Fremont County, Iowa

The Ox Cart
by Louis Miller

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
June 3, 2013

Note: Louis Miller, a retired Fremont County farmer, in the mid-1900s created a collection of miniatures representing various modes of travel through the ages. The collection was left to the Fremont County Historical Society along with a tape that told a story about each item. In Louis Miller's own words, this Attic tells the story of one of the items in the collection- the ox cart.

Louis Miller's miniature ox cart is a replica of an exact cart his family owned. The ox cart was built by Art Waterman, Dearborn, New York in 1822. The body was 4'X 8' with two wheels. The wheels were six feet tall and six inches wide, with a tongue to hitch the oxen. The steel for the tires was shipped from New York City, to Albany, on the Hudson River, and over the Cherry Valley Turnpike to Springfield, New York. The tires were made wide so they would not cut deep in hay meadows. The blacksmith, while welding the tire ends together, burnt the steel so they had to replace about three inches by riveting pieces before attempting to weld them together. This plainly shows. The tire hubs were rounded out on a homemade turning lathe, using power from the local dammed up creek. The ox cart was purchased, in 1854, from this Art Waterman. It is 132 years old, and I have heard my father tell of riding to church in this ox cart and it was the finest rig on the road.

Then we have the oxen. The oxen that pulled this cart, people figured was a worthless critter that was the offspring of the milk cow until man learned that the oxen could carry his burden and pull his plow until such time that the oxen were needed for food. Thus, the ox has been man's main power from the time of Christ and was still carrying Man's burden at the turn of the century.

Next, we have the yoke that the cattle pulled. Now they pulled from the tops of their necks and this yoke is a piece of timber about six feet long and probably six to eight inches in depth and is hued out to fit the oxen's neck. Then they have what they call the bow. They get seasoned hickory and bend it in a 'U' shape that's slipped up over the oxen's neck. Up through the yoke is a big ring that was fastening to the wagon tongue and that is the way the oxen pulled the cart.

Well, I guess you are wondering how these carts were used. It was the first and only way of carrying the few belongings they had. They put them in the cart and they all walked behind over the trail, which was sometimes as long 800 to 1000 miles. When they came to the streams and rivers, they would find the shallowest place where they could wade across. The Missouri and Mississippi were just small wide streams at that time. That is why the cart had high wheels so the water wouldn't get into their belongings and if they had to, the oxen and the people could swim the stream.

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