“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
By the end of the First World War, more than 827,000 horses and mules had served in the military. The British Army alone saw 415,179 animals die in the conflict. After the Armistice was signed, these soldier equines weren’t honored for their service and retired to pasture with the appreciation of grateful nations. They were, instead, sent to slaughter.
Most of the meat was delivered to hungry European civilians, but with the exception of some European immigrants, there was no market for horse meat in the United States. So in 1921, naturalized citizen Phillip Chappel, with experience in both the meat and horse industries, decided to enter horse meat into another market – that of dog food. Eventually, local pet owners became so enthusiastic, Chappel decided to go national, launching Ken-L-Ration, the first commercial canned dog food.
This was a transitional period in American history; there were plenty of horses that no longer had jobs and so weren’t economically practical to keep, particularly in light of the advent of the compression engine. And, after a time, when the local supplies of horses were exhausted, Chappel turned his attentions to Mustangs.
Despite private efforts to extinguish wild horse populations by ranchers and farmers, in 1910 an estimated 200,000 wild horses ran the ranges. By 1925, with the addition of domestic horses set free because of economics and the Machine, there were an estimated 1 million mustangs. Chappel, ever resourceful, encouraged the capture and transport of these reviled animals so vigorously, it became apparent – even that supply would soon become exhausted. So he turned his attentions from horse harvesting to horse growing. Gaining control of more than a million acres of Wyoming and Montana and purchasing mustangs for $3 a head, he incorporated the larger-boned Percherons, Belgians and Shires into the herds to breed a ‘meatier‘ animal.
By 1933, nearly 30 million pounds of horse had been processed and sold as canned dog food.
The brutality of the transport of wild horses by railroad didn’t cock too many eyebrows as it wasn’t widely publicized but for those who knew, it did give rise to the first of the wild equine advocates – Charles Marion Russell, preeminent cowboy artist and painter, and Frank Litts – Gangster. Charles Russell’s protests fell largely on deaf ears; Frank Litts also made several attempts, most notably by sending an unanswered letter to First Lady Mrs. Grace Coolidge. He had also sent an anonymous letter to a newspaper editor:
Dear Dr. Gunderson,
I saw in the Star that you liked old Dobbin. Have you seen what happens to the horses that are shipped to Chappels? Ten train cars full of horses roll into Rockford every day. Some have been knocked down and the rest of the horses are trampling them. Blood runs out of their necks and heads. There’s nothing in the rail cars for them to eat or drink. They’re so crazy with hunger they chew the tails off one another. There must be enough people in this town to stop this. Please don’t think I’m a crank, only a lover of horses.
Frank Litts had decided to take the fight directly to Chappel. He fired the processing plant, not once but four times, and was caught in the act of trying to dynamite the plant. Frank Litts had caused Chappel a good deal of grief, but he was eventually tried, declared insane – string-pulling by Chappel – and institutionalized. And escaped. He was captured permanently and died in prison in 1938 of tuberculosis, his only apparent regret was in not getting to Chappel’s Rockford, Illinois plant one last time.
With other corporate beef processors feeling the economic pinch of the time, they, too, decided to branch out into the horse meat/dog food industry, driving Ken-L-Ration to the brink of bankruptcy. In 1942, the company was purchased by the Quaker Oats Company. According to those company records, six car loads of government inspected horse meat were shipped to the Eastern United States each week and sold to “immigrants and their children to whom this protein was a familiar item of diet.”
Quaker Oats managed to make money from the sale of horse meat all the way through the Second World War.
But according to studies in modern economics and papers published by members of the Equine Welfare Alliance, what was supportable in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s is no longer feasible. Horse slaughter has been vigorously advocated as the sole solution to the ’problem of the unwanted horse in America.’ Reports of the thousands of animals shipped to Canada and Mexico during the moratorium on horse slaughter in America might bear that out to some small extent but there are too few ’unwanted’ domestic horses to sustain a single slaughterhouse profitably over the long term, let alone a network. So what comes next, when ‘unwanted‘ horse stocks are exhausted to a trickle? Historically, two sources: Domestic horses, ranch-raised as food, and wild horses, now made more accessible through the ten’s of thousands in captivity, and ten’s of thousands more to come.
In the early years of the 20th century, by this account, there was little demand for horse meat for human consumption in America with the exception of European immigrants of the time. By the mid-century, there was still only a small market for horse meat for human consumption, and again, it was mostly European immigrants. This is not a condemnation of immigrants, only to illustrate that, despite historical references posed by pro-slaughter activists, American horses were not slaughtered to feed a nation starved by wars and poor economy, but largely to feed it’s dogs. And to the immense profit for a very few.
The current crusade for horse slaughter, under the lofty guise of horse welfare, betterment of the American economy and salvation of American horse culture is, to say the least, offensive. Unlike Chappel and his ilk, whose brutal enterprises, while repugnant, they were also brutally honest: They did it for the money.
And the current crusade – backed by some elected officials and appointees – also scornfully ignores that an overwhelming majority of Americans find the notion of the resurgence of horse slaughter likewise repugnant. So scornful that the wording in Appropriations documents was, yet again, stolen in the back door through the larceny of the ’rider’, in avoidance of the Public and opposing legislators.
With the current disregard for humane treatment of animals already raised for food and, in fact, legislation drafted that assures documentation of abuse in slaughter factories will become a prosecutable offense, we seem to be witnessing the de-evolution of ethics and compassion, to not only portray them as character flaws but to depict them as criminal behaviors.
A quote by Geoff Young, publisher of ‘Horse Connection’ magazine, in an interview conducted and published by the Long Rider’s Guild Academic Foundation, sums it up quite well:
“It is money that causes a horse to breakdown from running too many races. It is money that compels a rider to dope a sore horse in order to get him in the competition ring. It is money that drives the whip in an endurance race with a purse. And, it is money that forces horses into trucks bound for the borders that house abattoirs. Money and greed are the biggest threats to the well-being of the horse.”
Then. And now.
(This article contains quotes and excerpts from the article, “Savin’ All My Love For You” by CuChullaine O’Reilly, one of the founding members of the Long Rider’s Guild and Academic Foundation.
The article in it’s entirety can be accessed here:
The Long Rider’s Guild is a foundation comprised of academics and adventurers whose purposes, among many, are to document and encourage contemporary Human/Horse culture and to preserve and relate it’s ancient heritage.
Membership is contingent on several qualifications; first, a continuous, documented ride of at least 1000 miles. The second, and perhaps most important – a Rider’s willingness to put “ the horse’s welfare above thier own.”)
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