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Minnie's Diary #33: Le Vieux Cheval (The Old Horse)

“There is no doubt that the best horse for the farmer to raise is the draft horse. The farmer needs sometimes to raise roadsters and driving horses; but in the main the draft leads all others. … The demand is not so much for an improved kind of horse as for a first-class animal of the kinds we now have. The draft horse can be raised with little expense to the farmer, and he begins to pay his way before the time comes to market him. The draft colt works in easily with the general work of the farm.”

— “Best Horse to Raise,” Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., July 9, 1904, p. 7

“J.W. Hall says that the horse has his outs and there is danger in driving him, but one does not have to strap on an extra leg for emergencies. He is not apt to climb trees or explode. He can be used in winter for pleasure riding. He may get on the rampage and run away. But, if he falls on one, he doesn’t weigh tons. He doesn’t feed on gasoline and cremate his driver. He is not so notoriously dangerous to the public as to have to be numbered. If he runs away, he will work no such havoc as a ponderous road machine. He has spirit and brains, which the auto lacks. He is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.”

— “Farmers’ Problems,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company,

Philadelphia, Pa.,March 1905, p. 99

Sunday, August 21 - Had Mass but couldn’t go. There was too much mud. Mr. & Mrs. Paquin & Mr. & Mrs. Dubey called. Had supper here.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Yesterday’s drenching rain had left deep mud puddles in the rutted, dirt road leading to Hermansville. It was a difficult journey even in dry conditions. With old Clem still sick in the barn, Pa said they wouldn’t be able to travel to the Church of the Immaculate Conception for Mass.

“Three more weeks before Holy Communion. That’s too long,” said Minnie’s mother, Aurora, with a sigh.

Father Glaser only came to the Hermansville mission once every three weeks. He was stationed Spalding, where he said Mass every day, visiting the mission churches on a rotating schedule.

“The bishop should send us our own priest,” Minnie said. “Nadeau has had a full-time priest for years.”

“Nadeau also built its church fifteen years ago,” Ma said. “Now that we have our own church building, I believe a priest won’t be far behind.”

“If it hadn’t taken so long for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company to allow us some land for a little chapel,” Pa complained. “We’d have a priest by now.”

Since the Gamache family couldn’t attend Mass, Ma decided they would spend an hour praying the Rosary aloud at home.

Je vous salue Marie, pleine de grâce ; Le Seigneur est avec vous. Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes Et Jésus, le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni. Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu, Priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs, Maintenant et à l’heure de notre mort…

Hail Mary, full of grace; The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, Now and at the hour of our death…

Tending to Clem

That afternoon, Ed and Armelia Paquin called, along with their daughter, Alida, and her husband, Louis Dubey. They’d become concerned when they didn’t see the Gamache family at Mass.

“Oh, it was too muddy for Beau to climb the hill alone. Clem is sick,” Ma said. “Pierre is in the stable with him.”

The men looked at each other quietly and headed out to the barn. Minnie followed behind.

Mr. Paquin and Mr. Dubey walked quickly across the barn yard. Last night’s storms had left mud puddles everywhere while bringing a cool crispness to the air that reminded Minnie of fall.

Inside the barn, Minnie detected a rancid odor, unlike the familiar, sweet smell of horse manure. They found Pa standing looking at Clem, lying down in his stall. The gray Percheron raised his gray-and-white head when they entered the room, looking at Minnie with a sad, vacant look in his eyes.

“How long has he been down?” Mr. Paquin asked.

“I haven’t been able to get him to stand all morning,” said Pa. “He doesn’t even want to try.”

“We have to get him on his feet,” Mr. Paquin said. “He’ll die if he doesn’t.”

A horse lying for too long on one side will soon suffer from the burden of his own weight. The lung closest to the floor will fill with blood. The muscles and tissues underneath him will lose circulation and begin to deteriorate. Time was running out.

With the help of Minnie’s brothers, they rigged a pulley in Clem’s stall and threaded leather straps under his body. With Pa at Clem’s head murmuring gentle encouragement, Mr. Paquin attached Beau to the pulley rope and walked him slowly and gently forward to lift Clem and get his feet underneath him.

“He’s up!”

Everyone smiled cautiously as Clem placed his four huge hooves underneath his body.

“Keep tension on the rope so he doesn’t have to carry all his weight,” Pa said, trying to adjust the straps that under Clem’s chest, belly and loin.

