One of the 213 songs that appears in my new book, Mel Bay's Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book (279 pages with stories and historic info about the songs) is the "old Kentucky folksong" Molly and Tenbrooks adapted by the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe.
Molly and Tenbrooks is legendary for creating the bluegrass genre when The Stanley Brothers recorded "Molly And Tenbrooks" on Rich-R-Tone 418 in Sept. 1948 after hearing Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys perform it. Monroe's recording was made in October 1947 but not released until September 1949.
The actual race was held July 4, 1978 at the Kentucky Derby racetrack, Churchill Downs. The Derby started three years before in 1875. African-American jockey William Walker's greatest victory was aboard Ten Broeck, owned by Frank Harper in a famed four-mile match race the California-based mare Molly McCarthy. Ten Broeck holds the record when he ran 4 miles in 7:15 3/4 at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky-bred horse Ten Broeck was undoubtedly named after the famous horseracing entrepreneur Richard Ten Broeck, owner of the great horse, Lexington. Ten Broeck is also city in Jefferson County, KY in the Louisville metro area where I live.
Here's an account of "THE GREAT RACE" from THE VERNON PIONEER; Volume IV Vernon, Lamar Co, Ala. July 19, 1878 No. 10 Louisville, KY, July 4.
"The great race between Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarthy was run today. It was a match for $5,000 a side, making a stake of $10,000. The amount of money at stake was not what made the match of importance. It was the great respective portions of the country, and sectional and state pride and interest.
Ten Broeck is admittedly the favorite and champion of the great Mississippi and Ohio valleys, as Mollie McCarthy is of the whole pacific slope, and California especially. It was not the Atlantic slope against the Pacific, but the great Central Valley of our country against the region beyond the Rocky Mountains. As such the horses met, representatives of widely separate sections of the United States.
Entering the fourth mile, Mollie dropped down to a mere hand gallop, and Ten Broeck was doing little more, but he had just gait enough to drop her ten lengths around the turn to the quarter pole. Keeping on in a steady gallop, he drew away from her fifty yards by the time he reached the far turn. Going on in his hand gallop he drew more and more away from her, and when he entered the home stretch she was a hundred yards behind, and had dropped down into a hand trot, and soon was stopped entirely. In a slow gallop, but not at all at case, Ten Broeck came home, finishing the fourth mile in 2:26 ¾ , and the heat in 8: 19 ¾. Mollie did not come to the stand at all, and the figures run up showed Ten Broeck first and Mollie distanced. Kentuckians rejoiced that their favorite had won, but all were disappointed with the indifferent race."
Here's another account from Thoroughbred Heritage:
"Mollie made the then difficult trip across the Rockies; the rails over the mountains in the west that carried her had been completed less than eight years earlier. The day of the race, July 4, 1878, dawned clear, but the track was slow, due to a heavy shower the previous night, footing Mollie had displayed a disinclination to like. The crowd at the Louisville Jockey Club was the largest seen to that time, with some estimates putting its size at 30,000, an observer reporting that all trains, extra trains, steamboats and inner-city transport jammed to capacity to reach the grounds. Mollie received applause from the crowd when she appeared in her white sheet, but the crowd roared when Ten Broeck stepped onto the track.
They started evenly, and Mollie led for the first mile, "with such a beautiful and apparently easy stroke, and the horse seemingly at labor, but really annoyed at restraint, that a shout went up that she had already beaten him." Mollie led for the second mile, but after the quarter pole Ten Broeck drew ahead, and by the time they had reached 2-1/2 miles he was leading by a length, and at the third mile he was ahead by twenty yards. At 3-1/2 miles Mollie gave up the chase, and Ten Broeck cantered home easily in the slow time of 8:19-3/4. "Such a shout as went up over the triumph of Ten Broeck, and such a scene of wild and extravagant excitement, I never saw before, and never expect to again, outside the impulsive state of Kentucky." It was Mollie's first defeat, in fact, her first defeat in any heat at any distance. This race was Ten Broeck's last. "
The Mollie and Tenbrooks song, as Wilgus and others have asserted, may be related to "Skewball" and other Irish horse-race ballads which pre-dated the 1878 match race in Louisville. It is also said to have been authored within a few days of the actual race, and very quickly began to circulate in variant forms (the one hallmark of a true folksong), with some of these being "collected" in the late 19th century. Despite Monroe's definitive bluegrass version, variations persist (compare the verses and wording of the Stanley Bros. take on it), and recordings have also been made by blues and country musicians (Cousin Emmy, for one!) under a variety of related titles, like "Old Timbrook Blues," "Old Kimball," and the understandable "Run Molly Run." There are also African-American versions of the ballad which were circulated.
