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Goat carts! WRH stumbles across a photographic genre

Sometimes a seemingly insignificant coincidence can turn into a meaningful connection… or at least send you down a rabbit hole of late-night Googling.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting the Davenport, Washington public library for a couple days with Washington Rural Heritage (WRH) Project Manager Evan Robb. We were there helping Davenport librarian Katy Pike develop a small digital collection through a partnership with the Lincoln County Historical Museum.

After two productive days scanning photographs and documents we packed up our gear and were getting ready to leave when Tannis Jeschke of the Lincoln County Museum pulled out one last photo. The image, from the 1910s or 1920s, showed two children posed in a cart being pulled by… a goat. We all laughed at the humorous image, and I lamented the fact that we’d already loaded our scanner and laptops into the car.

Italian-American girl, Denver, 1926, from Denver Public Library Digital Collections

Katy Pike took another look at the goat cart photo and said, “Hmm… at home, I have a very similar photo of my grandmother sitting in a goat cart just like this one.” I asked where the photo of her grandmother was taken and she believed it was somewhere in the greater Spokane area. We all agreed this must have been from the same photographer and most likely the same goat and cart. We headed home and forgot about goat carts….. until….

A week later we were helping Susan Johns and Lissa Duvall of Whatcom County Library System finalize their brand new WRH collection, Nooksack Valley Heritage, when we noticed this goat cart image (below), taken in Bellingham in 1928.

Three goat carts within a single week seemed too good to be true… So I starting looking online for more.

Two children in a buggy or cart behind a harnessed goat, Bellingham, WA, 1928. Nooksack Valley Heritage, WRH.

As it turns out, the goat cart was a common device for traveling photographers to use for soliciting business to create portrait photography and photo postcards, from the late 19th century through the 1920s.

This kind of image was at one time so prevalent, in fact, the Library of Congress has included Goat carts as a controlled term in their Thesaurus of Graphic Materials – the same controlled vocabulary we use to provide subject access to materials within Washington Rural Heritage Collections. Our cursory research has turned up goat cart images from all across the United States, from New England to the Deep South, and throughout the Midwest and Western States.

This fun discovery has also moved us to try out the social bookmarking tool Pinterest at WSL to “collect” images of goat carts from other digital collections and sources around the Web. Check it out and follow our ‘Goat Carts’ Pinterest board.

Goat carts on Pinterest, from Washington State Library


Our Internet friends at HistoryPin have also jumped on the goat cart, er, bandwagon this week, too. They’ve started a collection of geo-referenced goat cart images featuring our Nooksack Valley image, as well as one made as far away as Brisbane, Australia! If you have not yet played around with HistoryPin, we encourage you to check out this amazing, crowd-sourced resource.Historypin Collection - Goat Carts!

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6 Responses to “Goat carts! WRH stumbles across a photographic genre”

  1. Jon, Thanks for that link! I’m surprised at the lack of real scholarship I’ve been able to find on goat carts (and the traveling photographers who used them) thus far….

  2. What a fun detail to discover! Thanks for sharing with the rest of us. I love stories about the ways people fall into the searches they do.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the serendipitous route, Beth! If you see any goat carts out there, send them our way!

  4. oh…I recommend moving your submit button after the captcha if you can, too…I hadn’t scrolled down and had to re-type my message. :o) No biggie…hope the feedback is helpful.

  5. That is an excellent suggestion. I’ll see what can be done about that. Thank you!