The Intelligence of the Horse

The Intelligence of the HorseAugust 10, 1887, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona Territory – It always seemed to me that there was a great deal of superstition, I may say, about the intelligence of the horse.  Sauntering up to an express man at the corner of Monroe and Dearborn Streets the other day I said to him: “How much does a horse know?”

“A horse, sir?” he replied.  “A horse knows as much as a man – just exactly.  My horse there knows everything, just like a man.”

This is the way everybody talks who owns a horse or who tends horses, and it all seems to me to be nonsense.

I have seen horses walk around a post until they had wound up the bridle and then stand all day with their heads bound down to the post because they didn’t have sense enough to walk the other way and unwind the bridle.  I have seen them get a foot over the bridle, when tied to a ring in the pavement, and then go into fits because they didn’t have sense enough to lift their feet over the bridle again.  I have seen them prance around in a burning barn, with their tails and manes on fire, and burn to death, because they did not have sense enough to run out.

Anybody can steal a horse without any objection from the horse.  A horse will stand and starve or freeze to death with nothing between him and a comfortable stall and a plenty of oats except and old door that he could kick down with one foot, or that could be opened by removing a pin with his teeth.

If this is a high degree of intelligence, even for a brute, then I am lacking in that article myself.  Compared with the dog, the elephant, or even the parrot, the horse seems to me to be a perfect fool.

Wild Bill Hickok Married

Wild Bill Hickok had lived the life of a free-spirited man hunting buffalo, being a lawman, gambling and even a stint as an actor. By the time he was 38 Wild Bill’s eyesight was going bad. For his own safety and the safety of others, he gave up being a lawman. And his attempt to be an actor was a failure. About the only thing left for Wild Bill was gambling. So then Wild Bill Hickok, married? 
           
In 1871 Wild Bill met a widow named Agnes Lake. At the time Agnes was the owner of a traveling circus, in which she also performed as a trick rider.
               
Agnes evidentially sparked something in Wild Bill… Because, even though they went their separate ways, they continued corresponding.
 
The two of them met up in Cheyenne, Wyoming and decided to get married. As an aside, there are those who say that Wild Bill had earlier married Calamity Jane. But there is no evidence to confirm this.
 
So, on March 5, 1876 Wild Bill and Agnes Lake got married. Even though they had been corresponding for five years, the marriage surprised most of their friends. Even Reverend W.F. Warren, the Methodist minister who conducted the ceremony wrote in the church register, “I don’t think they meant it.”
 
They went to Cincinnati, Ohio for a couple weeks honeymoon. Alone, Wild Bill then headed for St. Louis. From there he went to Cheyenne, Wyoming and finally to Deadwood, South Dakota where he was killed.
 
In less than 6 months after their marriage, with them being together only 2 weeks of those 6 months, Agnes Lake Hickok was once again a widow.      
Wild Bill Hickok Married

Old West Book Review: My Ranch, Too

My Ranch TooMy Ranch, Too.  A Wyoming Memoir, Mary Budd Flitner, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Cloth. 2 maps, 23 Photos, 232 pages.

There are not many books that I read twice, but My Ranch, Too is one of them.  If you have ever lived on a ranch, or handled horses, dogs, cattle or sheep, or even thought about it, you will smile at the author’s astute observations, and wonderful way of describing it all.

Mary Budd Flitner’s great grandfather Daniel Budd, settled in Wyoming Territory in 1878.  He inherited a herd of cattle from his brother who died unexpectedly at a young age.  Budd moved his family from Kansas to Wyoming, and thus began the story.

Today, great granddaughter Mary Budd Flitner owns and operates a large cattle ranch in Wyoming, known as the Diamond Tail Ranch.  Her husband Stan is also a descendant of a Wyoming ranch family.  The land, weather cattle, horses and sheep are part of their heritage.  Mary’s wonderful stories are written chapter by chapter filled with original detail.  Every experience imaginable having to do with Wyoming ranch life is described with clear and careful thought.

Readers will enjoy her subtle sense of humor in chapters like the horse race, and the disappearance of her children’s bum lambs.  Things usually turn out for the best with happy endings, although Mary is fair and tough when circumstances require a firm hand.  Her dealings with horses, cowboys, hired and amateur helpers, terrible cold winters and seasons of drought are part of her life.  Raising four kids through thick and thin, high interest rates and livestock losses are dealt with head-on.

Mary Flitner’s great love for her land, her family and way of life comes through on every page.  This is a family story about hard-working people who have managed to survive under harsh conditions, with plans to leave the land to the next generation.

