Michigan’s white pine lumber industry, and much of the hardwood logging that followed, took place before automobiles and tractors appeared in the forests. I’ve covered the importance of rivers in a past bog entry of getting the logs to the sawmills, but without horses, the logs would have never been moved to the rivers from where they were cut. It was pure horsepower that moved these loads of logs that weighed upwards of 20 tons or more.
Today when someone thinks of draft horses the first image that comes to mind is the Budweiser Clydesdales or if you are from Michigan, the carriage horses on Mackinac Island. But in the 19th century, these horses were a common, everday experience from pulling wagons in towns to the big sleds, the “big wheels”, and other equipment in the forests. A logging camp during the boom years of Michigan logging, approximately from 1870-1900, might have two dozen horses in the logging camp to pull the log sleds, a snow roller, a sprinkler sled, a rut-cutter, and the tote sled that wa sused to haul supplies to the camp. Some of the equipment, especially in deep snow, may have been pulled by two or more teams of horses.
The most common horses found in the logging camps would have been mixed breed draft horses, many coming from Belgian, Canadian, Percheron and Shire stock and mixed with smaller horses as well. The quality of the horses in the logging camps varied as much as the breeds. A top notch camp might have two dozen large Belgian or Percheron horses of 1,000 to 1,500 pounds each that might be worth upwards of $400 a team while a small “haywire” camp may only be able to afford a couple of teams of $65 horses of mysterious breeding and small stature. The care and feeding of the horses also varied camp to camp, and not necessarily based on the size or budget of the camp. Some of the wealthiest camps might turnout their horses to graze when there was not snow on the ground instead of regualrly feeding the teams, hire inexperienced teamsters, and skimp on vetrinary care; while a small camp where the owner/foreman has a more direct financial interest took care of the horses with the best hay and oats and made sure the horses were cared for before then men would get their meals since the camp’s horses was his largest investment. The best teamsters available would generally be hired by any camp that took great care of their horses, even if that meant paying them upwards of two dollars a day. Some teamsters broght their own teams with them. These men might be farmers who worked in the woods during the winter season or in some other employment.
Horse power outlasted the end of the white pine logging era in the early 1900s and were still the main source of hauling lumber well into the 1930s when trucks and tractors finally took over. Today there is a resurgance of horse logging where landowners want as little impact as possible from the hauling of lumber that has been felled on the land.