Mustangs: As Much Right to Live as Anybody

We Americans love our french fries.  Though consumption has fallen in recent years due to concerns about health and obesity, in 2001 we each consumed over 29 pounds of frozen potato products–mostly fast food french fries.  We also love our wild horses, even as we turn a blind eye to their threatened extinction, but until recently, I had no idea these things were linked.

While researching the history of America’s mustangs, I learned that the Simplot company, supplier of french fries and “hamburgers” to McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, and one of the world’s largest producers of frozen vegetables (Birdseye?), was founded on the killing of wild horses.  

According to (now deceased) founder J.R. (“Jack”) Simplot, the privately-held, multi-billion-dollar company that he started from “nothin'” and that has as its motto “Bringing Earth’s Resources to Life,” owed its start to wild horses.  Maybe the company–now run by Simplot’s youngest son Scott–should think about finding a way to pay the wild horses back.

A “gee whiz” account of the Simplot company history published at fundinguniverse.com includes this tidbit about how Idaho’s “Mr. Spud” got his start in the mega-mogul biz:

Born in 1909, Simplot began his ascension to the top of the business world in Delco, Idaho, a small frontier town that was home to roughly ten families during Simplot’s childhood . . .

Fortune, decisiveness, and a willingness to work would characterize Simplot’s resolute march from grade-school dropout to billionaire, beginning with his first job as a potato sorter for a local firm of potato brokers. During his off-hours, the 15-year-old Simplot moonlighted by shoring up the canals bringing water from the Snake River into irrigation ditches, earning extra money by “riprapping” the canal banks with rocks until he had enough money to rent 40 acres of potato land from his father and purchase several sow hogs. Simplot then constructed hog pens on the banks of a nearby creek, planted potatoes on his rented land, and fattened his hogs by feeding them an unusual hog slop that opened the doors to wealth and provided him with his first break in his fledgling business.

Instead of paying for feed grain as other livestock owners did, Simplot used what was available to him by tracking down the wild horses that still roamed the plains and combining the horse meat with discarded potatoes and a little barley. Once cooked in a huge iron vat, Simplot’s hog slop represented a cheaper alternative to feed grain and, as luck would have it, the horse meat-cull potato-barley mash gave the resourceful Simplot an advantage over other pig farmers after a particularly harsh winter cut short the supply of feed grain. The following spring, when pigs were brought to market, Simplot’s fat hogs stood in sharp contrast to the skinny hogs deprived of their usual amount of feed grain, enabling Simplot to reap the rewards from his unconventional hog slop.

That’s right.  When other pig farmers were paying for grain to feed their skinny hogs, J.R. had the bright idea of hunting and killing free wild horses and feeding them to his fat, shiny pigs as hog slop.

Here is his story in his own words:

I’d go out in the desert and shoot a wild horse or two, jerk the hide off of them, and bring them back in and cook them with the potatoes. I fattened those hogs on horse meat and cooked potatoes.

Simplot may also have shot domestic horses, if you believe the account he gave to a writer for Range Magazine in 1998:

It was 1923-the land empty and wide open-and he had seen wild horses out on the Owyhee Desert, “runnin’ by the hundreds. I’d go out and knock a couple over with a rifle and jerk the hides off ’em with my pickup.” He got arrested for shooting a few with brands on, “but I settled with the guy and we got along.” He got two bucks for the hide and then he’d haul the carcass into town and feed them to his pigs. 

We will never know if Mr. Spud ever felt remorse for what he did to the horses, but there may be a clue in an obituary in the Idaho Statesman.  The article describes “Simplot’s softer side” that showed during a helicopter trip he took with long-time friend (and former Idaho state Senator) H. Dean Summers:

“When you’re out with Jack, you always eat where he has an establishment, and we landed at one of his ranches where they were rounding up horses,” he said. “We had our hunting clothes on, and the cowboys didn’t know who we were. They brought in a horse with a huge cut on its front shoulder. It was 6 inches long and filled with pus.

“When the foreman said to take the horse out and shoot it, Jack jumped down from a plank of the corral and asked for a veterinary kit. He cleaned out the wound with his bare hands and stitched it up with an old needle. When I asked him why, when he had 500 other horses, he said that horse had as much right to live as anybody.”

Too bad the mustangs that died for hog feed never knew Jack’s softer side.

Do you still want fries with that burger?

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Comments
One Response to “Mustangs: As Much Right to Live as Anybody”
  1. Cathleen Swanson says:

    Please keep the wild burros and mustangs alive and free.

    Cathleen Swanson
    Studio 29
    14301 Arnold Drive
    Glen Ellen, CA 95442

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