Evans Riddle bet on a dead racehorse. He lost. |
The horse was Man o’ War.
Foaled in 1917, he won his first race, the Belmont Stakes, in 1919. He never took
the Triple Crown of racing, but in his short track career Man o’ War won 25 of
his 26 races. Before he died at the age of 30 in 1947 the legendary racehorse
had made his owner, Samuel D. Riddle, a millionaire several times over in stud
Sam Riddle lived in Pennsylvania, Man o’ War was often stabled and trained in
Kentucky. Both states claimed the wonder horse of the 20th century.
Riddle didn’t live much longer after Man o’ War died—about four years. When Sam
died, he left his fortune to endow a hospital near his home in Philadelphia. Thomas
Riddle, then a 106-year-old Confederate veteran, laid claim to part of the owner’s
estate, estimated at $4 million. In his deposition, Thomas attested that he was
the late Sam’s elder half-brother.
Tom Riddle’s attorney, Rodes K. Myers
of Bowling Green, Kentucky, wanted Tom to fly to Philadelphia for a court hearing
with 21 others claiming to be legitimate Riddle heirs, but the old soldier’s doctors
refused to give permission.
While the case languished in the courts of
Philadelphia, Tom continued his daily games of checkers and dominoes with visitors.
The last Civil War veteran living in the Confederate Home for Men at 1620 West
Sixth Street in Austin, Tom had lots of visitors. And once the news was out that
he might be an heir to a fortune, he had a lot of proposals of marriage.
claimants lost their suit. In 1956 the Riddle fortune endowed a hospital in Pennsylvania
as Sam Riddle had intended.
Riddle first came from Tennessee to Texas in 1879, settling for 23 years in Grayson
County as a stonemason and farmer. But after several discouraging years of drought,
boll weevils and grasshoppers, he packed up his wife and kids and moved westward
to Clay County.
Later Tom lived in Wichita Falls before coming to the
Confederate Home in January 1950. When he first arrived, he enjoyed taking frequent
walks around the 26-acre campus overlooking the Colorado River.
was built in 1884 by a volunteer group of former members of General John Bell
Hood’s Texas Brigade at a cost of $500,000. Eight years later the State of Texas
took control. Over time the rambling frame building with wide steps and a tall
tower accommodated 3,800 veterans. By 1943 only six former soldiers remained.
That year the Home began admitting aged male patients from other hospitals.
Riddle was the last Confederate veteran living in the Home. Born April 16, 1845
in Tennessee, he had served in the 12th Tennessee Infantry. He said that 18 months
of his military time was under General Robert E. Lee. The way Tom remembered it,
General Lee himself chose Tom to care for the general’s horse, Traveler. Tom was
with Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg in June and July 1863. Tom was slightly wounded
in his left side, but as he told the story only 13 men were killed. “I was there
and we buried every one of them right there on the field.” He didn’t remember
the battle as a big deal—but then, he didn’t live to see Ken Burns’ Civil War
special on PBS.
At the Confederate Home, Riddle kept a portrait of General
Lee and a Confederate battle flag near his bed. He never earned rank in Lee’s
Army of Virginia, but the State of Texas and others heaped honorary titles on
him, including colonel of the Confederate Air Force.
The old soldier had
a television set in his room at the Confederate Home. He liked to keep up with
the news of the Korean War. He may have watched films of Pork Chop Hill in April
That month the Home’s staff, members of the Austin Chapter of the
Daughters of the Confederacy and local townspeople came together to celebrate
Riddle’s 106th birthday.
Tom lived just one more year. After bouts with
pneumonia and heart failure, the old soldier died April 2, 1954, just two weeks
shy of his 107th birthday. Four days later, he was buried in Burkburnett.
matter whether he truly had a blood tie to the man who had owned Man o’ War, death
had dropped Tom Riddle from the run for the money.