Horse History and Strange Stories About Animals

Everybody knows Kentucky is famous for horses, and Henderson, Kentucky had some pretty strange horse traditions! We’ve collected six crazy horse and animal stories that are documented in Henderson’s history. Take a look!

  1. What do a Henderson cemetery and the Wizard of Oz have in common? The owner of Toto, the dog from “The Wizard of Oz,” is buried in Henderson’s Fernwood Cemetery. Her name was Catherine Jean Walls. This cemetery is still open to the public for travelers to visit.
  2. Before automobiles and auto mechanics existed, people had to treat their hoofed transportation with home remedies. In 1881, a disease called “pink eye” appeared in the horses in Henderson. The cure for this disease was a mixture of powder gentian (an herb), sassafras (used to make root beer), skunk cabbage (a flowering plant, not moldy vegetable, also called a swamp lantern), cream tartar (a winemaking byproduct), sal nitre, pulverized ginger, sulfur, digitalis (a flowering plant that increases blood flow), bloodroot (flowering plant used by Native American to treat ulcers and skin conditions), and “berchie” leaves.
  3. Man’s best friend was not a bird for John James Audubon. It was his dog! Audubon once entered a flaky contract with a huntsman who was supposed to furnish 100 raccoon skins for his Henderson store. Audubon filed suit when the man did not hold up his end of the bargain, due to his dog allegedly being killed by a fallen tree. It was stated that the huntsman asked to borrow Audubon’s dog to carry out the contract, and Audubon refused to lend it to him.
  4. Speaking of birds, Audubon did keep a bird as a family pet while he lived in Henderson. Audubon’s kids grew fond of a swan named Trumpeter. Audubon found it funny that many of his house guests that were used to shooting the species often found themselves being chased around by the bird. Trumpeter was also bold enough to chase to his favorite wild turkey that he kept on his grounds, as well as his dogs, children, and servants. Trumpeter often escaped, but never went too far from home. They had the pet for two years, when one stormy night, a gate was left open and Trumpeter escaped and never returned home.
  5. While the oldest continually held sporting event in America is the Kentucky Derby, Henderson had its own horse racing event back in the hey-day that would raise some eyebrows. Before Ellis Park was Dade Park, and even before Riverside Downs was Audubon Raceway. The manliest sporting men of Henderson County held their own horse racing tradition downtown… yes, you read right – in the streets of downtown Henderson! According to the earliest records of Henderson history, there was a three day horse racing event that took place on Elm Street, from Upper Fifth to the foot of the hill. Over the years, people grew tired of the showboating and ring-fighting amusement that went along with the masculine test for superiority and bragging rights. Around 1840 this sporting event was banned, and any offender was to be charged a $3 fine. 
  6. If you had a brag-worthy nag, best if you keep it to yourself, or else it might get stolen! In Henderson, it was (and still is) illegal to carry an ice-cream in your back pocket. This age-old law was put in place throughout Kentucky to prevent others from attempting to steal horses. All you had to do was drop an ice cream in your pocket and walk by the best looking horse in town. The sweet scent may prompt the animal to follow you home. Some would say it’s technically not stealing, but definitely ruining a great ice cream cone!

Glad we could serve up some strange Henderson history! Check out more local stories at this link!