Death-Defying Sledges

Heland sledgeSnippets 97. In 1815 George Head, the assistant commissary-general of the commissariat of the 3rd division of the Spanish army, undertook a journey across North America, snappily titled Forest Scenes and Incidents in the Wilds of North America, Being a Diary of a Winter’s Route from Halifax to the Canadas. His diary was published in 1829. Starting his journey in November, in Halifax, he experienced the first fall of snow of the year and was astonished by the speed of all the sleighs that emerged to travel across the fresh snow.

Some of the drivers were good, others bad, but all drove fast, so that, notwithstanding people were obliged by law to have a certain number of bells about their sleigh, the eyes of Argus were insufficient to protect a foot-passenger, who, after all possible pains to get out of the way of the carriages, gained nothing more by way of thanks than snowballs kicked in his face off the heels of the horse. I observed one young man, evidently an inexperienced driver, who was in the act of passing a comer, while he and his fair partner were flying forwards in the original direction long after the horse had completed his turn; and such was the centrifugal motion of the sleigh, that an old woman was knocked down, and the horse completely overcome and brought to the ground by its violence.

Casualties seemed to be perpetually occuring to grave personages, and some of them sufficiently ridiculous. I saw an old gentleman carefully poking his way across a steep street with creepers (spikes made to buckle under the sole) on his feet and a pointed walking stick in his hand, when his heels were in a moment knocked from under him by an urchin in a box placed on iron runners, who shot down like a flash of lightning from the top of the hill to the bottom. I picked him up as, covered with snow, he was puffing with rage and growling vengeance against the author of his misfortune. But the old gentleman was not likely to be gratified; for the boy had passed like a meteor, and the moment of collision, together with the point of contact, were the only data by which the sufferer could determine whence he had come and whither he was gone.

It was quite astonishing to see how the young people preserved their equilibrium over parts of the streets covered with ice. The town consists of long parallel streets, with others remarkably steep crossing them at right angles. These latter, in some places where the snow had drifted away, were covered with a coat of hard ice, over which the young women especially were venturously running and sliding, in groups of three or four at a time, all holding by each other’s arms, down such declivities as apparently to put their necks in serious danger.


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About Windows into History

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One Response to Death-Defying Sledges

  1. Traveling in snow hasn’t changed much… you still take your life in your hands adventuring out in it! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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