Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Most people familiar with Ocracoke know about the hundreds of wild ponies (now reduced to a remnant herd confined to a large pasture about seven miles north of the village) that roamed freely over the island many years ago.
But far fewer folks know about the other livestock islanders kept "down below" (the area north of the village). Just the other day I came across the following photo in a stack of family pictures, most of them taken in the 1930s or 1940s.
I know this photo is small, blurry, and difficult to see clearly. At first glance I thought it was another picture of the wild ponies, but on closer inspection I realized it shows two Ocracoke cowboys and at least one person on foot driving a herd of about two dozen cows. If you enlarge the photo you will have a better view.
Early European settlers in North Carolina found the Outer Banks the perfect place to raise livestock. The Sound and Ocean served as fences, and there was no need for horseshoes in the soft sand. Riders often rode bareback and barefooted. Yearling calves were rounded up in the summer and taken to Norfolk on barges. Several folks in the village kept milk cows, and a few heads of cattle were slaughtered in the fall for meat.
In the 1930s the government demanded that cows and other livestock be herded through dipping vats (six-foot deep pools of water and insecticide) to combat Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Later, North Carolina officials insisted on the removal of most livestock in order to protect the sea oats and other beach grasses which were stabilizing the man-made dunes between NC Highway 12 and the ocean.
Our Ocracoke Newsletter for this month is an article by Philip Howard, My Ocracoke, Living amidst 250 years of Howard family history. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news082116.htm.