Madame Marantette; Ralph Clement

Madame Marantette

Written by Ralph Clement

“Madame Marantette, probably the greatest horsewoman of all time, was born in 1848 and was raised on a farm between Colon and Mendon. She was born Emma Peek. She and her sister, Myrtle, also a professional horsewoman, rode at the County Fairs and races as girls. The Madame married Charles Marantette but after a short time, they were divorced and Emma kept on riding.

It was in 1862 that D. H. Harris, a “Kentucky Colonel”, came to Mendon from southern Illinois and took her from the ranks of the amateur to become a profession.

Colonel Harris and Madame Marantette were married and the Colonel acquired the Kentucky bred High School (educated) horse. “Woodlawn” and the high jumper, “Filemaker”, and got bookings for the Madame to exhibit them in front of the grandstand at County Fairs in Illinois and Michigan. This was the start of a long and successful career.

“Woodlawn” was chestnut color and the most beautiful horse I have ever seen. He would trot, pace and single foot. He had five gaits in all. When the Madame wanted to mount, he would get down on his knees and she would sit in the saddle. She dismounted by reversing the process. His principal set was “waltzing” to the music of the band.

“Filemaker”, the high jumper, was a thrilling performer. He usually made three jumps; for the first jump he cleared the bar at 6’0”. His best record was 6’4 ½”. The Madame always rode him. They showed for a number of years throughout the Middle West with great success. Then, they reorganized the show and added a new act. They purchased two thoroughbreds, (running horses) “Major Banks” and “Evergreen”, (the horse “Evergreen” had been developed by Lillburn Mellon of Colon). Both horses had great speed. These two were broken to drive in double harness and hitched to a skeleton wagon, a four-wheeled rig with a single seat. They would run an exhibition mile to show their speed. They also replaced d”Woodlawn” with another High School horse, “Chief Geronimo”, a beautiful Arabian. “Filemaker” was replaced by “St. Patrick”, a noted jumper that held the world record by clearing the bar at 7’ 6 ½”.

Also, the Colonel acquired a private Pullman car, which was rebuilt on the inside into living quarters. The car was painted a bright yellow on the outside with the name “Madame Marantette” painted in large bold letters on both sides.

With this new setup, the Colonel got booking on the Grand Circuit, starting at Detroit about the 1st of July. There, they put on their usual high school and high jumping acts and then they went on with the thoroughbreds, “Major Banks” and “Evergreen”, hitched double and they ran the mile in 1: 45 ¼ ; this drew front page headlines in the Detroit papers. They continued on, playing the large cities throughout the East until the racing season closed.

Now they were nationally known, and joined the “Great Barnum & Bailey Circus” touring the United States, and then with them to England. After one season with them, they were forced to quit as their horses, “St. Patrick” and “Chief Geronimo” could not stand working two shows every day and “St. Patrick” refused to take jumps.


They returned to the farm home near Mendon and bought the trotting ostrich, “Gaucho”, and harnessed him with the running horse “Bonnie Ann” and made the half-mile in 1: 02 ½.

This new attraction, along with the old favorites, “St. Patrick” and “Chief Geronimo” were ready to again show at the County Fairs in Illinois and Michigan, which they did for several years until the death of Colonel Harris.

Madame Marantette’s brilliance never faded. She grew regal as she grew old. Discarding spangle and glitter as her hair turned white, she gowned herself in black or cadet blue velvet and piled her snow-white hair on her head. After the death of her husband, Colonel Harris, about 1920, she retired to her farm home near Mendon.

One day after her retirement, she drove to Colon to see my father and mother, both of whom she had known in girlhood. She died shortly thereafter, about 1922, and was buried in the Mendon cemetery.

A year or so later the Barnum and Bailey Circus train passed through Mendon and stopped there for an hour while the performers marched out to the cemetery and placed a wreath on her grave.”