White Horse Ranch

The first settlers to establish residence on part of what became known as the White Horse Ranch (WHR) were Joseph and Elizabeth Leatherman in 1888. In the 1890's the Dick Wright family acquired the property and built a trading post which had a livery stable, creamery, blacksmith shop, general store, and lumber yard.

Caleb (Cal) Thompson and his brother Hudson (H.B.) began breeding Morgan-Arabian white horses with pink skin in the early thirties. Cal married Ruth E. Hackenberg in 1936 and dissolved the partnership with his brother. Cal and Ruth incorporated the American Albino Horse Club in 1937 to register their new breed of horses. The first horse registered was the stallion Snow Chief II (#294), a descendant of Old King, foundation sire of the breed. Their herd numbered close to 200 by the late fifties.

In 1938 the Thompsons opened a training and riding school for underprivileged children. The camp motto was "We learn to do by doing." Each child was assigned a personal mount and was responsible for his care. They learned bareback horsemanship, Roman riding, jumping, trick training, and much more. They helped maintain the stables, grounds, and fences. Wake-up time was 6 a.m. The old schoolhouse bell was the alarm. The lights-out call occurred at 10 p.m. The schedule was very disciplined. Meals were taken communally in the mess hall (WHR diner). Afternoons from 1 - 3 were free time for letter writing, swimming, etc. The Thompsons were loving substitute parents for the many children attending summer camp. Some camp graduates went on to tour the United States as part of the Thompson's White Horse Troupe. On Sundays the children were given a choice of attending worship services in town or attending non-denominational services on the ranch.

The grand opening of the White Horse Bowl was in June 1949. Ten thousand people attended. The White Horse Troupe provided entertainment.

The White Horse Ranch was featured in LIFE Magazine in 1945 and in two Warner Brothers movie shorts in 1946 and 1951 titled Ranch in White and Ride a White Horse, respectively. The Thompsons furnished ten horses for the General Mills contest promoting its TV show The Lone Ranger in 1951.

When Cal passed away June 14, 1963 Ruth dispersed most of her white horses, leased out the ranch, and went west to be near her sisters in Oregon. She spent summers at the WHR until her death on May 31, 1990. She and Cal are buried in the Leatherman Cemetery on the ranch.

On June 30, 1990 Ruth was posthumously awarded the Western Heritage Award by the National Cowgirl Hall of fame, Hereford, Texas. On July 5, 1990 the WHR was officially designated as a National Historic Site.

White Horse Ranch Museum

A year before her death, Ruth enlisted the help of a younger couple, Dean and Carley Daugherty, in restoring the historic buildings on the WHR. Upon completion, the ranch was reopened, and it was open on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day for many years. Eventually the ranch was sold, and most of the WHR artifacts were donated to the Naper Historical Society which purchased a building on Main Street in Naper to display them. It was dedicated as the White Horse Ranch Museum. The museum is open on certain holidays and by request for interested parties coming to town.

Tour of The White Horse Ranch Museum

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