Friday, September 24, 2010

Oxen Pull Stone in Vermont Quarry

Eight oxen pull a block of marble from a Vermont quarry. The two in the rear may be acting as brakes for the wagon, or they could be resting. The article in Century Magazine, 1890, is colorfully written and an enjoyable read. Here is a quote: Passing close beside a deliberate ox-team and its bawling driver comes a puffing locomotive, tugging its long train of cars up the track among the towering piles of un-hewn marble. Side by side work the old and the new, each performing better than the other could its proper task.

The oxen enter the damp, dim stone-sawing mill, the machinery growls and hisses as it gnaws the stone like some monstrous beast in its den over its prey, and hardly another sound is heard. The lusty outdoor bawl of the ox-teamster sinks here to the pervading growl, and the whistle of his lash attunes itself to the swish of the saws.

Thanks to the work of an excellent website about stone structures in the northeastern United States, the complete article is available for your enjoyment, here:

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A Comfy Spot for a Kitten on a Rainy Day

Sure beats hanging out under the floor-boards of the granary.
(See four posts on 8/1/2010 for the story of Squeak the Kitten's rescue by Harry the Dog.)
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Sophia the Cat Gets a New Name

Alas, our two orphan kittens are both tomcats. So Sophia the Cat is now called Soapy; the kitten is still Squeak. Here they are --- hanging out.

The other day Squeak was missing. I called Harry the Dog and he came from the barn with a look of guilty-pleasure on his face. I found Squeak in a cubbyhole about five feet up on the barn wall, where he had no doubt escaped to, when I called off the dog. Peaches the Pony was checking him out.

Harry likes to pick up the cats and drag them around like stuffed animals. 
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Harry the Dog Vies for Attention

Ayrshire ox and Newfoundland x Pit Bull Terrier dog
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Harry the Dog Fetches the Pop

"Bring me a can^of pop please."

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ox Yoke at 2010 Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion

Ox Yoke
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Curious Bit of Animal Behavior

Newfoundland x Pit Bull Dog;
Claiming His Territory?

Since we brought Harry the Dog home as a puppy on a cold, sub-zero December 4, 2009, the majority of his time has been divided between being a willing house dog or a reluctant pasture dog. So much did he prefer the house that we had to bribe him with treats, or put him on a leash, to get him to the pasture (where we can shut him in).

On one occasion, recently, he lay down in protest and it took two of us to drag him by his legs all the way to the pasture. He’s getting to be a big boy! And he seems to think all this tussling is great fun.

Then, overnight, everything changed; Harry reversed his preferences. He still comes to the house when called. But, when he gets inside he’s antsy and into every kind of trouble he can think of until we put him out again. I was in the practice of giving him a rawhide-chew when I’m on the computer. He’d lie here under the table, and devour that while I typed. Now, as soon as he gets his square of rawhide he goes right to the door and asks to go out. Once out, he heads to the pasture and to his friends, Scout the Ox, and Peaches the Pony. He voluntarily stays out there with only short, occasional visits to the house-yard and doorstep.

I could go on-and-on about possible reasons he might change his behavior over time — but, the remarkable thing here is that it was a sudden one-eighty. Did he consider all his reasons and then make some kind of a conscious decision? Something like, “Starting today I will spend most of my time in the pasture because. . . .”

Can dogs even do this kind of reasoning and decision making?

 Click on "comments" just below and tell me what you think? Or share an experience you've had with your dog.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How To Convert a Garden Cart into a Small Wagon to Pull With a Single Ox

Cart for Single Ox: You can easily convert a garden cart into a small wagon to pull with a growing, single ox. This would also work well as a second use for a riding steer. The cart works excellently for training, and now I have some real uses for that hay-burner in the barn.

The video demonstrates the conversion I did on our cart, using parts I had around the shop. It also shows a way to eliminate the chance of the ox getting a leg tangled in, or abraded by, a trace-chain.

Documentary: The Red River Cart

Here's a 2 minute, made for TV documentary on The Red River Cart. It gives a Canadian and Metis perspective on the history of the cart. The video reminds us that The Red River Cart "stands as one of many glorious achievements of the Metis people."
Published on YouTube by APTNDigitalNations along with sixty-two other videos with titles like Tea Dolls, Tipis, York Boats, Kamiks, and Sled Dogs; produced by FootPrints Aboriginal Expressions; featuring Rachelle White Wind, and Andrew Clark; narrated by Doug Bedard, and written by Lorre Jenson. View APTNDigitalNations videos here:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ostby’s Sesquicentennial Ox Cart Journey

Detail of Orlin Ostby's Ox Cart on Display
at the
2010 Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion

In the nineteenth century what is known locally as the Pembina Trail* was the main artery for heavily laden carts traveling the 450 mile-plus distance from Pembina, North Dakota to present day St. Paul, Minnesota. The hundreds of wood-and-rawhide carts waggled through Indian territory on the unimproved trail; the cart axles squealed notoriously under their loads of buffalo-hide and furs. Prior to the early 1820's, the carts were pulled by horses; after cattle were introduced**, the carts were more often pulled by oxen. The tough, mosquito-swatting cart drivers were typically Metis.***

In 1958, Delmar Hagen, of Northwestern Minnesota, followed the Pembina trail with an ox and cart, in celebration of Minnesota’s Centennial.

