Hazards of horse-drawn vehicles
Last week, I happened to read an article in the Kentucky New Era archives on Google about a horse and buggy accident in the early 1900s. The horse became frightened when it met an automobile on the road.
The story piqued my curiosity about such accidents. Were they frequent, when automobiles began sharing narrow roads with horses? To my surprise, I didn't find any similar stories in the old local newspapers that I searched online -- the Kentucky New Era and the Hopkinsville Kentuckian. (Such accidents surely did happen, but my brief search didn't turn up any more records!)
However, accounts of other types of accidents with horse-drawn vehicles were common. Many reports told about frightened horses running away. Often, no cause was cited for the horse's panic. That's not surprising. Just a leaf blowing across the road can be enough of an excuse for a flighty horse!
Often, passengers were injured when the runaway horses tipped over wagons or buggies. The injuries were usually not fatal, and the passengers were usually expected to recover.
Sometimes the passengers jumped from a buggy as the horse ran away with it! They suffered bruises, but survived.
Some accidents happened when a piece of the buggy or wagon broke unexpectedly. Then, the startled horse would bolt. If the disabled vehicle stayed attached to the horse, it would be drug until it overturned. Other accidents happened when a piece of the harness broke, frightening the horse.
Dr. John Clardy (you may remember his name from my recent post about Oakland Manor's history) had an accident of this sort:
Dr. John D. Clardy, while driving one of his most gentle and much used horses at his home near Church Hill last Sunday, came near being the victim of a serious accident. He was in the buggy alone when one of the traces broke. The shafts of the buggy dropped to the ground and the frightened animal bounded off on a mad run for the stable. The Doctor was jerked out of the buggy and says the first thing he knew, he was just standing on his head in the soft ground. His many friends will be glad to know that he was not injured in the least. He says he was not scared a little bit, as he never gets scared at anything.
Source: Hopkinsville Kentuckian, August 20, 1907. This newspaper page contains several more reports of horse-related mishaps, under the heading, "A Chapter of Accidents".
Passing Too Closely
Sometimes, horse-drawn vehicles came too close to each other and an accident happened. It was dangerous when one driver attempted to pass another on a narrow road. In one case that I read, the wheels of two buggies became interlocked, causing both horses to panic and both buggies to overturn. It was best, then as now, to wait for a wide spot before trying to pass.
Accidents in streams were often fatal. Many creeks and rivers were crossed at fords, and people sometimes underestimated the depth of the water and the strength of the water's flow, especially at night. If the wagon or buggy overturned, the passengers often drowned. Sometimes, they were caught under their vehicle, but more often, they were carried downstream. In some cases, their bodies were never found.
In one sad incident of this sort, an elderly black preacher, Rev. Peter Bronaugh, drove his buggy down to the edge of Little River on Second Street in Hopkinsville to let his horse drink. His young grandson was in the buggy with him. The river was running deep and fast, due to recent heavy rains.
When the horse had drunk his fill, Rev. Bronaugh attempted to drive the buggy back up the riverbank. It was muddy and the horse could not get a good footing. The buggy slid into the swiftly-flowing water and tipped over. Rev. Bronaugh drowned on the spot, while his grandson was carried downriver by the current. People saw him but could not reach him, and he too drowned. The horse was able to escape from the current at the river bend. (Source: Hopkinsville Kentuckian, May 16, 1899. The article also describes a similar accident that occurred in the same area, 25 years earlier.)
In March of 1910, respected tobacco buyer and Jessup Avenue resident James Gee was drowned when he attempted to ford Little River in his buggy at the "treacherous Second street crossing" in Hopkinsville. Gee drove into high water in darkness (7:30 PM), obviously not realizing the river's flooded condition. He had been out all day buying tobacco, and he was bundled up in a heavy overcoat and a big laprobe. It was believed that these garments impeded his ability to swim. His body was found downstream the next day. His horse also perished.
I read at least a dozen sadly-similar stories of stream-fording accidents in the old Hopkinsville newspapers. These reports are not wasted on me, even though I don't live in horse-and-buggy days. I occasionally come to streams that must be forded as I explore the rural roads in and around Christian County. I have always been cautious about driving into stream fords, and I intend to be even more cautious in the future!