For 70 years, Ruth “Bazy” Tankersley, owner of Al-Marah Horse Farm has raised and bred more than 2,500 Arabian horses. She loves her purebreds, and the world respects her as one of the finest Arabian breeders. Last year, the American Horse Association named her Breeder of the Year.
In the early 1940s, the socialite, a member of the McCormick family in Chicago, came to Tucson with her first husband, Peter Miller after he was diagnosed with epilepsy.
Bazy had raised her first Arabian as a teenager, so when she came to Tucson she developed a 40-acre horse farm she named Al-Marah, which translates to “a verdant garden oasis.” By the early 1970s, Al-Marah expanded to 110-acres and become known as the world’s oldest privately-owned Arabian horse breeding farm.
With the specific goal of breeding a horse with a gentle disposition, Bazy McCormick Miller, as she was known at the time, searched for the world’s top stallion to sire her dynasty. Her foundation stud claimed a lineage tracing back two centuries to the prophet Mohamed Ali the Great of Egypt. The horse’s name was Indraff, a gray Arabian stallion foaled on May 9, 1938, and sired by Raffles that had been bred in England and imported to the U.S.
“When Indraff walked out of the stable door, he fulfilled my dreams and defined my mental image of the ideal Arabian horse,” Tankersley said.
Indraff sired 254 purebred Arabian foals, and had more than 2,700 grandget or offspring.
Returning to Illinois and then going to Washington, D.C., she continued using the Al- Marah name for farms in Illinois, from 1944 to 1949, and then Maryland, from 1949 to 1975, while she worked in the family newspaper publishing business.
“I was so lonesome for Tucson. I missed the mountains and the desert,” Tankersley recalled. “Whenever I received a copy of Arizona Highways, I would cry.”
Born into the prestigious and politically active McCormick family, Tankersley’s grandmother, Ruth Hanna McCormick, was a Congresswoman from Illinois and her father, Joseph Medill McCormick, served in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Her uncle, Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick, owned the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, which was later acquired by the Washington Post in 1954.
In 1949, Colonel McCormick put Bazy in charge of his Washington, D.C., newspaper.
“When I took over at the Washington Times-Herald, I met editor Garvin Elmo “Tank” Tankersley. I didn’t know that he would become my future husband,” Tankersley recalled.
As the romance between Tank and Bazy developed, news of the affair motivated the Colonel to end it. Tank came from a large, but poor family from Lynchburg, Va.
The Colonel did not find Tank to be of appropriate status. The young couple went undercover traveling by train between Chicago and Washington to see one another. Tiring of the commute, they decided to get married and eloped. In 1955, on his death bed the Colonel acknowledged his mistake in trying to keep the two lovers from marrying.
“Other than studying genetics for two years at Vermont’s Bennington College between 1939 and 1941, I virtually had no education,” Tankersley said.
But that didn’t prevent her from having an appreciation for education. She started two schools in the east and when she returned to Tucson, “I felt that the city deserved a top rated private high school.” In 1980, she founded St. Gregory College Preparatory School and appointed Russell Ingersoll as its principal.
From her first marriage Tankersley had two children, Kristie Miller, a biographer and author of “Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s First Ladies,” and Mark Miller, who owns Arabian Nights, an Arabian horse dinner theater in Kissimmee, Fla.
Bazy and Tank had one daugther, Tiffany, born in 1970.
She is emphatic about the subject of disposition when it comes to Arabian horses. Not long ago, her 4 year-old great-granddaughter wanted to ride. “She rode the horse with the best disposition, a stallion.”
Tankersley is noted as a rare and legendary breeder. In 1890, Britain’s Lady Anne Blunt and her husband Wilfred purchased an Arabian from Egyptian Ali Pasha Sherif to breed at the Crabbet Stud. When Blunt’s daughter Lady Wentworth died, Tankersley imported the finest of their Arabians and brought them to America. She considered these horses as part of her quality Arabian foundation stock, one whose lineage she would never compromise.
Now at the age of 91, Tankersley feels that “The best husbandry practice is to let Arabians live with minimum stall time and a maximum amount of time enjoying the company of other horses.”
Do you have a historical Tucson story to share? Contact Mary Levy Peachin at email@example.com. Her historical columns appear the first week of each month in Inside Tucson Business.