Question: Oxen over cliff? - The Horse Forum

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post #1 of 18 Old 07-28-2014, 04:29 PM Thread Starter
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Question: Oxen over cliff?

Hi all:

I'm a writer who visits this great forum with questions about horses, mules etc. I've written and am writing an historical set in ancient times. I have a question. I read a true story where a girl was killed by putting her in an ox cart and forcing it over a cliff. Sick, right? I'm trying to tell the girl's story and a friend told me that it would be hard to get an ox to go over a cliff like it would be with also a horse or a mule. I'm wondering if anyone has any experience with oxen? Could they be scared enough or forced to in the dark maybe go off a trail and over a cliff?

If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, I'm open to hearing them.

Thanks so much,
Cynthia
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post #2 of 18 Old 07-28-2014, 07:42 PM
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Oxen were usually huge animals that move slowly. When two were yoked together it would be nigh on to impossible for someone to force them over a drop off especially if hauling a cart. Ox carts were big and cumbersome so two oxen were needed to pull it. On the other hand, many women were killed with runaway teams, either pulling a wagon or farm machinery. I read of one woman who's small stature saved her when her Percherons, hooked four abreast, bolted and she was tossed off the seat. There was barely enough clearance but she was unhurt.
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post #3 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much for your reply. I have since checked again this ancient story and it seems they were untamed bulls (?) not oxen 'She was put into a cart drawn by untamed bulls and was tipped over a bridge: she fell into the river and was drowned.' It must be the writer's imagination in me that made remember it as an oxen cart over a cliff! LOL

Question: Do you think this implies the animals and cart as well? Or perhaps just tipping the cart. Would even a rich person waste a cart and animals?

Thanks for any thoughts.
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post #4 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 12:59 PM
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1) Getting a yoke on untamed bulls would be pretty much next to impossible. So, initially, that made me think the account is an exaggeration. But, if the bulls were tame (meaning used to humans and were trained to lead), it *might* be possible. But that's a HUGE "might." Think about it this way: hooking up a team takes quite a bit of time. It's not like hooking up a trailer to a truck now. To get not one, but two, large bulls who have never been trained to stand still long enough to get the yoke on and get them hooked up, well, that would be quite a feat. That's if you could get the yoke on them without them freaking and bolting.

2) I'm assuming this supposed account took place several hundred years ago, yes? Somehow I just don't see people back then having the leisure time to "off" someone in this manner.

3) Carts and cattle were precious commodities back then. They took time and skill to build. I don't see even a rich person wasting a good cart in this manner when there were much more efficient ways of "getting the job done."

While the writer in me thinks "Wouldn't it be cool if...?", the reader in me has a hard time accepting that it's possible.

Now, if someone were relating an accident that happened, in which the oxen/bulls were spooked by something, then I might believe that the cart went over a bridge. However, oxen are difficult to spook enough to be completely out of control, so again, the reader in me is skeptical.
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post #5 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 01:02 PM
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That seems like a lot of effort for nothing. If they needed to do this couldn't they just tie up the girl and have a couple strong men toss her over? Why all the overkill.
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post #6 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 01:55 PM Thread Starter
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That seems like a lot of effort for nothing. If they needed to do this couldn't they just tie up the girl and have a couple strong men toss her over? Why all the overkill.
I agree, Yogiwick. The worst part that I didn't include was that it was ordered by her mom, the wife of a Frankish king who was afraid the father (king) would desire the daughter. I'm writing a mystery short story based loosely on this sad story.

Drafty, everything you say makes sense. The writer is Gregory of Tours who is writing a history of the Franks and is pretty close to the times. So it seems odd that he would exaggerate a story that his contemporaries would scoff at and 'untamed' is such a detail. However, everything you say rings true. Perhaps, I can have bulls leading the cart and two henchman tip the cart and she rolls out of the cart, (she is bound) off the bridge and into the river.

Also, you've helped me before with horse questions for my novel On the Edge of Sunrise. I'm happy to say that it's being published in March of 2015 by Knox Robinson Publishing-London & New York. Once I have a cover for it, I will see if the forum will let me post it. My heroine, Arria, is a Roman senator's daughter and an excellent horsewoman (unlike me-As a city girl, I loved riding when I could, but haven't ridden in about 10 years) and more like all of you.
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post #7 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 02:53 PM
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I agree with everything others have said.

As for the henchmen tipping the cart so she would fall off....as Saddlebag said, ox carts were big and heavy and even 2 strong men would have difficulty tipping one up onto one wheel far enough for the girl to be rolled out. If they were able to tip it up, it might have tipped over and fallen off the bridge....which might have taken the oxen with it....if they were already off balance or standing on a slick part of the bridge, but that's a lot of "if"s and "might"s.

Personally, I think it's more sensible and believable if the 2 henchmen just grabbed the girl and tossed her off the bridge into the water.
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post #8 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 03:03 PM
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Yeah I'm thinking something got lost in translation so to speak. Maybe she was brought to the bridge by oxen then tossed over by "the henchmen". (After all she is a princess of sorts and even if not if the bridge is 5 miles away she will get heavy by then lol) That seems the most likely to me.
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post #9 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 05:14 PM Thread Starter
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From what you all have said, it does seem puzzling that Gregory would use this sort of description. Maybe he was the 'special effects' historian of his day. Like Yogiwick suggested, perhaps 'untamed bulls' meant something else in the day. I'm glad I came here to clear some things up. I think what I will do is have an ox driven cart bring her to the edge of a cliff and have a henchman throw her off. It's at night, so the next day when they search for her they will find her body at the bottom. Is 'foot of the cliff' correct terminology? I saw a murder story on TV where the husband claimed his wife got caught up in their dog's leash and toppled off a 30 foot cliff into a shallow ravine. The body has to be found with visible marks for examination. Thanks again, everyone.
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post #10 of 18 Old 07-29-2014, 05:21 PM
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Yes, foot of the cliff is correct terminology.
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