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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Everybody Has a Story: How we gained wild horse on farm


In 1944, I was 13 years old. I had two brothers, Alfred and Richard. Al was nine years older than me, and fighting in the Army. Richard, who was three years older than me, was working in the shipyards with my dad on Swan Island in Portland.

We had a 5-acre farm about of a mile north of a small town called Parkrose. It was about a half mile east of where Portland International Airport is now. When I was little, the only airport was on Swan Island.

There were three large dairies close to our farm. Richard and I both had horses to ride. We could ride on the dairy properties as long as we shut the gates.

Richard’s horse was named Patches. She was beautiful with brown and white patches of hair. She was carrying a colt about six months when she died in a sad accident. Richard wanted to get another horse.

The American Indians at the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon were getting ready for their annual spring wild horse roundup. They sold the horses for $20 each. All the horses were wild, right off the range.

We asked Dad if we could buy one and he said, “We have a small farm. It is not set up for a wild horse. You have to have a corral to tame a wild horse and there is no place to build a corral. Plus, I don’t really want to feed another animal through the winter.”

“We could build a corral 60-by-60 feet, close to the hay barn,” my brother said. “I work at the shipyard and could help with the feed.”

We also said we already got permission to cut down some small trees to build the corral. This patch of trees would now be about where the Interstate 205 Bridge crosses the Columbia River.

Dad said, “You build the corral first, then we will talk about it.”

I was still in school, Richard was working at the shipyards, plus we had to help on the farm. Every bit of our free time was cutting and packing the small trees out of the woods and building the corral. We pulled the trees with my horse, High Ky. We got the corral built before the spring roundup.

Dad said, “OK, you did a good job.”

When the roundup was on, we took off in Dad’s 1936 Dodge with a horse trailer to Warm Springs. The roundup took place in the hills. A large corral was built with about 30 or more wild horses in it. While Richard was looking for a horse he wanted, I wandered around.

I saw this old American Indian sitting on the top rail of the corral. He had long white hair hanging down to his belt. He said, “Come on up.” I went up and sat next to him. We watched the American Indians working the horses, which were running around in all directions, scared to death. They were never in a corral before and being herded around by people on horseback.

The old man said, “My name is Elmer Tom.”

He was 100 years old. I liked Elmer Tom right away. He was very nice and very interesting. He told me about his childhood. I was fascinated that it was so different from mine. We also talked about horses, of course. At 13 years old, I loved stories about cowboys and Indians and horses.

(Later, around 1964, I was an electrician and sometimes I would stop off to have a cup of coffee. There on the counter was a newspaper whose front page headline caught my eye: “Elmer Tom died at the Warm Springs Reservation.” It said Elmer Tom was about 114 years old.)

Richard picked a beautiful black horse with a patch of white hair on his forehead. The horse was full of wild horse spirit, running, jumping, kicking and scared to death. It took three men to get him in the trailer. His ride to our farm had to be really scary.

We could not get him out of the trailer. He would not move. Our neighbor Roy came over to help. He was in his 20s. Roy got the horse out and into the corral. The horse reared up and hit Roy on his head. The hoof knocked Roy out and blood was all over.

The ambulance came and took Roy to the hospital. We got the horse calmed down by feeding him hay and water. Now here comes Mrs. Alton, Roy’s mother. She had a gun and she said that horse killed her son and she was going to kill him.

My dad talked her out of killing the horse. Roy was home the next day, still hurting but alive.

The horse turned out to be a gentle and loving animal. In fall, apples started falling off the trees so every time I went out to milk the cow, I would give the horse an apple. He loved apples and he would follow me around looking for apples.

It was easy to saddle and break the horse because he was so gentle. We started out by brushing him a lot. Next came a halter so we could lead him, then the saddle blanket and then the saddle. When the horse got used to carrying them on his back, which took a week or so, my brother slowly climbed up into the saddle and the horse just stood there and then took one little jump.

He turned out to be a great riding horse. After World War II was over, Richard took a job with his horse working on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. He kept the horse for two or three years and sold him to guess who? Roy’s mother, Mrs. Alton.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.