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Wanted: Ox Team for Centennial Pageant

Blog post by Randi Richardson

A postcard made from a photo in the Monroe County History Center’s photo collection.  Information on the reverse side of the postcard notes that the team was taking bark from the Showers Brothers Furniture Factory to Bloomington c. 1910.

Two hundred years ago, in the early 1800’s, oxen and ox teams were common sights.  They pulled many of the Conestoga wagons that brought pioneers into Monroe County, hauled trees chopped from virgin forests and helped to break the sod to make the ground ready for crops.  Even after trains were introduced oxen continued to have a place of prominence.   But by the turn of the century with some of the main roads being paved and more and more cars taking the place of horses, ox teams became fewer and fewer until there were hardly any left at all. 

In 1916 the county began planning a centennial pageant to celebrate the history and development of the county from its very beginning.   The pageant committee wanted to include an ox team to reflect the important role that they played a century earlier, but it was discovered they were then few and far between.

Ultimately, someone suggested hiring Nelson Boyer, who lived near the Bear Wallow farm north of Nashville in Brown County.  Boyer owned a team of two four-year-old oxen, “Mike” and Jerry.”  He purchased them when they were only calves.

Boyer was lame, having lost one of his legs at the knee in an accident several years ago.  So he was doubly careful on his wooden leg while driving his team.  His animals were said to be gentle, very reliable and strong on the pull.  They were driven with lines fastened to rings in their noses.

All were in agreement that Boyer and his oxen were the best option for the pageant.  He was to be paid $25 for his participation, a few days of rehearsal and the 3-day pageant

Nelson started for Bloomington, at least a 25-mile journey, on Sunday at midnight, May 13, over what some called the “worst roads in the state.”  Mike and Jerry were fitted up with their Sunday best, brass tips on their horns and the rings in their noses polished up bright as a new silver dollar.  Not exactly rapid transit, they pulled a cart with a slow and steady gait–about two miles per hour.  It was Monday morning by the time of their arrival.

The Hoosier Movie Company was engaged to film the spectacular historic drama of the pageant on Saturday, the last day of the event, that it might be preserved for years to come.  Saturday would provide a time when many people who had been unable to be present earlier because of mid-week work could attend.  Some businesses would close, including the mills and quarries.

Image from the IU-Bloomington Photo Archives.

The final performance was scheduled to start with a parade at 12:45 on the pageant grounds in Dunn Meadow, then west on Kirkwood to the Square and back to the pageant grounds along Third Street.  Mike and Jerry in the lead as usual.

It was, in fact, filmed as planned.  The film debuted in Bloomington in late May and again in June.  In order that commencement visitors might see the pageant, it was shown three times at the Union Movies in the IU Auditorium on June 14.  The ownership and location of the film today is not known.  What a shame.

As for Nelson Boyer, Mike and Jerry?  Well, it was discovered that the long journey on foot, like the one from Brown County to Bloomington, was hard on the oxen.  And when pageant planners from Bartholomew County contacted Nelson and requested Mike and Jerry in a centennial pageant of their own, Nelson stipulated that the journey must be made by truck and not on foot.  Because the pageant planners couldn’t find another suitable oxen team, they acquiesced though it cost them considerable inconvenience and expense.

Sources:

Bloomington (IN) Evening World, August 17, 1915, p. 1.

Bloomington (IN) Evening World, May 13, 1916, p. 1.

Indiana Daily Student, May 19, 1916, p. 1.

Indianapolis (IN) News, August 31, 1916, p. 17.

Muncie (IN) Star Press, May 15, 1916, p. 9.

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