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The shoe of an Indian Pony…

My Sunday adventure on April 24, 2016, was very fruitful. Maxfield’s Settlement yielded up at least one treasure (and a lot of other hard-grubbed items) that may have actually been in use on the site in 1870. My partner in crime that day was Elanna Chitwood. When we first viewed the animal shoe I unearthed around eight inches down, we thought it was a mule shoe. A little research indicates it is actually the shoe of a draft horse, perhaps one used by Jenks Maxfield himself to break his field before 1871 and produce his corn crop. “A Guide to the Artifacts of Colonial America” by Ivor Noel Hume suggests this type of shoe was routinely produced by blacksmiths from 1750 to 1862. The horseshoe is 3/8 inches thick and was attached to the horse’s hoof with square nails that were much thicker than the square horseshoe nails used today. The shoe might weigh a quarter pound. Unlike standard modern horseshoes, which generally have four nails per side, this one seems to have had only three. The horseshoe is crafted of iron rather than the steel used today. The pitting in the iron seen up close suggests the shoe is old.

Notice the bent-over nails. These are called clenches and were used to keep the shoe firmly in place on the animal’s hoof. As I understand it, if this were a modern horseshoe, we would likely see “caulks” (pronounced corks for some strange reason) at the toe and both heels. This shoe, however, is completely flat. For the non-farrier, the quickest way to understand a caulk is to think of the “lip” crafted onto the toe of modern horseshoes that we grasp when throwing them in the game.

This particular shoe had what I am calling “gripper studs.” These were made by thickening the heads of the square horseshoe nails so they protruded out from the bottom surface of the shoe. Gripper studs were used exclusively to provide more traction, the kind a draft horse would need if he was breaking and plowing dense Washita Valley bottom land sod (I know just how dense it is because I have been digging in it).

The business side of this shoe, the one that came into contact with the ground, is worn down.  That and the smoothed-down condition of the gripper stud just to the left of the toe indicates this shoe was well worn over many months of hard horse-work. Perhaps the shoe was “thrown” when a clench came loose or maybe it was replaced because it was worn. This is likely the front left shoe of the left horse in a two-or-more horse plow team.

It would seem that the horse that wore this shoe was small, with only a four-inch hoof, not the large cloppers we expect from draft horses. Since the horse that wore this shoe was breaking ground in the Chickasaw Nation, maybe he was a compact and muscular “Indian” pony with great stamina, the likes of which roamed free over the central plains at the time, waiting only to be broken by the frontier cowboy.

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