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.