When Delivering the Milk Could Get Tricky

Nathaniel K. Roberts was a busy man in the 1880s. He had a 280-acre ranch in the western end of the San Pasqual Valley where he, his wife and three children raised wheat, barley, honey, dairy products, and poultry.

“He has twenty-five cows in excellent condition and butter is one of the principal productions of this ranch,” stated an article about north San Diego County farmers in the August 22, 1883 edition of the San Diego Union.

Roberts apparently delivered some of his products personally to customers, utilizing a wagon drawn by a team of draft horses. That could get a little tricky in bad weather, especially if you had to cross a river. Without a bridge.

In the late 1880s Roberts delivered milk to customers in the newly developing town of Escondido. That meant crossing the San Dieguito River, which in those days was still undammed and unbridged and, if there was a period of heavy rain, unpredictable. Here’s an anecdote from the 1949 book, San Pasqual: A Crack in the Hills, by Mary Rockwood Peet, a member of another longtime San Pasqual Valley ranching family:

“During a heavy rain that raised the river, Mr. Roberts stayed in town for two days and then decided he must go home,” wrote Peet. The Rockwood farm was on the other end of the valley from Roberts’ place, but he chose to cross there “because the quick-sand was less troublesome than at either the ‘middle’ or ‘lower’ fords.”

“He stopped at our house and my father tried to persuade him to wait until it seemed safe, but Mr. Roberts was determined to try it,” she wrote.

Peet doesn’t say just how high the flooded river was, but she noted that some of her family’s ranch hands “tied a long rope around his waist” and proceeded to hold on to the rope as Roberts “plunged his fine team of Clydesdales and sturdy wagon into the swift stream”.

Roberts guided the horses “slightly upstream against the current but hit the opposite bank a little too high,” Mary wrote.

The two-horse team lunged for the top of the bank but, “one slipped back,” Peet reported. “The men holding the rope and those watching on the north shore held their breaths.”

Fortunately, “with a little urging from the driver, the faithful animals made another trial and climbed to safety. Mr. Roberts threw off the rope and with a wave of thanks, proceeded on his way home.”

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2 thoughts on “When Delivering the Milk Could Get Tricky

  1. I guess if your vehicle’s horsepower comes from two Clydesdales, you’re in good shape. And it probably didn’t hurt that they were headed home! Gripping story, thank you.

    Diane Hydoski Borrego Springd


    • You’re welcome. Really offers a snapshot of what people had to deal with on an everyday basis. Hope the horses got some extra hay for that,
      and I would hope the same, figuratively, for those rope-holding ranch hands.


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