Stories of Seth Thomas Tatum
We went to see Seth Tatum again today. He told us about his first horse. His parents homesteaded in Perkins County, Nebraska in 1886. He was a young member of a large family. In about 1886 when he was 3 years old, the sod house was completed. It was exceptionally nice for a sod house in those days, with a shingled roof and plastered corners and windows. His parents took out a tree claim (Timber Culture Act of 1873, sponsored by Senator Phineas W. Hitchcock of Nebraska, allowed homesteaders to claim 160 acres. To "prove up " on a timber claim, the homesteader had to plant and keep growing forty acres of trees for eight years.) also, since you could have both that and a homestead. On the claim they built a frame house and lived there part of the time.
One winter, while in the frame house, there was a fierce blizzard. Out of the hills came three visitors, a middle size dog, a pony, and a mare. They came up to the house and Seth's mother fed them a handful of corn meal once in awhile, although they needed it for themselves. The pony got very tame and could be ridden but not very far because of a large brand of an encircled S on her. Seth liked to think of the S as standing for Seth. After the storm, the owners began rounding up their stray livestock. Seth's parents had a ten dollar bill stuck above the door for sugar, coffee, etc. They took the ten dollars and offered to buy the pony. The owner finally decided to take ten. When Seth's parents came back and told him the pony was his, he jumped on it and rode straight to the top of a big hill behind their house. "If you'd give me all of Kearney, or even Buffalo County, I'll never be as happy again as I was then."
He kept that pony until it was about 28 years old, and died. It didn't have a colt until it was 22, and later had one more. Buffalo Bill had visited Arabia back in those days, and brought home four Arabian horses. He turned them out to graze and mate with the bronco mares on the range. Seth's horse was half Arabian.
Seth also recalled when a bull got on the rampage and nearly tore a corner off of their sod house while his mother and a couple of kids hid inside.
When he was 12, his parents had to give up their place and came to Kearney "as poor as folks could be." But he still had his horse. His folks bought a place out southeast of Kearney.
Seth knew his horse could run good, and one day ran her against a race horse at his half brother John's livery stable on 26th street. Several onlookers bet ten to fifteen dollars against his horse. Seth's pony beat them. They bet up to one hundred dollars, and the pony won again. Now they hadn't let Seth do the riding; they had put a jockey on the pony, and he used his whip and made welts, which Seth didn't think was necessary. So he took his horse home. Later, one of the betters, a huge fat man, about three hundred pounds, and very fancily dressed, came down from the Midway Hotel where he was staying, to the Tatum farm. He talked to Seth's mother, told her the horse was spoiling the boy, and tried to buy it. He offered seventy five dollars. In those days that was an awful high price for a horse. She refused. But he didn't give up until he'd gone clear up to one hundred and fifty dollars and still been refused. Seth must have given a huge sigh of relief when he finally left. "In all my horse trading days, I never got another horse as good of quality as my first one."
October 12, 1967
As told by Seth Thomas Tatum
I bought the ponies for Harmon Field. When they started Harmon Park they wanted shetland ponies for the children to ride. I told them colts would be better because the older ponies are more set in their ways. So they bought about 20 one year old colts and only about one child got hurt a little breaking in those ponies.
I never liked to sell horses to children unless I was pretty sure they'd be safe. One day a big fancy car pulled up to my livery barn. A well dressed couple got out with their five year old daughter. I wasn't there so they had to hunt me down. I had a pretty little shetland pony but it was spoiled and no good for kids. The waitress at the cafe where they asked for me told them that it was no use to ask because I wouldn't sell that particular horse. But they were determined, the lady especially. They were bankers from Elm Creek or Riverdale. I talked to them for quite a spell and the lady tried to pin me down but I wouldn't be pinned. I'm a little hard to be pinned down in a horse deal anytime. She couldn't see why a horse dealer wouldn't sell a horse. I thought to myself, " You've got a million dollar girl there and I've got a $50 dollar horse. I don't know if I said that to her or not, though I've told it to others so I may have. They finally left in a huff and later I heard they bought from another dealer. A few months later the horse kicked the little girl in the head and they rushed her to the Mayo Brothers. As the father arrived back in Kearney, a telegram caught him saying that she had died. About a year later the parents stopped into see me again. The mother said she just kept remembering what I'd said.
Interviews with Seth Thomas Tatum done by Judy Lookhart on July 25th and October 12 in 1967. Submitted by Randy Tatum.