Before I get started with my post, I just wanted to share how excited I am to be the newest filly in the corral here at the Junction! I’ve been an active follower for several years, and I know how talented and fun this group of ladies is. I couldn’t be more pleased to find myself in their company on a regular basis.
Now, back to the livery . . . take a close look at the picture below. Can you guess what’s missing?
Women. You’ll find nary a one. That’s because the livery stable was a man’s domain. Females flocked to dry good stores, dress shops, milliners, and drug emporiums but avoided the masculine hub known as the livery. Why? Mostly because of the smell. And the likelihood of stepping in something no lady would want clinging to the sole of her shoe or staining the hem of her skirt.
For a man, however, this was the western version of an English gentleman’s club. A masculine sanctuary, a place to pass the time discussing crops or swapping stories by the potbellied stove. So what if the air was a bit gamey? A little manure never hurt anyone. The only nags were out back in the corral, and they didn’t seem to mind if a fella was of a mind to spit his tobacco juice on the floor or wipe his nose on his sleeve.
But the livery was more than a gathering place for men who wanted to escape their womenfolk for a time. It was a place of business. The liveryman kept prime horseflesh on hand for harness or riding, maintained a respectable selection of carriages and wagons for rent, pitched hay, tallied accounts, and even dealt with colicky critters when the need arose. Travelers stopped by to board their mounts or rent a saddle horse for the day. Young swains coughed up hard-earned coin to impress their gals with romantic country drives in a rented rig. The livery supplied an essential service to the townsfolk.
As I researched livery stables for my debut novel, I came across a fabulous find in one of our local library’s genealogical collections—a transcribed log book from a livery in Bonham, Texas dating back to 1885. Not only did I learn what prices were charged, I also gained insight into the types of services offered. Here is a sampling:
- Horse rental per day – $0.50
- Horse and buggy rental – $1.00
- Carriage and team – $2.00
- Carriage and driver – $4.00
- Buggy to depot – $1.00
- Horse to pasture – $0.50
- Feed – $0.25
- Bucket of oats – $0.50
- Stall rental – $1.50
- Stall plus hay – $2.50
- One month board on horse – $10.00
- Currying horse – $0.10
- Saddling horse – $0.25
- Repairs on carriage – $0.50 to $1.50 or higher depending on extent of repair needed
- Fee for lost horse blanket – $0.75 for regular blanket, $2.00 for double blanket
In addition to accepting cash for payment, this log book also chronicled a variety of barter offerings. Customers were known to pay in corn or cords of wood. One fellow who had accrued a rather large debt paid with a big black sow.
If a man had no goods to offer, he might pay in services like hauling hay in from area farms, working the nightshift at the stable, working as a carriage driver, or painting the livery.
Yet as the 19th century faded into the 20th, and the horse no longer held sway as the primary mode of transportation, what happened to all these livery stables? Did they simply fade away into the yore of yesteryear? Some may have. But many enterprising livery owners adapted successfully to the times and converted their stables and wagon yards into garages for the newfangled horseless carriages that dominated the streets.
So the next time you take you car to the shop, try to picture the mechanic with a handlebar mustache, hat, and boots. Who knows, maybe one of his great-great-grandfathers owned your town livery.