Craver Farms Continues Davenport Tradition

Arabian Horse Express, Apr 1986
Copyright by Alice Martin
Used by permission of Alice Martin

It is impossible to discuss Davenport Arabians for more than 10 minutes without the name of Craver Farms coming up.

The program at that farm and a handful of others in the 1950s saved the group of horses that could trace to Homer Davenport’s importation of 1906 from near certain extinction. Three Cravers were a part of Craver Farms — Charles C. Craver Jr., his wife Bertha, and his son Charles III.

Tripoli and CharlesIn the Craver family, the father is always known as Chuck and the son as Charles. In an effort to simplify this story, we shall follow that tradition to tell about the senior members of the Craver trio, Chuck and Bertha.

They met at the Kansas City train depot. Bertha was bidding a tearful farewell to her family as she boarded the train to begin her education of the University of Missouri.

Chuck, a junior at the university, was touched by the family parting. Once he and Bertha were both on board he introduced himself to help smooth the miles between Kansas City and Columbia.

After he received his bachelor of arts degree in law, Chuck asked for Bertha’s hand in marriage. Bertha by now had her own degree in education but was especially attracted to the arts, starring in numerous productions on campus as well as in Kansas City theater groups.

Dr. Paul A. Johnstone insisted, quite wisely says Bertha, that his daughter spend at least one year on her own before marriage. So she taught school for one year in north Kansas City.

So, the daughter of Bertha Nugent Johnstone married the son of Anna Leota “Otie” Detweiller Craver in 1925. The bride was 23, the groom was 26.

Chuck worked in his father’s real estate firm, Craver and Sons, during the giddy land boom in Florida before the Crush of ‘29. He and Bertha spent 1926 in the raw new community of Ft. Pearce.

Because of Bertha’s theatrical credentials, she was asked to establish a theater group in Ft. Pearce. She did and led the town, which included 400 transplanted Kansas City residents, to second place in declamation in the State of Florida contest.

Following their time in Florida, the Cravers went back to Kansas City to the difficult real estate market of the Depression. In 1927, after Charles was born, they moved to a subdivision where Chuck sold houses with one-acre tracts.

There they became neighbors of Harry “Pop” Boyer. Boyer worked for Skelly Oil, but more importantly was the son of a livery owner. Soon “Pop” had a barn on his one acre with a horse or two, and young Charles began assuming residence there almost as much as at home.

Perhaps it was because he had gone to Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind., and had been a member of the Black Horse Troop for two years that Chuck was more than receptive to Charles’ love of horses. Bertha explained the special bond between Charles and his father this way:

“Charles has always been a good son, but there was something more to his relationship with his father. Charles was 2 when I was sick with uremic poisoning and bedfast. Chuck took over all the care of Charles at that time. He held him, loved him, and cared for him. Both gained a luster from it.”

When Pop suggested that a nice Arab-Welsh pony from the pony ring at the park could be boarded at his barn for the winter for feed, the chestnut-pinto Jerry entered their lives. As Christmas approached, however, it became evident that just a winter pony was not sufficient. Bertha arranged for all the relatives to buy a horsy gift for Charles, because his father had bought Jerry for him.

The whole clan gathered in one basement around the tree for the big surprise.

“I called Pop when we were ready to open presents.” Bertha recalled. “He brought Jerry over with his $12.50 custom-made Rhodes saddle and bridle.

“We all expected Charles to whoop and holler when he saw Jerry. He didn’t. He walked over to that pony, buried his face on his neck and began to cry. So we all cried.”

Charles remembers it was the best Christmas ever.

Although Chuck had been a commissioned Army officer in World War I, the loss of hearing in one ear kept him from serving in the armed forces during World War II.

Friends in the Navy Bond Department in Washington D.C. arranged for a visiting General on a bond drive in Kansas City to have dinner with the Cravers in 1942. They were then told to report to Washington in two days. Chuck sold bonds for the duration of the war and stayed on until his retirement from the U.S. Treasury in 1963.

Because the state of Virginia ranked 44th in the nation in terms of the quality of their high schools in 1942, Charles was sent to Culver Military Academy, his father’s alma mater. Unfortunately for the horse-mad Charles, family finances could not afford the extra $500 required to participate in the Black Horse Troop.

