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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 38: OXEN VS. HORSES (CONCLUSION)

“As trained and well-broke oxen became more expensive and more scarce, the West Coast, and especially, Lake County, had a new market; the logging and sawmill industries (Chapter 16, Wildcat Road). Farming also required such animals. From the mid-1800’s until 1920, when they were replaced with gasoline-powered vehicles, oxen served the west.”

“Oxen used for logging required weeks of training.  The trainer had to be patient. The intensive work of teaching the animals verbal commands was a matter of never-ending and repeated and reactions.”

Dr. Leonard Stone another resident of Lake County, learned sixty years earlier as a boy working for Madison Elliot at the Buck Ridge Sawmill, how to train oxen to haul logs.  The Buck Ridge Sawmill was in Buck Ridge Canyon on the west side of Bartlett Mountain. It was reached by the Old Clover Valley Road, from Upper Lake to Bartlett Springs. Up to then, Elliott had tried to haul his logs by a horse team but that didn’t work well.

In the spring of 1901, Dr. Stone tells us, “Madison Elliot, my boss, bought two old brindle work bulls and a yoke. His idea was for the team to haul logs from the mountain down to the mill. He tried horses but used them seldom thereafter. A well-broken team of horses was useful in emergencies where it was necessary to make the horses move fast to save his life from rolling logs and accidents of that sort. Oxen were better. They worked harder, pulled more and were never temperamental.”

“First, the leaders had to be broken. They were the most important animals in the team. The lead oxen had the responsibility, providing the driver knew what he was doing, to place the team in the proper place to load or unload the logs. It all depended on the Driver. He gave the leaders directions by the judicial use of a goad stick… but never used the stick to abuse. Where the leaders went, the rest of the team followed. Learning to control the leaders took time and plenty of patience.”

“I should know, “Dr. Stone tells us, “I helped do it and I speak with some authority. We were fortunate to have a foxy old bull to start with. Younger, inexperienced bulls were worked with an older, wiser and well broke bull. The young bull was always on the same side and he usually spent his life on the ‘near’ or ‘off’ side. He learned ‘Gee’ and ‘Haw’ was the way he was meant to turn.

We started with an old experienced yoke of lead bulls. We added other yokes by running an eight-foot, heavy, fifth chain from an eye bolt in the front yoke between the lead oxen and to the next ‘swing yokes’ with another fifth chain.”

“We continued this same practice all the way to the rear pair of bulls, or ‘wheel’ yokes of well-trained, wise old bulls. Together with the first yoke we had, we patterned and cut the other yokes. That way, we had all we needed. The pattern for the larger bulls had to be larger, of course.”

“I shall describe a yoke. It is a piece of timber about 8 inches by 24 inches by about five feet long. The size was all according to the size of the animal. The lighter the animal; the smaller the yoke. The block of wood was cut with a curve for the part that was placed on the animal’s neck.”

“Dragging logs from the woods to the mill was not always easy. Sometimes we had to construct log wagons large enough to hold a house. We would roll or load the heavy logs on the wagons and haul them to the mill. If the road was gradual and not too steep coming down the mountain, and well-rutted, the wheels stayed in the grooves. All we had to do was hold the brakes so that the truck would not roll over the oxen, where the pitch was steeper.”

“For feed, returning, empty lumber wagons carried large Petaluma-type hay bales or rolled barley. On weekends, we rested the bulls and drive them to grassy land good grazing; hence the common name, ‘Bull Flats’ for many such places. I observed one peculiarity among resting oxen. Each bull grazed or lay down on the same side of his working mate as he was used to doing when he was working in his yoke.”

If I had only known how important oxen were in olden days, and if I was there, this author would have voted for a statue of an ox in the middle of the park next to the old Lakeport County Building (Now the Museum) front yard next to the Civil War cannon.

Next Episode: Learn about a slow news day in Lakeport.

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

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Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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