Thursday, December 20, 2012

Horsin' Around (Again!)

More filler for these long evenings!  Looking forward to the holidays so I can get out during the daylight hours on these short days.......

Something I wrote several years ago for my column on CKTimes.

The topic is about horses.  I’m not an expert on the animal, but I would like to tell you about some local history.  In the early days of Wallaceburg, my great grandfather Sam Mann set up a livery stable at the corner of Lafontaine and Wellington Streets.  The year was 1873 to be exact and it became a popular spot.  Sam became well known for the supplying and doctoring of horses.  His claim to fame was his collection of trick horses.
In the fall of 1887, Sam Mann traveled to the territory of Idaho to look at some native horses.  On the Fort Hall Indian Reservation at Ross Fork, were some traders that dealt with spotted ponies.  Sam bought twenty of these at $10.50 a head and brought them all the way back to Wallaceburg by train and overland.  Some were sold, while he kept others for his trick horse show.
Sam taught these horses all kinds of tricks and stunts to amuse the public.  I have several old photographs that depict these horses and some of their acts.  The horses, of course, all had names and the one depicted here is Mingo.  Others named included Rosey, Nagel, Nebo, and Pinto.  They would do all kinds of things including playing dead, and walking planks.  My grandfather said that Nebo was the outlaw, so you had to watch yourself around him. 

The horses were also used in pulling the local hearse, various wagons, or were available to the public for rental.  I think the cost was a dollar a day for horseback.
Sam supplied the hearse for the funeral of Josiah Hensen ("Uncle Tom") of the underground railroad fame.
As well, when Sir Wilfred Laurier came to town, he supplied the transportation.

They were unique horses in that they seemed quite intelligent.  I was told that if they were at the Heath’s Funeral Parlour on the south side of town, they could find their own way home with just a nudge.  This included crossing the Centre Bridge, something a horse would not generally do.

These horses were so well-known that in fact the famous William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, heard about them.  After his plainsman days, Buffalo Bill traveled all over the United States with his Wild West Show.  He even got into Canada for a bit.  While stopped in Chatham, he heard about Sam’s horses and sent a scout to Wallaceburg to negotiate a sale.  Sam refused to sell.  The scout stayed for dinner at the Mann house, but did leave two tickets to the show. 

After the turn of the century, the popularity of horses waned due to the automobile.  By 1919, the livery stable and all its associated equipment were obsolete.  Sam Mann tried to sell the equipment, but to no avail, and it was all burned in one big bonfire.  I guess the horses eventually died off, and whether any offspring exist, I do not know.
All that remains is a series of photographs.  Some of these are in the original bifold display frames that Sam set out during his show.  I restored these many years ago.

While on the subject of horses, many do not realize that wild horses once roamed St. Anne’s Island.  It is said that many were released there following the War of 1812.  For what reason I do not know, but they were left to breed and feed on the island for 150 years.  Apparently they came from the mid-western plains and were brought there by the natives.  The last few were eventually rounded up in the late 1960’s.  I do remember when I was very young in the late 1960’s I saw one or two coming to the water’s edge at the north end of St. Anne’s Island for a drink.  We were passing by in a boat.


  1. Nice historical reference Blake. I guess in 1920, someone must have coined the term "Same old dog and pony show"... around the time Sam Mann was burning his equipment.

  2. Bill HetheringtonMarch 30, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    Blake, we recently founded a site on Facebook called Vintage Wallaceburg. The page contains photos of historical significance for the town.

    We are always looking for content and I was wondering if I could share some of the photos on your blog. Care will always be taken to attribute the source.

    If you have other old photographs of interest, feel free to e-mail them to

    Here's the link to the Vintage Wallaceburg page: