Sourced from MarcoPoloinSeattle.com
According to most leading scholars in history, anthropology and geography, none of the Native Tribes had horses until after Columbus. “On the contrary,” say elders of the Plains Indian Tribes, “our ancestors ALWAYS had horses.”
Indeed, the oldest surviving travel account of an overseas explorer in the American Southwest comes from the Afghani Buddhist Monk, Hui Shen. He sailed to the West Coast of Fu Sang during the 5th century AD. According to the monk, the Native People of Fu Sang (or ancient Mexico) had both horses and wagons. If we jump over to the East Coast, we find a similar account dating to the 13th century. According to Bjorn of Iceland, he fell overboard while landing his dory in the Atlantic surf. He was rescued by a party of Celtic Natives, or Welsh Colonists, “riding on horseback.”
Everywhere that explorers traveled along the Eastern Seaboard of North America during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, they reported seeing Indians (or Welsh settlers) riding horses. When John Cabot landed along the East Coast in 1497, he reported seeing “the dung of draft animals” (such as horses and cattle). The Natives presumably kept their livestock “out of sight” due to quite reasonable fears that alien visitors who landed along their shores might take cattle for a festive evening meal. When Jacques Cartier explored the region of Quebec in 1535, his Native host informed him that there was a tribe in the Far West where the Indians rode on horses.
On the other hand, none of the Coastal Tribes in the Northeast that were known to French, English, and Dutch explorers in the 16th century raised horses or cattle. However, when Colonial Pioneers crossed the Appalachian Mountains on their way into Kentucky and Tennessee in the 17th century, they encountered Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw Tribes that had an exceptional breed of horses. Their smooth walking gait made them attractive for trade and theft. These smooth-gaited horses were called “Chickasaws.” Similar smooth-gaited horses in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida were called “Seminole ponies” or “prairie ponies.” One Colonial trader noted that the Eastern Forest Horse was “different” from European breeds. They were so-common along the Frontier that settlers said they were “pests,” because they wandered into farmyards and munched on garden vegetables.
The “horse situation” was much different in Mexico. When Hernando Cortés invaded the Aztec Nation in 1519, he brought along heavy Spanish horses to carry his armored cavalry. Native horses were nowhere to be seen. The lack of Native horses probably had several causes: the hot, dry climate of Mexico was unsuitable for either horses or their favorite habitat – grasslands. Another problem was an abundance of mosquitoes that carried malarial parasites as well as bacteria that causes the deadly disease of equine encephalitis. Mexicans gained most of their food from chinampas (or “floating gardens”) and from maize, squash, and bean agriculture. Laborers cultivated fields. Thus, horses were not essential for farming.
As the Spanish Conquistadores expanded their fighting into Central America, Peru, and Argentina, thousands of heavy horses were imported from Barcelona in order to supply the needs of armored cavalry. Spanish farmers established vast fields for the cultivation of wheat, barley, and oats. These were crops that relied upon cultivation by heavy draft animals. By the mid-16th century, ranches were established for cattle in order to meet the growing demand for beef as a principal part of the Spanish diet. It was at this point that light, ranching horses were imported into New Spain (or Mexico).
Spanish administrators realized that Natives could pose a threat of rebellion if they ever acquired horses. Thus, regulations in every hacienda and city forbade the sale of horses to the Indians. Nevertheless, Spanish caballeros required the assistance of Indian laborers whom they trained in the skills of vaqueros (or “cowboys”). Invariably, a few horses escaped; or they were stolen by enterprising Indians.
In 1680, Indians living in the New Mexico City of Oñate overwhelmed their Spanish overlords. Thousands of horses were released into the hands of Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo Indians. From this point onward, all of these marginal desert tribes maintained large herds of horses. Most of these mounts were light ranching horses of the Spanish-Arabian breed.
Genesis of the “Horse Extinction” and “Stray” Theories
According to most historians, geographers, and anthropologists, the American Indians knew nothing about horses until the 17th century. Political, religious, and economic motives were behind the emergence of theories that the New World was “isolated” from the Old World and that Indians didn’t have any horses until after Columbus. Earlier reports of Indian horses were dismissed by academic leaders as being groundless “fables.” Claims by elders of the Sioux, Nez Perce, Chippewa, and Pawnee Tribes that their ancestors “always had horses” were cast aside by the academic authorities as being “wishful thinking.”
Several powerful movements combined to crush and stifle claims that ancestors of the Plains Indians had horses and “horse culture” for thousands of years. The first force to emerge came with the War of 1812. Citizens of the young American Republic resented their British Heritage. After “Redcoats” burned the White House (in retaliation for raids by John Paul Jones along the English Seacoast), Americans turned away from their British roots. At this opportune moment, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1828) published his exciting book, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. This popular novel captured the imaginations of disenchanted former British Colonists; and it dovetailed nicely with a campaign by Pope Pius 9th to have Columbus sainted. Meanwhile, following the massive industrial buildup in the Northern States to win the Civil War, the Senate and the US Congress became private clubs for wealthy industrialists and real-estate developers. Whereas the “Founding Fathers” of America had promoted isolation, neutrality, and non-interference in foreign affairs, the New Senate believed that the opposite strategy was preferable – at least when it came to making profits. Railroad barons (who had the Senate in their pockets) wanted to abolish the Indian Treaties. They sought to open up the Western Frontier to “Civilization.” Therefore, the Indians and their “Reservations” had to go.