Clem stood unsteadily, nickering softly and breathing hard. He hung his head, but perked up a bit when Pa offered him a drink of water.

“Time will tell,” Mr. Paquin said. “It’s up to him, now.”

Horse a Little Better

Monday, August 22 - Went to Hville and got our pictures. Our horse got up a little better.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Minnie hitched Beau to a cart and took her mother to Hermansville to pick up the family photographs they’d taken earlier this summer. They’d been distributed at church the day before. Clem was standing on his own now and seemed a little better, but Pa wanted to stay nearby in case he took a bad turn.

“The horse that trusts his master will do anything he can for him. And that is not the promise of a politician, either. About as fine a tribute as I ever heard paid a horse was the statement of his owner that he was sure that the animal would leap straight out of the back door of a basement barn ten feet down if told to do so. True, faithful animal! And yet some men abuse him! The horse knows the way home, no matter how dark it may be, nor how far he may have traveled from home. His driver may trust him to make all the turns and reach his own stable safely. The horse knows the friend who gives him sugar and bites of apple. And he watches for that friend and when he appears asks as plainly as he can: ‘Got anything for me today?’ ”

— Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa., February 1904, p. 47

Cutting Wheat

Tuesday, August 23 - Horse just the same. Started to cut our wheat.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

In his youth, Clem looked forward to fieldwork. Pa would happily guide the 3-year-old horse out to the wheat fields anticipating a day in the sun, the breezes blowing by with the sweet smell of late summer. Clem would swing his tail, twitch the muscles under his skin and shake his mane to keep the flies at bay. Those days seemed so long ago. Although the summer breeze was blowing and the sun was shining, Clem couldn’t leave the barn.

Minnie and her brother, Freddie, followed Pa into the field, behind Beau, who was alone today pulling their farm wagon. Pa grabbed his cradle scythe and started cutting the wheat, using long, sweeping motions to capture as many stalks as he could. The stalks fell into the cradle in a nice pile, which Pa then flicked onto the ground. Minnie and Freddie gathered the stalks into sheaves, tying the sheaves with a small number of wheat stalks. They stood the sheaves upright next to each other in the field, allowing them to dry further. Later, they’d take them into the barn until threshing time.

Vincent van Gogh, The Harvest, 1888 (Public domain, National Gallery of Art)

Based on the distant look in his eyes, Minnie knew Pa was thinking about his old friend back in the barn. Pa spent more waking hours with Clem than with his own family. They’d worked in the woods together on the coldest winter days and in the fields when the sun scorched their backs.

Marchez, Clement,” Pa would say, and the horse would amble at a slow walk.

À gauche.” With one word from Pa, Clem would turn to the left.

À droite.” Clem turned to the right.

Other farmers’ horses responded to “gee” and “haw,” but Pa was determined that Clem, a proud French Percheron, should know his own language.

Anytime Pa entered the barn, Clem’s head would raise and he’d give a soft nicker, walking to the edge of his stall to see what kind of treat Pa had. It was as if he was saying, “A sugar cube? A small bit of apple? What do you have for me today, mon amie?”

Horse Worse

Wednesday, August 24 - Horse worse. Went and cut our wheat. Alice slept with me.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Clem wasn’t eating or drinking. Pa fretted all day while they worked in the field, often heading back to the barn to check on the horse.

When he returned, Minnie looked at him for any signs of encouragement.

Pa shook his head and looked down. Minnie knew the horse was no better.

Time with the Girls

Thursday, August 25 - Went over to Lena’s and had a good time. Alice slept with me.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“You want to be a schoolteacher?”

Everyone’s attention was on 17-year-old Alice Lacroix, who was visiting Hermansville for a month. Her grandparents lived nearby, and she was reconnecting with old friends, like Minnie, who had moved here from Champion in Marquette County.

“Well, Papa and Ma want me to get married and have babies, but I’m in no hurry for that,” Alice said.

Finally, Minnie thought, a girl with a brain who knows how to use it. Everyone in this town is in such a hurry to get married, even before they know enough about themselves and what they want in life. Marriage, it seemed to Minnie, would be about the same as her life now, especially if she married a farmer. Washing, ironing, cleaning, gardening, milking, cooking, canning, helping in the fields. The main difference would be the added work of caring for a husband and young children, although they would certainly be adorable and lovable little tots.

“I think teaching would be wonderful,” Minnie told her. “You’d be a wonderful teacher.”

