gen. william temple withers
General William Temple Withers was born on January 8, 1825 in Harrison County, Kentucky. He graduated from Bacon College in Harrodsburg, Kentucky and would have delivered the valedictory speech if he had not volunteered to fight in the Mexican War. While leading a charge in the Battle of Buena Vista, Withers was wounded when a musket ball entered his right side, driving his sword chain into his body. He was carried from the field with little hope of recovery; however, his courage and determination gave him the strength to persevere.
Following the war Withers began to study law and moved to Mississippi. It was there that he met Miss Martha Sharkey, whom he married in 1850. In addition to planting cotton and becoming a partner in the New Orleans commission house of Coleman, Britton & Withers, he joined the law practice of Martha’s father, Judge Sharkey.
By the time the Civil War broke out Withers had become a very successful man and, according to an 1895 issue of The Horse Review, was worth a quarter of a million dollars, an equivalent of over $6 million in today’s currency. Withers gallantly used his own money to form the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery Brigade, which fought for the Confederacy in the Battle of Vicksburg. Union General Ulysses S. Grant, impressed by his foe’s valiant performance, provided Withers’ family with safe passage to Alabama; however, they lost everything when Union troops burned and destroyed both the Withers and Sharkey plantations. To survive this devastating setback, Withers moved his family to Lexington, Kentucky and purchased Fairlawn Stock Farm.
Not knowing much about trotting bloodlines, Withers studied the breed carefully and eventually populated his stock farm with over seventy respectable broodmares. In 1874 he purchased Almont (Abdallah – Sally Anderson – Mambrino Chief) from Col. Richard West of Edge Hill, Kentucky for a reported $15,000 and in 1879 Immortal Happy Medium (Hambletonian 10 – Princess – Andrus’ Hambletonian) from Robert Steel for a price in excess of $25,000 – an equivalent of about $500,000 in today’s currency. Other stallions that stood at Fairlawn through the years included Aberdeen, Ethan Allen Jr. and several homebred sons of Almont, including Alecto, Almont Wilkes and Maximus. An innovator, Withers was the first to risk listing horse values in his sale catalogs.
As Fairlawn’s fame grew, both Ulysses S. Grant and King Kalakahua of Hawaii visited the farm; and horsemen all over the world began to request its stock. This helped to disseminate the American trotting breed throughout Australia, Bessarabia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and Sweden. According to the January 1886 issue of Wallace’s Monthly, Fairlawn was arguably the most well known stock farm in the world.
In less than two decades General Withers had succeeded in building one of the largest and most revered trotting stock farms worldwide. By the mid 1880s the trotting world was deeply in awe of him, and his name appeared in numerous sports magazines. In 1883 Mark Field of Wallace’s Monthly writes of him: “… he has not only made his name illustrious throughout the domain of civilization, but has perhaps more palpably than any other living man demonstrated by actual experiment the general principles upon which the breeding of diagonal steppers may be reduced to a science.”
General Withers died of complications from his war wounds on June 16, 1889. Speculation at the time valued Fairlawn Stock Farm, his life accomplishment, at $500,000 – an equivalent of $11,650,000 in today’s currency.