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Nothing Tacky about Proposed Horse Bill in S.C. Senate

By MJ Goodwin

I was reminded of my Law School days recently when I returned to the University of South Carolina, this time as an instructor.  Law School is part of my own personal history.  Some parts of Law School were like MJ Goodwin. Legal Padthe movie “The Paper Chase.”  Constitutional Law was one such class.  Consequently, Constitutional Law was not a favorite among first year law students.  It is, of course, a required course.  It is very necessary for any lawyer to have a good understanding of the basic fundamentals of our legal system no matter in what area he or she chooses to practice.  But nevertheless, there was a collective “groan” among first year law students as the subject of Constitutional Law was approached.   I realize it’s been twenty years since I was in Law School, but I don’t remember Constitutional Law being discussed outside the Law School.  Compare that with the almost constant Constitutional debates that are now on the 24 hour news networks.  It seems everyone has a book out with his or her view of what the Constitution really means and what the Framers really intended.  It is important to know history.  History shapes the future.  Our collective history is as important as our personal histories.

While I was a typical first year law student over two decades ago and while I readily admit to loathing my first year Con Law class, I do have a love for our Constitution.  I also love the history of the American Revolution.  Jefferson is a favorite of mine.  I tend to be Jeffersonian in my thinking.  I love to read books about Jefferson.  Last year, my son portrayed Thomas Jefferson at a school function.  Our family visited Monticello in preparation for that role.  Seeing a fascinating place like Monticello can really make history come alive.  I mention this because “living history” is important.  Seeing “living history” is much more fun than studying Constitutional Law.  And as I have said, history is important.

One does not have to go as far as Virginia to see evidence of our Founding Fathers.  There is “living history” quite close by.  Here in Anderson, we are not more than a few hours drive from many historic Revolutionary War sites.  Cowpens is close by and worth the trip.  Kate Barry’s farm, Walnut Grove, is also in the Spartanburg area.  Perhaps the most famous South Carolina Revolutionary was General Francis Marion, also known as “The Swamp Fox.”  His stomping ground was in the Low Country of South Carolina.

General Francis Marion was able to attack the British suddenly, with no warning and then vanish into the swamps.  The British were unable to follow him.  Bewildered and frustrated, the British bogged down in the marsh and were forced back to drier land.  Marion had a camp at Snow’s Island, deep in the swamp.  From that dark, dank, secret marshy place, he planned his attacks.  He shaped the future of the war and ultimately of our country. It has only been recently that I learned one of Marion’s secrets.  Everyone likes to know a good secret, so I’ll share it with you:  the Carolina Marsh Tacky horse.  

So what is a Carolina Marsh Tacky horse?  The Marsh Tacky evolved from the horses brought to the coast of South Carolina by the Spanish more than 500 years ago, long before the American Revolution.  These little horses were tough.  They (or their ancestors) survived a grueling Atlantic voyage.  When they got to the Americas, life was hard.  Often horses would escape the Spanish or were simply abandoned to the wild.  They formed wild herds and roamed the coast and the outer banks of North and South Carolina for years.  At one point in history, the British attempted to tax fences put up by the Colonists.  To avoid the fence tax, colonial livestock was moved to the islands or peninsulas on the coast.  There, it could be left to graze until needed with a minimum of fencing (and therefore taxes) required.  Gullah used the wild horses that they rounded up and tamed for work on Hilton Head Island.  Gullah horses and the Colonial live stock bred with the wild Marsh Tacky herds.  The herds survived the harsh conditions, requiring very little and being extremely tough.  They became their own breed.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has found the Marsh Tacky to be a unique, gaited horse.  This horse is unlike any other horse anywhere in the world.  It is truly South Carolinian.  It is living, breathing history.

So what does this have to do with Francis Marion and the Revolutionary War?  Well, that War was not like the wars fought today.  Marion’s band was not a well-equipped unit.  The Continental Army was new.  It was all volunteer.  It was most certainly not rich.  Each man brought his own weapon and his own horse.  At the time, the Marsh Tacky horse was the most common horse in the low country of South Carolina.  These horses were well suited to get in and out of swamp land, something that the larger horses brought over by the British could not do.  Marion had a life long love of horses.  I am sure he appreciated the Marsh Tacky and all it was capable of accomplishing.

Not only were the British out-foxed by Marion, they were out-horsed by him, too.

Ultimately, the Marsh Tacky evolved to the sturdy, well balanced 14 hand horse that lives today.  For many years, these horses were wild on Hilton Head Island.  The bridge and subsequent development ended that.  Thought by some already to be extinct, this little horse is still alive.  There are estimated to be around 220 Marsh Tacky horses left in the world.  The Tackys have come to represent more than just horses.  They represent a connection to the past.  They are a prime example of the South’s ability to adapt and thrive, no matter what.  Long after the Revolution, they were used in the Civil War and as recently as World War II.  They represent freedom, both in the fights that they participated in long ago and in their fight to survive now.  If not for their contributions to the Revolutionary War, we might not have defeated Lord Cornwallis and become our own country.  If not for these sturdy, tough little horses, it might not have been the Constitution of the United States of America that we first year law students complained so about studying.

So you can breathe a sigh of relief.  This animal is not yet gone, only to be remembered in the pages of old journals and history books.  This animal still has a chance.  And you can help it.  The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association was instrumental in getting a bill introduced in the State Senate to name the Carolina Marsh Tacky the State Heritage Horse of South Carolina.  You can find this bill at:  

Please encourage your State Senator to support State Bill 1030.  Recognition of this horse as the State Heritage Horse would help to maintain the preservation efforts of this critically endangered breed and insure future protection of the Carolina Marsh Tacky.  The passage of this bill will help this truly living, breathing history to continue to live and breathe.

General Francis Marion died on February 27, 1795.  Here, at the anniversary of his death, this column is intended to help honor his and his horses’ contributions to our freedom.  Without the legendary General Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”, we might not have won the Revolutionary War.  Without the legendary Carolina Marsh Tacky, Francis Marion might not have become legendary.  

On February 28, 2010, the 2nd annual Carolina Marsh Tacky races will be held on Hilton Head Island as part of the Gullah Festival.  

The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association can be found at:

**Disclaimer:  M. J. Goodwin, Attorney at Law, LLC, is located at 113 North Main Street, Anderson, SC 29621.  864-375-0909.  The information here is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice for any given situation.  Only clients who have hired M. J. Goodwin, Attorney at Law, LLC, are receiving actual legal advice that pertains to their particular situation.**

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Reader Comments (2)

I'd never heard of the Marsh Tacky! Very interesting!

March 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLessie

It is my personal mission for EVERYONE to know about the Marsh Tacky.

March 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMJ Goodwin

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