Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Horse Thief

Gram on one of the dairy cows, probably in one of the farm's rocky cow pastures
up the side of Ragged Mountain.

"The Horse Thief", as she was affectionately and jokingly known around the farm, was my grandmother.  And, yes, she had really been charged in a court of law as a horse thief.  Many decades after the incident and after the embarrassment had worn off, she wore her title proudly and hid a smile as my grandfather leaped at the chance to re-tell her colorful story of "thievery".

My grandma, Adaline, and my grandpa were young when they got married and took over the farm from his family.  At that time, it was a dairy farm with many cows and a variety of other farm animals.  They didn't yet have a tractor (eventually Papa got a red Massey-Harris in the late 1940's, which we still have and use), so horses were a necessity.  The horses pulled the wagon and sleigh and powered farm work.

Gram had her own riding horse which was on the slow and aged side, so she decided to trade her horse and saddle for a more energetic steed.  She rode her horse over to the next town to trade horses with another woman.  She bid farewell to her old horse and got on her new, younger horse (bareback since the saddle was part of the trade) and began the ride home.

Somewhere before they reached home, the horse began acting up.  He slipped off the road and into a muddy ditch, with my grandma still on, bareback.  From how she told it, the horse rolled around in the ditch for a few seconds before gaining his footing and getting back up on his feet.  Somehow, she managed to stay on him.  She was furious, turned him around, and rode him back to the woman's house.  Gram put him back in his stall, mounted her old horse, and rode home.

Technically, I suppose Gram did steal her original horse back, and the police saw it that way too.  She was charged with horse thievery and had to hire a lawyer to defend her case.  And it was serious: according to old laws still on the books, this crime was punishable by hanging.  Amazingly, despite living in a small town where everybody knew everybody's business, she was able to keep all of this a secret from her husband.  With her counsel's help, she won her case and kept her old horse.  Decades went by, and no one in the family knew of her embarrassing mishap.

Years later, my grandpa needed a ride home from the airport.  By sheer coincidence, he shared a ride with Gram's former lawyer.  The airport is about an hour away, so the two men had considerable time to shoot the breeze.  Gram's ordeal was one of the lawyer's all-time favorite court stories and he retold it with great enthusiasm, not realizing it had been a well-kept, decades-old secret.  When he got home, Papa relished making her squirm as he dropped hints that he knew.  As the truth came out, Gram was able to laugh about it, and Papa was amazed he never knew.

Papa and my dad enjoyed teasing Gram about being a "horse thief", but she was quick with a smile and a convincing explanation of why she was justified.  At the farm, "horse thievery" became synonymous with a sense of humor and a tough-as-nails, independent young woman.

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