My only horseback-riding experience as an adult occurred when we lived in Memphis. One Saturday, my wife and I visited Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. Neither of us knew much about horses (except from watching “Mr. Ed”), but we decided to rent a couple of them for a trail ride. At the office, they assured us that the horses would stay on the trail, and that, no, we didn’t need a guide.
Things went wrong immediately. Spring rains has recently come to West Tennessee, leaving the riding trail as muddy as the nearby Mississippi River. The horses always chose the route that would most frustrate the greenhorns riding them.
The horses wandered off the trail in search of their favorite foods. Animals of other riders followed their leader. After finally getting back on the route, my horse insisted that I go slowly under a low-hanging tree limb. “Limbo lower now. How low can you go?” As darkness was setting in, all of the riders arrived back at the office, sharing their equally eventful equine experiences.
I might have had a better time if I had been riding Duke the Wonder Horse. I recently found a promotional card for Duke and his owner, Ernest F. Turner.
Wonder horses have their own entry on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_Horses). They were specially-selected and trained to carry stars of movie and TV Westerns. In my research, I couldn’t confirm that the local Duke was the same horse that carried John Wayne, but it is possible.
Ernest Turner and Duke appeared on July 6 at Avondale Baptist Church. Exactly what year I could not determine. That was even after looking for clues, such as the 5-digit phone number on the card, and taking a guess that this was a Saturday or Sunday when children would be available. I even wrote a simple SAS program that listed the years in a specified range that July 6 occurred on a weekend. I used the list of dates to search newspaper microfilm for Duke’s advertisements, but to no avail.
Ernest Turner’s 1992 obituary listed him as being a 10-year veteran of the Chattanooga Police Department. He and Duke toured the United States and Mexico. Clara Turner, wife of Ernest, was a teacher at East Lake Junior High School, and the couple lived in East Lake.
The back of the advertising card for Duke listed these as some of his crowd-pleasing tricks:
· Bows to the audience
· The camel stretch
· Does two-step dance
· Lies down and sleeps with head in Ernest’s lap
· Does the goose step
· Gets on barrel with all feet
· Tells his age
Walks on hind feet
If you remember Duke or have more information about this talented horse, please send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Happy trails!
Entrance sign to Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, scene of Mr. Jolley's Wild Ride.