In the Shorthorn Business

Clara’s description of her first cousin Theodore J. Thorson’s business has interested me and I have wanted to know more about it. Clara wrote that he “purchased cattle of the breed known as Shorthorns and built up a first class and profitable herd in the work of a lifetime” (Homestead, 9)

When searching for other information lately, I came across exactly the kind of news item that I wanted. In the front page of the March 6, 1919 issue of The Whitehall Times-Banner, T. J. Thorson had purchsed two Dual Purpose Shorthorn cattle, “quite the best ever shipped to this town.” From B. W. Little in Janesville, Wisconsin, “one of the oldest and best American breeders of Dual Purpose Shorthorn cattle,” Theodore purchased a yearling bull and heifer of superior pedigree. (Here’s a photo of Shorthorns today.)

While not wanting to bore you with the article’s cattle breeding details, I am compelled to mention that the bull was “by the 17th Duke of Wapsie, one of the best Bates bulls living.” Don’t you love that name?! The Bates name also must have been important in Shorthorn breeding circles because it was mentioned a couple more times.

Think about this: The purchase of these two animals made page 1 headlines in the Whitehall paper. Was it because of a slow news day? Probably not. More likely, the rural nature of the community and the farming leadership Theodore was demonstrating by his leading-edge – and probably costly – purchase.

When he died just five and a half years later (October 26, 1924) at the age of 44, not only must there have been sadness due to his unexpected passing but also because of the demise of his good work. That “work of a lifetime” Clara describes, was more likely a brief time of about ten years or so from 1913 when he had returned home at his father’s request “to save the old homestead” (Homestead, 9).

His 1919 purchase would not have been looked upon with admiring eyes by certain leaders in the dairy business. W. D. Hoard, for example, Wisconsin’s premier dairying promoter and one-time governor, was not a fan of dual purpose cows, saying something to the effect, that “as long as we have dual purpose notions, we will have no purpose cows!” I expect Theodore Thorson would have disagreed with him.

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