Galloping into the Past
By Katherine Smith

Gallop in to the past for the 58th annual Bohemia Mining Days Festival! Animals like horses, oxen and mules played crucial roles during the early mining days. From transporting meat and food for miners to carrying precious gold and

equipment to and from the mines, these animals are the hidden heroes. This year’s festival theme is: “Galloping into the Past.” In addition to celebrating the rich history of Cottage Grove through the appreciation of animals, events range from a 5k run to a treasure hunt!

To get a little taste of the roles and responsibilities of these mining heroes, take a trip back to a time to the late 1850s: when mining was flourishing and towns were growing. Meet the friendly, courageous horse: George…


horses on treesThe name is George… I’m a hardworking, reliable and friendly muscle maniac. Most humans know me as a horse though. I’ve been doing my thing since 1858, and I’m one of the original horses to carry the mining prospectors to Bohemia. All my horse friends and their human keepers caught up with us shortly after Bohemia Johnson, James Ramsey first discovered gold up there, but since the summer of ’58 my crew of horses scavenge for territory, gold and anything else worth claiming.

Each crew of muscle maniacs, keepers and their heavy loads are called “freights.” I’ve worked for years as a muscle maniac; carrying tons of weight up and down the mountain. The giant metal “U” draped upside down over our backs aren’t too bad, considering we work as a team. On each side of the U is a hook that holds long poles. The metal U’s, hooks and poles aligned us. We walk in line with each other; one behind another. Dave, another horse on my team, usually walks in front of me and Frank walks behind me. In the space between us and on top of the two poles, is the perfect amount of space to carry the loads, which weigh as heavy as two tons. They usually only averaged around 3,5000 pounds though. Frank is the largest and toughest of our group. That’s why they call him the “wheeler,” because he’s tied to the wagon and tasked with squatting and heaving to get the team and the wagon going. With every step we tug and pull the loads until we reach our goal: the top of the mountain.

pack train imageMore and more freights are moving in on our territory. Bells ring like music as we chug up and down the mountains. We’re taught to move over to the side of the trail whenever we hear the music of the freight bells, to let oncoming teams pass. At first it was hard because trails are narrow and twisty. But more freighters have come to Bohemia. I’ve made more friends on the trails, and now our human keepers are calling our dirt walk trails “roads.” The difference between trails and roads means there is more room to walk and bigger spaces to pull over and see our friends pass us when we hear the musical freight bells.  

Lugging our packs up the hills is the hardest part. That’s when we get the best workout. After making it to the top of the mountain and unloading our cargo, we turn around and venture downward. This time, we weave through the curvy trail, step aside to let traffic pass, and carry our loads destined for the town of Cottage Grove.

Instead of two-ton packs, we carry bags that weigh at least 100 pounds of what our keepers called “gold concentrates”. Whatever that means, the bags hang like two leather pillows, one on each side of us, and they’re filled with sparkly, yellow rocks. Our keepers call the rocks “gold.” The Spanish-style packs, called aparejos, sit on top of a rope strapped around our tail and chests. Thank goodness our keepers thought of this rope gizmo because without the ties, the bags of shiny rock would swing back and forth, causing me and my buddies to lose our momentum.

pack trainNot all of us carried equipment and shiny rock. I have a distant cousin that worked on a local family’s farm. His name is Max and he’s a mule. He and his team were in charge of feeding our keepers and other miners. All day humans throw metal equipment around to dig up all that shiny rock at the mines. Their source of energy and fuel is different than ours. Our keepers eat meat from nearby towns and farms, and my cousin Max used to carry the meat on his freight pack. He worked with the Layng family. George and Carrie Layng who are well-known for transporting beef to the mines for the workers. Sometimes miners would stay with on the farm with Max’s keepers in exchange for gold. He transported meat for the Layng family – a three-day trips to and from the mines – for six years.


Celebrate the animals of George, his cousin Max, and all the other hardworking families, like the Layng family, at this year’s four-day Bohemia Mining Days Festival! Enjoy good food, heritage demonstrators, a carnival, live music, and so much more. The popular country acappella group, Home Free, performs in Bohemia Park on Friday, July 14 at 8 pm. Don’t forget about the legendary “feud” games that will take place too! The Slabtown vs. Lemati Feud represents a time in history when Cottage Grove was divided in to two cities. The festival kicks off on July 13 at 4 pm!