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Disastrous Slow Ox Race

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Nellie's "Besetting Sin"

 Disastrous Slow Ox Race

 Nellie Defends Louis Riel

Wes McClung


Nellie McClung, Clearing in the West: My Own Story, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Thomas Allen & Son, 1935) 110-112.

In the slow ox race, our black and white Jake was entered, and I was glad no one would beat him; for one rule of that race was there would be no whips or switches. Each man would ride his neighbor's ox, and endeavor by words or entreaty or hand slaps to get the ox to move as fast as possible. Some one could run behind the ox and push or slap him, and some one could go ahead with a pan of oats to coax him. The slowest ox would win the race, and the prize was a box of raisins from Read & Calendar's store; and as our Jake had won the race the year before, we were hoping he might again. Jake was a placid little ox, very gentle and knowing. He could push open a door with his nose, and although he was never seen hooking any animals in the farm yard, he was recognized as the boss of them all. He was oddly marked with a black back and white sides, the black part making almost a perfect blanket. His face was white with two black eyes, giving him a rakish look. He had been washed for the occasion and was received with applause when he was led out to the road where the race would take place. Jimmy Sloan, who worked for one of the neighbors would ride Jake.

Just then the women came up the hill, Mrs. Dale wheeling her baby in the carriage. We had been watching the baseball game, but I ran over to Mrs. Dale's carriage to see if I could wheel the baby. Being the youngest of my family I had never had the care of a baby, so it was a treat to me to wheel a carriage. Mrs. Dale gladly relinquished the baby, and I kept the carriage moving as I watched the ox race forming at the far end of the field. Little Jake took his place with the other four oxen. And the word was given!

The race began, and the fun was on. In spite of entreaties Jake kept his pace. He merely shook his ears, but refused to quicken his steps. The people cheered and shouted, and three of the oxen began to trot, Jimmy Sloan waved his straw hat, from side to side, ki-yi-ing like a coyote to frighten his mount.

Suddenly, I saw Jake dart forward with a bellow of pain—he began to gallop like a wild thing, and threw his rider in his frantic lurchings. He was coming straight for the end of the field, still bellowing—A horrified silence fell on the people. What did it mean? Had he gone crazy? He was making straight for the shelter of the trees, where I stood with the baby carriage. . . . My heart turned cold with terror! Some one was screaming! He changed his course a few feet from me, and crashed into the brush! As he passed I saw that his white side ran with blood!

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