by Walter B. Stanton (1907-1988)
In the spring of 1926, after driving all kinds of mismatched horses for a number of years, I took the train for Toronto, visited an auction stable, and purchased a pair of well-matched Montana broncs with brands on them. These horses, Maude and Queen, were supposed to be broken to harness, but I had a lot to learn. I phoned my dad, Frank Stanton, at Sparrow Lake and asked him to build some kind of unloading ramp at the train station, as the broncs would arrive by freight on the following day.
With the aid of the section hands at Port Stanton, my father built a large ramp out of railway ties, and waited as the train steamed into station. The broncs were tied with twenty-foot lead ropes, and when they were led to the door of the freight car, neither one of them ever touched the new ramp—they jumped and soared clean through the air until the rope brought them back to earth.
After a few weeks of help from an elderly farmer, hitching my horses separately with his old mare, I finally felt they were ready to drive as a team. I decked them out in a new harness complete with neck-yoke and drove them down to the shore of Sparrow Lake to have a drink. They kept wading out further and further until I was standing at the very edge of the water holding the trailing ends of the lines. When I tried to turn them around, they jerked the lines from my hands and swam for the opposite shore of the bay a third of a mile away. I raced down the shore, got a rowboat, and took after them—I was what you might call a horse-boy in a boat. They could swim as fast as I could row, and when I finally did get in front of them, instead of both turning the same way, they turned toward each other and one of them got her front legs over the neck-yoke. For the next few minutes, I thought I had seen the last of my team as they both sank out of sight. One came up first, then the other came up lying on her side all tangled up with her leg over the neck-yoke. Finally the pole strap broke, and they both headed back to shore.
It took me until the next morning to make the repairs to the harness. I decided to hitch them to a new wagon, and I was just hitching the last trace when they bolted ahead. The wagon tongue dropped and dragged about six feet in the soft earth, the draw-bolt snapped, and away they galloped, heading for the bush. One went on either side of the first tree and the neck-yoke took a heavy jolt. Once again I had to make extensive repairs, but I was learning fast and soon got them working as a team.
With the paid help of two native Indians, I started to haul gravel from a pit about two miles from home. With an ordinary team, six trips would be a heavy day, but with the broncs we made eleven trips on the first day! Hauling one and a half yards to the load, we would deliver the load at a fast run and return to the pit at a full gallop. If the men hadn’t played out, we could have done more.
Eventually I decided to try riding solo and chose Queen as the quieter of the two broncs. After cinching on a good western saddle, I carefully mounted, but her first move was straight up, and away I went, landing on my head. There was a nice pile of dry pine lumber just over the bank from the barn door, and Queen jumped on top of the pile and continued bucking until the lumber was just broken pieces of wood.
Another dangerous episode occurred when I was hauling stone across a frozen marsh that was flooded with two feet of running water over the ice. I had to cross a creek to get to the marsh, and after several loads the ice on the creek gave way and both horses plunged into six feet of water. The tongue was holding them down below the ice, and Maude got her feet on top of Queen and would have drowned her, but I managed to reach down in the icy water and pull the draw pin. I hurled rocks at Maude to force her off Queen, the tongue finally dropped out of the neck-yoke, and both horses struggled out of the creek and headed away across the flooded marsh. This left me stranded, and I had to walk nearly two miles to circle the marsh and get home. The broncs were standing at the barn door, badly chilled and cut up, so I waited several days before I took them back and hauled out the sleigh on a long chain.
The broncs hauled ice to fill the icehouses around Sparrow Lake that winter, and they had crossed the lake, a distance of four miles, many times. Near the spring break-up, the Severn River had cut a channel right through the centre of the lake, and on a bright spring day I hitched the team to a sleigh to draw wood. While I was closing the barn door, a young heifer came tearing around the barn at a terrible clip. Away went the broncs, up through the village and out on the lake. When I reached the shore, they were disappearing around Langmuir’s point, a mile away, and heading for the open channel. I ran to the point fully expecting to find them in the water, but they had veered off and were standing in the middle of Duck Bay. It took me over an hour to catch them, as they kept running in circles. I was told later that a western horse is terrified of a man on foot.
One day my dad decided to take the team to Jackson’s store at Severn Bridge for supplies. We had a nice little sleigh, so away he went. All went well for the six miles to the store, but when he turned into the hitching rack, the broncs decided this meant to turn around, and turn around they did. By the time he got them under control, he was well on the way home, so that is where he landed, without supplies. My dad is now ninety years old and still has a great laugh when reminded of this incident.
We had a sugar shanty in the woods for boiling maple syrup. The roof rested on the side of a steep hill at the back and was supported by posts at the front. The pans were full of syrup from the day before, and we were trailing dry poles from the upper level using Maude to pull them. After making several trips down the steep hill, leading the horse with a rope, we decided to let her go by herself, but instead of following the trail to the bottom, she swung sideways above the shanty roof. The logs jerked her off her feet, and she lit on her back on the shanty roof. The roof gave way, and the horse landed lengthways in the pans of syrup. This was the most hilarious sight I ever saw in my life, and the laughs we had then and since more than offset the loss of syrup, shanty, and equipment.
During the next few years, these two horses did a great deal toward the social life of the community. I had a large driving sleigh equipped with leather seats and cushions taken from a 1918 Overland touring car. No matter where the event was held, these broncs were the main source of transportation for all concerned, hauling as many as twenty-two young people to a dance or party, even as far away as Orillia, fifteen miles each way, after dark.
In the year 1931, while pasturing in a bushland near home, Maude was shot in the spine by a careless summer visitor’s .22 rifle. When I found her, she was dead, but she had lived for at least a week in agony. Rather than try to match up Queen, I sold her to a dealer in Orillia, and never had another horse to this day.
From the memoirs of Walter B. Stanton, dated 1967.