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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

'Spares' needed pairs

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Many historical journals kept by travelers using wagon trains pulled by oxen describe the herds of extra oxen driven along for "spares." When the numbers of spares were noted, it seemed like a lot of animals for the reasonable needs.

These large numbers of spares were explained in a rare book written by a former ox driver. He stated that oxen were broken to work in pairs. The two were originally chosen to work together because of their similar size and temperament, thus pulling the same and acting the same.

They were always kept together and sold together, unless one died or was disabled. Historical records seem to always state that oxen for journeys were brought in pairs. It evidently required a lot of effort to retrain an ox to work with another partner. The pair became so attached that a surviving ox would not work or eat and could grieve itself to death over the loss of a longtime working partner.

So, now we know. The numerous spare herds of oxen driven along with wagon trains were made up of working pairs instead of singles.

Numerous journals of early travelers who encountered herds noted the herds were plagued with hordes of buffalo gnats, mosquitoes and flies. In fact, the beasts appeared to be black in color, but there was often a solid coating of insects providing the color. Nature provided the buffalo with head mops of long, scraggly hair that hung down over their eves for protection, helping keep the flies at bay. Their tails switched continually, trying to move the insects. The animals rolled in dust and mud, plastering their hides in an effort at creating armor. A buffalo can roll like a horse, learned in an effort to dislodge insects.

When the insect torture became great enough, they galloped or stampeded into the breeze, shaking their heads and switching their tails, knocking insects loose and leaving them behind as they ran.

The effort was successful, as hunters learned when they encountered hordes of insects on the prairie; the buffalo herds could be found a few miles upwind.

Most people know the first horses, 11 stallions and five mares, were brought from Spain in 1519 to near Mexico. Some writings indicate all horses in America descended from this original group. That assumption is wrong.

A closer study of Spanish archives reveal that Alvarado brought 20 horses a few months later, and that Navarez added hundreds of horses later that same year.

When De Soto came to Florida in late 1519, he brought 115 horses aboard his ships.

That proves the horse in America had a much greater start, over a broader stretch of land, than first thought.

Another fact I have read but have not been able to verify concerns the first mules in America. I read one statement saying the first mules introduced to America came on October 26, 1785, when the King of Spain presented the gift of mules to General George Washington. This is on my list of things to verify when I get time.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"

September 11 , 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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