Thursday, August 4, 2011

Taverns, Swap Days, Drovers & Livery Stables

By Richard Palmer

All of the above were intertwined. The early taverns had a livery stable and were places where men congregated to eat, drink and talk. Their importance is indicated by the fact that all taverns were licensed and it was the responsibility of local governments to issue the license. Taverns were required by law to serve refreshments to travelers and drovers. This included food, drink and lodging. The bar room was usually separate from the dining facilities, and if not, ladies were seated apart in a separate alcove. The taverns were usually stage stops and he tavern barns were change stations for the horses.

Drovers were commonplace and their needs had to be care for both in passing and for overnight. All livestock was moved "on the hoof" and drovers herded cattle along the road sometimes with 15 to 20 in a herd. Provision was made for holding the cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and turkeys in overnight enclosures. This was done at wayside inns that were located practically within sight of each other along the major roads and turnpikes in the old days. Drovers continued on the roads until the coming of the railroads, but much longer in areas where there were no railroads until much later. There were usually two livery stables in each small village.

Salesmen, called drummers, traveled by stage and later trains. and they would hire a rig to take them to the merchants. Loaded with many sample cases, a salesman made the rounds of the village and country stores. The tavern keepers were genial hosts, sometimes called inn-keepers or hostelers, and the men who cared for the horses in the liveries were hostlers. The most active were located in major communities along the turnpikes.

One uncommon local phenomenon was the annual fall Swap Day. The word went out and men assembled from miles around to buy, sell or swap horses. Horses swapped had defects so no one was "bested." Horse traders were all egotists and each believe he had a superior knowledge of horseflesh. Most of the participants had lost their amateur standing. On the appointed day the stable and yards would b e filled to overflowing with all kinds of rigs and horses. These swap days were sometimes called Jockey Day and they were continued until after the first decade of the 20th century. The modern version is the cattle and stock auction. In the old days the local hotels catered to the dealers and swappers.

At Swap Day a good time was had by all as the men wise to the ways of horseflesh and crafty swappers, all with a little larceny in their hearts, met at the all-day sessions. Great care was exercised as these experts groomed their horses, doctored, dyed and doped them. It is related that sometimes a man influenced by hard cider and excitement would swap horses three times and end up with the same horse! Talk in the back rooms by staple hands mentioned stimulants, opiates, dampening hay, kerosene mist over feed, sponges in nostrils and shoe polish on eyebrows.

Later bands of gypsies traveled through the countryside with long strings of swapping horses and they might camp for three days. At other times the law officers escorted them out of town as the merchants hastily locked their stores fearing thievery.

At farm auctions usually held in the spring about moving time the auctioneer had his individual "patter" that might go something like this: "Gentlemen, this horse stands 15 hands high, weighs 1,300 pounds, is going on eight years old - she is a good looker, a high stepper, kind and gentle and hasn't a blemish on her. She is sold free from ring bone, spavin, heaves and is sound as a dollar i n wind and limb - works in any harness, single or double. How much am I offered?" These auctioneers were responsible people and would mention it if a horse was a kicker, etc. Some words denoting the color of horses would mean little today - sorrel, chestnut, bay and roan, both strawberry and blue.

Some Western dealers would cull out the less desirable cattle, horses and sheep and send them back East to be sold. They would be pastured until such time as a sale occurred. Farmers always needed one good team of horses. Many times an extra or third horse could be used on the horse fork rope, single cultivator or on a three-horse hitch with the binder. It was this extra horse that was traded.

At Swap Day, the professional horse traders had a specialized vocabulary full of legal escape words. These might include such phrases as this horse could "stand without hitching, or "If you buy this cow you don't need to keep her." If it was returned, that meant you could kill it or sell it. "This horse doesn't look good" could mean it had only one eye. "A lady can drive it as well as a man." The age of the horse to the enlightened could be told by looking at the teeth. The meaning of the cliche, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," is obvious.

The aged, the kickers, run-aways, cribbers, and those with physical defects went to the Swap days. In earlier times, the swap day was where you would find injured and galled horses from the Erie Canal and the stagecoach lines. Some of the local blacksmiths had as principal customers the canal, stagecoach, express and forwarding companies. There were a great many of these lines hauling mail and freight in upstate New York prior to the advent of the railroad.

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