Horses have played a big role in human history. They’ve been used in transportation, battle, work, and play. But perhaps most importantly, horses have served us as companions. They’re smart and magnificent creatures, and our Western culture wouldn’t be the same without them.
“Our Western culture is the biggest reason that we do what we do,” says Joe Stevenson, owner of Stevenson & Sons Funeral Homes. Since 1981 the business has offered horse-drawn funeral processions, granting the deceased one last ride into the afterlife.
The hearse, a rustic carriage, is pulled by a team of Clydesdales, the favorite breed of the Stevenson family. According to Joe, his father Dale Stevenson had a disease with only one symptom – an incurable love of large horses. This “disease” was diagnosed by Dale’s friend, a doctor by the name of JR who suffered the same ailment. Both men raised Clydesdales because they preferred the demeanor and appearance of the breed to that of other draft horses such as Belgiums and Percherons. The two friends would often hitch their horses together, sometimes twelve at a time, and show them off in parades. In fact, for three years running, they took their Clydesdales to Chicago to participate in the Ringling Circus Parade; their horses pulled a steam calliope one year, a lion wagon the next, and lastly a band.
As Dale got older, he lost help and horses, and eventually decided to go back to the original reason he started raising Clydesdales – to pull a hearse. As founder of Stevenson & Sons, Dale wanted to provide his clients the opportunity to send off their loved ones with a horse-drawn precession.
To this day, Stevenson & Sons offers these services. Joe trains the Clydesdales, and a pair of teamsters, Chet Holmes and Ron Watts, provide invaluable support handling them. Although the horses are kept at Joe’s ranch in Miles City, they can be transported to any of the Stevenson & Sons locations around the state (with notice, and weather pending).
In addition to being used for funeral processions, the Clydesdales can be rented for wedding services as well. The Stevensons have rustic carriages apart from the hearse that can deliver a couple of newlyweds to the reception on their wedding day.
You don’t find many opportunities to rent a horse-drawn carriage these days, and a horse-drawn funeral procession is even rarer. It’s a lot of work to move the Clydesdales and equipment but Joe believes that what they’re doing is important, especially in agricultural communities.
“It’s a nostalgic feeling,” he says. “A lot of people from the older generation had horses their whole lives.” It’s only suitable that horses carry them to their place of rest.
Stevenson & Sons Funeral Homes can be found in Forsyth, Broadus, Circle, Jordan, and Terry. The main office is located at 1717 Main Street in Miles City. For more information, visit stevensonandsons.com or call (406) 232-4457.