Young ‘Lys takes his little sister a ride.
Written by Ned Lodwick, President, Brown County Historical Society
“ ‘Lys’s Love of Horses”
At three years old ‘Lys’ was already attracted to horses. Neighbors were shocked to see him, short pants and barefooted, playing under the bellies of draft horse teams standing in front of Jesse’s tannery, crawling among the horse’s feet while they stamped at flies, or swinging on their tails. The child played so close to those powerful rear legs and iron shod hooves. A family friend rushed into the Grant home to warn his mother, but Hannah merely shrugged and said, “Horses seem to understand Ulysses and he understands them”.
At five years old ‘Lys was already showing his amazing abilities with horses. He was riding his father’s horses to the creek for water, standing on their bare backs, balancing himself with the reins. By eight he could ride full speed, bareback, standing on one foot. It’s said shoppers would stop to watch ‘Lys’ standing on a horse’s back on one foot, galloping at breakneck speed down Main Street.
Small circuses made their rounds in the Ohio frontier. One such circus came to Georgetown when ‘Lys’ was a young boy. The parade along Main Street brought out everyone in town to see the brightly painted wagons, the strange animals, and the exotically dressed performers. In the main tent the announcer introduced a mischievous pony that was trained to run around the ring like lightning and throw any boy that tried to ride him. “Will any boy ride this pony for a $5 prize?” the ringmaster shouted. ‘Lys’ stepped forward and the show began. First the pony trotted but soon he ran at breakneck speed. Faster and faster he ran but ‘Lys’ sat as steady as he had grown out of the pony’s back. Now a large monkey was called out and sprang up behind ‘Lys’. A great shout of laughter came from the crowd, and on the pony ran, but it all produced no effect on the rider. Then the monkey jumped up onto ‘Lys’s shoulders and held on to ‘Lys’s hair. At this an even louder shout of laughter came from the crowd, but not a muscle changed on ‘Lys’s face. A few more rounds and the ringmaster gave up. ‘Lys’ was awarded the prize and said, “If I can mount a horse, I can ride him.”
Before ‘Lys’, was ten years old, his father was running a livery service and ‘Lys’ was the driver. Small for his age, passengers often objected to being entrusted to one so small and young. While he was still quite young he drove to Cincinnati several times, often to Maysville, once returning seventy miles alone from Chillicothe, made a trip to Louisville, and at least once traveled alone to Toledo, 200 miles away.
Of all of his long distance trips, ‘Lys’ liked best the 140 mile round trip to Flat Rock, Kentucky. He was fifteen and had only one passenger, Mr. Payne, a neighbor. While in Flat Rock, ‘Lys’ saw a fine young saddle horse and after some bartering traded one of his horses and $10 for it. The problem was that the new horse had never been driven in harness. Things went fine until a mean dog scared the new horse and the team took off at a run. ‘Lys’ finally stopped the team at the brink of a twenty foot embankment. The new horse was trembling terribly but not as badly as Mr. Payne, who disappeared completely, deserting ‘Lys’ in his dilemma. Payne had hurriedly boarded a passing freight wagon and headed to Maysville. ‘Lys’ took off his red bandanna and blindfolded the frightened horse and proceeded on his way. The next day in Maysville, ‘Lys’ borrowed another horse, picked up Mr. Payne with much persuasion, and headed to Georgetown. The next week he rode the borrowed horse back to Maysville and rode the new horse home.
‘Lys’ wanted a colt that was owned by Robert Ralston who lived just west of town. One day at the tannery Ralston said he would take $25 for the colt. After Ralston left, ‘Lys’ urged his father to buy the colt but Jesse said the colt was worth no more than $20. ‘Lys’ begged so hard that finally Jesse relented and told ‘Lys’ to buy the colt but to use some bargaining sense and maybe he wouldn’t have to pay the whole $25. ‘Lys’ rushed to the Ralston place and blurted, “My father said to offer $20, if you didn’t take it I was to offer $22.50, and if you didn’t take it I was to offer $25.” Mr. Ralston accepted the $25 with a smile.
When ‘Lys’ was twelve, Jesse Grant contracted to build a new county jail at Cherry and Apple Streets. ‘Lys’ offered to haul the fourteen-foot logs for his father if he would buy a horse owned by the Devores to team with the Grant’s horse. Jesse consented and ‘Lys’ named the big horse ‘Dave’, much to the displeasure of Dave Devore, a prominent lawyer. One day ‘Lys’ took his team out to the woods and found a load of logs cut and ready to haul but could not find a single man to help him load the massive timbers. They had left because of a threatening storm. ‘Lys’ knew his father had a crew of men at the jail being paid to put up the logs when they arrived and that Jesse would not be happy with a delay. An hour late, ‘Lys’ arrived with the full load only to be met by an agitated Jesse. “What took you so long?” was his father’s greeting. “There were no men to load the logs”, ‘Lys’ replied. “Then who loaded them?” a quieted Jesse asked. “Dave and I”, is all ‘Lys’ said. ‘Lys’ had used a fallen tree, the top of which was caught in another tree so the trunk was at an angle. He hitched ‘Dave’ at right angles at the end of a log and pulled one end of the log off the ground. Then he unhitched ‘Dave’ and re-hitched him in line to the end of the log and pulled the timber onto the wagon. ‘Lys’ then repeated the process until all nine beams were loaded.
The Higginsport Pike ( St. Rt. 221) was a major route for the teamsters of Georgetown and that meant the teams had to haul their heavy loads down (or worse up) the curvy and steep Town Hill. Several men made good livings by waiting with a spare team along the steep climb to help those teams that just couldn’t get all the way to the top. ‘Lys’ and his team made the trip down to the Thompson Mills or to the Higginsport docks and back to Georgetown several times a week. ‘Lys’s team always made a steady assent and was never known to need an extra team to get to the top. When asked, ‘Lys’ replied, “My team doesn’t stall because I don’t stall.”
‘Lys’ Grant would eventually grow up and leave Georgetown but his love for horses would only grow. By the end of the Civil War he was considered by most the greatest horseman in America.
Grant Day celebrations this year (2012) are April 26, 27, and 28.