One of the great joys of writing this column for the past 38 years has been receiving comments and feedback from our faithful readers. This week, Catherine Brincefield wrote in response to the item on my recent visit to Stratford Hall, specifically, about my reference to the herd of Red Devon cattle that visitors see gracing the plantation’s copious fields. From her message I have learned that a more local connection exists.
Here, the community of Northumberland Plantation near Ophelia was developed by Catherine’s father, the late Jim Brincefield. As he proceeded with the project, he researched what breed of cattle would be best for purposes of both meat and milk production, as well as which would be good groundskeepers, clearing the underbrush, thereby opening the woods for walking. In part he selected the Red Devons because they had been a breed brought to America by the early colonists.
The original Brincefield cattle came from a herd owned by the late Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who came to the Northern Neck once to see how his progeny were faring. Politically, Senator Morse is known for his opposition to the confirmation of President Eisenhower’s nomination of the writer and former Congresswoman Claire Booth Luce’s appointment as Ambassador to Brazil. Later, he was a leading opponent of the Vietnam War.
Morse was recognized for his interest in agriculture and ranching. After he failed to thwart the Senate confirmation of Luce, whose husband, Henry Luce, had been the co-founder of TIME and LIFE magazines, although she previously had been confirmed as Ambassador to Italy, she wrote the memorable lines:
“My troubles began the day Senator Wayne Morse
Was kicked in the head by a horse.”
The subsequent controversy caused her to withdraw, despite having been confirmed, and she never served.
Her reference had been to an incident on the Senator’s ranch in Oregon from which he nearly died. Catherine wrote that Morse once paid a visit to Northumberland Plantation to see how her father’s herd was progressing. Significantly, among the initial Morse herd that came to Northumberland, was a prized bull that the Brincefields called “Greenie,” clearly a politically correct name in the jargon of today’s climate. News pundits uniformly referred to Morse, a Republican who switched to become a Democrat, as a “maverick,” an appropriate appellation given his interest in animal husbandry.
At one point Jim Brincefield traveled to England to attend a meeting of the Devon Cattlemen’s Association, at which he met Prince Charles, who admired his Stetson hat. His commitment to the breed was significant, literally giving hands-on attention to his herd. The present Stratford Hall cows are in part descendants of some of the original Brincefield cows, thus they may be termed the “grandcows” of those of Senator Morse. Claire Booth Luce might have preferred to term them the “grandcows” of the Senator himself.
The Red Devon breed originated in Devonshire in the southwest corner of England. They also are called Ruby Reds. Their hides are a brilliant shade of copper, and they are excellent foragers, preferring grass to bought feed. They are quite sturdy and maintain themselves in good health. From my visits strolling the grounds of Stratford Hall, I have not found them to be particularly friendly, but then again, most cows are not pets yearning for human companionship. Nevertheless, on my next visit to Stratford Hall, I plan to spend more time with the cows.
Each year at this time I wish to express my appreciation to Catherine and the many other readers who continue to offer their remarks and reactions to “Excerpts.” I am grateful and take this opportunity to say to all our readers,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!