The horse came early to Harrison County but for reasons which will become apparent shortly, he did not remain a permanent fixture in everyday life until after a great many years had passed.
When the first white explorers came into the territory on foot, by the way of game trails and streams, as the Indians before them had traveled, they carried their few belongings on their backs. Although their needs were still comparatively simple, the first permanent settlers had to find means of carrying heavier loads over the same primitive routes. Pack horses were one answer; oxen and even milk cows, regardless of their short comings as beasts of burden, were also utilized.
Once their destination was reached, horses became a liability, being grass eating animals and requiring concentrated food in the form of grain (which was direly needed for human consumption) they were unfitted for forest dwelling. Also, their feet must be protected by iron shoes which were unobtainable in remote areas. Most of these horses were returned to their former homes and those remaining soon became emaciated and useless by malnutrition.
On the other hand, cattle were able to subsist by browsing on twigs and leaves as deer, elk and other bovine like animals do. Pioneers had an old wives’ saying, “If my cow lives until February she will make it.” The succulent budding which precedes spring would bring her ample nourishment. The plodding ox was more suitable for plowing stump land, dragging logs and other work in a land where roads of any kind were nonexistent. Too, he could work indefinitely without being iron shod.
By 1850, much land had been cleared; grazing grain and other forage for horses was plentiful.
A network of roads crisscrossing the county had been constructed. With the recent completion of the North Western Turnpike, stage coach lines began scheduled runs through the county. Conestoga wagon trains rolled through with merchandise for Ohio and points west. Drovers brought herds of cattle, sheep, swine and flocks of turkeys on foot from these same places to eastern markets. Oxen had been replace for work and travel by the horse and he was well on his way to becoming “King of the road” and the field.
When this writer’s life-long devotion to horses began around 1900, the horse in Harrison County, as in America, had reached his zenith. Railways had taken over long distance travel and transportation but local hauling, local travel, all farm work and much military duty depended entirely upon Old Dobbin. Oxen were practically extinct and the internal combustion engine which was to revolutionize our mode of life so drastically was only in the experimental stage.
At that time, Harrison County horses were basically native stock. To clarify the term native stock, they were horses which had come down from time immemorial through indiscriminate breeding with no particular image in view. They lacked any uniformity in conformation, color or size, which might range from fourteen to sixteen hands in height and nine to fourteen hundred pounds in weight. In a horseman’s parlance, they were cold blooded.
Although they proved ideal general purpose horses for the hilly, county farms of that day, they lacked the qualities needed for good carriage horses and saddle mounts. Mares crossed with stallions of established breeds consistently produced good foals and in a second cross, characteristics of the sire’s breed generally strongly predominated. This upgrading, practiced in a small way, and produced a considerable number of animals who could perform well under saddle or in a buggy and still keep up with their farm chores. These horses were strictly a home grown product with on the pure bred stallions being purchased in other states.
A minor but very important segment of the horse population was the heavy draft breeds, Percheron, Clydesdale, Belgian, etc. Wholesale firms, breweries, oil field and logging operations demanded greater size and strength for their work. These horses were directly or indirectly imported from the farming sections of the mid-west where they were bred in great numbers for the level farming needs.
For several years around the World War II period, Nathan Goff had an outstanding stud of Clydesdales near Clarksburg. Using the finest blood lines imported from England, he dominated the National Horse Shows in that division for many years and supplied several Horse Shows in that division for many years and supplied several horses for the famous Budweiser Eight Horse Hitch…..which is still exhibited regularly throughout the country. Due to the declining use of draft horses, these and occasional other draft stallions had little effect on the county horse type. Although the few horses still found doing farm work today probably show a little more draft influence than their progenitors at the turn of the century.
Horse racing in Harrison County meant Standard Bred horses at the county fair. There was hardly a community that could not boast at least one racing enthusiast with one or two Standard Breds in his stable. Being adaptable to their needs and easily accessible, local farmers depended heavily upon this breed for stud service. They produced a good type of driving horse almost universally used by doctors, salesmen, livery stables and family carriage use. Before the advent of the Model T Ford, they probably constituted ten per cent of the county’s horse population.
There may have been more but I can only recall one attempt to produce Standard Bred horses on a grand scale. During the nineteen twenties, the Stout Farm near Clarksburg had a sizeable stable of very good horses which enjoyed an enviable record in National racing circles for several years. After leaving the county, I lost contact but believe they discontinued operation several years later.
