As told to Larry & Susan Miller Pearce
Susan decided to cook corn meal mush for breakfast one snowy April morning, and she invited her father, Richard O. Miller, to join us. As I tasted and enjoyed the old-fashioned concoction, I made a sound that Richard responded to immediately saying, “You remind me of the bull.” Almost in unison Susan and I asked, “What bull?” As we ate that morning, he related the time he almost lost his life as a young boy back on the farm that still overlooks the magnificent Quemahoning Reservior in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. This is a paraphrase of the story that he told us:
The house and barn sat on a hillside and there was no running water in the barn when I was growing up. Part of our winter chores in those Great Depression days was to let the cows out in the morning and evenings to get water from the drinking trough along the road below the house. Just before milking times, then, we would often have to go down to find them and drive them back up to the barn. In the summer they could stay out in the pasture to come and go as they pleased, except for the bull, or course. To let him run loose at anytime would be just asking for trouble. We had a small herd, and so it was not necessary or practical to have the cows artificially inseminated, as most are today. Instead, it was the bull’s job to work for his keep. He had a pen in the barn where he stayed when he wasn’t needed, but he could travel with the “girls” to the drinking trough when the cows went. Winter and spring was a time when the fields laid dormant, a good time to make some extra money cutting posts for the nearby mines. I had four brothers Omar, Clyde, Charlie, and Alton, and I’m not sure who was with me that day, but we had a sled with a high seat where we put the posts we cut. We were just young boys in our teens then, but I remember one day, as I turned to put a post in the back of the sled, I heard a grunt and turned to see that old bull charging us. Somehow, he must have gotten out of his pen, and we had lost track of where he was. We quickly jumped up on that high seat for protection. He hit the sled with his short horns and we hung on for dear life. One of us yelled, “Go let the dog loose.” The mailman had left us one of his dogs to care for because he said he had too many. It was an Irish setter, I believe. It had become such a pain, chasing the livestock and all, that we kept it tied up in the wagon shed. Well, my brother unhooked the chain and the dog made a beeline for that bull. He leaped through the air landing on its back like a lion on a deer. The bull suddenly lost interest in us and took off down over the hill trying to shake that dog off. When it got to the gully where the water trough was, he turned and let the dog have it, ramming him into the muddy bank. Of course we boys watched all the action from a safe distance. We thought at that point that the dog would surely be dead, but as the bull backed up for another charge, the dog sunk his teeth into the bull’s snout. At that, the bull headed back up over the hill to his pen in the barn. The dog, not to be outdone, grabbed the bull’s tail on the way to the barn and hung on like a water skier. When the two got to the barn, the stable dog was half closed. The bull charged through, but the door swung back to knock the dog loose. He rolled off and lay there as if he were dead. By that time we had made it back up the hill to the barn, just in time to close the bull’s pen, but we were convinced that the dog was dead. To our surprise he jumped up like a prize fighter before the final count, but he was completely covered with mud. The bull, meanwhile, just stood in his pen shaking all over. It was a morning I’ll never forget. We could have been killed. That dog, which until then we had thought of as such a nuisance, had probably saved our lives. Dad had a 25 caliber rifle in the house, and that would have been the only alternative as far as the bull was concerned. I’m glad we didn’t have to use it, but we were always more careful after that when we were in the pasture doing any work. We made sure the bull was safely locked in his pen in the barn.