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Black Gold trophy is 100 years old and missing

Black Gold won the Kentucky Derby in 1924. His Osage owner Rosa M. Hoots was the first Native American, and woman, to own a horse that won the Kentucky Derby. But his trophy was stolen in 1935 and still hasn’t been found. The family is asking others to share any photos that might aid in the trophy’s return.

There was a crowd of 80,000 at the Kentucky Derby on the famed, historic day that Black Gold, owned by Osage woman Rosa M. Hoots, won the Kentucky Derby. This year, at the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, Hoots’ descendants traveled to Churchill Downs to watch the race and celebrate in a crowd of 157,000 in Louisville, Ky. Their celebrations, however, were tinged with an air of defeat—as they had been hoping to recover Black Gold’s missing trophy. The trophy turned 100 years old on May 17, 2024.

The trophy was stolen from the family in 1935 in Dallas, Texas from Rosa Hoots’ bedroom where she kept both the trophy and photos of it in a glass display case. “People like Will Rogers, neighbors and Osage friends were able to see the trophies,” said Hoots’ great-granddaughter Theresa Collins, who has been working to recover the trophy currently believed to be at the Kentucky Derby Museum, although it remains officially unidentified.

The trophy-in-question, believed by the family to be mismarked by the museum as the War Admiral trophy, has been at the Kentucky Derby Museum since 1945. Efforts to identify the golden award as Black Gold’s in time for the anniversary failed, but the family still attended the derby to celebrate the anniversary.

While at the derby in coordinated colors, gathering for a big group photo, a bystander inquired what was going on. Collins told him they were the descendants of the Osage horse owner of Black Gold, and were there not only to celebrate the anniversary of the family’s victory, but also, because the family had hoped to see Black Gold’s trophy given a correct label at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

But the trophy remained unlabeled at the museum, without validation as belonging to Hoots. Collins explained the museum had first obtained the trophy by purchasing it from a pawn shop in New Orleans 10 years after the theft. Though they had been intensely investigating who owned the trophy, it seemed there would be no resolution for the family anytime soon.

“I got a bit emotional,” said Collins, “and had grown men crying after they heard our story. I told him, ‘The trophy, while important, it was only a material object, but what was important was we were all there to honor the Osage, Rosa and Black Gold.’”

In 1924, Hoots wore rose, white and black to the derby, Black Gold’s stable colors, and she received $53,300 in prize money along with the 14-karat golden trophy, which was the first kind of its design. An official winning portrait was taken of Hoots with Black Gold, a horse that she bred herself as the foal of her late husband’s beloved mare U-See-It.  

A photo of Osage woman Rosa M. Hoots with her Kentucky Derby trophy for her horse Black Gold in 1924. Courtesy Photo

During the 150th derby anniversary, some Osages celebrated the historic victory online. Joel Robinson of the Perrier family shared a photo in his stories, noting the history of the winning horse and his owner. A line in Robinson’s caption read, “On his deathbed, Rosa’s husband, Al Hoots, described a dream to Rosa in which he saw the offspring of his beloved mare, U-See-It, winning the Kentucky Derby. Rosa promised to make her husband’s dream come true.”  

Along with the stolen trophy, the 1935 thief also stole the family’s photos of Black Gold, including the official portrait taken on the day Black Gold won the Kentucky Derby. The lack of sufficient photos is one of the reasons the museum has been stalled in its investigation of the missing trophy, Collins said. A close-up photo of the trophy would help the museum to identify it, she believes. “A better photo would also help the museum feel better about the comparison to the trophy on hand to help authenticate it,” she said.

It was more than a year ago when Collins teamed up with her sister Rochelle Martino to see if they could find proof that the mystery trophy belonged to Black Gold. The sisters worked with an investigator named Kevin Barrows, who said the trophy was Black Gold’s. The museum’s investigator, however, considers that there is inconclusive evidence to make such a declaration.  

“Despite our reams of documents, statements, police reports, depositions, newspaper articles, [and] emails from years ago, it’s not enough to convince them to right a wrong. And that is what this is,” said Collins. The Kentucky Derby Museum received the sisters’ information in January 2023, and according to the museum, their investigation on the trophy has been going on for years, long prior to the evidence received from the two Osage sisters.  

The 1925 gold cup, presented to the connections of Flying Ebony. This is what the missing trophy would look like. The design of the trophy has had little alterations since 1924. Courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum Permanent Collection

Katrina Helmer, director of communications at the Kentucky Derby Museum, said they must have “extreme certitude in order to declare who the trophy belongs to.” In response, the sisters Collins and Martino are asking Osages and the public to help by sending in any photos or copies of Black Gold’s trophy that they may have.

“We know our true motives,” said Collins, “and it is not for attention or fame or to prove somebody is wrong; it simply is to right a wrong and for generations who will come after us.”

As Rosa Hoots said as reported in 1924 by The Courier-Journal, “The Golden Anniversary Derby was a great thing to win. Anyone would have been glad to win it. The gold cup should never go out of my family. I guess I shall give it to my grandchildren for them to always keep.”

Hoots’ family hopes that, with time, their great-grandmother’s wishes will come true.

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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hickshttps://osagenews.org
Title: Staff Reporter
Email: chelsea.hicks@osagenation-nsn.gov
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
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