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Column: Our region was major supplier of early engines for Humvee

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Dec. 4, 2004.

WORTHINGTON — Perhaps we never get over the feeling that one day the army may come beckoning another time. That thought has crossed my mind.

I say I feel sorry for the people of Iraq, the people on farms and along the streets. This may give the army reason to pass me by. Besides that, I don’t know army talk any longer. If a sergeant told me to go hop in a Humvee, I wouldn’t know where to hop.

Actually, this is not true. I inquired about U.S. Army Humvees. Humvee is (Army writes) “a High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle — HMMWV.” Humvee is a kind of steel box on wheels, an SUV with armor plate and a diesel engine, which is used as a troop carrier, supply carrier, ambulance or tow truck.

That’s where to hop.

Humvees made me reflect that through a long time gone by — well, through 50 years, or 60 years — Nobles County, southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa were major suppliers of engines for U.S. Army troop carriers, supply carriers, ambulances and tow trucks. I am talking about horses and mules. Our region was a center for filling U.S. Army horsepower needs.

I talked about this one time with Cecil Johnson at Round Lake. Cecil told about the first leg of the trips that transformed southwest Minnesota ponies into war horses.

“My dad was a farmer and a livestock dealer — sort of a horse trader. He sold a lot of young horses to the army during World War I,” Cecil remembered.

Cecil and his brother Earl, both just boys, would set out for Worthington on ponies in the early morning. “Behind each pony was a string of three or four horses, tied tail to tail. We were going to Bill Hay’s livery barn.”

As Cecil remembered 1917, 1918: “We would go across country. That land was nearly all wild hay prairie. We came in along the northeast side of Ocheda Lake.

“We would get along fine until we got on the main road a mile south of the Worthington cemetery. Then, once in a while, we would meet a car. Those colts had never seen a car, so they didn’t like them real well.

“We would put the horses in the stalls at the livery stable, and then the Army men would take over. The horses were shipped out of Worthington by rail.”

Horses, and also mules. There always were mules through the local region. Some mules were destined for front line, Humvee duty and some were enlisted for domestic service.

The first trial conducted in Nobles County’s 1894 red brick courthouse was a “mule case”: State of Minnesota versus W.S. Hazard of Worthington. It is a story not of a war mule but a warrior mule.

W.S. Hazard was charged with cruelty in the extreme with regard to a mule which he kept. Preliminary testimony established the creature was small and mouse-colored. It was housed in Hazard’s barn at the rear of his town lot. Authorities believed the animal was ill-treated and that Hazard’s conduct was criminal.

Hazard argued his conduct with the animal might be judged cruel but this was to ignore the mitigating circumstance, which was that the mule was cruel to Hazard, in its turn.

Hazard argued that the mule was so stubborn, and so vicious besides, that the struggle between man and beast had become a case of survival of the fittest.

Hazard admitted assaulting the contrary creature with a hammer. He told the court and his neighbors, who crowded the all-new courtroom on the second floor, that he was compelled either to master the mule and enjoy life with safety or let the animal master him and someday be kicked into oblivion.

It was Hazard or the mule. Since he still had strength to make the decision, Hazard voted for himself.

Witnesses were called to testify to the vicious nature of the creature. They insisted the hindlegs were in constant motion, now on the ground and now flicking high in the air. One neighbor said a stick of dynamite was no more threat to human life than that mouse-colored mule.

Attorney J.A. Town, summarizing his defense, said it was Hazard or the mule. The hapless man had a right to defend himself.

The jury agreed. Not guilty. Self defense.

May, 1895.