Jockey and the Jeweler

By Cary Bradburn

North Little Rock History Commission

Although they may never have met, Alonzo Clayton and A.E. Colburn probably did know of each other, or at least read of each other in the newspapers.

One was a black jockey born in the Kansas City area in 1876, the other a white watch repairman and jeweler born in New Hampshire in 1863.

Both men built splendid Queen Anne style homes in North Little Rock; Clayton’s in 1895 and Colburn’s in 1897. They also built commercial buildings – Colburn’s in 1894 and Clayton’s in 1897 – within two blocks of each other on the west side of Main Street, then named Newton Avenue.

The houses have survived and are on the National Register of Historic Places, known today as the Engelberger House at 2105 Maple St. in the North Argenta Addition, where Clayton lived, and the Baker House at 109 W. Fifth St. in the Clendenin Addition, where Colburn lived.

While neither Clayton nor Colburn lived in their respective domiciles for more than a few years before moving away, they inadvertently made enough of an impression in their brief time here to start one of North Little Rock’s great legends, which may have entwined them and their houses forever in the popular memory.

The gist of the legend can be found on a plaque at the Baker House, now a bed and breakfast. The plaque, erected in 1978 after restoration of the historic property, tells, in part, that: “Mr. Colburn, a negro, became quite well known as a jockey in England. On his return home, he built one of the finest homes in North Little Rock, but was prevented from living in it because of his color.”

U.S. Census records, local newspaper accounts from the 1890s and Little Rock-Argenta city directories are among the primary sources that identify Colburn as a white watch repairman, not a black jockey. But articles in the Arkansas Gazette in late 1896 and early 1897 also confirm that Colburn built the Baker House as his residence, located behind his commercial building, which faced Newton Avenue and which the newspapers called “Colburn’s Block” on the northwest corner of what is now Fifth and Main Streets.

Meanwhile, Clayton’s name, often followed by the description, “famous colored jockey,” appeared numerous times in the Gazette’s North Side Gossip column in the mid-to late 1890s, remarkable in that the press typically wrote of African Americans in a criminal, comic, or tragic light rather than in a professional, business, or social context.

As a teenager Clayton was a national figure, known as a come-from-behind artist who could and did win high stakes races from New York to California. After moving to Arkansas in 1886 with his parents, Robert and Evaline Clayton, and siblings, he ran away from home at age 12 to join older brother Albertus who rode for prominent stable owner E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin in Chicago. “Lonnie” Clayton, as the light-skinned 90-pounder came to be known at racetracks, debuted as a jockey in 1890 at Clifton, N.J. and won his first race later that year on the Clifton track.