Mrs. White greatly enjoyed pets, and she also was fond of horses, common around many homes during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One Sabbath in early February, 1895, she and several friends drove home from the church services at Prospect, New South Wales, Australia, to Granville. Jessie, the young horse pulling the carriage, trotted along peacefully, occasionally flicking her tail at some insect that annoyed her.
Glancing at the horizon, Mrs. White noticed a storm beginning to loom across the Blue Mountains. The clouds, however, seemed to be moving in a direction that would miss them. To be safe, the driver flicked the reins and urged the horse on a little faster. The carriage rattled, and the dust cloud that trailed it rose slightly higher. Gradually the sky darkened more menacingly. Mrs. White watched the clouds with increasing concern.
As they neared home, they passed the bridge on the Granville-Parramatta road. Suddenly strong gusts of wind whipped the dust higher into the sky. Thunder boomed, and lightning flickered and shimmered among the clouds. The carriage came to the turnoff leading to where Mrs. White lived, whipped around the corner, and rattled down the side road. With a clatter on the carriage roof, egg-sized hailstones pelted the earth. Gleaming white and flecked with iridescence, the hail bounced about Jessie's hooves. The ground soon disappeared beneath a white icy carpet.
The road sloped down to a gate. Stumbling on the hailstones, twice the horse slipped and fell backward on its haunches. “Byron,” Mrs. White said to her nephew, “get out at once, stand by Jessie's head, and talk to her.” Shielding his head with his arm, Byron jumped out of the carriage and seized the reins near the frightened mare's head. Two women remained with Mrs. White in the scanty security of the carriage. Turning to Sara McEnterfer, her traveling companion and secretary, and May Lacey, who later married Willie White, Mrs. White said, “Get out as quickly as possible. The hail is getting even larger and heavier. The horse may get out of control at any moment.”
Violent gusts of wind lashed the canvas carriage top, rocking the vehicle back and forth. Rain now mixed with the hail. As the two women helped Mrs. White down from the carriage, a blast of air snatched the seat cushions, sending them spinning through the darkened sky. Mrs. White's cushion hurtled out of the carriage, skipped across the fields, and disappeared with a splash in a nearby stream. Supporting Mrs. White, Miss McEnterfer and Miss Lacey helped her across the yard and into the house. The wind slammed the door behind them. Drenched, May Lacey and Mrs. White went upstairs to change clothes. Her heavier clothing had kept Mrs. White from becoming as wet as Miss Lacey.
Grabbing a shawl, Sara McEnterfer hurried back outside to help Byron with the mare. The hail pounded the ground with even greater force than before. Byron squatted beside the horse, sheltering his hatless head under the animal's neck. Sara struggled blindly toward the carriage, but the fury of the hail kept her and Byron from trying to unhitch the horse. A hailstone struck the young man on the forehead, nearly knocking him to the ground.
Desperately Sara tried to unloose the tugs and slip off the harness while the ice stones smashed her wrists and hands. Unable to free the tugs, she stumbled back beside Byron and took the reins from him. The sound of the hail and the rumble of thunder threatened to deafen them. Frightened by the cold rain and ice continually striking her body, the horse tried to buck and struggle free. Motioning for Sara to hold the reins, Bryon went to the carriage and fumbled at the tugs. Moments later he had the horse free and led her for a few feet, but the mare tried harder to break loose and run for some kind of shelter. Byron held onto her reins, trying to calm her. When the storm slackened slightly, he reharnessed Jessie, gathered up the scattered cushions and other objects blown from the carriage, and drove into the yard near the house.
Mrs. White had watched Byron and the storm from an upper story window. As the carriage came close to the house, she could see even at that distance that large swellings covered the horse's body. Soaked, Byron's and Sara's clothes clung to their bodies. When Sara entered the house, she glanced down at her wrists and found them heavily bruised and discolored.
Sheets of rain splashed against the sides of the house, pouring in beneath the door and flooding the halls and the dining room. Dripping water drenched the stair carpet, and the kitchen and scullery floors disappeared beneath puddles. Examining the house, Mrs. White found hail had smashed the windows on the south side, hurling shattered glass halfway across the hall. The upper and lower veranda windows lay in fragments on the floor.
On Sunday morning the sun rose in a clear sky above the muddy landscape. Deciding to see what further damage the storm had done, Mrs. White and her friends walked out to the orchard. Leaves and broken branches lay everywhere. The wind had blown off almost all the peaches on one tree near the house, leaving only a little badly bruised fruit. In the garden the hail slashed the rhubarb plants to pieces and punctured the pumpkins. The corn lay in tumbled confusion.
Although she felt sad over the damage, she did not let it discourage her. Instead, she found in the storm things to be thankful about. For one thing, Jessie, the mare, had not kicked once during the storm despite the painful blows of the hail. Now Mrs. White had greater confidence in the horse and knew that she could be trusted in an emergency. Also God had spared her life and that of her friends. Ellen White's life had always been close to God, and her mind immediately responded with praise whenever she saw an example of His protection of her. She knew that the violent hailstorm could have easily killed her, her friends, and the horse.
While Mrs. White respected and cared for her animals, not all of those around her did so. One day she came out into the yard and found her hired hand lashing the horse with a whip. She employed him to help manage her business affairs and to take care of her livestock at Sunnyside. It was not the first time she had seen the man mistreating an animal. She knew that he had done it many times before. Whenever he worked with animals or young people, he tended to be unkind and severe. Probably he excused his actions with the idea common many years ago that children and animals were not human and had no rights.
