THE SORREL HORSE
(no date given)
When I was a child growing up on Oak Grove Farm, we seldom kept any animal which had outlived its usefulness. Either the animal was sold or shot by a first-class marksman. My father, Edward Cook, had no patience with anyone who killed an animal painfully. The one exception to that rule was a sorrel horse named Clyde.
In his earlier years, Clyde was used for plain farm work, but as he grew older, he was either left loose in a box stall in the barn in winter or turned out into the barnyard in summer if he was unable to work. His owner, Ed Cook, spoke firmly and plainly to anyone who misused Clyde. “That horse looked me down” Ed Cook reminisced. “No other animal ever did.”
The story of Clyde goes back to 1890 when he was born. As a foal, he showed special intelligence and speed. Ed thought to make a driving horse of the colt and did so. He was usually driven with another sorrel horse of equal speed, called Daisy. Ed liked to talk to both horses because the colt was intelligent. Ed and his helper, Jim Nelson, began training Clyde when he was two years old. By the time he was three, Clyde could hold his own on any long trip.
Meanwhile, life with the Ed Cooks seemed to go out of bounds from 1891 onward. That year Mary Cook was the recipient of a telegram asking her to come to Fonda, Iowa to help care for her younger sister, Rose Ellis Beswick, who was ill. On her arrival, Mary found her sister’s family had diphtheria. After she became ill, Mary started home by train. At the end of the trip, she became very sick.
Cared for by her husband, she was convalescing when her husband, Ed, contracted the disease. Mary thought she could do it alone if Ed’s family would do Ed’s chores. However, Ed’s father, Emory, felt Ed needed care, so he made quiet arrangements to move over to Ed’s house and help out. Meantime, his daughter, Helen, feeling her mother needed her father, decided to beat her father to the task.
When Emory left by road, Helen sped down the woods path to Coffins Creek, crossed on the ice, and arriving before her father did, she insisted on staying. She took the disease, and two weeks later they buried kind, unselfish Helen, by the light of lanterns in the Baker Cemetery. Her fiancé had to live without his to-be bride.
Ed and Mary Cook had lived in a small, well-planned house, across from where the Pridegs live now. Suddenly Ed could stand it no longer. He sold it and fled from the grief and sorrow of Helen’s death.
Ed rented a large farm north of Masonville on the county line. Ed and Mary had been married seven years. Mary was 32 years old. They had no children before from choice. Now Ed wanted a family. Did Mary? I often doubted it. But Mary felt guilty for bringing diphtheria home. Anyhow, she agreed with Ed that it was time to start their flock.
Neither Ed, Mary, Mary’s foster mother (a midwife), or their doctor Dittmer seems to have given a thought to Mary’s age, her physical framework, weight or measures. If you wanted to get pregnant, you just got pregnant and trusted the Lord. Dr. Dittmer was far more particular about Mary’s diet than any doctor of his time. Mary was an active woman who worked indoors and out. No one paid attention to her diet or the weight she gained, though she tried to eat what Dr. Dittmer suggested.
Mary and Ed moved to the county-line farm in 1892 and Mary became pregnant in late April of that year–or so Dr. Dittmer claimed. The child was due to be born in late January of 1893
To be sure this birth would go well, Ed Cook planned with care. Mrs. Latimer, Mary’s foster mother (the midwife) would move in at the beginning of January’s last week. The hired helper, a young Dane of 20, would at the first labor pain, take the team which traveled fastest, and drive to Masonville to the telegraph office and give the operator a note from Mrs. Latimer. The officer would telegraph Manchester, and they would send a messenger to Dr. Dittmer. Evidently, the idea of a night delivery never occurred to Ed Cook. He had no experience nor had Mary.
The winter of 1892-3 was a severe one. The snow was deep; the ice thick; the weather cold. Mrs. Latimer came to Masonville by train, was met by Ed, and was all prepared for the last week of January. Nothing happened. Mary was large and found ordinary work difficult.
Around February, Dr. Dittmer notified the Cooks he would be gone for two days. If they needed someone, there was a new doctor in Masonville who had good recommendations. Early in February, Mary had some labor pains. The Masonville doctor came at once when Ed went for him. He sat around for several hours, but all labor pains seemed forgotten. He was taken home. Dr. Dittmer wrote that he had returned.
