Freckles, a Pioneer Horse

Freckles, a Pioneer Horse
By Linda C Butler
From a story told by Steve Vance

A few years ago I was on a fishing trip with my grandson Murray, driving my swamp buggy on a trail in Eastern Manitoba near Little Rice Lake.  As we rounded a bend, we saw a large mound of dirt with wildflowers and a wooden  cross with a horseshoe nailed on it.  I stopped the buggy and Murray climbed out to examine the cross.  I told him that it was Freckles grave   and explained that Freckles was Mr. Currie’s last horse, and that this grave represented  all the horses Mr. Currie had known; some of which had saved his life.

Murray  started asking questions about things that I could not answer:  “How   come Mr. Currie buried him here?  Why didn’t he bury him at home?”

Well, there is no use telling a ten-year old boy you don’t know the answer because he’ll just keep asking questions till you do.  So here’s the story I   finally told him:

Many years ago, before there were roads in the area, Mr. Currie and his men cut   trees and built a winter trail through the forest to haul freight into the   mining community of Bissett Manitoba. The men created a path wide enough for horses and sleighs to travel.  In the winter when the ground froze they traveled on the trail and on the frozen   lake with teams of horses pulling heavy freight sleighs loaded with freight. The horses’ hooves packed the trail and it became hard and suitable for traveling.   Sometimes when there was a heavy snowfall the lead team pushed a snow plow to make it easier for the other horses to travel.

Mr. Currie’s business was successful as the storekeeper, the mine, and the townspeople relied on   him to bring heavy freight into the community. Mr. Currie hired teamsters to manage the horses and he rode Freckles, a dapple-gray.  Freckles rode ahead of the teams and acted as a scout to check   the road conditions.  There was danger, as they were responsible to ensure that the trail was safe for the horses which followed behind   them.

Sometimes trees fell across the   trail and then Freckles and Mr. Currie worked together to pull them to the   side. Freckles loved the excitement and the dangers of the job.  He enjoyed the feel of   the crisp winter wind as it blew through his mane and he liked the sound of   the snow crunching under his hooves.  Mr. Currie was good to him and at   the end of every day he fed him a bag of oats and gave him fresh swamp-grass   straw to sleep on.  Every morning Freckles was anxious to go back to the trail and to start work.

Sometimes the ravens flew low and called out their greeting.  He liked those big black birds as they called out “CAW!   CAW!” to warn him of danger on the road ahead.

Freckles worked hard in winter to lead the freight sleighs into town.  All heavy   freight was moved with Mr. Currie’s teams of horses in the winter, although in   the summer months, some freight was shipped by boat, but it was more expensive. Spring was the most dangerous time of the year as Mr. Currie always tried to bring   in a few extra loads of freight before the thaw, and Freckles had to be alert.

When the snow started to melt and soften, the horses could not   travel as easily as they could on frozen ground.  The ice on the lake had to be constantly watched and Freckles kept alert for dark patches which indicated   that it might not be safe to travel.  Mr. Currie would then get off   Freckles and carefully check the ice.  Sometimes cracks would form in a triangular pattern and if a heavy load of freight crossed onto such a block of ice, the sides could crack and open, leaving the horses and freight stranded on an ice floe with water all around.  If a team attempted to  travel on ice that was cracking, it could be dragged through the icy water   and the driver and horses could perish, so Freckles’ job was important. When late spring arrived, Freckles’ work was finished for the season.  In the   summertime he ran back and forth in the field eating wild grasses.  He   loved his freedom and raced and played as much as he wished.  When birds called to him he flicked his tail and ran after them.

One  day a road was built to Bissett.  Now miners, prospectors, and families travelled   in and out of town whenever they wished and trucks hauled freight summer and  winter.  Everyone was happy except Mr. Currie as there was no more freight for his horses to haul as trucks were faster than horses and more reliable.  Reluctantly, Mr. Currie sold his all horses except Freckles, who was a friend he could not part with.

The first summer Freckles remained in the pasture behind the house and did not realize   that there would never be any more work as there had always been winter   freight teams. All summer long Freckles hung around Mr. Currie’s yard eating the delicious wild grasses and the beautiful wild flowers.  He frolicked   in the pasture and sometimes, when no one was watching, he walked up to the plum trees and stole blossoms.

One fall morning when Mr. Currie led Freckles out of his stall for a drink there   was a bit of snow in the air, and Freckles thought that it was time to go back to work. The horse could not understand that they would never haul   again.  Since Mr. Currie was not   getting ready, Freckles decided to go without him and trotted down the road.  Mr. Currie ran after him, but he was not a young man and could not catch up to the horse.

When Freckles got to the top of the hill, where we’re standing now, he looked at   the valley below and decided that he had reached the end of his trail, and lay down and died.  After awhile Mr. Currie came along, still panting from all the running he had done, and there he found his friend.  He sat and cried but after awhile he got up and returned home for shovels and came   back with a neighbor.  The two of them dug a grave for Freckles and buried   him here at the top of this hill overlooking the valley and the fields he loved.

Now every summer Mr. Currie visits this grave on Little Rice Lake and remembers the good times he enjoyed with Freckles.  He pulls the weeds, plants wildflowers, and sits and thinks for awhile before sadly returning home.

©   Linda C Butler 1985 – 2013.

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About Linda C Butler

I write pioneer stories from the Herb Lake Ghost Town. Please do not re-blog this material or re-publish without my permission.
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