Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
Collected and posted by RITA
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Memoirs:
Written and contributed by: Rita


HORSING AROUND

On a plat map, the other day, I found the old Labosse farm. They were great friends of my grandparents for years and years. I think, going all the way back to my Philippi great grandparents in New Frankin, Brown County, WI. They came from Italy to upper New York State and dairy farmed; then on to Wisconsin. I never could remember where the lived in Oconto County but they were just south of Logan. I remember going to their huge three day Italian wedding celebrations. We were German and this was a whole new world to us. They were such nice folks and treated us like their own.

Grandpa Jack and Tony Labosse would harvest swamp grass (marsh hay) together in eastern Brown County and travel back to Oconto County with huge wagon loads for silage. Without it, they could not have feed their cattle through many winters, especially while they were clearing the land for crops and pasture. Nothing went to waste.

I have a very old wooden "Marsh Boot" used on the draft horses hooves so they would not sink in the wet soil while cutting and gather the marsh hay. They bolted it over the whole hoof and it was kind of like a flat wooden snow shoe.

If a horse sunk in the muck, it would often break a leg while struggling and trying to get out and have to be destroyed; or become exhausted and cold during the attempt to pull if free and die of pneumonia. Most farmers were very fond of their horses, like my grandfather was, and it was far
more than economy that made him do all he could to keep them safe and healthy.

Grandpa still had his last team when I was a kid, Queenie and Prince, her son. They worked well together and Grandpa would sometimes harness them up or exercise. They loved it and even though they were very old, they couldn't wait to "get to work". They were really his pets and friends. Grandpa was so confident in them that he could use both hands on the plow and such while the reigns were tied together and flung on his shoulders, behind his head. If they had spooked, he would have broken his neck, but they never did. He did not use the reigns to stop, start, turn right and left, or back them up, either. They appropriately responded immediately to his verbal commands, and patiently waiting for the next one.

Horses have to trust their handler absolutely when it comes to backing up, even using the reigns. With their eyes on either side of their heads to see predators in the wild, they can't see directly behind or down in front of themselves. So, to back up right away on just a verbal command is amazing to see, and this was while there was loud machinery going nearby for harvest.

Family stories about the horses Grandpa had are many. In the early years of the farm (early 1900's), when the train ran across the lane and along one edge of the property on it's way to and from Suring, Grandma Kate would quickly hand the reigns to my then young Uncle Matt, jump off the wagon and run to the front of the team that they had then. She would grab their chin straps and keep them calm while the train went by in front of them. She was a tiny woman; one wild toss of the head and she would have gone flying, but they trusted her. Same thing happened many times when automobiles were first on the scene.

Later when steam driven and gasoline powered mechanical equipment was used for most of the farm work, Grandpa still had the horses hitched to make quick runs back and forth. Sometimes it was for sleigh rides that were not only for fun back then. Other times it was hay wagon rides for an occasional picnic and fishing trip, hunting, or berry picking into the woods along the Oconto River that bordered their land. One story told how my grandparent's younger kids would ride the horses bareback to carry lunch out to the people working in the fields. A cousin was visiting and wanted to ride along, so the two children climbed the wood gate and called to the horse, who obligingly strolled over and assumed the correct position. Both young folks hopped on her broad back, one holding the food, the other the container of tea. They told the horse to go and she started at a slow walk. The cousin began to slide to one side. She immediately grabbed the shoulder of the one in front, who automatically leaned the other way to counter balance.

Both kept sliding in opposite directions until the back one could no longer hold on. As they slid down each side, the horse immediately stopped, looked under herself to check the children, and patiently waited for them to get up and remount for the remainder of the trip. Not a word or commandhad been spoken. She just knew what to do.

The horses also loved attention from people, which I learned at an early age. There were a couple a wonderful old apple trees near the house. I took a freshly fallen ripe apple down to the barnyard with me to munch on while I watched the cows come in for milking. There I was, minding my own business, when the two horses strolled up. Not catching on right away, I just continues to watch while petting their velvety noses with my free hand. That was not what they had in mind. With a gentle nudge to my back, Prince helped me into the water trough. Later I learned from Grandpa that it was not polite or acceptable to eat an apple with them and not share it. A lesson well learned, for even now, when I am with horses, I come with apples.

I have been meaning to write this down and now I have. Hope you enjoy my sharing this with you.


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