“I don’t know why Ma is in such a hurry for me to marry,” Alice said. “She didn’t marry Pa until she was nearly 32. Of course, he was about 10 years younger, so if they’d married much sooner, it might have been illegal.”

“Really?” said Lena, eyes open with amazement. “How did they meet? Was she his babysitter?”

Horse Worse Again

Friday, August 26 - Horse worse. Washed a little. All alone. Went to Mrs. Raiche.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Pa was spending nearly all his time in the barn with Clem, when he wasn’t absent-mindedly doing chores around the farm. Everyone knew that Clem’s time was coming to an end, but Pa was holding out hope that he’d make a miraculous recovery.

“It’s hard for the men, losing a horse,” Emeline Raiche said. “I heard about one old farmer who put black crepe on his barn when the family’s horse died. They all went into mourning.”

“Clem is like a member of the family,” Minnie told her. “I’ve known him longer than I’ve known my own brothers.”

Oui, Minnie. That’s what makes it so difficult,” Mrs. Raiche said. “But surely your Pa knows he has to help Clem out of his suffering.”

She called to her husband, who was outside working on some equipment.

“Josef, can call on Pierre? Il a besoin d’encouragement. He needs some encouragement.”

With a grim look on his face, Joe Raiche nodded and headed across the road toward the Gamache farm.

“Frank Baliien’s “old family horse” died last Friday morning. She got loose in the night, ate too much feed, foundered, and was found dead Friday morning. The horse had been in the family over eleven years and was quite a pet with the children.”

— The Winfield Tribune (Winfield, Kansas), 18 March 1904, p. 3

“Doc. Henning’s valuable old horse died Wednesday morning. Doc says it died of senile decay being about 20 years old and he will wear the customary mourning for 60 days.”

— Wahoo Newspapers (Wahoo, Nebraska), 9 Dec 1904, p. 1

“It was only an old horse that died a few days ago out on the farm at Joseph G. Wilson’s, but Major Joe couldn’t help feeling blue. Not so much on account of the loss of a bit of horse flesh, but because it was his faithful old roan steed, the “wolf horse” as old-timers called him. When the Major began to count up how many years he had owned “old roan,” and recount the service performed, he felt that he had lost a valuable friend. - Mound City News”

— The Holt County Sentinel (Oregon, Missouri), 16 Sep 1904, p. 5=

“McHale’s old family horse died last week. It is reported he had crepe on the barn door.”

— The Leader Courier (Kingman, Kansas) 21 Apr 1904, p. 3

“Anyhow, is the auto come to stay, or is it a fad, a craze, like the old bicycle craze, that will run its brief course and disappear? The horse has been with us thousands of years, getting better all the time; we all love him. Who can love a noisy, bad smelling, madly-rushing road machine, guided by what appears to be a goblin-eyed monster? The source of power required for the machine is in the mine and oil well; is this likely to be as cheap and permanent as the source from which the horse derives his power — the soil? Corn and hay and oats against coal and kerosene—which have the greater staying power?”

—“Farmer’s Problems,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company,

Philadelphia, Pa., April 1904, p. 139

Killed Our Horse

Saturday, August 27 - Killed our horse and went to dance to Mr. Alore. Had a fine time. Maggie slept here.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“No more dragging your master in the winter. No more standing in snow up to your belly, straining to haul a pine log out of the woods. Now you can run free. Free of the plow, free of the harness. No more suffering.”

Pa was standing over Clem, a rifle in his hand, getting up the courage to end the poor horse’s suffering. The horse didn’t even have the strength to move his head off the straw.

Merci, old friend. Courir librement. Run free.”

Birth and death are both part of life on the farm. As much as they loved old Clem, his time on the Earth had ended. The Gamache family would move forward, one step at a time.

“The horse is a farm crop, the automobile is not; and this is one reason why farmers should advocate the horse. There is something elevating about the relations of man with his friend, the horse; but what good is it going to do any man, or woman, or child, to become familiar with a dusty, greasy, bad-smelling automobile, a thing without life, and which can not respond to anything in human nature?”

— “High Farming at Elmwood,” Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company,

Philadelphia, Pa., May 1905, p. 162

Minnie’s heart felt slow and sad as she walked to Louis and Jessie Alore’s home. Inside, she found the French Canadians crowded together, enjoying an evening away from their troubles. The living room furniture had been cleared and the fiddle and accordion were celebrating the warm summer evening. It wasn’t long before the joyous Quebecois tunes picked up Minnie’s spirits, and she danced and danced into the night.

