Monday, April 30, 2012

Man with Horses: Wood County, Ohio, 1890s

His name might have been Frank Henry; that is one of the names written on the cover of the faded notebook. But that might also have been a customer’s name. Merchants in small farming towns used to hand out small calendars or notebooks free. This notebook is filled with advertisements for “Dr. Pierce’s Standard Medicines” of Buffalo, New York. There was a space on the back for the local merchant’s name, and this particular notebook advertised “D. L. Aldrich, Dealer in Drugs and Medicines” in Weston, Ohio (Wood County). Not really a diary, the book’s owner made miscellaneous notes of his work scattered through entries dated roughly 1890 to 1893. The notes are difficult to read and miscellaneous in character. Can we learn anything from them?

On March 15, 1891, he did work for D. G. Bishop, plowing and hauling manure. He also hauled seven loads of wood from the “Brewer barn.” He also hauled a load of “gords” (?) to Bowling Green. That August he spent a day threshing oats and wheat, and in October of 1892, he was paid $2.00 for husking corn “with team [of horses].” In other entries, he shelled and hauled loads of corn. The list of chores was endless. He sawed wood for a man named Silas Powell. He “dressed” (skinned, bled, and/or gutted) a hog that weighed 130 pounds. He hauled oil; this was at the tail end of Wood County’s oil boom. Oil wells ran freely for several years, but wagons were still used to get oil from well to refiner. Many of the logbooks entries mention horses. In addition to those already mentioned, he “plowed with one horse;” “labor with team;” spent a day on “horse labor.” He hauled a “sack of potatoes,” moved “20 baskets of ear corn,” and spent long summer weeks doing horse powered work on threshing the wheat harvest.

If his name was Frank Henry, he might have been the Frank Henry who worked as a farmhand near Perrysburg in 1880. The 1890 Census results were destroyed in 1922 in a fire, so without a certain name to hang our research one, we cannot be confident. With somewhat more confidence we may guess he was a “teamster.” Not, mind you, a member of the truck drivers union of modern times, but in the nineteenth century use of the word: a man who owned or worked with a team of horses. Is it history if we do not know his name, his home, his background, or his politics? But we do know this: he worked hard hauling things with one or more horses, lived in Wood County, and, at some point, visited the drugstore of Dwight Aldrich in Weston, and picked up a free notebook. And from that notebook, we can understand his world of hard work with horses.