From: Gerry Barker
Date: February 15, 2010 9:53:47 AM CST
To: Terre Lawson
Here is a journal I have been keeping on this little crisis. It will probably end up on the Frontier Resources Blog. I plan to keep it through getting a new ox working with George.
William was sweet. He was always willing to be petted. At event when the others would wear out on little hands, William was ready for another scratch under the chin up to the bitter end. One of the things we had happen was near the close of the day at Vincennes a couple of years ago I was talking to some people and a pair of parents held a little girl, I’d guess about five years old up to pet Will. Without warning, a cannon fired for a demonstration. The girl screamed. She was autistic and sound sensitive. She screamed long and loud, right in Will’s face. He stood there unmoving. When he died Friday he was a seven year old Durham ox that weighed 1700 pounds last time I weighed him. He was the off side leader in a team of four oxen affectionately called “The Four Kings”, George, William, Charles and James.
His best stunt may have been at New Boston. Last September, I was stopped talking to a bunch of students during their “school day”. One little girl came up beside William with a stick of rock candy in her hand. William stood there unmoving. Suddenly the ten inch long tongue flicked out, took the rock candy and ate it, stick and all.
Of the many oxen we have had, I think he was the only one we ever really did call stupid. For example, we always line the team up in the same way: George, William, Charles and James. In six years with us, he was the one ox that never quite could figure this out. The other three would simply pass him down the line and push him into place.
We had constant examples of the other three oxen protecting him and boosting him along. They would nudge him when he forgot to move. George, his partner, pushed him and pulled him on turns when he seemed lost in day dreams. But, when the going was tough, he was not a shirker. He would pull with the best of them.
Friday, we put a new round bale in the hay ring in the pasture. I had gone in town to get feed, and when I came back all four were eating merrily at the bale. I went to the house and started on chores. I got back to the pasture to feed the oxen about an hour later. Will was down, his head in one of the slots of the feeder, his two feet in the next slot. He was dead, but still warm. The other three oxen were standing around, not eating. I tried to disentangle him but I couldn’t do more than get a single foot free.
I fed the remaining oxen and went home. George did not eat. I checked on him twice more that evening. He just stood there by the hay feeder.
The next morning a friend, Mark Simpson and his son, Travis, came to help Maria and I get Will out of the pasture. We had to use the tractor. We tipped the hay ring up and pulled it out from under him then with the ring anchored to the tractor pulled Will out with a neighbor’s four wheel drive pick-up.
Maria comforted George while some of the work was going on. At one point she called me over. He seemed to want my attention. After we got finished, George went to the gate beside which Will lay. I have read that cattle will cry, but I am not sure if I have ever seen it before. George was dripping tiny grey tears.
I stayed with him a while, left and fed the horses, and came back to him. He just seemed to want me beside him. I stayed as long as I though I could then had to go back home to host Mark and Travis, at least say thank you.
I came back twice more during the day. Each time George was still by the gate. The second time, I was standing by George and Charlie came up. I am sure he felt that if loving was being given out he would like some. (Maybe I should add that each time I was there I gave at least a little time to Charles and James.) Anyway, George shook his horns, snorted and lowered his head at Charles, clear warnings to stay away. Charles raised his head (submission signal), and instantly backed off. When I felt it was time to go back to work, I took George over to the hay and stood with him while he began to eat. James took George’s place at the gate.
When I came back for evening chores (an hour or so later) George was still eating hay. Charlie was now at the gate. I fed everybody, loved up on them a bit and had to go. George went back to the hay ring. I don’t know if anyone went to the gate.
Sunday morning when I went back to the pasture for feeding, George was back at his station by the gate. I could see by the flat spot without frost and the droppings that he had slept there by the gate. He did eat. He spent a long time licking my leg after the feeding and when I left he was back at the hay ring. I checked on him after feeding the horses and he was nibbling grass up by one of the training pens. Charlie was back at the gate.
I went to the pasture to check on and feed the oxen four times Sunday. Each time George was somewhere. If I stayed with him, he would go to the round bale feeder and eat and he is eating sweetfeed, but he is still keeping watch over Will’s body. If he left the gate area, Charlie generally took his place. James only did that once on Saturday. George is extremely affectionate and does not want me to leave. The other two are also, but George is demanding. After evening chores as I was leaving, George planted himself on my path out the gate and stood there blocking my way so I would have to pay attention to him.
Maria and I searched the net for a replacement for Will. Our big fear is losing George and we both think that getting him a new partner and getting him working are the best ways to ensure his survival. We found a shorthorn ox in Massachusetts that sounds like he will work. We agreed to buy him. We have very little money on hand and this is the off season so none will be coming in until April. Frank Jarboe, Tom Ruly and Terre Lawson have offered help. We have even had Albert Roberts children break into their piggy bank to send us money for a new ox. There has been a tremendous outpouring of sympathy on the internet; something like a hundred messages.
Monday morning the oxen stood mid pasture waiting for Maria and I. Judging by the tracks in the snow, no one slept near the gate. They all wanted affection before feeding, which sometimes happens. It is not that unusual. After feeding them, I had to cover Will back up. The wind had blown the tarp off. George came to the gate and really wanted more contact. I think we are really over the hump. The next goal is to get him working, and the weather is fighting us. I think it is too icy to hook an ox to a load, even with shoes with ice caulks. I don’t want to hurt an animal.
When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)