Life at the Livery

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.

Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.
Updated: July 14, 2011 — 12:15 pm

27 Comments

  1. Thank you Karen for the most interesing post! Looking at the prices that were charged for livery services makes me realize just how important these places were to the citizens of that time. 🙂 Great job!

  2. Hi, Tammy. I can’t tell you how excited I was to find that log book. I could have sat there and read the entire thing as if it were a novel, just imagining the people and their reasons for renting a horse or buggy. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great post Karen.. You never know what interesting bit of history can be found here at P&P…
    I saw a couple of movies on TV just this week that were westersn where the livery played a part in the movie.. The Ballad of Josie with Doris Day and Chisum with my hero John Wayne…

  4. Hi, Kathleen. The livery was an essential piece of the western town, though it often lurked unnoticed in the background. I’m glad you brought up those films. Usually in westerns, the livery is nothing more than a place for the hero to drop off his horse while he’s in town. I’ll have to go back and watch those to see how they utilized the livery in a more detailed manner.

  5. Interesting post, Karen. I could just picture all the men standing around the livery swapping information and tall tales. I love finding treasures like that log book. But, like you, I could spend too much time reading every entry (forgetting I’m supposed to be writing) :o)

  6. Isn’t that the truth, Kristen? Those research rabit trails sure are enticing. I did make myself stop after flipping through the first dozen pages or so, but I kept wondering if I was missing something really fun by not reading the entire thing. The big black sow was hilarious, and I could only imagine what else might be lurking in the pages. One of these days I’ll have to go back and look.

  7. Hi Karen, I am so excited to learn that you have become a Filly! I love your books, and am looking forward to your posts here as well!
    I love to look through old ledgers and journals. It’s amazing to me that farmers and businesses kept such detailed records of their transactions, back before computers and automated cash register receipts!

  8. Found this post to be really interesting. Thanks.

  9. Hi, Judy! Thanks for the warm welcome. 🙂 Those old ledgers are a treasure trove, aren’t they? You can tell so much about the times just based on the business practices. All the bartering in evidence really shows me what a tight-knit community this was. A businessman wouldn’t trust just anyone to take the night shift or to drive his customers around town in order to pay off a debt. They must have known each other well and trusted one another, too. I wish we could trust our neighbors as implicitly these days.

  10. Hi, Liz. So glad you enjoyed the post. I love getting a real-life peek into the past. Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

  11. Welcome Karen! Love reading about the research you authors do. I love knowing when I read your book that what is happening is authentic, or close to it. My son runs a NAPPA store in our small town which is much as you say. There is always someone visiting when I go in. AND most times my son is wearing a cowboy hat and long black duster. His cookie duster makes him look the old livery part!

  12. How awesome, Connie! I can totally visualize your son as the modern version of the old livery owners. How fun! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Welcome to Wildflower Junction Karen! It’s a pleasure to have you among us. And what a great post. Since livery stables feature in a number of my stories this is a great resource for me, a real keeper. Thanks for the info.

  14. Welcome, Karen. Loved the book and your background story as well.

    Looking forward to more posts from you!

    Peace, Julie

  15. Thanks, Elizabeth. So glad you found the information helpful. I figured I’d stay close to the “corral” for my first post. 🙂

  16. Hi, Julie. Thank you so much for stopping by today and leaving a comment. It helps settle the “new filly” jitters. 🙂

  17. Welcome, Karen! It’s so nice to meet you!

    Thanks for the livery information – I always
    am amused by the lists of what things used to
    cost!

    Pat Cochran

  18. Thanks, Pat. I’m so excited to be a part of the Junction!

  19. Great info. I don’t think I ever thought about women not hanging around the livery. Interesting reading of the prices of the days gone by.

  20. Hi Karen – oh this is great info! Wish you’d blogged about his last month. I had my hero rent horses for a trail drive and was very vague about the cost, cause I couldn’t really find it!! I think this is fabulous. Congrats on being the new filly in the stable!!! Or should I say livery?

  21. Hey, Stephy. It seems like men of all eras look for places to congregate away from their womenfolk every now and then. Of course, women do too! I wonder how many women made their husbands drive them to town then shooed them off to the livery so they could gossip with their friends between the shelves of the dry goods store?

  22. Hi, Charlene – Finding accurate pricing is a nightmare, isn’t it? If I hadnt’ been in the library, I would have whooped for joy when I found that ledger.

    Thanks for welcoming me into your stable! 🙂

  23. Great post Karen. And what a wonderful find that ledger was! I’m definitely noting this post as a good research resource.

  24. Hi Karen! It’s so helpful to know what things cost back-in-the-day. I’m constantly trying to figure that out. I’m going to bookmark that list of prices.

    I wonder what happened to the big black sow? There’s a story there, just waiting to be told. I’m picturing a woman who wants her sow back, and a man who’d rather have bacon for breakfast…well, maybe not!

  25. I love tidbits of history! Thanks for the great post. I am always looking for things to share with my students about pioneers and settling towns.

  26. Hi Karen and welcome to Petticoats and Pistols! I love your post–very interesting. My great great grandfather actually DID own a livery in Hobart, Oklahoma. Sadly, so many people owed him money and he didn’t want to go “collect” from them, that he saw no way out of his financial difficulties and committed suicide over it. I’ve always wondered about him and the livery business he was in. Very interesting to see the prices.
    Cheryl

  27. Hi Karen, I’m not usually so tardy welcoming a new filly sister to the Junction, but I had been on the road and haven’t mastered sending comments from my smartphone. Anyway, I loved this post and know it’ll be one I’ll refer to when I need cool details. I’m so happy you’re joining us at Petticoats and Pistols. We all have a great time! oxoxox

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