Articles & Stories

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 County

To Fairland, Elmendorf, And The Meadows Farms
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 for farming.
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.