Various versions have surfaced but Monroe's is the classic bluegrass version. Where Monroe learned his version of Molly is not documented. Two early versions by the Carver Boys and Warde Ford are possible sources. "Tim Brook" was recorded by The Carver Boys in 1929, and released in 1930. It's now on Music of Kentucky, vol. 1 (Yazoo); The Carver Brothers version is a related version of "Ain't that Skippin' and Flyin'" similar to the Allen Brothers.
Warde Ford's version (audio; rec. September 3, 1939, collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Boomtown [Central Valley], Shasta County, California) of "The Hole in the Wall -- Alternate title: Timbrooks & Molly" can be heard on-line at California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties.
Another though different early version is Run Mollie Run, which was recorded on 7 October 1927 in Chicago and issued as Vocalion 1141by Henry Thomas. Newer versions include Molly and Tenbrooks by Steve Gillette and Linda Albertano, Cherry Lane Music, 1967 and the Source: Kingston Trio on "Goin Places." The Trio changed a few names around to avoid copyright problems.
Here are Monroe's lyrics:
MOLLY AND TENBROOKS: Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys- 1947
Run ol' Molly run, run ol' Molly run
Tenbrooks gonna beat you to the bright and shining sun
To the bright and shining sun oh Lord; bright and shining sun.
Tenbrooks was a big bay horse, he wore a shaggy mane
He run all 'round Memphis, and he beat the Memphis train
Beat the Memphis train oh Lord; Beat the Memphis train.
Tenbrooks said to Molly, what makes your head so red
Running in the hot sun with a fever in my head
Fever in my head oh Lord; Fever in my head
Out in California where Molly done as she pleased
She come back to old Kentucky, got beat with all ease
Beat with all ease oh Lord; Beat with all ease
Molly said to Tenbrooks you're looking mighty squirrel
Tenbrooks said to Molly I'm leaving this old world
Leaving this old world oh Lord; Leaving this old world
The women's all a-laughing, the children all a-crying
Men all a-hollering old Tebrooks a- flying
Ol' Tenbrooks a- flying oh Lord; Ol' Tenbrooks a-flying
Kiper, Kiper, you're not riding right
Molly's a beating old Ten-Brooks clear out of sight
Clear out of sigh oh Lord; Clear out of sight
Kiper, Kiper, Kiper my son
Give old Ten-Brooks the bridle and let old Ten-Brooks run
Let old Ten-Brooks run oh Lord;
Let old Ten-Brooks run
Go and catch old Ten-Brooks and hitch him in the shade
We're gonna bury old Molly in a coffin ready made
In a coffin ready made oh Lord; In a coffin ready made
Find Bill Monroe's versions on Knee Deep in Bluegrass, Decca DL-8731, LP, cut# 11; 16 All-Time Greatest Hits, Columbia CS 1065, LP (197?), cut# 1; Essential Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. 1945-49. Vol 2, Columbia CT 52480, Cas (1992), cut# 14. Also included on some versions is this verse:
See old Molly coming, she's coming around the curve.
See old Tenbrooks running, straining every nerve.
Straining every nerve, Lord, straining every nerve.
I like the line, Molly said to Tenbrooks you're looking mighty squirrel. It's also interesting to note that Monroe has his horses mixed up in that line or he learned the song that way. It should be Tenbrooks telling Mollie she's looking mighty squirrel. Not a compliment to tell a lady!
Ten Broeck had been buried under a fancy monument at the central Kentucky farm where he had been foaled, which was called "Nantura Stock Farm." The grave of Ten Broeck, which is located on private land, far back (and invisible) from the road linking Midway and Frankfort (Lexington's "Old Frankfort Pike"). The gravestone's text says "TEN BROECK / Bay Horse / Folded [sic] on Nantura / Stock Farm / Woodford Co., KY / June 29, 1872 / DIED / June 23, 1887 / PERFORMANCES / 1 Mile 1 39 3/4 / 2 Mile 2 49 1/4 / [and so on, extending down the gravestone to the final notation: 4 Mile 7 15 3/4."
My painting (Above) of Mollie and Tenbrooks was done in 2006. Hope you like it.