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Tag Archives: General Francis Marion

A Living Link to the American Revolution: South Carolina’s Marsh Tacky

 

In June 2010, the Marsh Tacky horse, a breed now on the verge of extinction, became the official State Heritage Horse of South Carolina. If you’ve never heard of Marsh Tacky horses, you’re in good company. This horse is a living link to the history of South Carolina.

Most people haven’t, but I found out about them when researching Elizabeth Jackson. She and her sons rode Marsh Tackies, just like General Francis Marion and his troops did. Over and over the sure footedness of these horses kept the British from capturing Marion in the Low Country swamps during the Revolutionary War.

 

Listen to David Grant talk about his Marsh Tacky herd.

 

As Mr. Grant said, Marsh Tacky horses are descendants of the horses Spanish explorers left behind on the south Atlantic coast in the 1500s, which bred with the stock Spanish settlers later brought to the New World. They are native to our state.

They are beautiful animals. John and I visited a Marsh Tacky farm in the lower part of the state several years ago and watched them enjoying themselves in a field.


Marsh Tackies got their name from the fact that they live in marshy areas, and the term tacky, which means common. Feral herds adapted to the conditions of America’s southeastern coastal regions. Sturdy and smaller than many common breeds at only 13 to 15 hands high, Marsh Tackies adapted to swamps and wooded wetlands, surviving on marsh grass and other available forage that couldn’t sustain most breeds. Their distinctive gait provides a greater stability in the terrain, and when stuck in quagmires. This is called the “Swamp Fox Trot.” They learned to lie down on their sides, pull their feet free, and get up, instead of panicking as most horses would.

Marsh Tacky’s habitats originally ranged from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. They were widely used in the Gullah community for transportation, farming, and hunting until cars and trucks became prevalent.

During the Civil War, these horses became popular again. Because the Marsh Tacky was such a quality worker, he was seen in every yard in those days. They delivered the mail, plowed fields, brought people to visit and functioned in every way required of a horse in a community. During WWII the Tacky and his rider roamed the SC seacoast looking for German U-Boats.

But by the mid twentieth century they could be found only on outlying islands. Fewer than 300 Marsh Tackies remain today, none in the wild, and efforts are being made to save the breed from extinction.

For some beautiful pictures of these horses, visit http://www.carolinamarshtacky.com/.

The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association was formed in 2007 to preserve and promote the Marsh Tacky horse; check out their Facebook page for information about their work.

 

We need to pay attention to what we read and hear about these Carolina horses; the Marsh Tacky is ours.

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Trail Signs

Have you ever wondered how people make their way to where they wanted to go during the colonial period?

A term, “By Guess and By Golly,” came to mean inspired guesswork, an early form of navigation that relied upon experience, intuition, and faith.

Brigadier General Francis Marion as a young man, went to sea. As a sailor, he learned to use a compass and a sextant and the stars to navigate. Those skills served him well when moving from one battle to the next during the Revolutionary War.  His men often remarked at how precise his movements were in the murky swamps of South Carolina. He did not guess his way through.

Many Indians, hunters, and travelers used axe blazes on tree trunks as trail signs. There is a major highway in South Carolina that has the name Two Notch Road, because it was an old buffalo trail that Indians used where they carved two notches in the trees. (And yes, there were buffalo in South Carolina. They migrated from the salt licks in Tennessee to the coast.) Those cuts into the trees cleared a path for others.

In Dr. Thomas Walker’s Journal of Exploration [of Kentucky], 1750, he says, “I Blazed a way from our House to the River.” & “I blazed several trees in the fork and marked T. W. on a Sycamore Tree.”

(Can you imagine having to blaze a trail from our house to a water source?)

John J. Henry’s An accurate account of the hardships of that band of heroes who traversed the wilderness in the campaign against Quebec in 1775 reports, “A path tolerably distinct, which we made more so by blazing the trees.”

Some travelers marked both sides of trees so that the trail could be run both ways. Trees marked on one side indicated a blind trail, used a lot by prospectors who didn’t want anyone following them. Indians usually nicked off small specks of bark with their knives while trappers and settlers may have used hatchets or broad axes. In the universal language of the woods, these marks meant “This is your trail.”

Another trail sign was to reach into an overhanging limb and bend a branch into an “L” shape meaning, “This is the trail.” The twig broken off clean and laid on the ground across the line of march means, “Break from your straight course and go in the line of the butt end.” When a special warning is meant, the butt is pointed toward the one following the trail and raised in a forked twig. If the butt of the twig were raised and pointing to the left, it would mean “Look out, camp, or ourselves, or the enemy, or the game we have killed is out that way.”

But what did one do when finding themselves in a treeless areas such as grasslands or expanses of spartina, desert areas, or rocky regions? They used rocks, pebbles, sticks, and patches (tussocks) of grass.

Thousands of years ago, American Indians along the east coast established a system of paths and trails for hunting, trading and making war on other tribes. Most followed the migration paths of animals and along routes and fords across streams and rivers.

The Great Trading Path, or the Occaneechi Path, was one of many Indian trails in use when the English first explored the Carolina backcountry during the late seventeenth century.

By the early to mid 1700s, the Trading Path provided European-American explorers and colonists a well-traveled route for settlement and trade. They traveled by foot, horseback, and wagon from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia and from South Carolina and Georgia. The Trading Path became known as the Great Wagon Road because of this increased traffic. Following portions of the original path, the Great Wagon Road crossed Virginia into North Carolina. The route was not just one path, but many. One branch of the path led to Charlotte and another through the Waxhaws and on through Charleston, SC, and eventually to Augusta, Ga.

Blazing a trail has taken on a new meaning to me as I have looked at these early days, and I really am glad we have those GPS systems.

Robert Frost examines this in his poem, The Road Less Traveled.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”