Horse heroes of the sea

Mack, the white stallion owned by Clarence Nelson Hutton, became famous in the 19th century for helping rescue drowning sailors in the Pacific off the Peninsula. Pictured here with Dolly the mare, Mack lived out his life pulling wagons of tourists.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Myrtle L. Aldridge was born in Long Beach in 1904. During high school - and those were the days when students rode the train to school - she wrote for one of the local newspapers, probably the Observer. While adult life took her away from the Peninsula - she and her husband lived in Guam and later in Southern California - she never left entirely. Mrs. Aldridge maintained a close correspondence with her niece, Adelle Beechey, and occasionally wrote and published articles of the Peninsula's early days. Several of those pieces came to light after her death last year at the age of 97. Mrs. Beechey thought readers might enjoy them, and in coming weeks we'll print two more stories in addition to this one.

Sitting astride Mack, his white stallion, Clarence Nelson Hutton stared through driving rain and sand at the devastation far offshore. Hundreds of other onlookers, bending before the stiff south-southeaster, lined the North Beach Peninsula near the present Klipsan Beach on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 1891.

Scanning the water, while Mack jogged along the hard packed sands of the 28-mile stretch of beach, Clarence Hutton suddenly steadied his horse and urged him into the water.

Barely visible offshore was the full-rigged British ironship Strathblane, from Glasgow, lost from Honolulu enroute to Portland, for grain. Hitting thick weather nearing the mouth of the Columbia River, off course due to a defective chronometer, she struck fast to the shore at 6 a.m. Turned broadside to the beach and rolled over on her beam end, the sea was engaging the 1364-ton Strathblane in a rock-and-roll death dance.

Men were about to drown out there and Nelson - in company of many others that day - rode horses into the foaming surf to stage some of the most unusual rescues in maritime history.

Dr. Theodore H. Parks learned of the sea emergency while trotting along country roads in his horse-drawn buggy making a round of house calls. He responded by unhitching his buggy, mounting his horse and riding hell-bent for the sea. The doctor's horse was surf-trained. Another horseman, Philip G. Stout, also rode his horse, Veto, to the site of the sea disaster. Other rescue efforts were underway, too.

Because all communications lines were down, an unknown messenger had galloped nine miles on horseback to alert the Cape Disappointment lifesaving crew. Clarence Hutton's wife, with two small children, was at their nearby home praying for her husband's safe return. Four-year old daughter Elsie remembers today how frightened she was of the raging storm. And she thought the noise of the shooting life lines was the ship firing at them! However, rescue attempts were repeatedly thwarted, with many of the lifesaving crewmen from Cape Disappointment gravely injured when their boats were swamped and broken. The sea showed no mercy to the big British ship.

The top gallant masts of the 235-foot ship had been carried away. With her constant roll leeward, only the yards striking the bottom prevented capsizing. The yardarms dipping into the surf appeared to be attempting to rout the Strathblane from her future grave. To save the sailors was the only hope.

Shivering from long hours of exposure, vigilant volunteers ranged the beach. Some climbed atop the tallest driftwood the better to sight a drifting man, pointing and shouting, "There comes one!" above the wind's clamor.

As following crowds converged, a hand-to-hand lifeline was formed, men wading up to their necks, ignoring the danger from deadly undertow. It was apparent with impending darkness the ship would be a shambles.

What's more, the sailors still on board the stricken ship were in immediate danger now from the mass of entangled spars and rigging. The crew moved to the ship's stern - but soon their safety was threatened there and one by one the desperate men began jumping into the sea.

By this time the men on horseback were pushing out into the heaving surf. Clarence Hutton was into the breakers, horse and rider moving toward the floundering seamen. Doctor Parks and his surf-trained horse came upon seamen in the water and encouraged them to hang on to the animal's tail for a tow to the safety of the beach. Another horseman, meanwhile, was having difficulty. While attempting rescue of a seaman, Phil Stout's mount, Veto, lost his footing; horse and rider turned over in the surging breakers. Finally, the horse struggled upright and made it to shore. And Stout's foresight had paid off. He had tied himself to the saddle and the horse - like others that frantic day - revealed a remarkable agility in the churning water. Their riders felt the horses were aware of their mission.

"Mack seemed to understand the situation, and know what was expected of him," Hutton said later. "When a sailor grabbed his mane, tail, even my feet in the stirrups - anything to hang onto - Mack turned to hurry to shore with them where others took over. Then, back to the surf for more!" But at least one seaman had some misgivings about being rescued by a horse.

Charles Angus Payne, a 16-year-old Scottish cabin boy, nearly turned back toward the sea at sight of the huge stallion with rider swimming to his rescue - preferring drowning to being kicked to death by a horse. Fortunately, he decided to take his chances with the horse as other desperate sailors were doing.

Of the 30 persons on board, twenty-four were pulled out of the sea. Two died later. The six losing their lives included the Strathblane's courageous Captain Cuthell.

Many of those saved had been injured aboard ship and, near drowning, were exhausted. They were revived by rolling and stimulants before being removed to the warmth of the nearby L. A. Loomis home. Some of the survivors never went back to Great Britain.

Cabin boy Charles Payne settled in Chinook, where he became owner and editor of the Chinook Observer. He relished telling in later years of the huge stallion that pulled him out of the sea. And the Strathblane's first mate, James D. Murray, also remained in the county, to make his home and raise a family.

By all accounts, the horses and their courageous riders made a significant contribution to the rescue effort - and were recognized for it by the government of Great Britain. The British awarded silver Shipwreck Medals with citations for "Gallantry and Humanity" to eight men, among them Dr. Parks, Clarence Hutton and Philip G. Stout. Also named as recipients in Foreign Office records were Robert O. Stone, Leonard D. Pike, Otto V. Hall, Lieutenant Sidney S. Jordan and Dr. E. C. Carter.

It goes without saying that the horses used in the Strathblane rescues were renowned in their community, as were their riders. For years after this episode a visitor to the nearby town might have found Clarence Hutton driving his white stallion, Mack, in harness with his mare, Dolly, hauling vacationers on sightseeing tours. On Hutton's vest might have been seen the medal for 'Gallantry and Humanity' that he prized. But if you asked him, Hutton would have given credit for the medal to Mack, his horse.

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