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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Runaway scrapes

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Thousands of people die every year in traffic crashes, but the horse and buggy era had its injurious and fatal accidents as well.

“Runaway scrapes” is what Bosque County newspaper columnist Thomas Theodore Colwick called them back in the 1880s. Colwick had a store in the small community of Norse where he sold perfume, toiletries and patent medicines.

Writing under the pen name of “Ivanhoe,” the Norwegian-born Colwick contributed a local news column to the weekly Meridian Alliance Sun. Here’s one account of a “runaway scrape” from the Sept. 26, 1885 edition of the long-defunct weekly:

“A sad and fatal accident befell Mr. Jorgen Hogensen on last Thursday, while saddling a pony. The pony ran away, the rope become [sic] entangled in Hogensen’s left leg, dragging him at a rapid speed for some six hundred yards, when the horse stopped. Life being then almost extinct, he breathed his last within a few minutes afterwards.

“Mr. Hogensen lived on Neils Creek, and was quite and [sic] industrious farmer, a good citizen and neighbor. He was about thirty years old. He leaves a young wife and two small children to mourn his untimely demise.”

As is the case today with drinking and driving, the consumption of alcohol could lead to horse trouble.

“G. Nelson had a runaway scrape lately,” Colwick reported on Oct. 2, 1887, “the result of indulging too freely in liquid Anti-liberty.”
San Antonio TX Horse Buggy River Crossing
River Crossing in San Antonio
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/
A perusal of digitized back issues of the San Antonio Daily Light and the rival Express show runaways in the later 19th century were almost as common as traffic mishaps are today.

Two particularly common headlines were “Thrilling Runaway” and “Exciting Runaway.”

From the June 1, 1885 Light, an account of a “Thrilling Runaway:”
SanAntonio TX Lovers Lane 1916 old postcard
San Antonio Lovers Lane
1916 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/
“Hack No. 2, driven by Henry Thompson, struck a stump last night as it was turning into Lover’s Lane, near Feat’s Garden, on south Flores street. The tongue broke and this frightened the horses and they ran away.”

Five passengers in the hack jumped for their lives, while the driver was thrown from the conveyance and suffered a leg injury.

A few years later, on Sept. 1, 1891, the unattended team attached to a produce wagon ran away on Military Plaza.
San Antonio TX Commerce Street 1907
San Antonio Commerce Street looking West
1907 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/

“The marketplace was crowed with people and vehicles at the time,” the Light reported in a page-one story, “and as the runaways started west across the plaza, things looked squally.”

Fortunately, one of San Antonio’s finest, identified only as Officer Springer, jumped onto the wagon, grabbed the reins and got the horses under control just as the wagon was about to crash into three other vehicles “in the narrow part of West Commerce street.”

The officer injured a leg in the rescue.

“He certainly deserves the highest praise for his prompt and fearless act,” the newspaper continued.

The owner of the wagon was arrested for leaving his team unattended, the 19th century version of leaving your SUV unlocked with the motor running.

Stealing horses could lead to death by lead poisoning or sudden onset throat trouble at the end of a rope, but sometimes the perpetrators got away with it. In this case, the thieves had their own kind of “runaway scrape.”

“Horse-thieves came from the south into our ‘settlement’ on their way northward and encamped, having stolen horses and saddles from parties living on Hog Creek,” Colwick reported on May 16, 1887.

A posse caught up with the thieves and their stolen stock on Meridian Creek where “refusing arrest, a few shots were exchanged with them, and they succeeded in getting away in the brush…but two youthful accessories were captured, two horses and saddles recovered.”

The man-horse relationship also could be dangerous to horses.

The Light reported on January 21, 1890 that a horse “belonging to Wagner & Chabot was almost instantly killed yesterday afternoon near…Government Hill, by being impaled on the tongue of the carriage drawn by a runaway team, belonging to private parties. The horse was attached to a two-wheeled delivery wagon and was driven by the firm’s collector. The pole stuck almost through the animal.”

Three years later, the May 2, 1893 edition of the Light ran this short item:

“Yesterday some rude boys were throwing stones on Milam square and one of the rocks struck a horse on a front limb, breaking the leg. Mounted Officer Coy was sent for and as soon as he arrived, an order was given to kill the horse, which he did. An endeavor was made to find the boys but the officer did not succeed.”


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
July 9, 2009 column

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