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As It Was: Sturdy Animals Haul Goods Beyond Railroad’s Reach

Moving goods beyond the railroad’s reach between Southern Oregon and California was a dirty and dangerous job requiring sturdy horses and mules.

Nineteenth Century freight wagons traveled over miles of rough roads to supply outlying communities and haul out their produce.

Ten horses pulled the wagons, which were made of wood and iron. The strongest and most intelligent horses were called “rear pointers” and were hooked directly to the wagon tongue.  They were often the reason the team survived a hairpin turn.

The wagons averaged about two miles an hour downhill, and could pull an 8-ton load 15 miles in a day.  They wore bells audible a mile away as a warning to other wagons coming around a bend.

A long team of several wagons rolling along behind jangling horses was an impressive sight.  Hazards included runaways down a steep grade, wagon breakdowns that took half the profit out of a trip, or a valuable horse dying in route. 

After a long dusty drive, the teamsters and horses often stopped at ranches catering to them, many of which later became inns serving travelers a hot meal and company.

Source: Smith, Esther R. The History of Del Norte County, California. 1953, pp. 28-34.

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Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.