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Dr. S.R. Howard and the cows that ate dynamite

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, in last week’s offering, the colloquy was on the life and times of Dr. Samuel Rogers “S.R.” Howard.

Dr. S.R. Howard opened his uptown Hillsboro business around 1890 and operated it for many, many years.

In September of 1899, Doc Howard made headlines across the state when five cows decided to chow down on an interesting repast – dynamite. You can’t make this stuff up, folks!

The headline in the Sept. 28, 1899 edition of The News-Herald in Hillsboro read, “Cows Eat Dynamite,” and the story read, “Henry Frost, a prosperous farmer living about five miles west of town, near Dunn’s Chapel, lost two valuable cows last Friday through the over-indulgence in dynamite as an article of diet. That evening his five cows were noticed acting in a very odd manner. They were rolling around on the ground and seemed unable to stand up. Dr. S.R. Howard, veterinary surgeon, was immediately summoned from Hillsboro and administered antidotes to the three that were alive when arrived, and they have since recovered.

“Mr. Frost had a quantity of dynamite covered up in a fence corner in the pasture field where the cows were, and it was afterward found chewed up and scattered around. Dynamite is composed mostly of nitroglycerine, which is a heart stimulant, and one-tenth of a drop being the usual dose administered to human beings. Dr. Howard reported the pulse of the ones he examined at 120, while the normal beat should have only been 55.”

A Columbus newspaper, the Press-Post, also picked up on the story, but said Farmer Frost lived near Quinn’s Chapel, not Dunn’s Chapel. We’ll forgive them for that.

Another newspaper, I assume it was the other Hillsboro newspaper but it was just a clipping in an old scrapbook owned by a descendant of Doc Howard, also had the story, but it gave their readers a bit of an education on cattle and dynamite. That story had the headline “Cows Ate Dynamite: Strange Accident To Henry Frost’s Herd Of Bovines” and read, “It is a well-known fact to stock men that cattle very often have variable and capricious appetites. They will often evince a strong desire to lick or chew all manner of things, even in the pink of condition. Coal, lime, farming utensils, old shoes, bones, clothes on the line – any old thing, at times they seem to crave.

“Henry Frost, living near Dunn’s Chapel, is minus two cows and a quantity of dynamite. He turned the cows out to water one evening last week, and waited for them to come up the lane from the creek, as was their habit. The cows were seen coming back, but in a very unsteady and wavering fashion, staggering and tumbling about into the wire fence and down off the road.

“All five cows finally got down, and you can imagine Mr. Frost’s feelings. What could they have eaten that would produce such symptoms was the question. All at once, it dawned upon Mr. Frost that they might have eaten some dynamite that for 18 months had been covered with a phosphate sack, surrounded and partly covered with some lumber in a corner of the pasture. Upon investigation. it was found that part of the dynamite was gone, and the remainder was scattered around, and showed evidence of having been partially chewed.

“Dr. Howard was immediately called, and antagonists were given to mitigate and arrest the effect of the nitroglycerine, of which dynamite is largely composed. Three of the cows were saved. One was dead before the doctor arrived.

“The effects of nitroglycerine upon the human and animal economy are something wonderful. Two or three drops of one-percent solution is a full medicinal dose for a human. Dynamite is a mixture of nitroglycerine and some bulky substance, such as earth, sawdust, etc. The taste of nitroglycerine is at first sweetish, followed by a not unpleasant pungency. In poisonous doses it quickly produces, in animals, giddiness, staggering, headache, a violent and tremendous beating of the heart, followed by languor, dilation of the pupils, rapid and weak pulse, coldness of extremities, twitching movements, hiccough, fainting, coma and death.”

Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the cows that ate dynamite – and a crash course on how dynamite tastes and what it can do to humans and bovines.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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