Horse Sense

by Andrew H. Young

(This essay originally appeared in the September, 1996 Contra Costa Chronicles)

When working on the court records which are a substantial part of material at the History Center, one often forms pictures of the lives of the people involved. For today, let's consider the importance of the horses which were a part of the assets left to Baldwin R. Veale, a boy of ten years.

Baldwin was one of the three sons of Richard E. Veale of Byron. In 1887 he inherited all the personal property of his father's estate. He and others shared ownership of the land.

The three appraisers appointed by the court were meticulous in their inventory of personal items. There were wagons, farm implements, harness tools all the things you'd expect to find at a farm in the eastern part of Contra Costa County.

By today's standards, values were low; a black snake whip was worth only five cents, for example, and a mowing machine two dollars. Inside the house there was the usual assortment of furniture, but the organ and stool were listed at only three dollars and seven side chairs thirty cents. The picture was different when it came to the live-stock: 25 hogs added up to six dollars, while ten cows were worth thirty. Then came the listing of horses.

One of the two stallions, "Vienot," was valued at forty dollars, while "Cardinal," eight years old and dapple-gray in color, merited thirty dollars. Then came the offspring of "Vienot". Kitty, Vick, Daisy, Beck, Ida, Bell, Hallie, Sal, Lize, Vienna, Nick and Tom, ages four to seven, were thought to be worth twelve to fourteen dollars each. Suckling colts were appraised at four dollars, as were one-year-olds named Hallie, Nellie, Daisy and Beck.

"Cardinal"s family was not as numerous. Vick, Nellie, Lize, Ida, Buck, Betsy and Flora were two years old and valued at five dollars each. Understandably, age increased worth; two three-year-olds were listed at ten dollars each.

How about charges for the services of the stallions? William Pierce and Mark Walton had not yet paid their bills of ten dollars each. Apparently they were not the best of risks since the appraisers figured the asset value at only a dollar each. Five other individuals were even poorer risks they owed from ten dollars to forty-five dollars each but of the one hundred dollars these five owed, payment of only one dollar was expected.

Turning to the records of the county appraiser for the year 1887 we find listed furniture, the organ, six wagons, harness, utensils, poultry, hogs, cattle and cows. Then come the big items the horses. 'Me two stallions are thought to be worth sixteen hundred dollars, a very substantial-sum way back then. Ten American horses were worth a thousand dollars and five half-breeds two hundred fifty. Then come the colts, aggregating nine hundred. These values, incidentally, are closer to those shown in other court records than to the nominal amounts indicated by the court-appointed appraisers. The total value of all personal belongings was four thousand, six hundred fifty dollars, a handsome legacy for a boy of ten.

It seems likely that life on the Veale ranch revolved around the horses, and the young heir was much involved in their care. My thought is that this stock farm was a substantial asset not only for the Veale family but also for the surrounding community. After all, personal transportation and farm operations were both dependent on horse power. A local source of supply must have been much appreciated.


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