Horse Power

Week 49: #52 Ancestors – Winter

By Eilene Lyon

Well into the 20th century, my ancestors relied on horse power. The real thing. Here are a few images from the “archives.”


This photo shows Chet Painter (a Halse cousin) on the Guy Halse farm in Dexter Township, Codington County, South Dakota. Though it’s cold enough that there are icicles hanging from the wagon, Chet isn’t even wearing gloves! His jacket and hat don’t look particularly warm, either. It looks to me like what he’s sitting on is a large metal trough. What do you think? I just love the draft horses. So sturdy and noble.

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This picture comes from Moscow, Idaho. My great-grandfather, Charles E. Smith, had a grocery delivery business in the 1910s and early 1920s. Though he later bought trucks, originally all the hauling was done by horse-drawn wagon – or once it snowed, by sleigh!

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This watercolor painting depicts a family legend, a dairy delivery horse named Napoleon. The Clear Lake Dairy was started by my dad’s uncle, Lloyd Halse. He and his wife, Berdyne, raised Jersey cows on their farm. Napoleon would get hitched to the delivery wagon (an old mail truck), and set out for the dairy in town – with no one at the reins!

The gentle horse knew the entire route by heart. The dairy man would jump from the wagon at each house, get the order, then put the bottles of milk inside the house. At the end of the day, Napoleon would be told to go back to the farm, and off he would go – again, without a driver. He knew to stop at the railroad tracks before crossing, too.

I like how the milk wagon is pulling a kid on a sled.  According to my great-aunt, Shirley, “…kids would come out to ride on the wagon a ways and even our own kids would crawl up [Napoleon’s] legs and he would just stand there and let them.”

Napoleon worked the dairy route until his death in 1949. That was the end of horse-drawn dairy deliveries, and a sad time, in Clear Lake, South Dakota.

Feature image: Watercolor of the Clear Lake Dairy wagon (Courtesy of Clear Lake Historical Society)

28 thoughts on “Horse Power

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  1. Such a sweet and charming story. I can only imagine how delightful it’d be to have a horse + wagon deliver milk to my house. Much nicer than the FedEx guy tossing a box onto our front stoop then pounding on the door. Simpler times, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great little piece of family history. I bet that milk delivery included glass bottles with cream on top! The house I grew up in had spot for the milk delivery, of course it was never used in my time, my parents just nailed it shut!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just loved this post, thank you, Eilene! When you are done with the book you are working on now, maybe you could publish a children’s book about Napoleon, with the painting as a cover; it is such a charming scene and story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your winter story. Living over here in the Midwest of Western Australia there’s no chance of it ever snowing so to read these stories is wonderful. At least the milk would still get delivered and what a gentle horse. They are amazing creatures.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Eilene,

    There is something so comforting about a world where the basic essentials are delivered right to your door step, by a human being. There was a connection provided, in that everyone knew everyone else. The world was never a friendly place, but it was in those connections that it became something to which people felt they could overcome any and all adversities.

    Love this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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