In celebration of Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial in 2008, Orlin Ostby (who worked for Delmar Hagen as a teen) traveled the distance with his ox Pum. Orlin was accompanied by family and friends. An account of the Ostby’s journey, with numerous photos, is online at

*More specifically, the Woods Trail, part of the network of Red River Ox Cart Trails.
**Under the tutelage of Lord Selkirk, Scottish colonists began arriving in 1812. The first cattle arrived in 1815. For more history see
***M├ętis is pronounced mey-tees, or mey-tee. They were the offspring of European fur-traders and native Americans. By 1820 French explorers and fur traders had already been in the region for a-hundred-years.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Ostby's Oxen Pum and Kin Plowing at Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion, Rollag, Minnesota

Pum and Kin on the Way to the Field

Orlin Ostby Oversees the Plowing

Don't worry boys. . . .you had half-a-days work done,
before they got all those harnesses untangled.

Christopher Guides the Team

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Turning the Sod

Throwing Their Shoulders into the Yoke

The Plowman Works as Hard as the Ox

Job Well Done!

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Ostby's Oxen: Every Ox Needs a Superhero

Every Ox Needs a Friend

One Hefty Yoke

Pum and Kin Take a Break

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Worlds Shortest Oxen Video

Orlin Ostby's oxen ready to plow at Rollag Steam Threshers Reunion, 2010.

Orlin Ostby's Teamster, Christopher Ostby, Turning the Oxen While Plowing

Christopher Ostby turns the oxen on the headlands while plowing, by tapping the off ox with his whip while slowing the nigh ox. Video was taken at the Rollag Steam Threshers Reunion, 2010. The oxen are Holstiens about seven years old; their names are Pum and Kin.

Orlin Ostby's Teamster Keeps the Off Ox in the Furrow While Plowing

Christopher Ostby keeps the off ox in the furrow while plowing at the 2010 Rollag Steam Thresher's Reunion near Rollag, Minnesota. These are Holstien oxen about seven years old pulling a walking plow: their names are Pum and Kin.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ibizza: Eine Reitkuh im Sommer

View one of the better cattle riding videos I've seen here:

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Swimming the Narrows with an Ox

Crossing the narrows, between two lakes, with Scout the Ox: On the forum at there was a discussion about being able to lead your steer through puddles as one of the criteria to qualify for the Official Skill Level of Beginner. I wonder if this would pass muster as a puddle?

On the Red River Ox Cart Trails in the 19th Century, crossing streams and rivers with the oxen and their carts was a frequent and necessary task.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Old Crossing Treaty Park and the Chautauqua and French Festival

I’ve lived in Red Lake County for over a decade and there’s been a vague awareness of a place called Old Crossing Treaty Park, and each summer an awareness of a French festival being held there (where people dress up like the old days).

With my late interest in oxen, and in the Red River ox cart, this year seemed like the year to go. (The ad about the event included a photograph of an ox cart.) The name Old Crossing, I knew, from reading the history of the Red River trails, came from this being where the Pembina Trail crossed the Red Lake River — in the 19th century many an ox cart had divided the waters at this location. Old Crossing had been the meeting place of ox cart drivers for years, before it was chosen as the site for treaty negotiations in 1863.

When we arrived, folks were strolling around the park and visiting the vendors. Some had dogs in tow, as dogs are welcomed at the festival. There were smoldering campfires, tents, and a few campers. At least one party had horses, and they were riding down by the river. A French-Metis band was playing a lively tune in the big white tent. There were more Metis folk songs to come, and the leader of the band gave an interesting introduction to each; some lyrics were stories from his own childhood. With one number, an unidentified young girl from the audience took the stage and danced a traditional jig. The name of the band is Coulee; they are from St. Laurent, a rural municipality on the shores of Lake Manitoba.

Upon entering the tent I had noticed in the audience a slightly weary looking, older gentleman dressed in period clothing. With tousled, greying hair hanging over his collar, he was seated by himself and was attentive to the musicians; perhaps he was one of the few who understood the French lyrics.

I was a bit surprised when this man took the stage and began to speak with the mesmerizing quality of knowledge mixed with humility — there was a hint of sadness in his voice, a grain of defeat, a sprinkle of rebellion — and a message of hope. It was clear that he was at the festival more to contemplate than to celebrate.

In an unassuming voice he was saying, “A few negotiate the future, while the others play ball — or knit — or do what you do on a daily basis.”

At the treaty negotiations in 1863, he told us, there were those who negotiated, those who were on guard duty, and those who were preoccupied with daily life — a few even engaged in horse racing. Along with the Indian and Metis leaders who came to the site in 1863, came many families — men, women and children.

With the speaker’s sash blowing in the breeze under the open-sided tent, horses whinnying, oblivious people chattering outside, dogs barking, the smell of wood-smoke, fresh baked bread and meat pies, I could imagine being seated with the treaty negotiators. The negotiator speaking at the moment was negotiating for the common good of man, and for the good of the common man. The speaker was Virgil Benoit, PhD.

Benoit then introduced Bobby Whitefeather one of the leaders of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Whitefeather gave a rundown on the history of negotiations between the Indians and the United States.

Compared with the sublime face of the Indian chief on the pedestal at the entrance to the park, Whitefeather struck the image of a man who has carried heavy burdens. However, his message was also one of hope, including the hope that more of his people could be at the festival next year.

Old Crossing was more than a crossing of waters; it was a crossing of cultures. The hope presented was that we be reminded of our past (including the misdeeds of 1863), and that Old Crossing Treaty Park and the Chautauqua and French Festival serve to bring our cultures together, for an equitable and harmonious future.

Notably missing were the oxen and their carts.

Photos from Old Crossing Treaty Park and the Chautauqua and French Festival, August 29, 2010
Top three photos and bottom right: Coulee band members
Bottom left: Virgil Benoit, PhD
Bottom center: Bobby Whitefeather
Read more about the 2010 Chautauqua and French Festival on this interesting blog, Prairie Woman:

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Coulee: The French-Metis Band from Saint Laurent, Manitoba

Girl dances the jig.