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History Monday: Man's Other Best Friend

By Mike Watson

There was a time when no farm could operate without horsepower. Every farmer, and for that matter every family and every business, had the need of of horses for transportation and work.

When Kentucky was a young State, formed in 1792 from the western reaches of Virginia, and counties were being formed, the general rule of thumb was that no man should have to be more than one day's ride from his county's center of justice, the courthouse. With this in mind, as new counties were formed--from the original three: Lincoln, Jefferson and Fayette and their successors--seats of justice for the new county would be within easy reach by horseback in a single day.

The earliest records of our county mention horses and valuations varied depending on pedigree and age. Most folk owned work horses, but there were those who aspired to "own fine horse flesh" and some raced. As many local people know, there was at least one official race course in the area around Columbia, just outside town on Russell Creek--in modern times, highway 55 North, just over the bridge and to the left, or so most original records indicate. And like traditional post-Revolutionary War era race tracks, and in the custom originated by Col. William Whitley, of Lincoln County, our American tracks ran counter-clock-wise (English tracks ran clock-wise).

Valuable horses were often bought and sold, and Columbia and Adair County was not exempted from this trade.

There are numerous civil court actions in which horses were the property in contest. Several noted men of the nineteenth century were considered experts on horses, a trait that was handed down and is still economically important today.

A disastrous fire made national news in 1838. On the night of November 27th at Burkesville, Cumberland County, due to a negligent groom, a large horse barn, six valuable horses housed there, one unnamed man, equipment, and several other outbuildings burned to the ground in a short time and the damages totaled in the thousands.

On that Saturday, "the stables of Milton King, in Burkesville, took fire, and in a few minutes burned to ashes." The horses that were lost were well known in that day and several had impressive lineages. Van Tromp, a thirteen-year-old; Sir Oliver, sired by Waggener's Rattler, a four-year-old; and Culpepper, sired by Rattler, a three-year-old, were owned by Edmund M. Waggener, of Adair County.

Wandering Willie, a three-year-old, sired by Old Kosciusko, was owned by Dr. Stoner, of Burkesville; Miss "Softly," a two-year-old, sired by Diamond, was owned by James Saufley, of Burkesville; and Kosciusko, a six-year-old, sired by Old Kosciusko, was owned by James Nelson, of Adair County, and H. Grey, of Burkesville.

Edmund Waggener's "loss cannot be estimated at less than $4,000." Van Tromp was represented as having been a breeder of rare qualities. He was gotten by Eaton's Old Van Tromp, that once distanced the famous "Henry," the competitor of Eclipse--dam by Sir Archie, grand dam by imported Diomed.

The fire was caused by a groom of Mr. Grey, who, coming in late and drunk, stuck a candle on the wall of his sleeping room and fell asleep. The candle melted down and set fire to the straw on the floor of the room.

This important piece of Adair County's local equine history is preserved only through a few newspaper articles, beginning with the Louisville Journal and picked up by other papers across the nation.

This story was posted on 2020-06-22 07:19:32
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