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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

In 1872 the United States had an epidemic – the greatest it had ever seen!

You won’t recall this form of influenza because not only were you not alive back then, but because the death toll was small. Although as much as 85 percent of the population in some towns and cities were stricken, only one percent perished from the disease.

Yet slight cases took two to three weeks to recover and serious cases took up to six months to return to normal.

It was so bad that Mexico sent aid to our country!

What did our neighbor to the south send? Horses!

Submitted photo
A young Rex Gaskins stands beside his pony, named “Dot,” which we would have ridden around Hartsville to school and to visit friends. At one time everyone used horses to get around, despite their drawbacks.

Let me explain. In 1872 the great “equine epizooty” hit the United States and Canada. I am not making the word ‘epizooty’ up. It is real and it is the name attached to any epidemic that affects animals and not humans.

This was a time when people traveled by horse, our topic this month, and used buggies and wagons to get around. The country ran on horsepower!

The epizooty had a very short incubation period, two to three days, and the effect was almost instantaneous. Horses would have runny noses, they would cough and they would be weak and unable to work!

People were forced to walk everywhere – just like the pioneers – and they didn’t like it.

Freight couldn’t be delivered from the train depots because the freight wagon didn’t have healthy horses or mules, which also were affected, to put into the harness!

In large cities, the fire departments had to use manpower to pull their fire engines!

Mexico, which didn’t suffer as bad, sent live healthy horses to its neighbor to the north and eventually things returned to normal.

This was just one of the many problems associated with horse travel.

If you kept a horse, you also had to have a small barn or horse shed. You had to feed it daily, water it, give it exercise, keep it healthy and then there was the regular need to provide horseshoes.

Even though we may wax nostalgic about the past, the good old days when we had the one-room school and everyone stopped on Sunday and attended church, back when we knew our neighbors and everyone got along with each other, the reality of horse travel is something we forget.

If you see an old movie and a character gets a job as a ‘street cleaner’ or ‘sweeper’, it is considered a job at the bottom of the list. You were down and out if you swept the streets for a living, because you were sweeping up horse poop (we could use other words, but you get the idea).

Streets, even in small towns like Hartsville, were dirt and horse droppings were everywhere, and yes, horse urine too. Women grabbed their long skirts and pulled them up to cross the street to keep from getting horse manure on their skirts.

But there were other drawbacks to horse travel.

Horse travel can be dangerous.

We quote from an article in the Gallatin Examiner from October 1877, “…Clifton Carson, son of Mr. Woods Carson, living near Hartsville, was thrown from a horse on Sunday evening last breaking several ribs from the back bone, driving one into his lungs. He suffered intensely for five hours and died of his injuries.”

We won’t begin to quote from other articles we have seen where buggies turned over, where people were kicked by a mule, where horses ran away with their rider and where riders fell off like Clifton Carson and were mangled, crushed, wounded, broken or injured.

And just like people steal cars today, theft was also a problem for people who owned horses.

Again, we quote from a newspaper, this time The Tennessean, also from 1877, “The people of Trousdale and the adjoining counties have suffered so severely from horse thieves of late, that the Hartsville Sentinel proposes an organization of citizens for the capture and punishment of such depredators, with lodges in every town and village.”

Nothing like a good old band of vigilantes to keep our streets safe from horse thieves!