Family Bull

I’m sixteen days away from the election. I have a dozen posts in my head waiting for my fingers to type them up. I’ve got 225 lawnsigns to put up. I’ve got an ad for the Trib and one for the Reader to draw up. I have to decide whether to dig into my pocket deep enough to pay for the latter. There are forums to attend and one campaign report to file at the end of this week. But I’ve found a new cousin who knows about parts of my family history I’ve never looked very carefully at before.

I’m sixty-two and would like to better understand where my family came from to help understand why I’ve become the person I am. Fifty years of reading good histories have left me with a pretty good understanding of the nation’s history that my ancestors traveled through. But some of that larger history misses the personal. I find myself torn between my school board campaign to complete my forty year journey to make sense of public education and my family’s larger odyssey through a fascinating, nation’s history.

My McLatchey cousin has prompted me to review some old family histories I don’t recall having read before. I’m sending them to him and last night I read about my Mother’s Maternal Grandfather, one of my eight great-grandparents.

None of the history I’ve written about the Red Plan can compare with this episode about Joseph Fremont McLatchey as recalled by his oldest daughter May (Jenny May):

One event in our family life that came nearer to tragedy was the vicious attack on Dad by our Jersey bull. The animal was bred in England at Stokes Poges and was registered Stokes Poges VII. He won many premiums, and his offspring were great producers of cream and milk. He was imported by a Mr. “Jersey” Miller, I think, of whom Dad bought him. The animal had appeared as docile as a milk cow during the few months we had owned him.

On a hot morning in August 1890, I went to the corral, but did not enter, as the bull instead of moving away just lowered his head and stood still watching me. This seemed a little unusual, so I waited until Dad came and led him to the stable. Suddenly, I heard some noise and turned to see the bull toss Dad three feet into the air. When Dad hit the ground, that bull dropped to his knees beside him and again tossed him up. Never in my life have I seen any animal of such size move with such horrifying fury and speed, nor with such amazingly graceful movements.

I started running towards them with only a one-legged stool in my hand, but Dad, high in the air, saw me coming and called out, “get a pitchfork.” It could not have taken me more than two minutes to run through the stable and return with the pitchfork, but Dad was standing up outside the fence, tying the bull to the gatepost. He had held to the rope all the time, and once succeeded in reaching the ring in the bull’s nose, but the next throw tore his hand lose.

One wild charge by the bull thrown Dad with his back against the fence right under the place where there was a brace against the gate post. He must have been “jack knifed” as, when the charge came, he was able to push both feet against the Bull’s face and was pushed right under the fence. The brute was still charging against the fence trying to attack, but the well braced post held.

Dad’s clothes were in ribbons, and he was covered with blood. Realizing how dreadful he must look, he told me to go on ahead and tell mother. It was only a few weeks before Raye was born, and his thought was to save her from shock. That was the only time I ever heard mother cry out from fright, but when she saw Dad walking to the house, she was reassured. It was a month before Dad again left the house, and then it was on crutches.

There were five or six bruises on Dad’s right side just below the armpit, where the bull’s horns had stuck, and any one of them must have been fatal if it had penetrated to a vital spot; but each had been deflected somehow, and the horn passed under Dad for another toss into the air. We found three hairs from Dad’s head on a bark on the lowest line of the fence and his head was cut to the bone, clear across the top. His body was covered with black and blue spots. Mother started immediately cleansing Dad’s wounds with boiled water in carbolic acid. There were no anti-biotics in those days, the acid was an effective disinfectant. The worst wound was where the brute’s horn had penetrated the left thigh, and instead of tearing out, had pulled out, leaving a hole 3 or 4 inches deep. Mother began on this wound and it required long and thorough care to prevent blood poisoning.

Verna was 10 years old at this time, and when she saw Dad in blood and rags, she fainted dead away. Mother said “take Care of her, May,” and went on cleaning up Dad’s wounds

Just then, one of our neighbors, John lyttle, drove up on horseback to ask Dad to help with threshing. He took one look at Dad, turned white as a ghost and started off to ride seven miles for a doctor.

I do want Dad’s children and grandchildren to know of his great presence of mind and calm courage when faced with such swift action and terrible danger, shown when he called me to bring a pitchfork, thinking of warning Mother, and putting his feet against the Bull’s face, which pushed him under the fence and probably saved his life; and perhaps mine too, I was wondering just how hard I could jab with that pitchfork.

I was the only witness to this episode and I seem to see every detail as clearly today as I saw it then, nearly sixty-four years ago. It was something one could never forget.

Aunt May must have been quite the girl. At eight she was riding a horse all afternoon by herself to round up the family’s cattle in the fenceless Kansas plains to the west and bringing them back at night for milking. Her favorite horse “Kit” was rode to ruin the year before the run-in with Stokes Poge VII when her Dad tried to claim a piece of Oklahoma bottom land in the great Oklahoma Land Rush only to find it all being staked out by Sooners.