Dakota Horse Magazine,  Horses,  Tales of the Ranch


                       This story was published in the online edition of 
                             Dakota Horse Magazine, April 12, 2023 and in
                                the Fall 2023 hard copy edition. 
                                                                            Rex: Latin for “king”
Where in this wide world can
man find nobility without pride,
friendship without envy or beauty
without vanity? Here, where
grace is laced with muscle and
strength by gentleness confined.

He serves without servility; he has
fought without enmity. There is
nothing so powerful, nothing less
violent, there is nothing so quick,
nothing more patient.

England’s past has been borne on
his back. All history is his
industry; we are his heirs, he
our inheritance.

The Horse, poem by Ronald Duncan

Rex was indeed noble; in stature and disposition, but he was not haughty or conceited. He knew without fail what to do, how to do it, was willing and steadfast. Rex was a magnificent stallion who stood about sixteen hands high and impressed all. He was a sorrel, his coat a deep rich copper. When the summer sun shone on him after he first shed his winter coat, it shined with a golden luster.

Franklin was a horseman. Even before he came west Franklin was making his mark; the spectacle of him on horseback driving cattle around the farms of New York was quite an unusual sight. It did not take long for his natural abilities to be fully realized once he made his way to western North Dakota. He became well known as an exceptional judge and trainer of horses. He would be called upon by neighbors to use his skills and knowledge to medically treat an animal, always knowing when he reached his limitations. He knew and understood horses. If a horse “acted up” he would often say, “there’s nothing the matter with that horse, he just needs a rider”.

By 1913 Franklin was running several hundred head of horses and some cattle on land he and his uncle purchased from the Northern Pacific Railroad. Each spring Franklin and the hired men rode out to the place they called Horse Camp to bring in the herd. Horse Camp was down in the badlands of the Little Missouri River about twenty-five miles south of Franklin’s ranch. Every year they had a late spring roundup with thirty to forty cowboys that lasted several days. Remembering those times, Franklin said, “The cowboys were good and the riding was hard over rough country. The horses would be wild having been loose for six months”.

Over the years he would check them out; first as foals and then as yearlings. When they were two-year old’s it was time to be broken and trained. Franklin inevitably and instinctively knew which horse was going to be best for which job. After bringing them in to the corral, Franklin would look them over and single out the ones he thought would be worth working with. After they were broken most went to nearby markets and local ranchers and farmers. Others who were more suited for work in the cotton fields were sent south. Some that were good buckers and would be hard to settle down became rodeo stock. Later in the 1920’s when the horse market in the Midwest was faltering, Franklin sent his horses to the still prospering eastern markets. Rex came from this corral.

Franklin had many horses, but two held a particularly special place in his heart. A pinto mare, his payment for his first fall working out west, was his most prized possession. She was given to him unbroken and in those early years became a real friend and partner. This little mare was credited with helping him survive a “battle royal of man and beast against the current and ice crust which was still on the water in places”, as they attempted to cross a deceptive Charbonneau Creek in the spring of 1916.  

Then there was Rex, who became the most favored of all. Rex could do everything; he was a cutting horse and a roping horse; an exceptional all-around cow pony. He could be counted on for whatever was needed. Even though Rex “demanded respect of his rider”, he was a safe horse to ride and “knew his manners”. Franklin trusted Rex with what was of the greatest importance, his children. Bonds of loyalty trust, even friendship had been forged.

One of Franklin’s four girls recounted two of the times Rex came to her rescue. As was usually the case, children growing up on a ranch were expected to work. Generally speaking, the cattle work fell to the older brother. One day help was needed rounding up some cattle and bringing them into the yard. By this time Rex was not worked very hard, but he was still reliable. Up in the saddle she went, a little apprehensive because she was not sure what was expected. While she bounced around in the saddle, Rex without direction knew what to do and just did it. If a cow and calf were separated, off they went; Rex loved the chase! Whatever was needed Rex accomplished it.

Often in the spring Charbonneau Creek would flood and they were not able to drive into town to pick up the mail. Usually Franklin or a hired man would go, but one spring day there was no one available; Franklin’s girl thought it would be fun to get out of the house and ride into town, so she volunteered. Now Franklin was pretty certain she didn’t know which way to go and might lose her way, but she was insistent, and he knew Rex would be her ride. Out of the yard she rode, through the first gate and over the first hill. Looking around she soon realized she was not sure which way to go and became worried. She did not need to be, Rex knew where to go and made the right decisions to get them the six miles safely to the post office and back home.

Franklin rode Rex as long as he could, and when he was too old to be ridden or worked the way a ranch horse needed to be, he was pastured close by the house and family.  Rex lived out the rest of his days in this pasture of honor.

References & Resources

  • Autobiography of Charles Franklin Martell
  • Helen Martell Kane, San Diego, CA
  • Dora Jane Martell Brockway, Los Angeles, CA
  • Lloyd Lester, East Fairview, ND
  • McKenzie County Farmer, April 6, 1916
  • Steve and Cynthia Vitt, Fairview, MT
  • Jaycie Rau, Cartwright, ND
  • http://www.ronaldduncanfoundation.co.uk/the-horse
  • Pictures from the Martell family archives

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