Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Horses running away appears to be the rage here just at present

[Note: this is an expanded version of the article that appeared in my 'Stories from Old Bovina' column in the Walton Reporter in January.]

Before there were automobiles, the way many folks in Bovina got around, if not on foot, was by horse. Sometimes, when horses got hitched to wagons, there were dire consequences. There are numerous news stories of horses running away in Bovina (and elsewhere – Bovina was not unique in this) while hitched to wagons or farm equipment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In June 1895, the Andes Recorder noted that “Horses running away appears to be the rage here just at present.” One incident in that report involved Mrs. John Russell when the team ran away after the harness broke. They ran to the U.P. Church where Mrs. Russell was thrown out of the wagon. Fortunately, she was uninjured.

Not everyone was as lucky. In April 1898, the Andes Recorder reported that a horse was spooked by boys at the school on Maple Avenue (now the Bovina Public Library). “Gideon Miller had hitched up his colt and went to take Miss Tina Northrup to Delhi. As they were coming down the new street past the school house the boys made considerable noise and the colt became frightened.” The colt and wagon made a sharp right turn onto the main street, causing a front wheel to disintegrate. This led to the occupants being tossed from the wagon. Miss Northrup was thrown clear and though shook up was otherwise uninjured. Mr. Miller must have held on to the reins a bit, for he was pulled by the horse for short distance, leading to a “badly sprained” leg and “the ligaments torn at the knee joint…”

Sometimes, the person handling the reins was able to stop the incident from becoming that of a true runaway. In July 1898, the Andes Recorder reported that “Miss M. Ella Graham, of Andes, was coming to [Bovina]…” when just about Douglass Davidson’s home (now the Behrer home) “the rear spring broke…” This frightened the horse and caused it to spring. This, in turn, caused the top of the buggy to come down and get tangled in one of the wheels, tearing out a spoke. Before there was much other damage to horse, wagon or driver, Miss Graham was able to hang on to the reins and stop the horse.

Not all accidents were caused by frightened horses. Sometimes it was the fault of the driver. In 1895, “Bessie Dennis was quite badly bruised … by being thrown out of the road cart at Scott’s bridge. The wheel struck the stone at the end of the bridge and she was thrown out among some stones. Johnnie Dennis was driving the horse.” Scott’s bridge was the old stone bridge at the lower end of the Bovina Center hamlet.

In October 1904, James T. McFarland’s hired hand was driving Mr. McFarland when he tried to pass another team being driven by James Hastings by going up on the bank. This upset the wagon and threw the driver and passenger out. The only injury was to the driver’s hand, but the wagon was damaged. We do not know if the hired hand kept his job.

Occasionally, injuries were worse than the usual cuts and bruises and, in at least one incident, led to a fatality. In July 1914, Isabella King Doig, the wife of Robert Doig, was in a two-seated buckboard with her son when her umbrella hit the spokes of the wheel frightening the horse. When she realized the horse was about to bolt, she jumped from the wagon, breaking both legs below the knees in the process. She was taken home and spent two months bedridden. She appeared to be recuperating nicely when on September 2 she died suddenly of a blood clot at the age of only 42.

Horses running away because of outside stimuli have always been a problem, so trains and automobiles just added to the causes of upsets. In July 1905, Claude Erkson and his aunt were returning to Bovina from Hobart when their horse was frightened by a passing train. The horse went up a steep bank and upset the buggy, throwing Claude and his aunt out.

One of the earliest recorded accidents in Bovina involving a horse and automobile happened in September 1914, when Mrs. Robert Kemp and a Mrs. Thomson, were headed towards Delhi. They encountered A.T. Doig’s car at a sharp curve at the bridge at “The Hook”. The horse turned in fright on the bridge and both ladies were thrown out, with Mrs. Kemp breaking her collar bone. The newspaper noted that the “curve at that point is a very dangerous one and more accidents are likely to happen there.”

Some incidents had nothing to do with a frightened horse. In July 1898, people at a farm on Lake Delaware were startled to see a horse drawn wagon with another horse behind it come up the road with no one at the reins. Going back along what is now Route 28 they found John W. Bramley lying on the road in a daze and with a bruise on his head. He had been coming from Delhi when he apparently passed out and fell off the wagon. Bramley was just shy of 80 and likely suffering from the diabetes which killed him just over a year later.

As the century progressed, incidents and accidents involving horses became less and less frequent as people started using automobiles and started retiring the old horse and buggy. That does not mean that Bovina was accident free – it just meant that horses were less likely to be involved.

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