As we follow Mr. Johnson’s current tale (the shoeing of his cow, during a stopover in Reno), I want to clarify that Bessie’s iron shoes wouldn’t have been the same as those used on horses.

I found a blog devoted to American milking Devons, which has this explanation on its “about oxen” page:

Cattle’s hooves can be fitted with iron shoes to protect their feet and provide traction. “Oxen if used upon snowy or icy roads, must be well shod, and kept sharp” (The American Agriculturist, Volume 29, 1870). Because cattle have cloven hooves, a shoe is required for each claw and a total of eight shoes are needed per animal. Ox shoes were a critical item on the trails of the westward migration.


Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to Mr. Johnson’s story:

… “About this time, the whole town had assembled to witness the shoeing; many questions were asked and answered at leisure. The blacksmith had commenced nailing on the shoes. He would strike on the nail, driving it in about one-third of its length, or until bending, then drawing it out and taking another, drive that in further, and so on, until the whole were driven and the shoes securely put on; the harness of the hoof causing many of the nails to bend. Her feet having been seared three times, made them hard and flinty. While all this was being done, Bessie behaved herself bravely. Two nails were driven that made her flinch; these nails were marked, so that should they trouble the cow they could be removed. On taking her from the brake she could scarcely travel; we got her back into the brake and had those two nails drawn and replaced, which made quite a difference.

“The blacksmith said that the soreness would wear away. He charged me not to take the shoes off, but keep them on and remain here for a few days until she could travel again. Should I take them off I should be in a very bad fix. Without shoes, I could not get her along, and now they are on good, wait until she can travel. It may be three days, perhaps five or more, but be contented. I am sure [said the blacksmith,] you will by the gainer by so doing.” …