Horses and drawing pictures of horses have always been two of the most favorite things in life for Lois French.
“Paper was in short supply when I was going to country school,” Lois remembered. “So, I really got in trouble when my teacher saw me drawing pictures of horses in my school books.”
It was even worse when her Mom heard about those drawings. “I tried to explain that I didn’t want to use up the nickel tablets, but she just wouldn’t understand,” Lois said. “That did put a slowdown on my artistic interests for a while.”
Well maybe a hiatus from sketching when supposed to be studying, but never from Lois’ heart. “I just couldn’t get drawing out of my system,” she insisted.
Just as strong was the girl’s fondness for horses and ranch life. Born and raised in the Flint Hills, Lois started riding at the age of two.
“I’ve always loved to ride and helped Dad with the cattle work,” she reflected. “I really enjoyed branding time as well as driving and working with horses in the hay field.”
Appropriately, Lois found a cowboy with matching love for ranching. Mary Lois Burke married Murray French on May 21, 1942, in Eureka. The newlyweds made their ranch home near Climax in Greenwood County where Lois still lives today.
While Murray passed away in 2009, at the age of 89, Lois goes strong operating the ranch. Shyly, she admitted, “I’ll be 93 in a few days. It’s been a great life.”
Operations are considerably smaller scale now than peak times when Murray and Lois French were widely known for Herefords and Quarter Horses.
“I still have a few cows and one great old mare. She’s 33 now, goes back to all of the horses we raised,” Lois emphasized. “I’m out every morning and evening doing the chores.”
Registered Herefords cows grazed owned and leased acreages with the French Hereford seed stock demanded over a wide area.
“We had 500 cows, sold breeding bulls. We had two bring $10,000 apiece. That was a lot back then,” Lois insisted.
Still reflecting about their foundation Quarter Horses brings more excitement to Lois’ conversation. She readily and intimately remembered those horses like it was yesterday or today instead of more than a half century ago.
“We got started with the Peter McCue line from Harry Lewis at Beaumont, then discovered Harlan’s Tyree owned by Carl Mills at Cedar Vale,” Lois reflected.
“That was the perfect cross,” she insisted. “We didn’t have much money, so we had a partnership with Carl. He’d get part of the colt crop for stud fees.”
Setback for the breeding program came with passing of Tyree at just seven-years-old. “Fortunately, we had some of his daughters and mated them to sons of Poco Bueno,” Lois said.
Their Poco Merit stud was recognized as “being more refined in the front end, a nicely balanced horse.”
Crediting that influence, foundation Quarter Horses with the MF prefix on registrations were highly demanded. “We had 40 mares and sold horses all over the United States,” Lois said. “I didn’t sell any overseas because I couldn’t stand all of the testing.”
The MF Quarter Horses were kind gentle mounts used for daily ranch work. “I’d start out early in the morning checking cattle in our pastures,” Lois said. “About noon, Murray picked me seven or eight miles over on the other side of the ranch and hauled me and my horse home. That made good horses.”
They were among the best collecting numerous horse show awards throughout the Midwest.
“I liked cutting best, won the Greenwood County Fair three years, and I have the trophy to prove it,” Lois said.
Especially pleasing to Lois is when the American Quarter Horse Association recognized her and Murray as “50 Year Breeders.”
She said, “I went to Amarillo to accept that trophy. Only wish Murray could have been there, but I know he was looking down. It’s a real honor for so many to recognize our Quarter Horse breeding program, too.”
As if not busy enough, Lois also had a tax preparation service for a number of years.
When the French breeding operation slowed down, Bob and Pat Ward at Chisum J Bar J Quarter Horses, Macomb, Oklahoma, acquired several horses and continue raising the lineage.
“We got a nice mare from Murray and Lois about 20 years ago,” Pat said. “We had so much success with the mare that we purchased additional horses bred the same way.
“After we became acquainted with Murray and Lois, we were fortunate to add more of their own horses as they were dispersing,” Pat added.
Never having children of their own, Murray and Lois were married to each other’s brother and sister. Their children, nephews Dan and Larry French were adopted by Murray and Lois.
While not continuing the renowned horse and cattle breeding, Dan and Larry assist with ranch operations. Both live at Eureka and check in with Lois on a daily basis, as well as providing guidance in overall ranch management.
“Lois is truly an inspiration. We help out with her 10 cows some, carry the grain buckets, whatever else she’ll let us do,” Larry said.
“Lois has an art gallery in Eureka, and we help maintain it, too,” Dan added.
Childhood love of drawing continued such that in adulthood, Lois studied drawing and painting with several top artists including the late Lawrence Coffelt of Emporia.
“Now painting more than four decades professionally and for pleasure, Lois’ love of horses is the driving force for her works,” according to J.L. Tunison, rancher, friend and longtime admirer of Lois artwork.
“Her lifetime experience riding and raising horses assure accuracy of her work,” Tunison verified.
Many of these fine artworks are displayed at Lois French Ranch Country Gallery, 206 North Main in Eureka. Those paintings for sale are pictured on the gallery website
Her paintings have been widely displayed on magazine covers and featured in several one-person shows. Painting Western, wildlife and rural scenes representing her life, she’s had special showings in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
The art pieces are in collections of museums, corporations and individuals in 15 states, the U.K. and Europe.
“I try to work at the gallery several days a week during the summer, but I don’t get there as often during the winter,” Lois said.
While stiffness has limited certain creature finesse, Lois’ paintings of rural scenery reveal nature’s beauty at its best.
One might wonder how Lois keeps going so actively with such enthusiasm. “I have a garden, grow herbs, produce my own fruits and vegetables, can some of them, try to eat healthy, always have,” she evaluated.
“You need to keep going, get plenty of exercise and then have a good night’s sleep,” Lois contended.
Forever with strong appreciation for rural life, Lois recognized, “Mother Nature is the dominating power whatever anybody says, so you’d better admit it, and know She’s right if you’re going to get along.
“Thank God for that,” Lois added.
No slowdown in sight for the horsewoman-painter. “I tell the boys as long as I can make myself a bowl of soup and get my overalls on, I’ll keep going.”