Gored by a steer

The news earlier this week that a cow had escaped from a slaughterhouse in New York City went viral. After all, it’s the 21st century. What are cattle doing in the middle of big cities?

Yet, the headlines and the obligatory humor that followed would have been familiar to urban dwellers in any North American city since the turn of the 19th century. As cities expanded and drove yards on their hinterlands were absorbed by expansion. Later on, after 1850, railroads carried large numbers of cattle, sheep, and hogs to urban abattoirs,

Inevitably, some animals escaped while being offloaded from train cars (and later trucks) or they broke free from pens in stockyards while awaiting auction or slaughter. In the 1880s, a generation after the nation’s first union stockyards opened in a farm field outside of Pittsburgh, the local East End News ran several articles recounting wayward food on the hoof:

GORED BY A STEER (Saturday, September 4, 1886)

On Wednesday a steer broke out of the East End Stock Yards and for a time had things his own way. Mrs. Andrews was on the pavement in front of her house on Station Street, but before she could get out of the way the animal had gored her seriously. On her head were several scalp wounds and her body was considerably bruised. Medical aid was summoned and it was found that none of the wounds were dangerous. The bull was recaptured and taken back to the yards.

NEWS ITEMS (August 25, 1888)

A wild steer created a panic Wednesday afternoon … Mr. O’Neal, a butcher in Lawrenceville, was taking a drove of cattle home from the stockyards when one broke away and started back.


Some things never change. Cities with lots of people still need to feed those people. As long as we have cities and we consume fresh meat, stories like the one out of New York will keep coming. How would Twitter have treated the East Liberty beast that gored Mrs. Anderson, I wonder?

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

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