The High-Diving Horses That Risked Death Every Day to Entertain People

Animal cruelty had a different definition 100 years ago, as the immensely popular horse diving act of the day definitely proves.

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Animal cruelty had a different definition 100 years ago, as the immensely popular horse diving act of the day definitely proves.

Just a girl and her horse.

The fall that started it all

In 1881, when William F. ‘Doc’ Carver and his trusty steed leaped off a collapsing wooden bridge into Nebraska’s Platte River a seed of an idea was planted that would soon grow into one of America’s most popular tourist attractions of the day: horse diving. How far Carver and his horse fell exactly is unknown. What is known is after that event horse diving, under Carver’s direction, took the United States by storm as it made the rounds across the country at state fairs and carnivals.

Before public attention was paid to animal cruelty, people took horses diving from great heights.

The dentist who became a gunslinger

Prior to this Super Soaker of an idea, Carver had been a sharpshooter with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, in addition to being an early business partner of Cody’s. And before we get too far into things, no, we didn’t forget to capitalize the word ‘show’ when mentioning the extravaganza. Cody never spelled it with a capital, so neither will we.

Carver, whose nickname ‘Doc’ came from his original 9-to-5 dentistry day job (we’re going to assume all doctors in the 18th century were branded ‘Doc’ for short), was seen as a bit of show-off back in the day. Whereas Cody was considered to be the real deal and living the life of a frontier pioneer, Carver talked the talk but never really walked the walk. C’mon… the guy was a dentist who took up shooting as a hobby.

Carver also never repeated a horse dive after his initial incident that sparked the idea in the first place, but his 1878 autobiography, ‘Life of Dr. Wm. F. Carver of California: Champion Rifle-Shot of the World’ more than made up for that with page after page of unprovable claims of his accomplishments. Speculation remains as to whether the Carver’s original dive even happened, or whether it was another boast used to up the lore for the public and hype the spectacle.