Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If the Shoe Fits: Mystery Artifact Revealed

Our readers took a look at our recent mystery artifact and guessed correctly that it had something to do with transportation:

After the clue that you would need eight of these to do the job properly, many readers guessed that this metal item had something to do with wagon brakes.  This was a great guess, although not exactly the function of this item.

This is a shoe for an ox.  Because oxen have cloven hooves, they need a shoe on each part of their hoof to protect the hoof from damage or splitting.  With all those nails driven into the hoof  to attach the shoe it may look like being shod hurts the ox, but because the hoof is made from material similar to human fingernails, it is no more painful than clipping fingernails would be to us!

This image was taken from a website called Draft Animal Power Network, and it shares several photos of cattle being shod.  Here is a link to the forum :   Below is another great image from the site, showing the tongue, similar to the one on the shoe in our collection, protruding from between the ox's "toes."

Oxen were very important to European-American colonists and settlers in our region.  When yoked together, two oxen could pull loads of several tons, making them more efficient than a horse team for pulling heavy wagons loaded full of supplies and household possessions.  They were hardy creatures with bodies well-suited to process scrubby brush and plants found along the trail, so they were easier to feed than horses.  While oxen pulled at a slower pace than a horse team, they pulled more steadily and could average 16 to 18 miles a day.  Additionally, if an ox was injured or died while on the trail, it provided a good food source.

Oxen played a different but equally important role on established homesteads.  They were useful in clearing trees to create farm fields, moving building supplies, and plowing the tough prairie sods for planting.  Below is a link to a video from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, showing a woman plowing a field with oxen hauling the plow:
Plowing a Field with Oxen
It looks like hard work - I think I would be more tired than the oxen at the end of a day behind a plow!

Did you know some ox breeds are in danger of becoming extinct?  As oxen on family farms were gradually replaced by first horses, then later technology including tractors, historic bloodlines have been lost.  However, historians at Colonial Williamsburg are helping to revive a couple of rare breeds while teaching more about the large animals and their importance in early American life.  Here is a link to an article on Colonial Williamsburg's website describing their work:
Smart as a Ox

Stop in at the Museum to take a close look at our ox shoe and maybe catch a sneak peek of our next mystery artifact!

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