CASPER, Wyo. -- In 1999, Sugar pulled a wagon 2,500 miles from St. Charles, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif., in a re-creation of the '49ers California Gold Rush. On Tuesday, during a six-mile journey from near downtown Casper to Old Yellowstone Highway, Sugar fell, gravely injured. Surrounded by her human family, the white mare was soon euthanized in the middle of the road.
Sugar and her matching partner, Rock, marched as part of Tuesday's Central Wyoming Fair Parade, showcasing a 19th century replica wagon. The wagon was hand-built by Morris Carter at Historic Trails West, a Casper company that specializes in American trail re-enactments.
Torena Houston, Carter's granddaughter, said she was dozing off in the wagon when she felt an impact.
"I woke up and I was falling," she said on Wednesday, her face etched with cuts.
"I got out and Sugar was lying in the middle of the road and Rock was standing in front," Houston said. "A lady was trying to get Rock to stop pulling on Sugar."
An SUV had rear-ended the wagon, creating a domino effect that sent the wagon and horse airborne and crashing into the carriage the wagon was following, according to eyewitnesses. A veterinarian rushed to the scene and euthanized Sugar. Rock stood by, visibly agitated. Hours later, he had to be euthanized as well, due to neurological trauma.
A police investigation into the accident is continuing.
"A well-matched team like that is hard to find," Carter said. He was steering the lead wagon when the accident occurred. "It's like losing a couple of your own kids."
Carter's grandchildren represent the fourth generation of the family owned business. Equine, rodeo and the American West culture are deeply ingrained in even the youngest offspring. Grayson, 4, donned a straw cowboy hat as she tagged along with Brad and Bart, the two black horses that pulled the leading wagon.
Carter's oldest daughter, Oneta, said she and her sister spent a lot of time with Sugar, who was 18 years old.
"She had attitude," she said with a laugh.
Sugar, the family agreed, was the unequivocal leader of the family's 14 horses. Once Sugar was herded, Rock and the rest would follow. She also preferred first dibs on feed, an unspoken rule that none of the others seemed to contest.
"She was the boss hoss," the elder Carter said.
Sugar was also integral in training Rock, the young newcomer. Rock was 8 years old and at first had trouble keeping up with his experienced partner.
Once Sugar broke him in, the two became close companions, eating together and with Rock trailing Sugar in his free time.
Family members say they are touched by the support they've received following their loss. Carter said they've been inundated with calls, emails and Facebook messages, and noted that he especially appreciates those who stopped on the road to help.
"People are just really concerned about their fellow citizen, I think more than you see in other places," he said. "It just really speaks to the sense of community here."