Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Cowboys and Turtles

Have you ever heard of the Cowboys' Turtle Association? 

Legend has it that rodeo was born on July 4, 1869 when two groups
of cowboys from neighboring ranches met in Deer Trail, CO, to
settle an argument over who was the best at performing everyday
ranching tasks. That competition is considered to be the first rodeo.

During the late 1920s the Rodeo Association of America was formed by rodeo committees and promoters. World Champions were to be selected in the following events: bronc riding, bull riding, bareback riding, calf roping, steer roping, bulldogging, team roping and wild cow milking. The name was changed in 1946 to the International Rodeo Association.

The Cowboys’ Turtle Association, the first true national organization for the benefit of rodeo cowboys started in 1936. After a rodeo at Madison Square Garden, a group of cowboys and cowgirls boycotted Colonel W.T. Johnson. Johnson was arguably the biggest rodeo producer of the times.

Colonel Johnson had hired the Rodeo Train to take some contestants from San Antonio to New York. A cowboy or cowgirl was charged $50 for himself or $100 if he or she had a horse to ride from Texas. Imagine how worried the cowboys were that the Colonel would strand them in the East with no way home. That's a long way to ride your calf roping or team roping horse. Richard Merchant, took the responsibility of finding alternative ways for cowboys to return home provided the Colonel pulled the train ride after their impending strike. 

Sixty-one cowboys and cowgirls signed a petition and refused to compete at the Boston Gardens Rodeo until Johnson met their demands.

They forced the Colonel to listen to their demands for qualified judges and more prize money. Johnson finally gave in, and the Cowboys’ Turtle Association was born. The cowboys picked the name because they felt they had been slow to act, but had finally stuck their necks out for their cause.

Among the organizers was the young woman, Alice Greenough Orr, a four time national bronc riding champion.

Sixty-one cowboys and cowgirls signed a petition and refused to compete at the Boston Gardens Rodeo until Johnson met their demands.

In 1945 that the Turtle Association became the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA). In 1975, the RCA evolved into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) of today.

If you'd like more information on the Cowboys' Turtle Association, check out Gail Woerner's website and her book, The Cowboys' Turtle Association and the Birth of Professional Rodeo.

If it wasn't for the cowboys and cowgirls who stood up to Col. Johnson, rodeo wouldn't be the sport it is today. Who's your favorite current or old time rodeo cowboy?

Friday, February 22, 2019

HORSE HARNESS by Zina Abbott

I have a secondary character in my most recent book, Diantha, named Buck Kramer. He drives a wagon pulled by the mare, Mabel, and the ornery mule, Charley. He discovered by accident Charley holds a special affection for Mabel the horse. The two make a good team. With all the hitching and unhitching going on in my story, it was time to find out the proper terms for the equipment, as well as the process.
Plow harness
A horse harness is a type of horse tack that allows a horse or other equine to be driven and to pull carriages, wagons or sleighs. They can also be used to hitch animals to other loads such as plows or canal boats.

There are two main categories of horse harness:

(1) the "breaststrap" or "breastcollar" design. For light work, such as horse show competition where light carts are used, a harness needs only a breastcollar. It can only be used for lighter hauling, since it places the weight of the load on the sternum of the horse and the nearby windpipe. This is not the heaviest skeletal area and heavy loads can constrict the windpipe and reduce a horse's air supply. 

Breastcollar harness to pull a sleigh
 (2) the collar and harness design. The collar and harness places the weight of the load onto the horse's shoulders, and without any restriction on the air supply. For heavy hauling, the harness must include a horse collar to allow the animal to use its full weight and strength.
Putting harness on a horse is called harnessing or harnessing up. In North American, attaching the harness to the load is called hitching. The order of putting on harness components varies by discipline, but when a horse collar is used, it is usually put on first.

Parts of the harness include:

A collar to allow the horse to push against the harness with its shoulders and chest. Two main alternative arrangements (with some intermediate types):

Horse in harness with horse collar
A horse collar (or full collar). A padded loop fitting closely around the horse's neck, pointed at the top to fit the crest of the neck. Used for heavier pulling, especially when used without a swingtree or whiffletree, which is a crossbar, pivoted at the middle, to which the traces of a harness are fastened for pulling a cart, carriage, plow, etc.

A breastcollar. A padded strap running around the chest from side to side. Used for light work, or for somewhat heavier work it is used together with a swingtree evenly on each step without rubbing.

