Following is an article
that appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Kentucky Explorer.
Readers are welcome to submit articles.
From Mud Sock And Poplar Plains Of Fleming
To Fairland, Elmendorf, And The Meadows
At "The Horse Farm Capital Of The World"
By Lucien Lee Royse - 2014
I feel I must record this article for historical purposes
since I am the only one left in my family who has knowledge of
the life of Ulysses Grant "U. G." Sanders. Ulysses
was born in the Mud Sock area of Fleming County, Kentucky, in
1868. Parts of Fleming County have some of the finest land in
Kentucky; however, the Mud Sock area is hilly, and the bottomland,
which is prone to flooding, is the only realistic area suitable
I have a love for history, my family, Fleming County, and the
fantastic story of how a boy who was born and reared in a primitive
land-locked area could have obtained the wealth and fame he accomplished
in his short 51 years.
Moses Saunders was the father of Ulysses and 14 other children
by two wives. Moses is buried at the Locust graveyard in Fleming
County near the Licking River close by the location of his farm.
From what was told to me, Ulysses, at an early age in his teens,
visited his half-brother, William "Bill" Saunders,
in Holton, Kansas. Ulysses got his education on the value of
horses, mules, and livestock, from Bill. Ulysses learned what
to look for and how to estimate the value of each animal. He
was inspired in how Bill traded, and in essence started his own
procurement venture as a cattle/horse trader near Hillsboro,
Fleming County, when he moved back to Kentucky from Kansas. Ulysses
was quite successful and, at the age of 21, he married Anna Denton
of Hillsboro. He continued this bovine and equine trading and
bartering with utmost passion and skill. He realized there was
money flowing, or to be made, in tangibles such as productive
land, fine horses, and pure bred livestock, but his vision strayed
towards the sport of either saddle or harness racing.
After two years of marriage, Ulysses and Anna had their only
child, Eldiva Denton Saunders, in 1891. She was in their eyes
the most precious baby. In turn, they reared her with love and
joy, adorned her in beautiful dresses, and emphasized education.
The ten surviving children of Moses Saunders gathered in
Fleming County for this photo in 1905. The four seated are the
children by Moses' first wife, and those standing are the children
by his second wife. Ulysses Grant Saunders is in the back row
standing between Lucian Lee Royce's (who shares this article)
aunt, Bertha McKee, and Lucien Lee's grandmother, Jenny Saunders
Day. Next to Jenny is Maguire Saunders a partner with Ulysses
in many livestock and landholding ventures. Jenny, Ulysses, and
Maguire resided in Poplar Plains, Fleming County, at this time.
During this time Bill lived at Anna's and Ulysses's home.
Hence, under the direction of Bill, in about 1894, Ulysses was
into the horse-racing circle. Poplar Plains was noted for the
fine horse and cattle farms belonging to the Harts, Samuels,
Days, Kendalls, Pearces, and others. With Bill's impact, Ulysses
either traded or purchased a colt by the name of "Roscoe."
Both, Bill and Ulysses, recognized the tremendous speed of this
young colt and started training him to race in the saddle and
harness. When the gun went off, it was just a choice by how much
of a margin they wanted Roscoe to win.
Ulysses began wagering considerable sums of money on Roscoe,
an unknown horse. Ulysses and Bill, along with an African-American
trainer, an Afro-American jockey, and an African-American groom,
assumed complete control of this prize of a horse. The trainer,
jockey, and groom slept in the same stable with Roscoe and guarded
his safety with utmost devotion.
Ulysses's brother, Maguire, already lived on a fine farm at the
edge of Poplar Plains when Ulysses purchased the Meshach Story
Place in Poplar Plains so that he could be in the center of all
the action. This was later the location of the Colliver Furniture
Barn where my good friend, Bill Colliver, sold quality furniture
out of a converted tobacco barn for 37 years. The Poplar Plains
Depot was once located on this same farm.
Ulysses, Bill, the jockey, the groom, and the trainer, along
with Roscoe and all associated equipment, including a pony for
comfort to Roscoe, would board the train to race at larger tracks.
The first stop would be the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati
area tracks. Stops would be made at Lebanon, Ohio, and other
small tracks, continuing to Maryland and the East Coast.
Ulysses was a very reticent, nonthreatening man. He was always
dressed in proper attire, sporting a bow tie and top hat. He
looked like a pushover to the macho, clamorous, and offensive
men he was competing against. Of course, there was Bill, an old
man with tobacco juice stains on his white beard, who was always
concentrating on Roscoe and his opponents. When the betting was
small Roscoe would lose by a small margin by means of a signal
from the trainer to the jockey. Then when the stakes were high,
Ulysses would make a substantial bet on Roscoe, and, of course,
Roscoe would win easily.
Ulysses Grant "U. G." Saunders and Anna Denton
were married in 1889. The photo at left was taken of them about
that time. Two years later, a daughter, Eldiva Denton Saunders,
was born. She is shown in the right photo in 1898 when she was
seven years old. Eldiva was the Saunders' only child. The family
lived in Fleming County, Kentucky, at the time of these photos.