Ma and Pa arrived late and received condolences from their friends. When the musicians began playing “Le Vieux Cheval” — “The Old Horse” — Pa had to leave. He walked home alone, not wanting any company as he sank into his sadness.

Notes and Further Reading

Note to Readers: Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction, based on notes written in a 1904 daybook by Minnie Gamache. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in Hermansville, a company-owned lumber town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For more about Minnie and her family, read this introductory page elsewhere on this website.

I apologize for taking so long between posts. Not only was it hard to write this post about Clem’s death, I also needed a bit of a break. Perhaps I can get back into the groove and finish the diary before the year ends? Remember to subscribe to my blog at the bottom of the page if you want to make sure you see every installment of Minnie's Diary. I'll send an email each time I publish a new post. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter

Farm Horses: News accounts and advertising from 1904 illustrate the importance of the farm horse. The Farm Journal carried an ongoing campaign to stop automobiles from terrorizing horses and making it unsafe for women and children on country roads. As the electric car begins to replace the gasoline-powered car, I find some of these posts amusing. While the horse survived for thousands of years as human transportation, it looks like the gas-powered car won't make it to 165 years. I certainly hope so, for the sake of our planet and our future.

Farm Journal, Philadelphia, April 1904

Horse Economy: The Detroit News in 2014 wrote a nice look-back at the age of the horse in the city. "The horse industry was important economically. There were blacksmiths, wheelwrights, breeders, auctioneers, veterinarians, carriage builders, carriage painters, express men, teamsters, draymen, harness and saddle makers, and more. But in the early 1900s, with motorized cars, trucks and electric-powered trolleys on the streets, the horse's days were closing. By the end of the 1920s, aside from a few peddlers, milk trucks and fire wagons, the horse vanished from the city and a way of life vanished with it."

Cutting Wheat: To see how farmers harvested wheat in the early 1900s, check out this page from Living History Farms. It shows how a farmer would use a grain cradle to cut the wheat and how others would gather the wheat and tie it into sheaves. Here’s a 1915 video showing how a skilled mower could cut oats with a cradle scythe. Here’s a more recent, 2014 color video showing a similar operation.

Le Vieux Cheval: The Quebec band Le Vent du Nord (The Wind from the North) does a beautiful job of finding and performing old Quebecois songs that date back many centuries — some that may have come across the Atlantic Ocean with the first settlers of New France. “Le Vieux Cheval” is one of my favorites. It tells the story of a man saying goodbye to his faithful friend, and also harvesting the skin after ending the horse's life. That was life for the early French settlers. The song's French lyrics are below, along with an English translation found on Listen to the song here and support Le Vent du Nord by purchasing one of their albums. They are one of my favorite bands to hear live in concert.

Le Vieux Cheval

Mon cher voisin qui m'envoyait chercher

Un vieux cheval blanc qui est à l'extrémité

Prends ton verre et moi la bouteille

Buvons un petit coup, affilons nos couteaux

Dépêchons-nous, d'aller y lever la peau

Mon cher voisin tu t'es laissé aller

Combien d'hivers t'as été mal hiverné

Tu m'entendras plus sacrer après toi

Personne n'aura aucun pouvoir sur toi

Tu traîneras plus ton maître en hiver

Tous ces capucins et toutes ces valises.


The Old Horse

My dear neighbor, whom I'm looking for,

an old white horse near its end

(Refrain) Take your glass, and I'll take the bottle

Drink a little snort, sharpen our knives

We hurry, to go remove the skin

My dear neighbor, you let yourself go

How many bad winters have you had

You'll understand me more afterward, I swear,

No one will have such power over you

You will not drag anymore your master in winter,

all these capuchins (monks), and all these bags

Translation by John Rhodes. Credit:

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May 20, 2022

Thank you - I have sweet memories of all the old horses in my life including the working draft horses that were used by my great uncle when I was a child.


May 18, 2022

Heartfelt story. Beautifully written, Jodi. ❤️🐴


May 17, 2022

Beautiful story, brought tears to my eyes 💕

May 17, 2022
Replying to

Thank you. I had tears in my eyes while writing it, too. 💔 - Jodi


May 17, 2022

Very nice. I liked the link to Le Vent du Nord. This site is very impressive, Jodi.

May 17, 2022
Replying to

Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've put a lot of heart and soul into it. -Jodi

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