While digging into old articles about James R. Keene for a piece I’m writing I came across this nugget that I have to share — it’s so good. For those of you not familiar with Keene, he is one of the most successful market operators of the late 19th century. Jesse Livermore, when talking about the trading legends of his day, called Keene the “greatest of them all”. The man made and lost fortunes many times over and lived a life full of color.

Here’s the article, written by Robertus Love in The Princeton Union on July 11, 1907.

Enjoy…

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Just now those who take an interest in turf matters are hearing much about the winnings of James R Keene’s horses. It is the horses that win, not the horseman. Mr. Keene seldom bets a dollar. He is not a sport. Neither on the turf nor on the stock market does he gamble. He is a speculator on the market and a sportsman on the turf. Between a speculator and a plunger the gulf is quite as wide as that between a sportsman and a sport. These distinctions should be borne in mind by any one who cares to know the character of James R. Keene.

Both as speculator and sportsman Mr. Keene’s reputation clicked into the top notch at least a quarter of a century ago. It is a question whether his cash or his colts have brought him the wider distinction.

Born in London sixty-eight years ago, of a father who also was a native of England, Keene nevertheless is really an American. His ancestors back of his father lived in Virginia for several generations. Moreover, when the father failed in business abroad the family came to America, settling in California when young James was only about fourteen.

The boy got a job taking care of cows and mules at a military post. He worked at various occupations until he grew up, when he studied law. For a time he taught school. Then he edited a country newspaper at a place called Horsetown, in northern California. The name of the town probably had no particular influence upon Mr. Keene’s career. The late Charles A. Dana, who used to read the Keene editorials, maintained to the last that for style, force and lucidity the pen of no English writer since the days of Charles Lamb surpassed that of Keene when he edited the Horsetown sheet at a salary of $20 a week.

Had Literary Ambitions.  

Keene, according to Joaquin Miller, who also frequented that part of California in those days, had literary ambitions. But as Shasta county journalism was not a money making institution he shortly stepped off this stepping stone to the literary life, and America lost a Charles Lamb. Keene, it is said, peddled milk, clerked around here and there and finally found himself in the mining camp of Virginia City, Nev. In some unrecorded manner he managed to get together a stake of $10,000. About this time Miss Sarah Daingerfield, a Virginia belle, visited her brother, a United States judge. Keene met her and fell In love. But Judge Daingerfield scorned the young man who had descended upon San Francisco and become a curbstone broker. “An upstart curbstone broker,” sneered the judge.  “Huh!’”

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Mr. Keene is known as a man of indomitable energy. “He could get rich in a desert if any one could,” says an intimate associate. This recalls a story in connection with the first big horseflesh victory of Keene’s career. His horse Foxhall won the Grand Prix at Paris in 1881. Twenty years earlier Keene had been at his Horsetown stage, and one of his acquaintances In the California country was Dan Gaitland. When Foxhall won the Grand Prix, Dan was still prospecting up in Grant county, Ore., not far north of Horsetown. He heard the news and rushed into the presence of Tom Merry, another acquaintance of the California Keene.

“Tom,” said Dan, “did yez hear phwat Jim Keene done las’ Sundah?”

“And what was that?”

“The papers sez he bate the divil out iv the frog eaters wit’ a horse named Foxyhall.”

“Well,” said Tom, “from what I remember about Jim he’s a mighty hard man to keep down.”

“Roight ye be,” rejoined Dan. “Ye cud putt Jim Keene aboard a ship an’ send him to say, an’ if the ship wuz wrecked on a desert oisland Jim ‘uld be walkin’ around, he wud, an’ the nex’ day he’d be sellin’ maps iv the place to all the natives.”

Mr. Keene has owned some of the greatest horses on the turf. This season his colt Peter Pan earned $52,000 in four races in less than thirty days. He owned Domino, over whose Kentucky grave he erected a hand some marble shaft. Other great ones developed by Keene were Sysonby, Commando, Cap and Bells and Tommy Atkins.

Full article here The Princeton Union