Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Horses of the West

In an earlier post, I mentioned the American Quarter horse. Because I'm on book deadline and of course I began running across the internet about the Northwest since my next book is centered in the early Montana area. I had forgotten about the Nez Perez wars and the Appaloosa breed.

The Appaloosa, America's spotted horse, may have gotten their origins from the Spanish horses brought over by the conquistadors. Horses that strayed or were taken were prized commodities to the Plains tribes. They were often traded and highly valued. It is believed that the Shoshone tribe traded the first "spotted" horse to the Nez Perez, who became skilled horse breeders. Their lands were tucked away from other tribes safe from raids and by the year 1750, they had established breeding herds.

The Nez Perez began the practice of gelding inferior stallions and using poor conformation animals as trading stock, thereby keeping a strong gene pool of agile, solid stock that came under the notice of Lewis and Clark on their travels through the area to the Pacific. By 1861, these horses became in demand. The Nez Perez often getting $600.00 per animal, instead of the usual $15 for other stock.

However, the 1873 Treaty requiring the Nez Perez to give up most of the land caused a great rift for these proud people. The land was important. They were farmers, horse breeders, without land, how could they function as a tribe? In May of 1877, when forced to move to the reservation, Chief Joseph refused. He gathered a group of 600 people and 2000 head of stock and disappeared into the mountains.

The group traveled through Yellowstone into Montana in hopes of reaching Canada. On October 5, 1877, after several skirmishes, the great war was over. Cheif Joseph found most of his chief's dead and declared, "I will fight no more.". The great price for his loss was the removal of the horse from his tribe. Stallions were taken away and instead they were given draft stock to breed with their mares diluting the genes that they had so long nurtured.

For 60 years the "Palouse horse" was forgotten. Oddly, it would be a historian who would play a huge part in resurrecting the breed. In 1937, the magazine, Western Horseman, would publish an article by Francis D. Haines. Mr. Haines had traveled extensively through the Nez Perez reservation, befriending a rancher, George Hartley, whose great love for the Appaloosa, sparked Haines interest. They gathered pictures, first-hand testimonials, and urged the public to save this great breed. By  1938 the Appaloosa Horse Club had been founded. By 1978, the Appaloosa had the third largest breed in the United States. Making them a lasting legacy for the Native People and a gift to the American West.

Image from www.chickensmoothie.com

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