By PATRICIA SANDERS
Source: Oregon Journal, December 8, 1912
In its December 8, 1912 edition, the Oregon Journal urged people to do their Christmas shopping early. The reason? So horses would not be driven at “breakneck speed on slippery streets from early in the morning until late at night” in order to deliver gifts to homes.
The newspaper also reminded horse owners to blanket their horses, feed them well, and keep their quarters clean.
Why did the Journal think their readers needed these reminders? After all, as we saw in in Part 1 of this story, horses were a critical source of power in cities well into the 20th Century. You would expect “man’s most useful servant” to be treated well.
Abuse and neglect
But despite their utility, the pages of Portland newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th Century include example after example of horse abuse and neglect. And that included Montavilla.
The Oregonian of February 13, 1910, for example, described a man in Montavilla who was charged with driving a horse with “a very sore shoulder.” And that’s not the worst of the cases reported.
Reports of lame horses forced to work, horses brutally beaten, horses struggling with overloaded wagons were common offenses. Newspapers also noted cases of horses being deprived of food or even abandoned by their owners. Many were burned and killed in stable fires.
Such mistreatment was not new or unique to Portland. In fact, the movement to protect animals, especially horse, dates back to mid-18th Century England. Later, during the 19th Century, societies to prevent cruelty to animals were established; first in Britain, then in continental Europe, and after the Civil War, in the United States.
The Oregon Humane Society
The impetus to do something about the mistreatment of animals in Oregon began in 1868 when Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot (1841 – 1936) of First Unitarian Church witnessed a carriage horse being abused on a Portland street. He gathered together a small group of prominent Portland citizens and they began one of America’s earliest humane societies.
In 1873, the group was incorporated in Multnomah County as the Oregon Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A few years later it was renamed the Oregon Humane Society, as it is still known today.
Over the years the OHS helped to enact stricter animal protection laws: a Portland law in 1873 and a state law in 1885. To enforce these laws in Portland, the chief of police appointed a humane officer who coordinated with the OHS. One police officer was hardly enough, so several OHS members were also authorized to make arrests.
Regular reports by the Portland humane officer to the OHS show an appalling level of animal cruelty and demonstrate the necessity of the laws. Humane officer Felix St. Martin (1819 – 1890), for example, reported 611 cases from April to December 1885. In 1910, incidents of injury and neglect were still high: 450 reported cases.
Edward L. Crate (1850 – 1928) was a Portland humane officer for many years in the early 20th Century. The humane officer’s territory was huge and in 1903 the police authorized mounted patrol.
Photo source: Oregon Journal, May 8, 1906
Horses also often encountered dangerous conditions. Icy streets in winter were a hazard unless horses were equipped with caulked horseshoes. Malfunctioning electric streetcars sometimes shocked horses who stepped on tracks. In Part 1, we saw an example of a horse who stepped on an electrified line near the corner of SE 80th Avenue and SE Stark Street in 1910.
Montavilla had another hazardous condition in those early years. There were about two-dozen deep, open wells and cisterns into which horses, cattle, and children had fallen. The Oregon Journal of January 22, 1903 revealed that a number of horses and cattle were shot after breaking their legs by falling into wells. The Montavilla Board of Trade demanded that Multnomah County, the well owners, make the wells safe and eventually the County boarded them over.
Bands of Mercy
In its early years when the OHS faced opposition and hostility, it found a welcome ally in Portland’s public schools. For example, students participated in essay contests sponsored by the OHS beginning in 1880. Prizes went to those who wrote the best essays on various humane topics.
The OHS also organized Bands of Mercy in schools. In their weekly meetings, children learned about being kind to animals through songs, stories, and lessons. Bands of Mercy, which began in Britain in 1875, became widely popular in the US from 1882 into the early 20th Century.
An unidentified Band of Mercy, c. 1890
Source: National Museum of Animals & Society
Instruction in kind treatment of animals became a requirement for all Oregon public schools with the passage of a new law in 1921. Each class was to receive a minimum of 15 minutes of such instruction per week. To help teachers fulfill this mandate, the Oregonian published a series of articles which included lists of books and illustrations.
“The Horse’s Prayer” and “Black Beauty”
From the beginning, humane societies recognized the value of literature in promoting their cause. “The Horse’s Prayer” especially appealed to Americans, according to the Oregonian of May 21, 1916. This anonymous entreaty had been published many times over decades, and the Oregonian published one version. Particularly effective in the US was “The Horse’s Prayer.” Various versions of this anonymous plea had appeared for decades.
The Oregonian included the version below during the 1916 “Be Kind to Animals Week”:
The beginning portion of “The Horse’s Prayer.”
Source: Oregonian, May 21, 1916
Another big boost to the humane cause came with the publication of the novel “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell (1820 – 1878). Published in 1877, it was soon a best seller and remained one to the present time. Like the “Horse’s Prayer,” this was a first-person account of a working horse. American humane societies, including the OHS, distributed it widely for its engaging appeal.
Oregon Humane Society ad offering a copy of Black Beauty and membership for a $1 contribution in the Oregonian of November 13, 1895. The OHS also distributed this book at no cost to teachers, school directors, and others.
Cover of the first edition of Black Beauty, published by Jarrold & Sons of London in 1877. This book would become one of the best sellers of all time. Beginning with Edison Studios and D. W. Griffith in 1917, it has also been adapted for movies and TV programs. The most recent adaptation was made in 2020.
Many churches also took up the cause of animal protection. In Portland, for example, Rev. Thomas L. Cole (1848 – 1919) of Trinity Episcopal Church addressed the issue in his July 17, 1892 sermon. There he advised parishioners read “Black Beauty” to learn about the plight of horses.
“Cruelty to Animals,” a sermon by Rev. Thomas Cole.
Source: Oregonian, July 17, 1892
In 1915, as part of “Be Kind to Animals Week,” humane societies across the country urged churches to observe Humane Sunday on May 23 with dedicated sermons.
The Oregon Journal of May 22 wrote that many Portland churches responded to the appeal. Montavilla churches apparently were not among them. According to the Montavilla Sun of May 28, 1915, that was not from lack of caring. The people in Montavilla, the newspaper reported, were always humane.
In the same May 28 edition, the Sun did its bit to promote kindness to animals by running a segment of a 1913 article from the Massachusetts SPCA magazine, “Our Dumb Animals,” urging pet ownership as a way to teach children compassion for animals.
This workhorse parade was part of Portland’s Rose Festival in 1913
Source: Our Dumb Animals, September 4, 1913
In the early 20th Century, cities across the country organized workhorse parades to celebrate equine labor and to promote better treatment by their drivers. In Portland, workhorses drawing wagons were a new division of the horse and vehicle portion of the 1912 and 1913 Rose Parades.
By the way, one of the four judges of the workhorse entries was Alfred Curtis Ruby (1865 – 1942), a prominent horse importer and breeder and soon to be vice-president, then president of the Montavilla Savings Bank.
To anti-cruelty supporters, this pairing of horses and motorized vehicles must have seemed symbolic of a dream that one day soon motorized vehicles would do the hard work then performed mostly by horses. Then these workhorses could retire to peaceful pastures for a well-deserved rest… just like Black Beauty.
Roderick Frazier Nash, “The Rights of Nature. A History of Environmental Ethics,” 1989, University of Wisconsin Press (Multnomah County Library has the ebook online)
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Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here.
Thank you for sharing this. The birth of the idea of kindness to animals was not that long ago.