Hames (if a full collar is used). Two metal or wooden strips which take the full force of the pull, padded by the collar.
Close-up of harness with hames and wooden strips
Breeching. A strap around the horse's haunches allowing it to set back and slow a vehicle, usually hooked to the shafts or pole of the vehicle (also known as thill). Used for a single horse, a pair, or in a larger team, only for the wheelers (the animal or pair closest to the vehicle). The leaders in a team do not have breeching, as they are in front of the shafts or pole and so cannot slow the vehicle. Breeching may also be omitted when the cart is very light or has efficient brakes on the wheels.

Traces. The straps or chains which take the pull from the breastcollar or hames to the load.

Harness saddle or "pad". A small supportive piece of the harness that lies on the horse's back, not the same as a riding saddle.

Girth. A strap that goes firmly around the girth of the horse to attach the harness saddle.

Driving Set
Belly-band. A strap that goes more loosely under the belly of the horse, outside the girth. Prevents the shafts rising up, especially on a two-wheeled vehicle (where weight on the rear of the cart may tip the front up).

Back band. A strap going through the harness saddle to join the belly band either side. Takes the weight of the shafts or pole. In cart harness it is replaced by a chain running in a groove in the harness saddle, hooked to the shafts either side. In a four-wheeled wagon such as the one I describe in my latest book, my character would have used a fixed back-band. The shafts or pole must be allowed to hinge up and down, to allow the horse and vehicle to pass over hillocks and dips. Often the shafts are independently hinged, and on a side-slope these will each hinge to follow the horse, and a sliding back band is not needed. However, if a sliding back band was used with independent shafts it might allow one shaft to ride up higher than the other, and so for such shafts the back-band is normally fixed to the harness saddle. On other four-wheeled vehicles, the two shafts hinge together, and a sliding back band is needed as for two-wheeled vehicles.
A combined driving team in carriage harness
Surcingle. A term used within certain light fine harness designs to describe the combination of a light girth and harness saddle.

False martingale. A strap passing between the front legs, from the centre of the collar to the belly band, to hold the collar in position. Called "false", because unlike a true martingale it does not attach to the bridle or have any influence on the horse's action.

Crupper. A soft padded loop under the base of the tail, to keep the harness from slipping forward.

Back strap. A strap attached by looping through the crupper D at the rear of the saddle / pad or surcingle to attach the crupper.

Shaft tugs, or just tugs. Loops attached to the back band to hold up the shafts of a vehicle in van or fine harness (not needed in cart harness, which attaches to hooks on the shafts). Two types:

For two-wheeled vehicles the tugs are stiff leather loops, fitting fairly loosely around the shafts (which are rigidly attached to the vehicle), to allow flexibility as the animal and the vehicle move against each other.

For four-wheeled vehicles with independently hinged shafts, the tugs (Tilbury tugs) are leather straps buckled tightly around the shafts so they move with the animal.

Terrets. Metal loops on the saddle and collar to support the reins. The bridles of the rear animals of a large team may also have terrets to take the lines of the animals to the front of them.

Reins or Lines. Long leather straps (occasionally ropes) running from the bit to the driver's hands, used to guide the horses. In teams of several animals these may be joined together so the driver needs to hold only one pair.

Bridle: When working in harness, most horses wear a specialised bridle that includes features not seen in bridles used for riding. These usually include blinders behind and to the side of the horse's eyes, to prevent it from being distracted by the cart and other activity behind it.
Driving bridle
Bits for harness may be similar to those used for riding, particularly in the mouthpiece, usually operating with a curb bit and adjustable leverage to help balance the effect of the reins on different horses in a team. The bridles of the rearward horses in a team (the wheelers in a four-horse team, and both wheelers and center horses in a six-horse team) often have rings at each end of the browband, through which the lines of the forward horses pass.

In some cases, a specially designed running martingale may also be added. A looser overcheck used to hold a horse’s head in a certain position may also be used in a working harness to prevent the horse grazing. The overcheck hooks to a pedestal on the harness saddle.

Harnesses have been used since ancient history throughout the world. Images of what is known as the 'throat-and-girth' harness was used for harnessing horses that pulled carts. Since it constantly choked at the neck, it greatly limited a horse's ability to exert itself. Through the years there have been great improvements in harnesses, including specialization for specific purposes. Here are a few examples of different types of harnesses:

Racing harness

Cart or wagon harnessed to mules

For an excellent online source of parts of a harness, CLICK HERE to go to the Equine Heritage Museum site.

In my book Diantha scheduled to be published on June first. Trust me. In the story, there is more “hitching” going on than just with the equines.

