked her to marry him.
Dr. Nesheim, was a widower with one daughter Martha.
The wedding was held in St. Louis on June 2, 1958, at Westminster
Presbyterian Church where Jan was a choir member. He
and Jan had no children of their own. They were married 40 years,
until his passing on February 2, 1998.
Living on acreage across from a huge lake on the south edge of Mexico,
they always had horses in a paddock there and at their 80-acre
farm five miles out in the country. Over the years, they owned
a Celebration championship-winning Walking Horse called Royal a
roan with four white socks and a diamond-shaped marking on his nose.
His owner had asked the Nesheims to retire the horse to their place. They
also owned several field trial horses. Jan told me they also
bought a three-gaited Fairviews Captain at one of
local horseman Bill Cunninghams sales.
Jan led a Girl Scout group for several years on Mounted Patrol Drills,
and on trail rides that were directed by Butch Early over
the grounds of the A.P. Green estate nearby.
The Nesheims kept white quail and exotic birds, including
Lady Amhurst, Golden and Silver Pheasants. Her husband, as
a Field Trials and bird hunting judge, held such events in Canada and
Mexico, and supervised many others around the country, including Hawaii,
When they married, Dr. Nesheim already had been a member of the
Historical Society for a number of years even before the group
owned Graceland. Also active in the Society were other Mexico leaders:
Robert Green, who served as its first President from 1953 1963,
and then Bradford Brett, L. Mitchell White, Martha Staley, Robert M. White
II, Charles Stribling, Louis Boyes, and Jan (who served from 1981
1986). Seven other Mexicoans have held the title since Jans tenure.
In its 34-year history, the Horse Museum has hosted many events, thereby
opening its displayed collections to even more people, who are free to
tour both museums.
In 1990, for instance, the museum proclaimed August 3 as Chat Nichols
and Arthur Simmons Day and inducted Mexicos hometown horsemen
into its Hall of Fame of the American Saddlebred Horse Museum.
Missouri Governor John Ashcrofts letter of congratulation to each
man was read to the crowd, along with a proclamation from the City
of Mexico and Mayor George Irion. A buffet reception followed
the ceremonies, which were conducted on the Museums porch.
In 1999, another big event was a Tom Bass Celebration event held
in conjunction with the unveiling of the famed horsemans bust in
the State Capitols Rotunda that is filled with those of other
distinguished Missourians, Jan said. The then-Speaker of the Missouri
House of Representatives Steve Gaw, who is a Saddlebred Horse owner,
led a three-day trail ride from the Mexico Saddlebred Horse Museum to
the Capitol in Jefferson City as a part of the commemoration.
As for Jan, she said, it has been a perfectly wonderful adventure
and a highlight of my life. I am honored to have been a part of
the creation of the Museum that helps to preserve the history of the exquisite
American Saddlebred Horse. Its been a dream of a lifetime for me.
She encourages everyone, as she has since 1970, to come see this
fantastic educational and historic collection.
You may contact Jan Nesheim in care of the American
Saddlebred Horse Museum, 501 S. Muldrow Street, Mexico, MO 65265 and also
wish her a Happy Birthday or through the Museums Director, Dana
Keller, by phone: (w) (573) 581-3910 or her e-mail: email@example.com
You may contact Jane Simmons, who lives in Central Florida, where she
is writing a book about her parents, Art & Ollie Simmons, via her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.