Working with Steers

| 5/3/2018 10:54:00 AM

Sam MooreI recently found an old book titled History of Pioneer Days in Texas and Oklahoma, by John A. Hart. Mr. Hart was born in Kentucky in 1850 but his mother died when he was 2 and he and a younger brother went to Indiana to his grandmother's. His grandparents moved to Texas in about 1855.

Hart tells the following stories (which I’ve edited somewhat) about working with steers, or oxen, that I found quite interesting.

Work steers were like all other animals, they had different temperaments and different dispositions and some steers if treated kindly were easy to get along with while others didn’t appreciate kind treatment

A young man told the experience he had hauling water on a lizard with a single steer. A lizard as we called it was a forked tree cut down and the fork of the tree was the sled. Boards were fastened across the two forks on which to set the barrel, and four standards to hold the barrel put in place. Put a half yoke on a steer and hitch it to the lizard and you were ready to haul water. The young man hitched the steer to the lizard and with the assistance of his sister drove half a mile for water. It was a warm day and by the time the barrel was filled they were both very tired. They drove about half way home when a heel fly struck the steer on the heels. A steer is very sensitive about a heel fly when it tackles a steer's heels so it was good-bye steer, lizard, water barrel, water and all. No use to try to stop a steer when a heel fly gets after him. The water was all gone, the barrel at one place, the lizard at another, and the old steer down in the creek bottom in a thicket looking very innocent.

My grandmother was a great hand for making soap. One day she had filled the ash hopper with ashes and poured water on them until the lye had begun to drip, but had run out of water. So Grandma and one of the girls hitched a steer to the lizard and were off for another barrel of water. Grandma carried the bucket and the girl drove the steer. Grandmother was a large fat old lady, and it being a warm day made the trip hard on her. The steer brought the water back to the yard gate all right and Grandmother went to open the gate so the girl could drive through. About the time the gate was opened, a heel fly, just to be friendly with the steer, visited his heels. Away went the steer, tore down the gate, ran against a stump, upset the barrel of water, run against the ash hopper and tore it down as flat as a pancake. The steer backed up in the shade of the smoke house and looked as though he had made a great victory.

Oxen pulling lumber
Two oxen hitched to a load of lumber. At least he won’t have to worry about heel flies in the winter. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


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