Molly and Tenbrooks Song History

One the 213 songs that appears in my new book, Mel Bay's Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book (279 pages with stories and historic info about the songs) is the "old Kentucky folksong" Molly and Tenbrooks adapted by the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

In my last blog is my painting of the song. In this blog I'll give some more detailed background info. The Kentucky-bred horse Ten Broeck was undoubtedly named after the famous horseracing entrepreneur Richard Ten Broeck, owner of the great horse, Lexington. Ten Broeck is still a city (and street) located in Jefferson County, KY in the Louisville metro area very near where I now live!

Here's an actual short preview article from the NY Times:
Remember $10,000 was a boatload of money back in 1878. I'd say it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million today!

Here’s an account of "THE GREAT RACE" from THE VERNON PIONEER; Volume IV Vernon, Lamar Co, Ala. July 19, 1878 No. 10 Louisville, KY, July 4.

The great race between Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarthy was run today. It was a match for $5,000 a side, making a stake of $10,000. The amount of money at stake was not what made the match of importance. It was the great respective portions of the country, and sectional and state pride and interest.

Ten Broeck is admittedly the favorite and champion of the great Mississippi and Ohio valleys, as Mollie McCarthy is of the whole pacific slope, and California especially. It was not the Atlantic slope against the Pacific, but the great Central Valley of our country against the region beyond the Rocky Mountains. As such the horses met, representatives of widely separate sections of the United States.

Entering the fourth mile, Mollie dropped down to a mere hand gallop, and Ten Broeck was doing little more, but he had just gait enough to drop her ten lengths around the turn to the quarter pole. Keeping on in a steady gallop, he drew away from her fifty yards by the time he reached the far turn. Going on in his hand gallop he drew more and more away from her, and when he entered the home stretch she was a hundred yards behind, and had dropped down into a hand trot, and soon was stopped entirely. In a slow gallop, but not at all at case, Ten Broeck came home, finishing the fourth mile in 2:26 ¾ , and the heat in 8: 19 ¾. Mollie did not come to the stand at all, and the figures run up showed Ten Broeck first and Mollie distanced. Kentuckians rejoiced that their favorite had won, but all were disappointed with the indifferent race.

Here’s another account from Thoroughbred Heritage: Mollie made the then difficult trip across the Rockies; the rails over the mountains in the west that carried her had been completed less than eight years earlier. The day of the race, July 4, 1878, dawned clear, but the track was slow, due to a heavy shower the previous night, footing Mollie had displayed a disinclination to like.

The crowd at the Louisville Jockey Club was the largest seen to that time, with some estimates putting its size at 30,000, an observer reporting that all trains, extra trains, steamboats and inner-city transport jammed to capacity to reach the grounds. Mollie received applause from the crowd when she appeared in her white sheet, but the crowd roared when Ten Broeck stepped onto the track. They started evenly, and Mollie led for the first mile, "with such a beautiful and apparently easy stroke, and the horse seemingly at labor, but really annoyed at restraint, that a shout went up that she had already beaten him."

Mollie led for the second mile, but after the quarter pole Ten Broeck drew ahead, and by the time they had reached 2-1/2 miles he was leading by a length, and at the third mile he was ahead by twenty yards. At 3-1/2 miles Mollie gave up the chase, and Ten Broeck cantered home easily in the slow time of 8:19-3/4. "Such a shout as went up over the triumph of Ten Broeck, and such a scene of wild and extravagant excitement, I never saw before, and never expect to again, outside the impulsive state of Kentucky." It was Mollie's first defeat, in fact, her first defeat in any heat at any distance. This race was Ten Broeck's last.

The Mollie and Tenbrooks song, as Wilgus and others have asserted, may be related to "Skewball" and other Irish horse-race ballads which pre-dated the 1878 match race in Louisville. It is also said to have been authored within a few days of the actual race, and very quickly began to circulate in variant forms (the one hallmark of a true folksong), with some of these being "collected" in the late 19th century. Despite Monroe's definitive bluegrass version, variations persist (compare the verses and wording of the Stanley Bros. take on it), and recordings have also been made by blues and country musicians (Cousin Emmy, for one!) under a variety of related titles, like "Old Timbrook Blues," "Old Kimball," and the understandable "Run Molly Run." There are also African-American versions of the ballad which were circulated.

Various versions have surfaced but Monroe’s is the classic bluegrass version. Where Monroe learned his version of Molly is not documented. Two early versions by the Carver Boys and Warde Ford are possible sources. "Tim Brook" was recorded by The Carver Boys in 1929, and released in 1930. It's now on Music of Kentucky, vol. 1 (Yazoo); The Carver Brothers version is a related version of "Ain't that Skippin' and Flyin'" similar to the Allen Brothers.

Warde Ford's version (audio; rec. September 3, 1939, collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Boomtown [Central Valley], Shasta County, California) of "The Hole in the Wall -- Alternate title: Timbrooks & Molly" can be heard on-line at California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties. Another though different early version is "Run Mollie Run," which was recorded on October 7, 1927 in Chicago and issued as Vocalion 1141by Henry Thomas. Newer versions include Molly and Tenbrooks by Steve Gillette and Linda Albertano, Cherry Lane Music, 1967 and the Kingston Trio on "Goin Places." The Trio changed a few names around to avoid copyright problems.

At age six Mollie won Chicago's Garden City Cup, and, back in California, a purse race in San Francisco. She had won 15 of her 17 races, and was retired to Rancho Santa Anita. She produced three foals in succession to Baldwin's home stallions, between 1881 and 1883. She died on March 15, 1883, soon after dropping her filly by Rutherford, which was poignantly, or perhaps matter-of-factly, named Mollie's Last.

For another detailed account: http://www.tbheritage.com/Portraits/MollieMcCarty.html

Ten Broeck had been buried under a fancy monument at the central Kentucky farm where he had been foaled, which was called "Nantura Stock Farm." The grave of Ten Broeck, which is located on private land, far back (and invisible) from the road linking Midway and Frankfort (Lexington's "Old Frankfort Pike"). The gravestone's text says "TEN BROECK / Bay Horse / Folded [sic] on Nantura / Stock Farm / Woodford Co., KY / June 29, 1872 / DIED / June 23, 1887 / PERFORMANCES / 1 Mile 1 39 3/4 / 2 Mile 2 49 1/4 / [and so on, extending down the gravestone to the final notation: 4 Mile 7 15 3/4."

And that my friends is the "Tail of Two Horses"


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