Seeing Mrs. White standing a few feet away, he stopped, stunned that he should ever be caught. His arm was still poised in midair, ready to slash the whip across the horse's back. Slowly lowering the whip, he tried to hide it behind his back, then nervously fidgeted with it. Kindly, but indignantly, she quietly began to lecture him. If he had the tenderness and love of the Christ he claimed to worship, would he treat an animal the way he had just done? she asked. The employee glanced down at the ground. Animals, she continued, have a dignity of their own. God uses such creatures as the horse, the cow, and the dog as His agents to do good in the world. Each living creature had its purpose. God would judge anyone who mistreated them. The angel who stood before Balaam, who had unjustly abused his donkey, now stood before the hired man, she said, watching and recording his cruelty.
Mrs. White's words pierced to the man's conscience. God had revealed his true character to her. One night while traveling on the island of Tasmania, she had seen the man in a vision. In her dream the employee traveled with a group of people having several teams of horses and wagons. Annoyed because several wagons passed him in a cloud of dust, he lashed his horses and shouted and screamed at them. But the tired animals could go no faster. Whipping them did not help. All the man did was to frighten them.
A tall, dignified man suddenly appeared in front of the horses. They reared up to avoid running him down. Grabbing the bridles, the stranger stopped the horses and began to stroke them to calm them. Turning to the driver, he demanded, “What is your name?” Mrs. White's hired hand answered, and the tall man wrote it down in a book. Glancing up from the book, the stranger—actually an angel, Mrs. White knew—inquired, “Do you remember Balaam?” Understanding the reference to the Old Testament prophet, the wagon driver nodded. The angel repeated the warning that had come to Balaam, then added, “A merciful man is merciful to his beast.” This ended the vision.
Thus Mrs. White knew what to say to her employee when she caught him abusing her horse. He could make no excuses. God had shown her his cruelty, and she wanted to be sure he never mistreated anything again.
But not always did she have a chance to do something about the cruelty to animals she saw about her.
In 1896 she often journeyed from Granville to nearby Sydney. The route went past a large stockyard containing thousands of sheep and cattle waiting for slaughter. One day as she and some friends drove along the road, they came upon a herd of cattle milling across it. An enormous ox, noticing the approaching carriage, loomed suddenly and defiantly in the middle of the dust cloud, ready to charge the vehicle.
A drover (cowboy) galloped to the front of the herd and reined his horse to a stop beside the ox. Tossing its long horns wildly about, the creature flashed anger, bewilderment, and fear from its eyes. “Keep to the right,” the Australian cowboy yelled to Mrs. White; “drive past as quickly as possible. He may not charge then.” Cautiously her driver edged the horse and carriage along the side of the road and passed the bellowing cattle. The huge ox stood watching them, making no move. Mrs. White believed that an angel had held the animal back, preventing it from harming them. The driver clucked to the horse, snapping the reins, and the animal broke into a trot.
Seeing the ox grieved Mrs. White. She saw in the event more than just God's protection from an angry beast. She knew that heat and thirst had enraged it. His nature revolted against the men's cruelty, and he would not allow anyone to control him. He felt an intense, unreasoning hatred toward all men.
Mrs. White knew that animals did not naturally hate mankind. They could have great love for human beings. “The intelligence displayed by many . . . animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery,” she wrote. “The animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer. They use their organs far more faithfully than many human beings use theirs. They manifest sympathy and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some of the human race. They form attachments for man which are not broken without great suffering to them.”—The Ministry of Healing, pp. 315, 316.
But no animal could learn to love the men herding them to the slaughterhouse. The drovers cared little for the sheep and cattle except for the money they would get when they sold the animals to the slaughterhouse. Many of the creatures became injured, yet the men paid no attention to the wounds. Mrs. White saw a steer whose horns had broken off close to the skull. Blood flowed down its head. Other cattle hobbled along, lame. On a different trip to Sydney she counted eight sheep dead on the road, overcome by the exhaustion of the journey, the terrible heat, and the cruelty of the drovers. Once she passed men picking up heavy sheep unable to travel any farther and bouncing them into the wagons, the sheep landing on their backs. When some died from the treatment, the drivers tossed the bodies out along the side of the road. At the slaughterhouse the animals remained in open corrals until fattened for the butchering. Then the butchers knocked them unconscious, slit their throats, and bled them to death. Working in a slaughterhouse soon made men indifferent to suffering.
Seeing in such cruelty ample reason for not eating meat, Mrs. White wrote, “What man with a human heart, who has ever cared for domestic animals, could look into their eyes, so full of confidence and affection, and willingly give them over to the butcher's knife? How could he devour their flesh as a sweet morsel?”—Ibid., p. 316.
“Think of the cruelty to animals that meat-eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict [death to the animal] and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!”—Ibid., p. 315.
Mrs. White knew that in some places meat is the only food most people can buy, but she wrote that wherever they could easily obtain fruit, grains and nuts, vegetables, and dairy products, they should not eat meat. Besides the cruelty to animals, God showed her many dangers to one's health that come from eating flesh.
Not only did she urge others to be kind to animals, but she was kind to them herself. Climbing aboard a wagon, she and two nurse-companions—Emily Campbell and May Walling—drove out to a nearby orchard to pick oranges. Stopping beside the citrus orchard, the three women picked up baskets from the back of the wagon and walked among the trees to gather fruit. The return journey was even slower than the trip to the orchard. The fat old mare would not hurry. She plodded along, each step stirring up little puffs of dust, the wagon creaking behind her. But Mrs. White did not push or hurry the horse.
While wanting to get home quickly, she reconciled herself to the fact that she would have to wait awhile. “We then drove home as fast as this elephant of a horse would walk, for trot she would not,” she commented later with a note of humor. The horse pulled the wagon as best she could, and that satisfied her.
D. A. Delafield and Gerald Wheeler