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Wed, 01.05.1859

Tom Bass, Horse Trainer born

Tom Bass

*Tom Bass was born on this date in 1859. He was a Black Saddlebred horse trainer and businessman.

Tom Bass was born a slave on the Hayden plantation in Boone County, Missouri. His mother, Cornelia Gray, was also a slave, and his father, William Bass, was the son of the plantation owner, Eli Bass. He was raised by his maternal grandparents, Presley and Eliza Grey. Bass also had a brother named Jesse. The Bass Plantation raised and trained horses before the American Civil War, and it is believed that Tom Bass had considerable exposure to horses as a boy.

At age 20, he moved to Mexico, Missouri, where he learned the basics of the horse business from a horse buyer named Joseph A. Potts. Sometime thereafter, he began a horse training operation. In 1882, he married a schoolteacher, Angie Jewell. In 1897 the couple had a son, Inman. Bass quickly developed a reputation for gentle training methods and drew a clientele from a wide area. He was reputed to have said, "Horses are like humans." Bass trained the influential five-gaited Saddlebred stallion, Rex McDonald. He trained horses for notable people, including Anheuser-Busch executives Adolphus and August Busch, Buffalo Bill Cody, Will Rogers, and President Theodore Roosevelt.

He also started the Tom Bass Riding Club. Celebrity guests to his farm included William Jennings Bryan, President William McKinley, and circus magnate P.T. Barnum.  In 1892, Bass and his wife moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to open a livery stable and eventually helped start the American Royal Horse Show, one of the three jewels of the Saddlebred Triple Crown. He was the first Black person to exhibit a horse at the American Royal. In 1893, Bass showed horses at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and won respect for his riding ability, besides winning the World Championship on the Saddlebred mare Miss Rex. Bass later moved back to Mexico, Missouri, and continued training horses. In 1917, it was estimated that over one million people had seen him perform with his horses. He was credited with making Mexico, Missouri, the "Saddle Horse Capital of the World."

Bass trained the notable high school horse Belle Beach, who could bow, curtsy, and dance. He invented a curb bit called the Tom Bass bit, designed to give the rider control without causing pain to the horse, but he never patented it. The Bass bit is still in use. Tom Bass died of a heart attack on November 20, 1934, at 75. He is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Mexico, Missouri.

Upon Bass's death, Will Rogers devoted an entire newspaper column to him, saying in part, "Tom Bass...aged 75, died today. Don't mean much to you, does it? You have all seen society folk perform on a beautiful three- or five-gaited horse and said, 'My, what skill and patience they must have had to train that animal.' Well, all they did was ride him. All Tom Bass did was train him. He trained thousands of horses that others were applauded on." 

For his contributions to the state of Missouri, Bass was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians in 1999, becoming the twentieth person so honored. Bass also has been exhibited in the American Saddlebred Museum in Mexico and the American Royal Museum in Kansas City. His barn became a historic landmark in the area and stood until a 19-year-old arsonist burned it on August 28, 1997.




Tom Bass, African American Horseman, by Bill Downey, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 75-32101
Published by Saddle and Bridle, Inc., in 1975, 2333 Brentwood Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63144

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