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James Calvin Milam

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James Calvin Milam
Mary Milam Sherry,
Aurelia (Rillie) Milam Howse

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James Calvin Milam was the original owner and trainer of Exterminator.


(WILLIAM ALEXANDER6, TURNER RICHARD5, WILLIAM ALLEN4, BARTLETT FERRILL3, JOHN MILAM OF2 HALIFAX, VIRGINIA, UNK FATHER OF VIRGINIA1 MILAMS) was born July 17, 1872 in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama, and died February 11, 1949 in Lexington Kentucky.

He married (1) MAMIE ELROD September 13, 1897. She died July 01, 1902.

He married (2) BELL SCOTT SIMPSON October 12, 1904 in Kentucky, daughter of JAMES SIMPSON and BELLE SCOTT. She was born Abt. 1882, and died August 31, 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky; buried Lexington Cemetery.

submitted by Robert Wilbanks

James Calvin Milam was born on July 17, 1872 in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama to William Alexander and Martha A. (Winfrey) Milam. He was the third child and eldest son of thirteen children. William A. Milam was a native of Laurens District, South Carolina, but at the age of 8 his father, Turner R., migrated to Euharlee, Georgia, where William grew up. When the Civil War broke out, William was 18 and so he served from Georgia during the entire war. Afterwards he married Martha Winfrey from Rome, Georgia and they settled near Tuscumbia, Alabama.

It was a very hard life for this family during reconstruction in Alabama. William, suffering from wounds received in the war, was unable to do hard labor, and his apparent lack of education made no other kind of work possible. He eventually worked as a water tender at a furnace, but still struggled to raise his ever-growing family. Four children died as infants. He never owned land and probably rented a house in the country. William died in 1896 at the age of 53, leaving a widow, 5 young children, and 4 young-adult children.

James "Uncle Cal" Milam attended public schools in Sheffield and a private school operated by Miss Mary Bills in Corinth, Mississippi. Family stories tell how the Milam children were raised not far from the Keller family, which included the child named Helen. It is also thought that at about the age of 16 Cal occasionally worked for Mr. Keller. Another neighbor and childhood playmate of the Milams was Tallulah Bankhead.

In 1891, at about the age of 19, Cal Milam became interested in thoroughbred horses. While visiting his father's cousin, William W. Milam, in Winchester, Kentucky, Cal went into a store which had a jar filled with beans. If he could guess the number of beans he would win $50.00. Cal did it and he spent his winnings on his first thoroughbred horse.

Unfortunately, while raising this horse, it got into the cornfield and ate too much, got colic and died. He went into the thoroughbred horse business more determined than ever. But he had one major problem. He was young, and looked even younger than he was. He grew a mustache with handlebars to look older and sophisticated. It took a long time for him to get a job, and one winter he worked without pay just for the experience. Soon he had a paying job, and then a better one as his talent for training horses began to be noticed. He displayed a marked aptitude for working with horses. Finally he was training for an Eastern owner, J. S. Wadsworth, and by 1898 was having a series of smashing successes with the Wadsworth horses.

In 1897, Cal found another love and on September 13 he married Mamie Elrod. However, this love was short-lived as Mamie died on July 1, 1902. He turned to his successfully growing career. After the 1898 season, he found he had enough money to buy his own horses and go into business himself. He never had intended to spend his life working for anybody, and had accepted employment only long enough to gain capital to finance his beginning as an owner and trainer. He closely studied conditions and in 1900 began to build his career as a breeder and trainer of racing stock. He purchased the best horses obtainable, displaying keen sagacity in making his selections, and soon demonstrated his skill in developing young stock.

Cal operated what was called a "sales-stable". He was always ready to buy and/or sell a horse. He would buy a yearling, break and train him, then race him as a two-year-old until he had shown enough to interest someone who was willing to pay good money for an obviously winning horse. Cal's business grew and he became very important and highly respected. In fact, his skill was beginning to go against him as he became recognized with the best eye for horses in Kentucky. In his effort to purchase colts and yearlings in public auctions, he was always outbid or became forced to pay extremely high prices for his purchases. He hired his younger brother, Turner R. Milam, to act as his purchasing agent. Meanwhile, Cal found a new love and on October 12, 1904, he married Belle Scott Simpson.

How many horses Cal owned and trained in his life even he didn't know. He is recognized for owning several of the most amazing horses in American turf history. Merrick, Exterminator and Anna M. Humphrey are only a few of the most famous. Red Leaf won many handicaps; Embroidery was the only horse to capture the Louisville and St. Leger cups in the same year; Star of Danube took some of the valuable stakes at Latonia in 1912; Loraine was awarded the Oaks cup at Churchill Downs in 1920.

Merrick, a winner of 64 races, was a most successful and world famous horse, and for a time was the oldest thoroughbred in history, dying at the age of 38 in 1941. He continued racing until he was 12 years of age. He was Cal's favorite and he named a bridge and his estate after this horse. The Merrick Place on the Tates Creek Pike is still highly recognized in Lexington, Kentucky today, though most of the old estate is developed.

Exterminator was bought and trained by Cal as a yearling and raced successfully as a two-year-old. Willis Sharp Kilmer bought him in the spring of 1918 to help him train another horse for the Kentucky Derby. Kilmer ended up forced to race Exterminator instead and suprisingly won. As a three-year-old, Exterminator became one of the most famous and winningest horses of his day.

As well as horses, Cal was also responsible for the development of jockies, including Jackie Westrope, a leading jockey of his day. He also had one of the best equipped and most productive farms in Kentucky and used science to advance his farm's capabilities. He raised cattle, sheep, and hogs on a large scale and was an extensive grower of tobacco, corn and hay. His estate comprised 850 acres of fertile land just 3 and 1/2 miles from Lexington. A family story tells about when he was expanding his estate by continuously purchasing land and so was asked if he was going to buy all the land in the world, to which Cal replied that he didn't want all the land in the world, only the land that touches his.

Although Cal retired in 1940, he retained his keen interest in horses, racing a small stable principally for recreation. Meanwhile, he was always helping out his brother and sisters and had a house built for each of them. He never had children, so he always enjoyed his sisters' children. On April 9, 1948, the Keeneland Association honored Cal at the Keeneland spring races by naming the feature race of that day for him. He was a member of the Thoroughbred Club of America and was a member of the Kentucky State Racing Commission, the Lexington Club and the old Kentucky Jockey Club. He also belonged to the Pendennis Club of Louisville and the Business Men's Club of Cincinnati, Ohio. After a long illness and being hospitalized since January 20th, Cal died on Friday, February 11th, 1949 at 4:50 AM at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. His obituary appeared across the country including in the New York Times. Cal was buried Monday, February 14th, in Lexington Cemetery.