Buffalo Island Museum in Monette has many antique farming items used by the early settlers of this area. One of these is an old wooden oxen yoke, donated by John Watson. An oxen yoke is a wooden beam used between a pair of oxen to enable them to pull together. The two U-shaped pieces of wood are placed under and around the oxen's necks with the upper ends attached to the wooden crosspiece. The iron ring in the middle often had a bell attached.
Those who first came to this area found vast acres of virgin timber in a land that was full of sloughs. There were several different types of trees - oak, gum, hickory, hackberry, cypress, sycamore, cottonwood, willow and pecan.
Lumber companies bought large tracts of this timberland and sawmills began to appear, with the machinery for these being floated down the St. Francis River. The large logs had to be hauled to the river or the nearest sawmill, and often teams of oxen were used. Though the oxen were slow, they were far superior to horses and mules by their strength and endurance on the rough and muddy terrain. Oxen were also used to pull the wagons of the early settlers, though they only made two miles an hour on a good day.
After the land was cleared, the oxen were used to pull the plow.
An ox is a large bull (sometimes a cow) trained as a draft animal. Driving oxen required great skill, using voice commands and a stick for prodding. These team handlers were called "Bull Punchers." The oxen were required to work long and hard hours dragging logs over what was called "skid roads". These were rough roads made with peeled logs, sometimes greased with tallow, and set across the trail. Crude bridges were built over the many ditches into the forests.
The timber industry on Buffalo Island was very big in the 1800s. In the 1890s the JLC&E Railroad made its way to this area, and the timber industry boomed. The railroad even built short spurs into the woods.
A newspaper article states that in May and June 1899 there were 10 railroad cars of walnut logs, five cars of ash logs, and 125 cars of cottonwood bolts shipped from Monette.
There are only a few acres of timber left in this area and thanks to the levee system, we no longer have the sloughs. We do not see teams of oxen today, but the museum's oxen yoke is another reminder that helps us appreciate what our forefathers went through to make our life better today.
Visit the Buffalo Island Museum. Admission is free.