The Horses

By John D. Fogg

'Recollections Of A Salt Marsh Farmer'

Edited by Eric N. Small -- 1983

Section 7

In the meantime I had bought another mare, "Dollie," to help Jack. She was the same -- a black roan, same weight and she took the same size shoes. The years passed and in 1921 and 1922 we had Carl Bragg helping on the farm during the summer vacation so when time came to go on the marsh he was there. Carl laid the stacks and we could use Jack and Dollie every day. I could mow in the afternoon too for some others who wanted theirs mowed. That would give me a fresh horse and Porter would have one to drag in the windrows. Billy pitched and Porter helped when not dragging. It all worked out well. I got my 10 stacks, Porter his 10 stacks, and at the same time, I got enough out of that outside mowing to help pay the expenses.

Besides accomplishing so much we had a good time, not only working on the marsh but in seeing so many people we wouldn't see otherwise.

Carl, even to this day when I see him, speaks of those days with Dollie and Jack with the drag that Porter drove, so if you have any doubts about what I said about how the drag would load up and leave nothing to rake after, just ask Carl! He's the only one living other than myself. These were the days on the marsh when single engine airplanes were flying so low over the marsh. No wires, just trees on those islands. You could even see who the pilot was! Carl would get a kick out of seeing the planes; I guess he wasn't the only one to watch one go over. Even Dollie would stop to see what that noise was.

I'll tell you now what I found out about the difference between a mare and a horse while working on the marsh. I told you about Brownie and now it's Dollie's turn. At one time I was mowing for Charles Robie near Healey's Island - a long, narrow 2½ acres. I was making a sharp turn to the right when Dollie made a couple of quick steps straight ahead in spite of my pulling on the rein to turn her sooner. It was then that I saw the hole she would have stepped her hind foot into, but she saw it and would not turn until she was far enough ahead to clear it. How was that for intelligence? She had sharp eyes and knew enough not to turn too soon.

Another time I was mowing a 7-acre piece for George Weare of Kensington near Hunt's Island on the Seabrook marsh. The marsh had recently been ditched and the sods were used to fill up salt ponds. Those places were hard enough for a horse -- I knew, for I had mowed it before with Jack. Now, when Dollie came to those places, she walked lighter (as you would if on thin ice) because those places were spongy. The same thing happened on Charles Evans' 3-acre piece near Healey's Island, a little more to the southeast. That, too, was spongy but there was more of it and Dollie stepped just the same as before while I mowed those pieces. On firm, hard marsh she walked just as any other horse would.

The last mare to tell about is "Nellie." We were still cutting on the Steep Banks using Nellie. There was Porter Brown, Bill Davis and myself. After lunch we would stack all that was raked. I would get a drag load to sit on around the staddle while having our lunch. Nellie would have her feed bag with five quarts of oats. The lunch we ate satisfied a huge appetite you would get while working on the marsh -- a lunch pail full of corned beef sandwiches, cake, apple pies and other good things. When Nellie finished her feed, I took her bag off and the circus would begin! We found out while working the team away from home and during our lunch that Nellie had a particular liking for cake, bread and cookies but not for crackers. After she had eaten her oats, then with her feed bag off, she would walk over to Bill Davis because she knew that he would have some cake, then to Porter for some cookies and then to me for her slice of bread. When she finished that,I gave her two more slices of bread, but with a common cracker in between. She took the slices of bread and chewed for what seemed like a very long time. Someone said "you fooled her this time" and, at that very same moment, the cracker came out of her mouth ... and it wasn't even broken!

Another habit Nellie had which was so different from other horses was to look for a good place to cross the ditch when we were dragging the hay to the stack after one bed was cleaned up. We didn't have to look -- she did. If the crossing we were headed for was wide and too bad to cross, Nellie would stop and go along the ditch until she found a good place to cross. Other horses I've used would either cross or stand still, leaving me to be the one to find a good place to cross.

Nellie had a memory like an elephant. One day at the farm I had to call a veterinarian named Blakely to come tend a cow. After he attended her, he strode out as I was brushing Nellie in the barnyard. When Blakely saw my horse, he said, "I know your mare, you bought her from Paul Winly at Toppans Lane in Newburyport. I treated her one time for a thisselow on her shoulder." He started to come and show me where it was and you should have see Nellie! She turned quickly with her mouth wide open. I thought she would bite and kick him all at the same time. Blakely jumped back very quickly. I noticed the scar then on Nellie's shoulder and reached up to rub my hand over it and Nellie did nothing. She surprised me with her actions since I had never seen her try to bite man or beast.

We kept on the same cutting on Steep Banks. We could cut most anywhere now as so many had stopped cutting. The small farmers had given up the milk business and gone into other kinds of work.

But when the Kensington farmers like Dan Evans and others replaced the horses with tractors, silos for the cows, etc., that's when we stopped cutting the Steep Banks marsh. We could get that good hay along the South Hunt's Creek, being so much nearer the uplands.

This was now 1936 or 1938 using Dan, the last horse we used on marsh. He weighed 1,500 pounds and was larger than any of the others. We had to saw out the shoes for his feet. He was clever and on the ball for a horse, even more so than the other horses. One time I was mowing that Weare marsh close to the creek. Dan didn't think much of Wilbur Beckman's sail on his fishing boat. Wilbur had been down river fishing. When he came around the bend by Hunt's Island, Dan got his eye on that sail all the time, until it passed and the sail taken down. We had our lunch soon after up on shore, and every few minutes, Dan would stop chewing, turn his head and listen.

What hay was cut from then on would be hauled from the windrows to the upland with the wide tired bogging cart.

Leavitt W. Brown and I were the last to cut the salt marsh hay. My boys were old enough to help now.

The last two years were done with a made-up tractor -- a 1932 Chevrolet car cut down and an International axle rear end, one that John Cram built and sold to us. It was a nice rig for heavy pulling like a larger tractor single plow. It hauled a two-horse mower on the marsh and would go anywhere horses would. If you drove into a ditch that was too wide, chain a long pole on back of rear wheels and just back up. It had to come out. We hauled hay out on a semi-trailer.

So you see, if the horses did go out, we could still cut the salt marsh hay if we had a use for it.

Later on we would sell the cows and went to house painting. I had worked with my father painting before.