Once in college at Swarthmore, after a summer of horses with Pop Boyer, the horseless Charles read an ad for Arabians and the whole family was off to C.A. West’s farm near Pittsburg for the first time.

Charles really doesn’t know whether it was the beautiful farms, Jerry’s purported Arabian background, or the inherent generosity of his father, but when they left the farm the Cravers owned a new foal, Indekerage #4652 (Indrage x Kerak).

The Cravers were still living in a cramped Washington war-time apartment at that time and had no place to keep a horse so “Inky” was shipped west to Pop Boyer.

By now Pop had moved to his Bear Creek ranch in La Plata, Mo. “Inky” grew up there until he was shipped back east to begin training.

Charles started him under saddle while boarding him at Pegasus Stables in Silver Spring, Md., adjacent to Rock Creek Park. Although Chuck had not ridden seriously since he had been in high school at Culver, he also began riding “Inky” quite a bit.

When Charles joined the Navy in 1952, Inky went to York, Pa., to Lillian Whitmack Roy for futher education. Still a dressage instructor today, Roy showed Inky with some degree of success during the first year she had him in training. Chuck took several lessons from her before Inky went back home to Pegasus to be his personal mount.

These were the good old days of the Arabian community. Breeders were few and far between. Everyone knew everyone.

Soon they organized the Arabian Horse Association of the East. Their charter extended their boundary to the Mississippi River. Bertha was elected the first secretary of the club.

“We had members from Florida, Indiana and states in between,” she recalled. “We tried to set our meeting in connection with the big shows at that time, Devon or Harrisburg.

“Members would show up from all over. I put out the newsletter and would always try to write a personal note with every copy sent out.”

“Bazy Tankersley was the central hub around which Arabian activities on the East Coast revolved.” Charles remembered. “She was unfailingly kind toward me and my parents. There were ‘pasture shows,’ trail rides and cookouts at the old Al-Marah that added a great deal of fun to our life with Arabian horses.”

Mrs. Tankersley recalls Bertha and Chuck with equal admiration.

“They are the only people in any Arabian club that I’ve ever known who remained totally positive and agreeable on every occasion.”

“Once,” Bazy continued, “we were having a meeting in the basement of my house and we came upon a knotty problem that required some specific knowledge (I have no idea about what) and Bertha said, ‘If we just could call up a 13-year-old boy, he’d know.’ She did and he did.

“No one ever gave a better example of the Arabian as a family horse. ‘Inky’ was the only horse that belonged to the whole family, and while he was primarily Charles’ horse, he certainly had attention lavished on him by Charles’ parents.

“He was the only stallion in a public stable and was as perfect a gentleman as all the other gentlemen in the Craver family. No one ever got more pleasure out of their horse than the Cravers did, and by demonstrating this along with their unfailing good sportsmanship they did a great deal to further the acceptance of Arabians,” Bazy said in a recent letter about the Cravers.

Carl and Jane Asmis of Never-Die Farm were good friends of the family. They introduced the Cravers to Edward Wolf Jr., whose father had a circus in the Netherlands. Ringling Brothers had brought the elder Wolf to center ring in the United States with his dressage act.

Chuck arranged for the junior Wolf, who was in rather dire financial straits at the time, to give dressage lessons at Pegasus. In an effort to help him out, the whole family took riding lessons.

Today Bertha, a woman who never so much as saw a cow until she was 12 years old, tells about her life as part of Craver Farms.

“I’ve learned a lot about horses. I’m timid, but I have learned a lot. Every family needs a wheel horse, and I was the wheel horse. I tried to do my part. I can really comb out a mane, but am still timid about the tail.”

This is the woman who decided to surprise Charles, who was away at school, by taking riding lessons from Wolf. Brought to the stable for her debut in front of him, Charles’ only comment was, “What keeps her on the horse?”

While Bertha went home on a trip to Kansas City, Chuck bought a house in Silver Spring. “I think he bought it,” said Bertha with a smile, “because it was within walking distance of the stable where we kept Inky.”

Charles put the three summers between college years and entering the Navy to good use for his future with Arabian horses. Like his father, who had floated down the Missouri River with Paul Jenkins, a high-school friend, Charles traveled around the country with his college chum, Andy Segal.

He carried a used Bolex movie camera, visiting as many Arabian farms as possible and taking movies of the horses. (One of the glories of a visit to Craver Farms is the old film library. If you have domestic-bred Arabians, you can see footage of their ancestors taken in 1949, 1951 and 1953. Many of these animals are captured no place else in movie form.)

