Our fascinating history with the horse faces a jarring test: Will Congress ban horse meat, yea or neigh?
“Yup, I know, it’s ‘Feel Good Sunday’ but I am going to break the rules, a bit, and keep us on point with an ongoing issue. Sorry for hammering on reality on our allotted day off but I cannot let the fine words of our good friend and colleague, Deanne Stillman, go unheard. It is a great and important read. Keep the faith.” ~ R.T.
A 2007 federal ban against equine slaughterhouses followed a nationwide outcry over the federal government’s roundup of some wild horses, which wound up on the killing floor. Such things had happened many times over, but this time, in a different age, the atrocities were under more intense scrutiny. The term “atrocities” is not hyperbole, as witnesses to what goes on in and around slaughterhouses have stated.
The ban lapsed in 2011. But ever since it was enacted, there were efforts to reopen “rendering plants” for horses, and in recent weeks, they seem to have finally succeeded. A bill to authorize slaughterhouses in Oklahoma is advancing quickly, and New Mexico is now trying to harvest what some view as an untapped cash crop. The states will need the USDA to once again agree to inspect the plants and their horsemeat, and reports suggest that the USDA is poised to do just that. The White House, meanwhile, has asked Congress to reinstate the ban, and some representatives are starting to speak up in support, as Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., did Friday.
But the horseflesh industry has been around since the advent of the train and car. By the end of the 19th century, the horse had outlived its usefulness — except for being money on the hoof. At the time, there were about two million mustangs running the range, as well as countless other horses across the country — carriage horses, plow horses, war horses and more. As I document in my book “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West,” hundreds of thousands of wild horses were driven up the cattle trails right to the plants in Chicago, and they were then shipped to Europe in tin cans or to California as chicken feed for the thriving poultry industry. The railroad even had a special rate for such shipments.
One rendering plant in particular processed most of the horses, figuring prominently in the plundering of the West. This was the country’s first major equine slaughter operation, started in 1923 by the notoriously dapper Englishman P.M. Chappel and his brother, Earl. The Chappel Brothers Corporation, or CBC, rendered so much meat that it was known among cowboys as “the Corned Beef and Cabbage.” In its first year, as Walker D. Wyman reports in his seminal book “The Wild Horse of the West,” “about half the 1,446 horses processed under federal jurisdiction were canned, and it is certain most of them were wild.” The result was 149,906 pounds of meat from the Chappel plant alone; the total yield from the nearly 200 plants that were operating across the country that year was 22,932,265 pounds.
In 1925, Montana entered the market, signing a death warrant for “abandoned horses running at large upon the open range.” Over the next four years, about 400,000 mustangs were removed from the state. On June 5, 1929, a New York Times reporter filed a heated account of the round-ups, foreshadowing the mistaken reports that are published today, often restating such government canards as “wild horses must be removed because of drought conditions” even though no other wild animals are taken from the range for the same reasons and cattle continue to graze freely in great numbers.
“The first chapter has been written in the greatest wild horse roundup ever held in the West,” the Times reported, “and today hundreds of horses — large and small, vicious and indifferent, mustangs, ‘fuzz-tails’ and bronchos — are in pastures ready for the first sale and elimination check. The roundup will continue through most of the summer, with the hardest work still ahead, for the horses are retreating.”
During the decade that I worked on “Mustang,” I came across an obscure account of what it was like to work on the front lines of the horseflesh industry. Called “I Herded the Wild Ones,” it was written by Adolph C. Kreuter, a cowboy who toiled in the Chappel corrals, and it appeared in Frontier Times:
Ladies were demanding pony coats, in the manufacture of which the hair side was used much as the hide of unborn calf is used in some western apparel. Frequently as many as 500 to 700 horses daily were being sashayed up the ramp to the killing floor. I heard that this was very often done with great difficulty, due to the spooky natures of the condemned.
Buried in his article is the story of an anonymous cowboy who worked at the Chappel plant and couldn’t take it. After a series of failed attempts to destroy the plant, his efforts became more extreme. Once, he climbed a telegraph pole and cut the wires, sending off huge flares of flashing light — an SOS seen for miles. That did not end the slaughter, and he tried again, this time attempting to blow the place up, injuring himself in the act. He fled, and the following day some children playing in the grass near the slaughterhouse found him. He was arrested and charged with attempting to destroy the plant.
“I plead guilty,” he said. “I couldn’t help it. I am a cowboy, and I love horses. I can’t bear to think of people eating them.” Later, he reportedly went insane and then disappeared from the record. Chappel himself died in a freak accident — like others who have trafficked in the misery of horses, as some who have worked on the front lines of the fight for wild horses have told me, and as I have noticed myself over the years.
You could even include George Armstrong Custer in this observation. As we all know, he went down in an infamous “last stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Eight years prior to that battle, on Thanksgiving night, he led the cavalry in the attack on Black Kettle and his band of Cheyennes along the Washita River. After Black Kettle and his tribe were wiped out, Custer ordered the decimation of the pony herd — all 800 of them, the mules as well. “We tried to rope them and cut their throats,” Lt. Godfrey recalled. “But the ponies were frantic at the approach of a white man, and the horses were frantic. My men were getting tired, and I called for reinforcements …”
“And so the rest were shot, and later,” as I recount in “Mustang,” “as the Cheyenne woman Moving Behind, 14 at the time, remembered, the wounded ponies passed near her hiding place, moaning loudly, just like human beings.” Today, the site of the Battle of the Washita is a national historic site…(CONTINUED)
PLEASE Click (HERE) to read the rest of this great story and to Comment
Deanne Stillman’s latest book is “Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History,” based on an award-winning Rolling Stone piece. It was named a Southwest Book of the Year. For more, see www.deannestillman.com. More Deanne Stillman.
- Fresh allegations of wild horses going to slaughter (horsetalk.co.nz)
- Federal cuts to affect slaughter plant inspections (horsetalk.co.nz)
- Congressman Moran Statement on Reports of Horse Slaughter Plants Reopening (rtfitchauthor.com)
- Update: Citizen Investigation Exposes Evidence of Wild Horses Sold to Slaughter by BLM Contractor (rtfitchauthor.com)
- EWA/WHFF Houston Horse Meat Connection Gains Major Media Attention (rtfitchauthor.com)
- Professed Horse Eater Beats Slaughtered Horse with Computer Keyboard (rtfitchauthor.com)
- TS Radio: Equine Welfare Press Conference and Rally live coverage (ppjg.me)
- Could Horse Meat End Up on Your Dinner Table? (rtfitchauthor.com)
- Five Reasons Why Burger King’s Horse Meat Scandal Could Happen Here (rtfitchauthor.com)
- Advocates Concerned by Shipment of Horse Meat Through U.S. Ports (rtfitchauthor.com)