A good performer under saddle is the highest sought after quality of the dyed-in-the-wool horseman. To satisfy the demand of these purists, American Saddle Horse blood was brought into the county in a limited way. Another rare and coveted mount was one who could do the running walk. Known in the early days as a Plantation Walker, now the Tennessee Walking Horse. These easily gaited animals provided comfortable transportation for those who rode for business or pleasure and still could give a good account of themselves for carriage or light farm work.
In the pre-automobile days, the foregoing horses made up the bulk of the county’s equine population. They were the cake……..the frosting was supplied by a very few individuals of more colorful breeds. I can remember one span of Appaloosa mares (we called them Chickasaws) and five or six stylish, high stepping Hackneys with docked tails.
Most numerous of this group were mustangs or Indian ponies. From time to time, enterprising dealers would bring in car load lots for auction at ridiculously low prices. They were unbroken, fresh from the range or wild herds and only by expert handling ever became tractable or in any degree useful. The few who made it were, because of their small size, limited to riding and light carriage work. The majority became playthings of adventurous farm boys who risked their necks playing cow boy bronc busters.
Clarksburg was the focus of Harrison County’s horse world. As the county seat and shopping center, it was visi9ted frequently by many and occasionally by almost every other citizen. Most of those from outside the city used horses for transportation. And to accommodate these travelers, Trader’s Alley (now Trader’s Avenue) between Second and Fourth Streets, was a continuous line of hitching lots, broken now and then by a blacksmith, carriage or harness shop.
Unless the weather was extremely inclement, Saturdays and holidays found these lots crowed to capacity with people on legitimate business or just loafing around. Among the latter would always be a generous sprinkling of old time horse traders. The alley was not a horse market as such and the traders, who were a colorful lot, dealt mostly in stock which had seen better days.
Pepped up with some secret concoction of the profession, decked out in tawdry gear and ridden boisterously back and forth, they were always the center of attraction. Sadly, one ever so often recognized a poor brute which until recently might have been a stylish carriage or saddle horse making a final appearance on his way to the bone yard. Horses were not the only commodity bartered here. Fox hounds, banjos, watches, pen knives or anything you happened to possess could be swapped.
A contemporary of the horse was the livery stable, a counterpart of the modern car rental agency. In addition to boarding privately owned horses and renting standardized vehicles for short term service, good stables could furnish more formal equipment for funerals, weddings etc. These were four passenger, enclosed vehicles with a high, outside seat for the driver, known by various names, usually a cab. The driver always wore a high silk hat, frock coat and assumed an air of great dignity. Undertakers had their own hearses (black for adults, white for younger persons) and depended upon liverymen to furnish matching color horses as needed. Also, the livery stable was an estimable institution in its own right. The cross roads for all strata of society it served the community very well as an open forum and a news media.
Webster’s latest dictionary defines a station wagon: “An automobile that has an interior longer than a sedan, has one or more seats readily lifted out or folded to facilitate light trucking and has no separate luggage compartment.” During the Victorian era, the Gay Nineties and almost into the Roaring Twenties, if you traveled by train with anything but the scantiest luggage, you required an express wagon to haul your baggage from the depot to your final destination. Surreys and buggies would accommodate only the smallest personal articles.
More affluent families surmounted this difficulty by the use of, believe it or not, a station wagon. This station wagon of by gone days was a light, coach- type vehicle seating six or eight passengers inside and had an ample flat top for stowing heavy baggage. The driver rode outside at roof top level and another seat at outside rear was occupied by one or more footmen. To the best of my knowledge, Judge Nathan Goff and R.T. Lowndes were the only two men in Clarksburg who owned station wagons. They were rarely seen on the street but when they were, everyone knew somebody important was in town.
In diminished numbers, Harrison County still has the horse. Not plowing the fields or hauling heavy loads over unpaved, muddy roads, often overworked abused and neglected. But as it should be, a pleasure horse ambling along scenic trails bringing hours of delight to thousand of riders. Or a show horse, touring the country in luxurious vans, enthralling additional thousands by an elegant performance in the ring. He is predominantly of well bred, American Saddle, Tennessee Walking, Appaloosa, Arabian, Morgan, Quarter Horse or other recognized breed. He receives the best of care, is loved and pampered by his owner and most gratifying of all, his number is steadily increasing. An old English proverb reads: “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” In wishing citizens of my native Harrison County everything good in abundance, it is my fond hope that some of it comes by way of the horse.