Horse racing at this time was the sport, not basketball, baseball,
or football, and men loved the action and the thrill of the bet,
especially when they won.
After a short time Roscoe began to age and winning became much
more difficult. Eldiva told me, "Dad was offered $10,000
for Roscoe as a stud, and Dad refused the bid. He told the buyer,
'Roscoe has made 20-30 times that amount for me, and there are
three things I will not sell or trade: my wife, my daughter,
and Roscoe. Now I have some other fine horses and cattle that
might be of interest to you.'"
In 1911 Ulysses got the urge to move again, this time to Fayette
County. He was now head of the Burley Tobacco Company, and he
still traded fine horses and cattle with passion. He along with
Maguire sold at public auction a large number of livestock, which
they did not wish to take to the new location. Ulysses also sold
the Poplar Plains home and farm of 670 acres.
In 1912 Ulysses purchased, from Senator Bailey, Fairland Farms
consisting of 408 acres on Versailles Pike. He then built a lovely
home for $25,000 on this prime real estate. Ulysses, who was
always on the move and went for a large profit, sold Fairland,
in 1916, to H. S. Schlesinger, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, millionaire.
Mr. Schlesinger like Ulysses was noted for his fine harness horses.
Mr. Schlesinger then sold Fairland to William Monroe Wright owner
of Calumet Baking Powder Company. The Wrights changed the name
from Fairland to Calumet Farms, and the rest is history with
all the fame, beauty, and Derby winners. Calumet is still known
as the crown jewel of Lexington farms.
In 1916 Ulysses bought 1,500 acres of the Elmendorf Estate. At
that time, this was the largest single real estate deal ($700,000)
ever made in Fayette County. Ulysses also purchased "The
Meadows," which was a 251-acre farm that fronted Louden
Avenue. This was the birthplace of the great sire "Lexington,"
grandfather of 12 Kentucky Derby winners and the present-day
"Big Blue." Big Blue represents Lexington, Kentucky,
as the horse capital of America.
In 1918 Ulysses and Maguire had made an influence and impact
on Fayette County. Together they owned more than 2,100 acres
of prime Fayette County farms, raised 200 acres of burley tobacco
and 300 acres of corn, produced 18,000 bushels of wheat, and
had hundreds of registered Herford cattle and stables of outstanding
trotting and saddle horses.
Ulysses' health declined as he had congestive heart failure.
He could no longer remain active in the Burley Tobacco Company
and manage his vast holdings. He had purchased a beautiful home
in 1916 at 240 South Ashland Avenue, in Lexington, where he and
Ann; their daughter and her husband, Lucien Parker Lee; and Bill
resided. Ulysses turned the management over to Maguire and Lucien
Lee. As always, Ulysses tried his best to treat his disease by
visiting numerous prestige health clinics and hospitals. After
all the attempts failed, he died May 6, 1919, in a hospital in
Battle Creek, Michigan.
Ulysses never failed to take care of Bill, who died in late 1916
at the Saunders home on South Ashland Avenue. Bill was taken
back home to Fleming County and buried in the Hillsboro Cemetery.
Eldiva Denton Saunders and Lucien Parker Lee were married at
South Ashland Avenue on November 1,1917. They had no children
and with the close love between my grandmother, Jenny, and her
brother, Ulysses, Eldiva asked my mother if she was to have a
boy child would she name him Lucien Lee Royse. Mother agreed
and as a result, I spent many happy times at 240 South Ashland
Avenue, Woodland Park, and Chevy Chase as a young man.
Anna Denton Saunders died in 1947 at her home on South Ashland
and Lucien Parker Lee died in a Lexington Hospital in 1973. They
had sold their home on South Ashland in 1962 and moved into Hanover
Towers. Eldiva continued to live there until she could no longer
function. I arranged for Eldiva to be cared for 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, until she died September 5, 1978. She along
with Lucien Lee, Anna, and Ulysses are buried in Section 13 of
the Lexington Cemetery.
All the information for this article comes from Eldiva's vast
collection of pictures, newspaper articles, extensive scrapbooks,
and personal items she left me as part of her legacy.
My grandfather, Ben Royse, gave me oral descriptions of how overpowering
Roscoe was when he raced at Poplar Plains and how the whole village
came to watch the event and cheer Roscoe on to victory.
There are numerous unanswered questions I have. In Eldiva's later
years I asked her if she knew whatever happened to Roscoe. She
said "I really don't know."
I believe, and this is pure conjecture on my part, the following
took place. Ulysses being in failing health and being the quite
gentle soul he was, that before he died in 1919 he had Roscoe
euthanized. He then had Roscoe placed in "a nice walnut
box" and had the farm help lower him into the rich Kentucky
soil that Roscoe gained for his master.
Ulysses, in 30-plus years, had the vision, wisdom, and action
to move from one successful venture into another. To own three
of the most famous farms in Fayette County: Fairland/Calumet,
Elemendorf, and The Meadows is not too shabby for a boy from
Mud Sock, Kentucky!
Lucien Lee Royse, 85 Falls Creek Drive, Georgetown, KY 40324,
shares this article and photos with our readers.