Mary admits there are times when she’s anxious to drive to town for a few hours of “girl talk” with her lady friends.  She has found a balance between life in blue jeans, driving pickup trucks, changing tires, delivering calves, mending fences, herding cattle, or getting bucked off a frisky colt.  Thus she enjoys a brief respite with female friends who themselves understand ranch life.

Her stories are true, carefully written, easy to understand, sometimes filled with sentimental humor showing her ability to laugh at herself.  She writes tenderly about the friends she has had over the years, those who worked hard and shared their personal tragedies.  She has kept a journal in which she checks back over the good times as well as bad, including scary happenings like the time her husband was pinned under a fallen horse a long way from home.  (No cell phones).  Her kids were taught to ride and rope almost as soon as they could walk, and they grew up happy and strong amid their horses, cattle drives, dogs, and lambs.

This is a story of a woman’s place on a working ranch, where she handles being a wife, mother, bookkeeper, cook, adviser, and business partner besides fixing farm machinery, and using branding irons.  Readers will feel the cold, the dust, the wind and snow through Mary’s admirable talent for describing details.  Readers sense her true grit as she drives a truckload of cattle down an icy canyon road, or stoically prepares wash tubs filled with food for hungry roundup crews.

There is no whining here, no blaming others. Mary Flitner’s story gives readers much to think about. She’s a tough, honest, kindly person you’d be proud to ride with.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the non-fiction Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988.  www.silklabelbooks. com.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Jack Abernathy

Jack AbernathyJack Abernathy was born in Texas. At the age of six he and his older brother would sneak away from home to play piano and violin in the local saloon. Following a Christmas shootout in the saloon with several victims, his parents discovered what he was doing, thus ending his entertainment career. 
 
But that didn’t inhibit the enterprising young man. By the age of nine he was working as a cowboy, and at eleven he went on his first cattle drive. At fifteen Jack was a full-fledged cowboy breaking horses for Charles Goodnight. 
 
Jack acquired a couple of greyhound dogs. He found they would hunt wolves. He also discovered a unique way to catch them alive by jamming his hand in the wolves’ mouth. It worked so well that on December 1, 1891 he bought three more dogs and started catching wolves full time. Getting paid $50 per wolf, Jack caught more than 1,000 wolves, supplying them to zoos and traveling shows. 
 
Jack later became a deputy U. S. marshal in Oklahoma. President Theodore Roosevelt learned about “Catch-‘em-alive Jack”, and came outwest to see his skills. He was so impressed with Jack that he made him marshal of Oklahoma. 
 
As a lawman Jack captured hundreds of outlaws and ended up seeing close to 800 of them go to prison. Jack was called to New York to become a Secret Service agent, and for a short time even worked for the Mexican secret service.
 
Returning to Texas in 1919, Jack became a wildcat oil driller making and losing a fortune. Finally, Jack Abernathy, a man who had defied death literally thousands of times finally succumbed, dying of natural causes in Long Beach, California at the age of 65.    

John Tunstall and Billy the Kid

John Tunstall and Billy the KidJohn Tunstall was an Englishman who came to America with some capital to invest. He wandered over to New Mexico where he met a lawyer named Alexander McSween. McSween suggested that there were good business opportunities in Lincoln County. What he probably didn’t mention was that there was a bit of a rivalry, over government beef contracts, going on between a J. J. Dolan and John Riley, owners of a general store called “The House,” and local cattle ranchers. Thus begins the story of John Tunstall and Billy the Kid.
           
So Tunstall came to Lincoln. He bought himself a cattle ranch… which was bad enough. But then, he and McSween decided to open a general store in competition with The House.
               
Tunstall wasn’t familiar with the ways of the West. He was used to a more genteel country, where disputes were settled in court. In Lincoln County it was might makes right. And the law was controlled by his competition.
 
Unfortunately for Tunstall, his partnership with McSween brought him into the middle of the feud. The owners of The House brought legal action against McSween regarding a debt. Since Tunstall became McSween’s partner, the law was convinced that Tunstall’s debt was also McSween’s. So, on February 18, 1878, a posse, led by men loyal to The House, headed to McSween’s ranch to confiscate some horses. McSween went out to meet the posse, and was greeted with a bullet to the head.
 
Dolan and Riley of The House probably figured McSween’s death would stifle the opposition. And it very well could have, had it not been for McSween’s 19 year old friend named William Bonney who became a whirlwind from hell. Incidentally, for anyone who may not know it, William Bonney is better known as Billy the Kid.
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