Seagoing cowboy and print-shop owner John Wesley Clay published a book of stories and poems he wrote on his trip with a load of horses to Poland on the S. S. Occidental Victory at age 66 in late 1946.
In comparing Clay’s stories in High Adventure with the diary account of the cowboy he calls “Shorty,” I’ve come to realize that his tellings are a mixture of fact and fiction. Keeping that in mind, I thought this would be the perfect day to share with you his take on why Santa Claus uses reindeer for his sleigh.
After unloading the horses sent to Poland by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the Occidental Victory went on to Finland to unload 6,000 tons of sugar at Turku. Then the ship traveled on around the Gulf of Finland to Kotka, a city in an area of logging and pulp mills, to pick up ballast in the form of either pulp or newsprint for the trip home. Here begins Clay’s tale, when he says he took a train north, desiring to visit Lapland.
“I found eighteen inches of snow in Lapland. It was a sleet-like snow, and your feet do not sink in as they do in snows of warmer climates,” Clay says. A man who spoke some English took him in for the night and fed him reindeer stew. The next morning, after a breakfast of reindeer steak, the man arranged for a Lapland taxi – “a very large buck reindeer hitched to a sleigh” – to take Clay to a reindeer ranch about twenty miles away. Clay says,
I do not know if you have ever seen a jet plane in action. It streaks along so fast that it is gone before you hear the sound thereof. Well, that is exactly what I was reminded of when our reindeer got his pace. He laid his antlers back over his shoulders, stuck his long nose forward, and the way he skimmed over the landscape was amazing. He took long, graceful strides apparently with perfect ease, and as the narrow runners of the sleigh skimmed over the sleet-like snow they sang the shrillest little song and set fine spray that peppered my face like a needle bath. It was the most thrilling ride I had ever had, and then it was that I understood why Santa Claus uses the reindeer for his motive power. We got to our destination in just two hours, and after we had dismounted and stretched ourselves we heard the jingle of the sleigh bells coming in. Like the jet plane we had left them far behind.
Now folks, that is a slight stretch of the imagination. I am given to telling tall tales, but this voyage was so filled with thrills and adventure from beginning to end that I have had no need to use my imagination. I indulge this once from force of habit.
May the jingle of sleigh bells catch up to you this Christmas Eve.
Wishing my readers Blessings of the Season.