TREE CLIMBING: Horses for work, horseback riding played a part in the life of Hunt County | Lifestyles

Taking up the concept of wild horses, as we did a few columns back, we now need to look at how farmers and ranchers have used them.

Yes, they rode them to catch outlaws or rob banks, but our four-legged friends were a real treasure, especially here in East Texas after the railroads arrived.

Mules, a relative of horses, carried many loads of cotton first to Jefferson, then to the gin and compress here in Greenville.

Looking at the 1870 census once, I discovered that several young men, between the ages of 18 and 24, admitted that they owned horses but no cattle or mules. Interestingly, neither were married or lived at home with a relative. When Union soldiers were stationed at Sulfur Springs after the war, scores of men from the eastern part of Hunt County joined Ben Bickerstaff and his outlaw squad. Some were too young to have fought in the war. Still, they showed their skills on horseback.

For many years, ranchers hired old cowboys to “break” horses for them. A herd of wild horses was brought into the enclosure where the horse-breaking man was doing his job. Rather, it was unpleasant work that women and children were not allowed to watch. A bridle was put around the horse’s head, the man got on and tried to stay until the horse stopped creating a way to get rid of the man on his back. My brother told me that when the horse was almost exhausted it would be “tied to the ground”. The man who broke the horse let go of the reins of the bridle in an attempt to calm the horse.

The term “fixed to the ground” then became useful in the Western world. Note that bank robbers or drunks in saloons always had a pistol in their holster for quick use. If he intended to get out quickly, he didn’t have time to untie the horse from the guardrail. With a tie on the ground, the outlaw could grab the reins by hopping on his horse. If he watched the cows, again, he could drop the reins when no trees or stumps were nearby.

Many Greenville businessmen have enjoyed a stroll around town. Mr. Ablowich, who lived on the corner of Moulton and Park streets, kept his horse in a stable behind the elaborate house.

Every Sunday morning he took the horse for a walk. When the horse was tired, hungry, or thirsty, it would go home whether Mr. Ablowich liked it or not. The horse knew that the shortest way to the stable was directly under the clothesline. More than a Sunday morning, the good man had to dodge the wires. If the horse did not try the clothesline, it would try the radio lines of the house where Mr. Ablowich was playing on the radios. He was certainly a brave man.

Carol Taylor is chair of the Hunt County Historical Commission. She can be contacted at

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