Horses in History: The burdens they bore

This week, historian-in-residence Lorraine Jackson pays tribute to the role horses played in the development of industry in America and beyond.

From Lorraine:

When coming up with another topic for this column, I tried repeatedly to tell this as one story, or to find a single anecdote which I felt could tell the story of every horse. But as the stories and the photos piled up, I saw this topic for what it was: centuries and centuries of horses bearing our burdens. Pulling our weight. Defining our frontier.

I originally started down this path to tell the story of a local Utah legend named Little Sorrel.  The grade farm gelding was tapped to pull lumber out of the high and frigid mountains above Cedar City, Utah on January 5, 1898. The lumber was needed to build buildings for a small agricultural college, and without the facilities, the college would lose federal funding and disband.  Little Sorrel had to push through four foot snowdrifts pulling a lumber sleigh; exhausting himself such that when he rested, he would sit on his haunches like a dog, and then rise up and begin again.  Had it not been for the lumber he pulled down from the redrock cliffs, the school, and likely the whole town, would have ceased to exist.

That small agricultural college is today one of the finest full scale Universities in the American West: Southern Utah University. The University and Cedar City were gracious enough to erect a statue in Little Sorrel’s honor, and is visible from the football stadium.

What makes Little Sorrel so poignant, and so wonderful, is that his heroism was recognized then and now. But his story is that of so many horses. It is  easy to forget that our little niche hobby/passion/sport was once the carrier of every industry in America. Every farmer, firefighter, delivery man, and doctor depended on a horse to feed his family. These extraordinary photographs tell a fraction of that tale.

Go Horses.

Milk horse knocking on door in 1910

Clearing land for orchards in Oregon, 1904

Deliveries to Davidson Fruit Company in 1915

French mining horse, no date

Horse delivering groceries in Louisiana. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana History Museum.

Horses pulling garbage wagon in Seattle, 1915

Horse and buggy pulling carriage in Hood River, Oregon

Horse drawn fire engines in Louisiana. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana History Museum.

Horses in gas masks during WWI

Bennett Buggy in Saskatchewan, Canada

A special thank-you to the Louisiana History Museum.

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