(The first part of this article ran in the Sunday, Oct. 25 edition.)
What breeds of cattle were used as ox teams? Back in the early days any kind of a steer that would work was used. It didn’t matter what color the ox team was. One steer could be black; one steer could be red. Mack Robinson tried to match his steers up in size and in color, but it was hard to do.
This story was to introduce you readers about how oxen were used in the early days of Pike County and in the Scioto Valley.
Before I quit this story, I want to relate a story that happened to me back in the early 1960s. At one time in Ross County, there were two livestock sales in Chillicothe, Ohio. One was on Eastern Avenue, and the other was right along the railroad tracks. As you came into Chillicothe from Route 23, you stopped at the first street light and turned right. The other livestock sale was not far away.
Once in a great while I would take some fat hogs to Chillicothe or an old dairy cow that had turned bad. In those days, there weren’t any livestock trailers. All the farmers had was a pickup, or you knew someone who hauled cattle to the livestock market. If I remember correctly, one sale was on Monday and one was on Friday. I always went to the Friday sale because if my wife wasn’t working, she liked to go with me.
That certain day we got to Chillicothe and got to the sale barn; there was a cattle truck in front of us. This big truck pulled out of line, and I wondered what was going on. Most of the time in those days, the big cattle haulers had a small loading shoot. The floor for the loading shoot would be fastened under the truck so all the hauler had to do was pull out the floor to the shoot, and on the sides of the truck were the sides to the loading shoot. I could see in the big truck there were two big steers that looked very much alike. To make a long story short, I didn’t know they were a yoke of oxen.
These steers wouldn’t come down the shoot, so the hauler took the shoot apart and put it back on the truck. Then the hauler backed up to a dirt bank and stopped. I didn’t see the pickup that also pulled off to the side and parked next to the big cattle truck. In a few minutes an old man got out of the passenger’s side, and he was on crutches.
He hobbled over to the side of the big truck and told the hauler to open the gate. The hauler told the man, “These steers are in a strange place and they will run.” “No, they won’t,” said the old man. “They know not to.”
So the hauler opened the gate, and the old man called to the big steers. They weighed a ton each. They were a matched pair. You couldn’t tell them one from another. “Come Tom, come Jerry,” said the old man. These big steers came down off the bank and stood beside the old man. The fellow who drove the pickup brought a big ox yoke and called to the steers, and here they came. The big steers stopped when they got to the yoke. The fellow laid the yoke on the steers’ necks, put the bows through the yoke, and they were ready to go. There was a crowd of people watching these steers, and the one who yoked up the steers said, “Dad, do you want me to take them through the sale ring?” The old man said, “No, I raised these steers, trained them, and I logged them, and I’ll stick with them until the last.”
Sale time soon arrived, and the sale started. For some reason the yoke of steers came in the sale ring first. The old man was with them. The auctioneer asked the old man what the story was on this yoke of oxen. “They are eight years old. I had their mother, and they are twins, and they are broke to work, broke to log and know all of the commands that oxen are supposed to know. I am 85 years old, and I am not able to work them anymore.”
The cattle stood there in the ring and never moved. I do remember the auctioneer got choked up, and since there was another auctioneer, the first went up and told the auctioneer to sell the yoke of oxen.
There was a crowd of people at the sale that certain Friday, and there were a lot of older people there. One of the older fellows must have done some logging with cattle sometime in his life because he was actually crying, and I noticed several other fellows were blowing their noses.
The auctioneer said, “What do you want to give for this yoke of steers?” Nobody said a word. Finally, someone yelled, “By the pound or by the head?”
“By the head, two times the money,” said the auctioneer.
Someone in the crowd said, “Ill give $500 cash for the whole shoot-and-shebang.”
“Sold,” said the auctioneer. “What is your name?”
Whoever bought the oxen passed a paper down to the auctioneer, and not a word was said. So out of the ring went the old man and the oxen to the new owner.
The new owner was a neighbor to the old man and had worked this yoke of oxen. I found this out when I slipped out to see where the oxen went. A bunch of other fellows went too. The neighbor told the old man, “I just couldn’t bear to see Tom and Jerry being butchered, so I went to the bank and borrowed the money to buy them. I hoped they wouldn’t bring any more than $500 because that was what I had.” These steers, I heard years later, lived to be 16 years old and died on the same day. Kind of strange — don’t you think?