From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Carpenter, Eliza

(born: 1849  -  died: 1924) 

Known as Aunt Eliza, the only Colored race horse owner in Oklahoma, her real name was Eliza Carpenter. She had been a slave born in Virginia and sold to a Kentucky master at age six, then sold again at age eight to a Missouri planter. Carpenter gained her freedom at the end of the Civil War and returned to Madisonville, KY, where she learned the business of buying, training, and riding race horses. She then moved to Kansas where she purchased several horses, and later moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma, where she shared her home with a boarder, Athather Johnson, according to the 1900 U.S.
Federal Census.

Carpenter's occupation is given as a trader of livestock in the census. She had come to Ponca City when the Cherokee Strip was opened for settlement in 1893, with a $1,000 prize going to the first person to reach the Ponca City site. There was a heated race to the site, and Carpenter was one of the competitors. Some sources say that she was the first to stake a claim, while other sources say that she did not win the race. Either way, Carpenter settled in Ponca City where she trained her horses; she was one of the few African American stable owners in the West. When dissatisfied with the way a race was going, she rode her own horses.

Carpenter, as a jockey, had won a few races. Her regular jockey was Olla "Lucky" Johnson. Some of her horses's names were Irish Maid, Blue Bird, and Little Brown Jug. Eliza Carpenter had also stood up for herself, demanding her money when she won a horse-racing bet and the person she was betting with refused to pay-up.

Carpenter visited family in Kentucky on several occasions. On her final visit she was thrown from a buggy when her horse became spooked; Carpenter suffered a fractured skull and never fully recovered. She died in Oklahoma.

She was the aunt of Frank and Virgil Gilliam of Madisonville, KY.

For more see "Fans mourn woman jockey," Baltimore Afro-American, 12/20/1924; and "Reproduced the Strip Run," Hutchison News, 9/17/06, p. 8.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Hopkins County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Madisonville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Afro-American (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Hutchinson news (newspaper)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Carpenter, Eliza,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed September 27, 2020,

Last modified: 2020-06-26 18:02:19