The Sulky Race

From The Bench and Bar of Georgia  published in  in 1858 comes a tale of woe on the old Southern Circuit Court of Georgia. The time frame given in the story would seem to place the event sometime in the 1830s. The judge on the bench of the Southern Circuit in that decade might have been Thaddeus G. Holt, Arthur A. Morgan, or  Carleton B. Cole.

While sketching with a free hand, the author will venture to relate a very laughable scene which occurred on the road from Franklin [Franklinville. GA] (the old county site of Lowndes) to Thomasville, — the like of which is not on record. Travel on the circuit, in the days referred to, was altogether in sulkies or on horseback. There were no buggies in use then. On a bright Sunday morning, as half a dozen sulkies and two or three outriders, forming the main column of the Southern bar, were proceeding on the march, all the wayfarers fresh and cheerful, a large fox-squirrel was seen to cross the road and ascend an old pine stump ten or fifteen feet high. Here was an opportunity for sport ; and with a simultaneous leap from their sulkies came the men of law to chunk the squirrel from his retreat, — the horses being left alone, without any fastening, in the road. From the discharge of pine-knots at the squirrel, and the hollering to boot, one of the horses got alarmed and set off briskly without his driver. All the other horses followed the example; and such a race of sulkies had never been, and never will be again. Away they sped in the open pine-woods. Occasionally a wheel would strike a stump or a large root, and then there would be a rattling, as if to stimulate the horses to their utmost diligence. The race drew gradually to a close, — or, at least, the sulkies were smashed and scattered about, some against saplings, some against large trees, and one was shivered into fragments on a log. Here the vehicles retired from the contest. Not so the horses. They kept on, seriously terrified, with harness flying in all directions.

While this movement was in full blast, the gentlemen of the law stood their ground. They saw it was a grand ruin, and that their only consolation was to be revenged on the squirrel, the innocent cause of their misfortune. The attack was renewed more fiercely than ever. Pine-knots and a prodigious expenditure of lungs on the part of his assailants brought down his squirrelship, bleeding and lifeless, at their feet. One of the party gathered up the trophy, and they all proceeded to view the race-track. Here one would pick up an overcoat, another an umbrella, one a whip; several identified their cushions; and at decent intervals spokes and segments of a wheel, portions of the seat, a loose dashboard, pieces of shaft, and other relics, were strewed along to show the battle-ground. Then sulky after sulky — some capsized, others resting with one wheel in the air, others so badly crushed that the owners could scarcely recognise them — would appear, until the whole number was answered. The trunks generally retained their strapping without material injury.

The law-travellers walked to a farm house, where they reported their difficulty, and asked for a wagon and team to take them and their baggage to Thomasville, some twenty miles. The request was readily granted, and in this conveyance the judge and his bar drove up to the hotel after nightfall. Their detention was explained amidst roars of laughter, in which our Florida brethren joined heartily. In the course of two or three days the horses were all brought in, and the remains of the sulkies taken to the carriage-shop, where there was a general fixing up, — the harness-maker also receiving his full share of patronage. Such was the squirrel-frolic of the Southern bar. Nothing of the kind has occurred since. At each subsequent riding, the ground has continued to be pointed out, with divers localities well remembered by the participants in the sport, though more than twenty years have intervened. The adventure will pass as a tradition sacred to more primitive times.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryan Shaw said,

    July 21, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Several months ago a few of us from the Berrien Historical Foundation were traveling the suggested route of the Old Coffee Road through Berrien, Lowndes, Brooks, and Thomas County. We traveled along the very spot this incident took place as reported by Ed Cone in his history of the Old Coffee Road. The humorous event occurred just past the former dinner-house operated by James Lovett located at the crossroad of the Salem Church Road and the Coffee Road about two miles west of Barwick. The only difference in the telling of the two stories is the fate of the squirrel. The Ed Cone story says the squirrel escaped the pursuit. The “Lovett’s Dinnerhouse has been remodeled but still stands. Traveling the Ed Cone version of the Coffee Road is well worth the drive and only takes about three hours allowing for some photos along the way. Much is paved but much is also dirt roads but all passable by regular automobile.


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