Benton County Pioneer Life

US GenWeb Image
Washington State GenWeb logo of spiderweb and state

Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area


Toughest Horses Sold to British


By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Pioneer
Sunday, 30 July 1960

In 1901 England was at war with the Boers of South Africa, who were the descendants of the early Dutch settlers. Before that war had ended, British,cavalry, mounted on former wild horses from the Horse Heaven Hills, which I helped "break", played a major part in turning the tide.

The breed of wild horses in these parts many years ago isn't known to many of the newcomers - people who have arrived here in the last 40 years. The last big roundup for wild horses was in World War I. But back at the turn of the century, believe it or not, it was widely-known that the toughest horses in the world were raised at Kennewick. The word "boer" means farmer in the Dutch language. The English had underrated the Military strength of the Boers who had been quietly building up their military organization for several years.

The Veldt of South Africa was a broad expanse of flat country quite similar to the Plains country of the United States. Farming and stock raising had been the main occupation of it's people.

When the British Cavalry from England, mounted on their large Cavalry horses, attacked the Boers, they were, due to the terrain and the tsetse fly, no match for the Boers who were mounted on their smaller and tougher mounts. The English must secure as tough mounts or they could not win.

They, therefore, sent a horse buyer to New York City to contact the leading horse buyers there. They unanimously recommended the horses from the Horse Heaven County near Kennewick, because in years gone by during horse-car days, these were the toughest. It was during school vacation and I was helping my brother, Charley, on his homestead eight miles southeast of Kennewick in the Horse Heaven Hills. 0ne evening after supper, a visitor called. He said he was a horse buyer for the English Cavalry and said that horse buyers in New York had recommended that he come to Kennewick. He said that he had called on the Kennewick Postmaster who sent him to Charley.

He also stated that the horses he wanted would have to weigh from 700 to 800 pounds, they were to be halterbroken and bridle-wise, and ridden under a saddle so that one man could handle them, but not thoroughly broken and tamed. There must be no rope burns of any kind because of tsetse fly.

He said that by the time they arrived aboard a vessel in South Africa they were tame as could be. He stated he would pay $20 a head FOB and the horses were to be shipped by rail to New York City. Charley accepted the offer.

The next day, Charley hired some Indian riders and we made camp near the mouth the Yakima River where good corral and pasture facilities were available. We rounded up a bunch of - horses and cut out about 30 head to break. Then the broncobusting was on. Any old broncobuster will tell you that a horse this size is the hardest to break because they are so quick and are of a sufficient size to really buck.

Our most serious problem was how to break these wild horses without rope-burning them. Rope-burning is caused by the friction generated by the sliding of the rope through the hondo, or the eye, of the lasso rope. To lessen the hazard the horses were driven around the circular roping corral. As the horses trotted around the corral, an expert roper standing in the center of the corral would lasso the opposite forefoot of one of the horses and throw him. The other buckaroos who were standing near the roper would immediately pounce on the downed horse, two buckaroos would grab his ears, a third his nose, and a fourth and fifth his tail.

The buckeroo who held the horse's nose would raise the horse's nose and the two buckaroos holding his ears would bear down, and the rope would be shaken off the front foot of the horse. The horse was thoroughly manhandled.

A hackamore was placed on the horse's head and he was saddled while he was down. A buckeroo would mount the horse as it was getting up. The other buckeroos would make a run and climb up on the corral to watch and be of help to the rider if needed. If the rider was thrown, the watching buckaroos would grab the horse by the hackamore and hold him until another rider would mount and the horse would buck himself to exhaustion, - then he would be unsaddled and turned loose in another corral and would not be ridden again for two days. Another wild horse would be immediately lassoed and a repetition . of the previous routine would be done.

When 26 of these ponies were sufficiently broken, they were driven to the railroad stock loading station and shipped to New York thence by vessel to South, Africa.

What made these horses the toughest in the world?

"Old Mother Nature."

The Columbia River was the only source of drinking water for these horses and at this location the Columbia loops around the end of the "Jump Off Joe" foothills at Wallula and keeps on bending around until it reaches New Plymouth opposite Umatilla. Thus, it is over 65-miles by the Columbia River from Kennewick to New Plymouth and only about 25 miles across from Kennewick to New Plymouth by wagon road.

On the banks of Columbia in the Kennewick area at early spring there grew a species of "Buffalo Grass." The wild mares would foal at this time while there was plenty of grass near drinking water. As this grass dried up, the mares and colts would have to travel to the bunch grass on the foothills -and back to the Columbia River for a drink. Thus, the colts were exercised and the older they grew the farther they traveled for grass and water.

"Old Mother Nature" also gave the colts a soft terrain to travel over, free from scab rock so that wonderful feet and hoofs were developed.

I have seen boys in Kentucky exercise the Kentucky thoroughbreds, but "old Mother Nature" at Kennewick did the best job and produced the toughest horses ' in the world.

Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles