When the mustang galloped out of the twilight
From: The History of Yolo County, California
History By: Tom Gregory
The Historical Record Company.
Los Angeles, California 1913


It is not known just when the horse galloped out of the prehistoric twilights of animal creation, or what was his disposition at that early period, but judging from the Mexican mustangs we have met, he was "a bad one." On second thought, Bronco might have come from his natal wild with ferocity undeveloped, and his present savagery was thrust upon him or hammered into him by humanity. Certainly nothing but a Mexican horse can live under a Mexican rider. And mount that vaquero, folded in his gaudy trappings, on a vicious, always ready to buck equine devil of the rancho, and a more complete and fantastic centaur never plunged out of mythology. Consideration for the horses seems to have been unknown among these horsemen, and the animal seems to have known that fact, and lived with the single object of "doing up" his rider. For this he endured abuse and often semi starvation, climbed almost inaccessible steeps with the sure footedness of a goat, and kicked the miles behind him with the perseverance of an express train; and all the time be was thinking of the obligation lie owed man, the obligation to buck him off and kick him to death at the first opportunity; and this debt he always tried to pay. With the coming of the American came the draught horse, colossal and splendid, and the antithesis of the seemingly frail little cause that followed the wild cattle trails. Also came the thoroughbred, every ripple of his blueblood showing under his silken coat, with the pride of his Arabian lineage in the swing of his dainty heels - a far remove from the shaggy haired, hoof worn, half starved wild thing of the western range.


But with all this class distinction, here's to you, Mexican mustang. You look tough, you act tough, you are tough, but you came into Old Spain with Moorish knighthood and you shared the glory of your warrior rider. You are now a poor, humble, despised bronc, but your patent to nobility goes back to the golden days of Good Haroun Al Raschid!


And the day of the tigerish cow of Spain was ended when the mild queen of the dairy from over the seas - from Holstein, Durham and Jersey - came to create and run a local milk route. The shorthorns and the no horns cropped the clover blooms and oaten heads on the ranges for the newer Californian.

The first American cattle found their way into the new territory as the motive power of the "prairie schooners," and when they were unyoked from these immigrant wagons they had their price either for beef or hauling freight into the mines. Driving bands of American cows and horses across the plains to thrive and increase in the rich pasturage of these fenceless valleys became an industry that has grown with the years.


Another pioneer beast of burden, the mule, has played an important part in the livestock wealth of the Pacific slope. This sturdy and exceedingly useful animal came to this coast with the black Spanish cattle and Spanish mustang, and was well rated as the following price list of that time shows: One sheep, $2; one ox, $5; one cow, $5; one mare, $5; one saddle horse, $10; one mule, $10. As a saddle horse was a physical and moral part of a Spanish Californian, we can easily see that the long eared, homely mule had a value all his own. As a team animal over the plains and mountains of the west this hybrid with his strength and inexpensive upkeep, has no equal.

The sheep were here and only needed an American and a market to make them profitable. Hogs were soon introducd and the fat porkers did not beg for buyers. In fact, it is said that in 1850 it took many ounces of gold to reach the value of a full grown hog. William Gordon was one of the pioneer swine herders and early stocked his ranch with best breeds and he was soon able to supply other breeders with a valuable stock. One hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars apiece he frequently received for his acorn fed thoroughbreds raised under the Cache valley oaks. Some of these old stock sales records are interesting as reminiscent of those earlier times. From one of them we learn that in 1855 S. Cooper sold an ox to Spurk & Frierson for $100; while four years previous A. Kendall sold to that firm a milch cow for the same sum; in 1851 Charles Coil bought of J. M. Harbin 1,500 Spanish cattle at $18 a head, and 200 saddle horses at $40 a piece; these animals must have been out of market condition, as beef cattle were selling at $35 per head, and a well broken vaquero horse would bring $150. J. W. Chiles paid $30 apiece for several milch cows just from "across the plains," and sold them, fat and fresh, in San Francisco for $175 each, one of them being rated at $250. Charles Coil in 1851 went east and returned the following year with 350 choice American cows. The next spring he sold them with their young calves at from $75 to $250 each.


Probably the pioneer horseman of Yolo was Dr. H. P. Merritt, who lived a few miles south from Woodland. On New Year's day, 1851, he passed through Yolo county afoot and exceedingly' poor in cash, driving four little pack mules loaded with merchandise, bound for the Shasta mines. The next year Dr. Merritt was buying American horses at all prices and selling at an advance. During 1852 he went east and brought one hundred head of horses back to California, settling on a ranch in Yolo county. While his stock was fattening for market the doctor put in a crop of wheat, paying nine cents a pound for the seed. He raised a fine harvest of smut which cost him about $4,000. His horses saved him from bankruptcy, as he immediately sold fourteen span to the California Stage Co. at $700 a span. Merritt frequently got $500 and $800 apiece for his horses, as most of them were splendid animals, large and strong. In 1852-3-4 Yolo county was the prize horse county of the state. During these years a number of thoroughbred mares got into the country, such as "Tom Moore," brought in '52 from Missouri by Humphrey Cooper; the same year James Moore imported two fine horses, which he called "Bulwer" and "Lola Montez." Henry Williams in 1854 brought in "Owen Dale," by Belmont, and during that year Carey Barney laid out a mile track near Knight's Landing, where for years the fastest horses were trained and


The initial dairy in Yolo county was located near Washington and was owned by J. C. Davis, and following this was the dairy established during the year 1850 on what was afterwards the Mike Bryte place, by C. H. Cooley and Wallace Cunningham. The milk business paid in those days, $1 a quart or $2 a gallon when sold in large quantity As the dairies were established the prices naturally went down. Many of the dealers along the river suffered from the periodical floods, when the old Sacramento swept over her banks and washed the ranches, cows and all away to the sea.

The extensive plains and hill ranges of Yolo were stocked with cattle when the dry spell of 1857 cut down the feed, the herds and prices. This was followed by the cold and wet winters of 1861-2, which about completed the disaster. Hundreds of thousands of cattle driven from the lowlands by the excessive floods wandered over the grassless upper lands starving to death. Stock raisers went bankrupt and in many localities it is said the only persons who realized a dollar from the industry were those who went through the country skinning the dead animals. These repeated disasters, first wet and then dry, gradually turned the settlers to agriculture, to the possibilities under the hoofs instead of to apparent probabilities over the hoofs.

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