Diantha is now on preorder. To read the book description and access the purchase link, please CLICK HERE.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Black History Month:African American Cowboys of the Old West by Andrea Downing

A friend and I were recently discussing the fact that between one quarter and one third of all cowboys in the old west were African American.  It’s not a fact widely known, of course, because at the time that television evolved presenting us with a host of westerns and thereby making the history of the Old West something of interest to the general public, segregation and its accompanying prejudices were still in place. It was the money of white Americans that advertisers were after and so, to appease the audience, a whole section of this post Civil War history was neglected. Likewise with the written word; westerns were written by whites for whites. For instance, The Lone Ranger is said to have been inspired by black lawman Bass Reeves.  Alan Le May’s book, The Searchers, was at least partly inspired by the life of African American Britt Johnson, whose family was kidnapped by Comanche.
Britt Johnson
It’s therefore somewhat contrary that
 the Library of Congress saw fit to note the subsequent John Wayne/John Ford film as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” with its all-white cast. Since it is Black History Month, I thought I’d take this opportunity to have a brief look at the contributions made by black cowboys.
African American men, like their white counterparts, sought to depart a South decimated by war. Indeed, they had even more reason to want to migrate:  the Black Code laws put in place by the southern states limited their new-found freedoms, and subsequent Jim Crow laws instilled even further restrictions. They couldn’t own land in many places and jobs were ill-paid for these former slaves. The so-called Exodusters—African Americans who were now free—began migrating to Colorado, Oklahoma, and most especially Kansas in 1879 (see )  As slaves, many of these men, however, had handled cattle and horses while others had worked as cooks and could therefore continue to serve in those capacities on the trail rides from Texas to the north.
While there was a certain amount of equality on the range since men had to be both independent—going out on the range for days at a time without any overseer as they would have done as slaves—but also dependent on each other in times of trouble, racism was still present. African American men were given the most menial jobs and the worst horses, apparently often being the ones to break broncos.  At branding, they were the ones to hold down the calf—a dusty, dirty job—while it was a white man who did the actual branding. African Americans were not permitted in the bordellos, although welcome to gamble. And when rodeos began, there were separate rodeos for blacks and whites, as well as separate state fairs; blacks often did not perform in front of a white audience. The term ‘cowboy’ purportedly was originally used for the black men only, as a pejorative term; they had been called ‘boy’ throughout their slavery years and so it continued.  White men were called ranch hands or cow hands, and cowpunchers were the men who prodded the cattle onto the trains.  Eventually, of course, all these terms became more or less interchangeable.
Bass Reeves
Yet, this did not stop these men from being good at what they did and accomplishing great things. The aforementioned Bass Reeves (1838-1910), originally from AR but later living in TX, escaped his master and lived with Native Americans, learning several of their languages, until the end of the Civil War. He was recruited as the first African American deputy marshal in AR where he later lived.  He also served in Indian Territory and through his career was never wounded, bringing in a purported 3,000 felons and shooting fourteen outlaws in the process. When OK became a state, he served in the police department until he retired. (also see by Zina Abbott)
Jesse Stahl (1879-1935) was a legendary rodeo star as a saddle bronc rider.  He also
Jesse Stahl
invented the rodeo technique of ‘hoolihanding’—leaping from a horse onto the back of a bull, taking hold of its horns, and wrestling it to the ground! This stunt eventually was banned and gave way to steer wrestling, but that wasn’t the end of Stahl.
  He and fellow rodeo star, Ty Stokes, would headline at rodeos for riding a bucking horse back-to-back. Stahl was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.
Another inductee was Bill Pickett (1860-1932) who reputedly ‘invented’ bulldogging, or steer wrestling, with the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show. This involves leaping from your galloping horse onto the steer, twisting its head so that you can bite its upper lip, and wrestling it to the ground.
Nat Love
Nat Love (1854-1921) taught himself how to read and write and wrote his own exploit-filled autobiography. He fought cattle rustlers in Dodge City, KS, and met both Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as well as Bat Masterson. At a Deadwood, SD, rodeo, he won six of the contests and became known as Deadwood Dick after a character in a story. Eventually, Love moved to CA and became a Pullman porter and subsequently a security guard.
These are but a few of the men who have been long neglected in the history of the west. Hopefully, with changing times will come a change in the presentation of the American West in both cinema and literature.

Photo of Britt Johnson from BBC Magazine, original source unknown.  All other photos public domain via WikiMedia