Sometimes I think we take horses for granted.
Horses still are part of our lives. We see them in races such as the Kentucky Derby and in more mundane roles, such as pulling carriages of tourists around the park. We watch them march in parades in our cities and towns, and we see people riding them along paths and trails nearby.
But we tend to forget just how greatly the horse transformed the United States and made possible the world we have today.
In fall 1763, Col. William Crawford, a friend of George Washington, led a force north from an encampment near what is now Circleville, called Camp Charlotte. The camp was commanded by Lord Dunmore, the royal governor or Virginia. Crawford was ordered to find a Native American town and attack it.
Arriving at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers with more than 200 men on horseback, Crawford followed his orders. It was yet another demonstration of what could be accomplished by a lot of men on horseback.
It was not a new lesson.
When Hernando Cortes arrived in Mexico from Spain in 1519, he and his conquistadores set out to conquer. To the astonishment of local Native Americans, he did this with the help of the first horses seen in North America.
In the course of the next several generations, horses spread across America, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Native Americans acquired horses and gave what had been fairly immobile people access to a continent. New colonial settlers arriving in the U.S. made the horse part of their settlement culture, as well.
In short, a lot of people got used to having horses around to help with transport and heavy lifting.
Columbus is a created city. The town was brought into being in 1812 to be the new capital of Ohio. When we look back to the earliest images of Columbus from the 1830s and 1840s, we see a small town with an occasional horse accompanying a lot of people blithely walking from place to place.
It is a modestly deceptive image. On the one hand, Columbus was indeed a "walking city" in the 1830s and 1840s. People walked to school, to church and to the market. They walked to work and they walked home.
But then, why were there livery stables for the care and feeding of horses on every other block of the city? The answer is that even in a walking city, horses were necessary.
When Columbus was founded, it was hoped that a city where two rivers came together would be made prosperous by river traffic. This turned out not to be the case -- the river was deemed too narrow.
The fortunes of the city changed with the arrival in the early 1830s of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road. The canal required large numbers of mules to pull canal boats; the National Road required horses to pull Concord coaches and Conestoga wagons. In addition, the success of Columbus as a center of transportation and trade led to the arrival of stagecoach lines, which also required large numbers of horses.
Columbus, like most American cities of the era, became highly dependent on horses for the basic tasks of urban life. When people arrived in Columbus by boat, road and later by rail, they often required a ride to their hotel or other destination. That ride was in a horse-drawn coach.
In 1863, the first streetcars appeared in Columbus. They were horse-drawn and would continue to be horse-drawn until the streetcars were electrified in the 1890s.
Were we able to stand once again at the corner of Broad and High streets as late as 1900, we might notice several things. First, we might have trouble breathing. This is a city lit by the fire of wood and coal, and the black dust from its burning is in our clothes, in our hair and in our lungs.
We also might notice the smell -- the one aspect of life in this era that movies thankfully do not share with us. This is a city pulled by horses, and the streets are littered with what horses leave behind.
A small army of local people is kept busy daily cleaning up at least some -- but not all -- of that mess.
The earliest successful attempts at automobile transport date from the 1880s, but the earliest cars were expensive and temperamental. It was not until the advent of Henry Ford's inexpensive Model T -- in any color, "so long as it is black" -- that motor-driven transport begins to take the place of the horse.
Horses are not as much a part of our lives as they once were. But they remain with us -- as well they should.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.