A Slice of Pork History–“A wonderful, magical animal!”

First, a bit of Simpsons’ Porcine Philosophy:

Lisa: I’m going to become a vegetarian.
Homer: Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?
Lisa: Yes.
Homer: Bacon?
Lisa: Yes, Dad.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: Dad all those meats come from the same animal.
Homer: Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!

I grew up on a pig farm, but my early days of working with them were not always “magical.” In my blog entry of May 28, I wrote about our experiences “droving” or moving pigs on our farm decades ago. It was worse than herding cats—and more dangerous—as far as we kids were concerned.
A Snout-to-Tail History

Last week I came across a fascinating history of real hog drives—we’re talking thousands of pigs on the move from Tennessee to Georgia back in pre-Civil War days.

The Great Appalachian Hog Drives” by Mark Essig looks at a time when pig drives were common. “Hog droving, as the practice was known, formed an essential link in the global economy. In peak years as many as 150,000 hogs made the journey on this single turnpike, and many other mountain routes also carried pigs from upland farms to the Deep South. And it all depended on a few men herding hogs through the mountains of North Carolina.”

A few tidbits from the book:

** As the United States grew, traveling hordes of pigs crisscrossed the country in all directions. The farmers who rushed to settle the West after the Revolutionary War soon returned east with pigs to sell. Around 1800 some of the first Corn Belt hogs were driven from Ohio farms to Baltimore slaughterhouses. Other hogs walked from Kentucky to Virginia, from the Nashville basin to Alabama, and from southern Illinois to Chicago.
**  By the 1840s and 1850s, a growing rail network mostly ended the era of long-distance driving, but the railroad builders were stymied by the Blue Ridge Mountains, which separated the hog-raising regions of Kentucky and Tennessee from the Deep South. A few farmers from the Bluegrass region of Kentucky—pig country before the horses took over—walked their hogs through the Cumberland Gap and all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, a distance of more than five hundred miles.

** Before motorized trucks became common, nearly all livestock went to market on foot: cattle, horses, mules, sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks, and geese. (“That was the prettiest drive of anything they drove,” a Tennessee drover said of geese. “They’d just paddle along on them webbed feet.”) Hogs, though, ruled the road. Americans raised more pigs than any other type of animal, so naturally swine crowded out other beasts on the turnpikes. The best estimates suggest that in the antebellum South, five times as many hogs were driven as all other animals combined. In 1847 one tollgate in North Carolina recorded 692 sheep, 898 cattle, 1,317 horses, and 51,753 hogs.

** This was not easy work. Whenever a roadside creek or pond appeared, the pigs flopped into the mud and commenced wallowing. The secret, one drover said, lay in not exerting too much control: “Never let a hog know he’s being driven. Just let him take his way, and keep him going in the right direction.”
** The start of the journey was especially difficult, for during that stage loud noises could send pigs stampeding back toward their home farms. One solution was to sew up their eyelids: temporarily blinded, the pigs clumped together and kept to the road by feel. At their destination, the stitch was clipped and their vision restored. (ed. note: not sure about the frequency or veracity of this “method”)

**  Driving pigs on such long journeys has been rare historically: the animals not only needed shade and tended to scatter but also required provisions en route. The swineherds of the Roman Empire were among the few to take on such challenges: tens of thousands of hogs walked well over a hundred miles to Rome from the forested regions of Campania, Samnium, and Lucania.

**  Pigs could walk about ten miles a day. Inns—often known as wagon stands—sprang up at ten-mile intervals along the roads, offering drovers and their pigs food and a place to sleep. At the taverns, the hogs were herded into corrals and given corn, usually eight bushels per one hundred hogs. One traveler described watching a drove of 1,000 hogs eat their evening meal: “The music made by this large number of hogs, in eating corn on a frosty night, I will never forget.”

As I mentioned before, we kids back on the farm would not have referred to the pig squeals and snorts as music, but I always thought pigs were clever and interesting. I’m just glad I never had to join in with the “great pig drives of the past.”
by dan gogerty (These excerpts come from Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig. Droving painting pic from atlasobscura.com; pigs playing pic from adorablog.org.)

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