Sultane’s Magnolia Belle: 1936 National Champion Jersey Cow

Ves Godley, 1935 photo

Ves Godley, 1935 (Click photo to enlarge)

(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 139-41)

[Agriculture Instructor Ves] Godley’s determination to create a prize-winning dairy herd eventually brought more serious national recognition to the college. After purchasing a registered Jersey bull at the Tri-State Fair in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1928, Godley built step-by-step a magnificent herd that eventually grew to sixty-four registered Jerseys and seven registered Holstein cows. The herd set many records during the 1930s, including winning one national and four state production championships, and producing Arkansas’s first superior sire. One of Godley’s Jersey cows was the state’s sole entry and one of only thirty nationally to appear at the Borden milk company’s exhibit hall at “The Dairy of Tomorrow” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Beulah Stevens (Mrs. Godley), 1927 photo

Beulah Stevens (Mrs. Godley), 1927 (Click photo to enlarge)

The high point of Godley’s efforts produced a national championship cow, Sultane’s Magnolia Belle. Early failures preceded his triumph, but Godley persisted. He began testing selected cows in 1933 using the American Jersey Cattle Club’s standards. Year after year, his cows came agonizingly close to a gold medal, Magnolia Belle missing the mark one year by only five pounds of annual production of milk and butterfat. In reaching his goal in 1936, Godley pampered Magnolia Belle so much that his wife joked that he loved that cow more than her.

Godley had fallen in love with and married the young woman Beulah Stevens the year after he returned to teach at A&M. She was then enrolled as a day student, the daughter of a prominent Magnolia physician. As a teacher, Godley was able to date Beulah only off campus, a courtship that [President Charles A.] Overstreet at first refused when Godley asked permission. Overstreet later reluctantly assented but warned the young instructor that on campus he was not permitted so much as to look at Beulah as she walked to classes. After marriage,

Photo: Magnolia Belle and calf. (left to right) Paul Jetton, Melbourn Walthall, and Ves Godley

Magnolia Belle and calf. (left to right) Paul Jetton, Melbourn Walthall, and Ves Godley (Click photo to enlarge)

the Godleys lived in a faculty house near the dairy barn, and it was easy for him to check on Magnolia Belle day and night. On one occasion during 1936’s record-setting summer temperatures, Godley moved his wife’s new electric fan from her hot kitchen to the barn to cool the cow. To avoid any upset of Magnolia Belle, only Melbourn Walthall, college dairyman, milked the cow. He did so three times per day for 365 days of the testing period in 1936.

In that year, Belle produced a national record of 1,043 pounds of butterfat and 14,247 pounds of milk. A grand celebration took place at the National Guard Armory on February 11, 1937, when New York representatives of the American Jersey Cattle Club came to present awards. Two hundred visitors from across the nation gathered at the special student assembly as Magnolia Belle was led onto the armory’s stage. The college band serenaded her with a special musical score, “Belle’s Triumphal March,” composed by band director James “Jimmie” E. Justiss for the occasion.

Magnolia A&M Band at armory’s entrance, 1937 photo

Magnolia A&M Band at armory’s entrance, 1937 (Click photo to enlarge)

Godley and Belle’s achievement helped to bring improvements to the farm, to encourage the county’s farmers, and to reinvigorate the school’s agricultural program. Godley led citizens in 1938 in reviving an annual Columbia County Fair and Livestock Show that had lapsed for more than a decade. He also helped establish a dairy improvement association. At A&M, a new dairy barn was completed in 1937–38 with a special enclosure for Belle the cow so visitors could easily see her from the road. There was also a new refrigeration and pasteurizing plant to ensure safe milk for the dining hall and area customers. Students consumed seventy to one hundred gallons of milk each day, all provided by cows that students milked twice daily. Agricultural majors increased substantially in 1937–38, second only to arts and sciences after the department began sponsoring the annual Southwest Arkansas district competition of high school Future Farmers of America Clubs. This event brought hundreds of boys to the campus each spring. For entertainment, agriculture majors who milked the cows installed a radio in the barn and vowed that nightly broadcasts increased milk production, especially on evenings when NBC featured the famous Arkansas comedian Bob Burns playing his homemade instrument that he called a bazooka. Their stories, like much of Burns’s “hillbilly humor,” were probably aimed at fooling gullible “city slickers.”

Dairy barn, 1938 photo

Dairy barn, 1938 (Click photo to enlarge)

Milk cows inside dairy barn, 1941 photo

Milk cows inside dairy barn, 1941 (Click photo to enlarge)