A 1949 trip, again to estate developer C.A.West’s farm, led to the purchase of the Craver’s first Arabian mare, Arabesque #5403 (Rouf x Koreish). Koreish’s dam *Simawa #358 (Rustem G.S.B. x Sarama G.S.B.) fit in with the original plan of Craver Farms to breed good Skowronek or English-bred mares.

“There was nothing really straightforward about the decision to concentrate the breeding program at Craver Farms on those horses that could solely trace to Davenport’s 1906 importation,” said Charles.

“It gradually evolved out of the circumstances of the horses we acquired and the hours of pedigree research that I was able to do in my spare time while stationed at Treasure Island. I was also fortunate in being able to spend a lot of time with Alice Payne, the noted *Raffles (Skowronek G.S.B. x *Rifala) breeder.”

One day in the library at Asil Arabians, Charles picked up a notebook containing the names of horses bred by Asil. One name, Tripoli #4591 (Hanad x Poka), was underlined.

“Why have you put a line under Tripoli’s name?” Charles asked his hostess.

“I always thought I might breed back to him,” replied Mrs. Payne.

“Anything that was good enough for Alice Payne to breed to was good enough for me,” said Charles. “I set off to northern California to find Tripoli. His owner, Mary E. Waldo, had leased him to a man who ran a pack string for the forest service. He wasn’t using him, he was just standing in a barn starving to death. He looked terrible.

“I told Mrs. Waldo about his condition, so she had the horse brought down to her farm. I returned later to try and buy him. From there he went to Jimmy Wrench’s place until Alice Payne heard he was there and sent for him. While he was at Payne’s, she used him to produce the chestnut stallion Jamzed #10874 (Tripoli x Prochi), foaled March 28, 1956.

“I used to have the weight ticket on Tripoli. Probably still do around here somewhere,” continued Charles, “but after having been on full feed for six months, he did not weigh 500 pounds as a 7-year-old. From Alice’s he went to Pop Boyers.

“When I left the Navy in 1955, my mother and father gave me encouragement and support every step of the way. I had decided to farm the land that the family had owned near Hillview, in the Illinois River bottom since the turn of the century.”

Chuck retired in 1963 with the Albert Gallatin award, the highest honor that can be conferred by the U.S. Treasury. Bertha and Chuck built a home in Winchester in 1965, 15 minutes away from the main farm of 2,000 acres. After the move from Washington, Chuck came to the farm virtually every day, helping however he could.

Charles honeymooned at the farm with his wife Jeanne Hussong in 1974 as his father honeymooned there with Bertha in 1925. Jeanne remembers Chuck:

“He was great. He trimmed shrubbery, painted fence. He loved every minute of his retirement.

“I especially remember his birthday rides. Once a year (after Inky had been given to Besssie Blackmore just across the river in Louisiana, Mo,), he would arrive to a celebratory ride. I was newly married and had no idea how this 75-year-old man could ride. I sent him off on my Fatimah #36202 (Julyan x Fadaa), who could be something of a handful. I was terrified.

“He got on Fatimah, sat up beautifully, collected her and looked just grand. They had a good ride together. I miss his daily visits to the farm.”

Chuck Craver died on March 10, 1979. Craver Farm is not the same without him. Bertha is a little slowed now with a bothersome knee so seldom makes it out to the farm. Charles and Jeanne see her daily or are in communication by phone.

Bertha is still busy writing both to her friends and for the arts. Since moving to Winchester she has won first place for the best one-act play in the state of Illinois.

“I am terribly proud of the people who come to Craver Farms that I get a chance to know,” Bertha said. “They are gentle, in the highest sense of the word, and have a real love for their horses, like Chuck did. I miss him.”

“My father gave me gentle support all the way.” Charles will remind a visitor.

“His greatest gift was an instinct for the things of life of real value. It might be a horse or a little dog having some trouble. I remember him receiving appeals in the mail.

“He sent a little something to all of them, ‘because they might really need it.’ he told me. I don’t believe I ever met anyone who did not like him.”

(Alice Martin owns Star West in New Berlin, Ill., a dressage training stable and Arabian breeding farm. she has been a visitor to Craver Farms since 1963 when she met Sir and the Craver family.)