Boy on Cow, Carlton A. Wilmore papers

Udderly Fascinating, by Catherine Ephlin

Animals have and always will play a vital role in the lives of people from every city, state and country. Whether these animals are kept with the intent of using them for food or labor or they are assigned the role of companion, the fact that there is an important relationship between humans and animals is a constant through time and across the globe. I stumbled upon a photograph in Purdue’s collection that acts as a reminder of this fact. The photo is of a young person, one I believe is a boy, on the back of a cow. The two are on a patch of grass in front of a fence and a few trees and beyond the trees and the fence is a field. The main reason that I chose this object and this topic over others was the emotions that I experienced as a result of this image. I was drawn to the innocent and familiar feeling that it evoked.


I found the photo of the adolescent on the cow in folder 1 of the Carlton A. Wilmore papers. The person on the cow seems to have longer hair under the hat that he is wearing so it is possible that it is a girl but I am going to go with my initial belief unless, through my research, it proves to be false. The person in the photo is sitting on a large cow but the species or breed of that cow is currently a mystery to me. This animal does not appear to be a dairy cow or any type of beef cattle based on my knowledge, but I am hoping that through my research I may determine what exactly this animal is. My guess is that this is a work animal that might pull plows or do other work in the field on a farm. I also believe that this animal might be used for this reason because of the relationship between the cow and the person. If this cow were meant to be used for meat, it would most likely not be so inclined to let a person put a halter on it let alone sit on it. People as a general rule will not create strong bonds with animals that are just going to be used for their meat. Production animals spend most of their lives in pastures or in areas with only occasional human contact. For this reason, the animals are skittish around people and would certainly not be as accepting of a person on their back as this cow seems to be. This suggests that the cow has a more intimate relationship with the person than just a food animal.

The person is wearing overalls, a sun hat, boots and he has a pipe in his mouth. The way he is sitting with one leg up on the neck of cow and one dangling off is rather humorous and he seems very as ease as he leans back with his one hand on the rump of the cow and the other loosely holding onto the rope tied to the halter. Although the person is not smiling, he seems to be happy. The position that he is sitting in and the way the pipe is sticking out of his mouth suggests to me that this might have been meant to be comical. I was drawn to this lighthearted mood that the picture creates and the fact that the picture is indicative of the relationship and the trust that the cow and the person in the photo must have had for each other. The casual way that he is sitting and his calm demeanor suggest that not only does he know that the cow is not going to cause a fuss, but that perhaps he has done this before.

I hope to identify the farm in the photograph and what the purpose of the farm was. I want to know what crops or animals were grown there, whose farm it was and any other information I can find on it. Finally, I aspire to obtain information about the kind of photo that it is. I want to know how it was printed, what kind of camera was used and what type or class of person used this type of camera.

The emotions that I referred to previously has to do with the connection that I felt to the student in the picture. I am an Animal Sciences major and I am very interested in the history of agriculture at Purdue, in Indiana and across the country. Personally, I immediately felt connected to this person because of the way he or she seemed so happy and so relaxed with the animal. I think that this is where the emotions that I felt stem from. I have always felt at home around animals and I am very interested in learning more about a student at Purdue that had a similar interest and what seems to be the same feeling towards animals, so long ago. When I saw the photo for the first time I pictured myself in the place of the person on the cow and I want to act on that feeling and see what life really would have been like were I in his shoes.

Next Steps

One more aspect of this photograph and the process of capturing it that I want to focus on and hopefully learn more about is the purpose. I want to know why this picture was taken because it seems as if, whatever the reason was, it was intentional. People at this time did not just have cameras on their cellphones that they could take out at a moments notice. This photograph was planned and purposeful. I want to know what the purpose was and why the photo was important enough to be one of the few that were saved and deemed important enough to be saved long enough to make it to the Purdue archives. The main aspect of this photograph that I want to focus on moving forward is the agricultural component. I am very interested in looking further into the history of animal agriculture at Purdue and how the students at this time were affected by it.


This material presents an aspect of Purdue life that we have not seen much of thus far. We have talked about President Stone and his efforts to expand the College of Agriculture the way that President smart had expanded the College of Engineering. Even though he was a Chemistry major, he realized how important it was for Purdue to grow as university where talents and knowledge in the field of agriculture was cultivated. The person and the cow is a great picture to look at but the reason that I love it is because it represents something bigger. It represents the important role that animals and agriculture had in the lives of Purdue students and Indiana residents in this time period. I am very excited about this picture and the stories that I will uncover behind it in addition to the the doors to research on animal sciences and agriculture at Purdue that it might open.

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