Meanwhile, a few days of thaw in mid-February melted the heavy snow to a minor degree. On regular roads, the travel tended to level the snow in alternate hills and valleys…a sort of undulating surface where a bobsled went half up, over the hump and down.
A team would travel best in a series of go up, poise, plunge down. Local vocabulary alluded to these roads of ups and downs as “thank you, mams.” The driver had to brace himself when they went down a slope, then push back as they went up. It was a tiring, back-breaking position.
Mary was, by now, thoroughly confused…so was Ed. Mrs. Latimer fought several worries. Everyone was much concerned. When? How soon? Labor started on February 15 after the telegraph office was closed.
Jennie Latimer had told Ed to waste no time, but to get a doctor there soon. Ed bade Jim hitch up young Clyde and his mate, Daisy, to the bobsled to drive the two miles to Masonville. He arrived to find a dark station.
Without a moment’s thought, Ed whirled the team about and started them on a plunging run for Manchester seven miles away. To prevent his being dislodged from the spring seat on the bobsled, he found it easier to stand, for the most part, the lines held in one hand, the whip in the other. But he didn’t need the whip. The team responded nobly, up, down, in almost the perfect rhythm. Ed always swore he made it in an hour, but others doubted it. Worried about Mary, he still took time to plan to leave his team for the doctor’s day man to blanket and stable while he would ride as a third passenger with the doctor and the night driver.
As his team dashed into Dr. Dittmer’s stable entrance, Dr. Dittmer’s team, panting and heaving stopped before the stable doors.
“Ed, is it Mary?” called Dr. Dittmer.
“Yes, and Mrs. Latimer said to waste no time,” clipped out Ed.
“Ed, we’ll have to take your team. Both of mine are finished. Let’s go!”
Ed Cook, sick to his heart, turned his team and lashed them into action. Both horses seemed to understand, and with little whip, pressure ran their hearts out…up, down, up, down. The sorrel was tiring; Daisy was not as persistent. As they drove through Masonville, the pace reflexed a trifle.
Ed used to say Clyde resumed his former pace as they swung north. Ed’s heart was breaking…he had ruined a good team gladly for Mary’s sake, but would Mary…he dared not think.
As the horses reeled into the dooryard, Jim came to take the team. As he jumped from the sleigh box, Ed looked around. The sorrel horse, his head still up, but heaving sides and gasping breaths, looked him in the eyes.
Ed said it was as if the horse said, “You have killed me, but I forgive you.”
Mrs. Latimer met the doctor at the door. The word “convulsions” was heard. Ed had no idea as to its meaning. He found he was to learn.
Wash tubs of hot water, then some cold…they worked like mad…all but Mary. Dr. Dittmer took one look and put her under anesthesia. From then on, she had to be lifted.
“It will have to be an instrument delivery,” groaned Dr. Dittmer. Ed, I can only save one, your wife or your child, which shall it be?”
Ed, sick at heart, answered, “My wife, of course.”
From then on, all seemed a daze to Ed. Finally, they sent him to build up the fires. When he returned, Mrs. Latimer was holding up a red and howling infant.
“That,” said Dr. Dittmer, “is your daughter. She may live. I’ve literally ruined her top layer of skin on the face.”
“But Mary?” Ed looked at the white, motionless figure which breathed so heavily. “Just as Clyde did,” he often said afterward when retelling the tale.
“We got there in time at least,” interpolated Dr. Dittmer. “In another few minutes”…Ed never heard the rest.
He seized his heavy work coat and made for the barn.
“I wanted to tell Clyde he was not dying for nothing. He had saved my wife and daughter.”
But in the stable Clyde and Daisy were getting good care from Jim. Both horses were blanketed; both were standing at ease. Jim had spangled their noses and curried them…but he had no idea what to do for an exhausted horse, so he did what he would have done for a worn-out person.
“And darned if it didn’t work!” Ed said later. “That horse never seemed to blame me. I explained it to him.”
Ed never got over that night…it was a complete blank to Mary. Mrs. Latimer would recount it, however, as she told Ed’s daughter of it now and then after she was grown. As for the sorrel horse, none dared deny him the best oat ration and the choicest hay.
Don’t try to cheat that horse,” Jim told a new hired man. “Ed Cook won’t stand for it. That horse saved his wife’s life and the baby girl’s too.”