In the world of eighteenth-century living history, we often see two big groups emerge--the military reenactors with their drilling, their precise uniforms, their weaponry and the costume afficiandos, the ladies and gentlemen in the ballrooms and parlors. But there's a third, less dramatic, less glamorous group that provides a vital look into the facets of life that most people in the past engaged in. These are the reenactors with civilian impressions rather than military, depicting trades and lifestyles of the not-so-rich-or-famous. Gerry and his team of four oxen are among the creme de la creme in this category. They are enthralling--everywhere they go, the team pacing steadily with Gerry's confident guiding voice beside them--they are met with amazed onlookers.
Sadly, one of the team, William, died suddenly last week. His yoke-mate, George, is in need of some help--often, when an ox's yoke mate dies, the grieving ox dies as well. So Gerry is trying to put George back to work as soon as possible, the best antidote for oxen grief. My reenacting-world friend Ye Doctor has given more info and linked to how you can help if you're so inclined.
But mostly, in tribute to William and in honor of George, I wanted to introduce you to these fine gentleman (Gerry included). I first met these fellows at an event in Indiana where we participate as an artillery unit. Appropriately, our deployment point onto the battlefield was right by these placid boys--appropriate because artillery units would have made good use of oxen to haul their wagons of powder and shot and their heavy artillery pieces. They bewitched me as well as most onlookers--they have such personalities!
Also--I had never heard that the ox grieves for his yoke mate, but I found this beautiful passage from George Sand's The Devil's Pool:
The day was clear and mild, and the soil, freshly cleft by the ploughshare, sent up a light steam....An old man, whose broad shoulders and stern face recalled Holbein’s ploughman, but whose clothes carried no suggestion of poverty, was gravely driving his plough of antique shape, drawn by two placid oxen, true patriarchs of the meadow, tall and rather thin, with pale yellow coats and long, drooping horns. They were those old workers who, through long habit, have grown to be brothers, as they are called in our country, and who, when one loses the other, refuse to work with a new comrade, and pine away with grief. People who are unfamiliar with the country call the love of the ox for his yoke-fellow a fable. Let them come and see in the corner of the stable one of these poor beasts, thin and wasted, restlessly lashing his lean flanks with his tail, violently breathing with mingled terror and disdain on the food offered him, his eyes always turned toward the door, scratching with his hoof the empty place at his side, sniffing the yokes and chains which his fellow used to wear, and incessantly calling him with melancholy lowings. The ox-herd will say: “There is a pair of oxen gone; this one will work no more, for his brother is dead. We ought to fatten him for the market, but he will not eat, and will soon starve himself to death.”