Riding to Fame and Fortune

Dr. David Schriemer, MD

An article in the December 8, 1935 issue of the Detroit News noted that, while a war was ended by a peace treaty signed here, it was a farm girl born in 1849 who really put the village of Mendon on the map.

The peace treaty was between Native Americans and the Federal government; the girl was Emma Peek, daughter of a Mendon farmer. As young equestrians, Emma and her sister, Myrtle, earned quite a reputation riding in county fairs and local horse races. In fact, Emma’s ability to manage a horse gracefully was one reason Charlie Marantette fell in love with her.

Now, the Marantette family was a fine, old Catholic family with certain standards, and the Protestant, horse-racing Emma didn’t quite measure up as a proper wife for a man like Charlie. So, he and Emma married secretly. Naturally, his family found out, and Charlie was eventually forced by family pressure to divorce his wife. Emma, however, came out of it just fine – she was then, literally, free to ride off to fame and fortune.

In 1882, promoter D. H. Harris swept into Mendon and carried Emma away to ride for the circus. As Mme Marantette, she toured Europe three different times, appearing before assorted royalty. She traveled in her own Pullman rail car with her dogs, horses and special buggy. When she performed in Arabia, she purchased two horses, Sunflower and Chief Geronimo, who were schooled to go through their act responding to specific music, rather than commands from their rider.

In Ireland, she purchased her famous jumping horse, St. Patrick, and with him, set a high jump record – while riding sidesaddle – of 7 feet, 10-1/2” during a performance in 1904, at what is now the Kalamazoo County Fairgrounds. And somewhere along the line, she acquired a trotting ostrich named Gaucho, who, when harnessed with one of her running horses, made the half-mile in 1 minute, 2-1/2 seconds.

Mme Marantette headlined with the Barnum & Bailey Circus and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, among others. She eventually married D. H. Harris and toured extensively with him as the Harris-Marantette Troupe. It was this troupe that performed on the streets of Vicksburg in 1908.

Mme. Marantette kept the old family farm she inherited from her father, naming it Evergreen Farm, and returned there between seasons to rest and train her horses. She did not live long after retiring at age 70. She disposed of her private rail car and all her animals, except the ostrich and Chief Geronimo, who died on the farm before Mme. Marantette’s death in 1922. She is buried, along with her dog, in Mendon Township Cemetery.

And Gaucho the ostrich? He was kept on the farm for awhile, cared for (and endured) for the sake of the girl who had loved him. But, being a very bad- tempered beast, he bit the hand that fed him one time too many, and was killed.

The Detroit News article noted that once, after Mme Marantette’s death, a circus train stopped for an hour on the siding at Mendon, and the troupers walked to the cemetery to leave a wreath on her grave.

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