By sponsoring the “Chicago World’s Fair” (a.k.a. the Columbian Exposition), the US Senate hoped to reeducate the American public with a new hero — Columbus. He embodied the qualities and vision of an empire-builder. Indeed, it was due to the Columbus voyages that Spain gained sovereignty over profitable colonies from Florida to Argentina. Indeed, Columbus was an excellent hero for promoting the goals of economic expansion into the Western Indian Frontier and to overseas colonies.
After 1859, anti-Darwinists joined in the campaign to promote Columbus as a new National Hero. A leading Swiss-French botanist, Alphonse de Candolle, added his weight to the pro-Columbus Movement by declaring that the Spanish mariner was the first to bring vital New World plants (such as maize, pineapples, pumpkins, and potatoes) back to the Old World in 1492. Pro-Columbus biologists declared that horses became extinct following the last Ice Age; and anthropologists promoted their own theory that all the Indians acquired “horse culture” after Columbus brought the first horses from Spain to the New World. None of these claims were ever proven in a scientific manner. They were simply the implied consequences of the “Isolationist Paradigm” that presumed the New World and Old World were isolated from contact until after God chose Columbus to discover America.
The Columbian Exposition (1892-93) had an enormous impact. More than 26 million people viewed the exhibits. Spinoff public media and educational programs impacted practically everyone else in the Country (or about 150 million people). These programs were endorsed by two Presidents — Harrison and Cleveland. Almost everyone adopted this revised “history.”
In 1992, the US Government sponsored the Columbus “Quincentennial Celebration.” New festivities featured a yearlong exhibit at the National Museum, the Smithsonian Institution. Called “The Seeds of Change,” the National Exhibit praised Columbus for uniting two previously isolated hemispheres and for bringing horses, maize, potatoes, and sugarcane across the Atlantic Ocean. A vast majority of university professors and public teachers participated in spreading this propaganda for the simple reason that: 1) they believed it was true; and 2) their jobs were closely tied to supporting the traditional educational and governmental agendas.
Native Horses in the New World
Of course, before you can credit a Spanish explorer with bring the “first horses” into the New World, you have to kill off all the resident stallions and mares. Educators accomplished this feat by pointing out that many Ice Age (or Pleistocene) beasts didn’t survive the drastic warming of the Northern Latitudes. Initially, biologists suggested that all the horses were gone from both North and South America by 12,000 BC. Supposedly, this “extinction” coincided with the arrival of Big Game Hunters from Siberia.
This “coincidental extinction” seemed to make a lot of “logical sense;” but it didn’t withstand the test of time. Archeologists kept uncovering horse bones that were subjected to radiocarbon testing; and the resulting dates kept getting closer-and-closer to the Modern Era. Currently, theorists who like the Extinction Model have to be content with 5,000 BC as the horizon for their presumed event. If this trend continues, by 2050 the gap in time will probably be down to nil; and the “extinction” will become extinct.
In Asia, there was never an extinction of the horse. Instead, there was “a transition” from ancient horses into modern varieties. Biologists suggest that most domesticated horses evolved from the intermingling of three basic horse types: 1) a primitive forest horse; 2) the wild horse of the Steppes (or “Przewalski”); and 3) the desert horse (or “Tarpan”). In the 20th century, an effort was mounted in an attempt to recreate the Tarpan by selective breeding of horses that manifested qualities of the more-ancient horse. A similar effort was undertaken by American breeders who tried to revive the lost “Chickasaw” horse of the Eastern American Woodlands. In both cases, breeders noted that ancient horse characteristics occasionally surfaced; but their frequency was insufficient to reverse the direction of evolution.
Probably, a similar situation took place in the Americas. The presence of “throw-back” qualities seen in photographs of some Plains Indian ponies suggests that the ancient Native horse didn’t actually go “extinct;” it evolved or transitioned into later breeds that were imported from the Old World.
The Native American horse might have looked something like the ancient Tarpan (above, left). The horse has some features (such as a short neck, short round face, and short legs) that are similar to the Mongolian “kit.” These features were apparent in the sketch that Rudolph Kurz made of a Blackfoot pony in 1851 (above, right). Probably, Kurz picked this horse for his drawing because it seemed so unusual. It’s not the sort of horse that is typically included in most books about horses or Indians, because it is basically an ugly horse. A recent proposal by Chilcotin Ranchers in British Columbia to “eradicate the ugly wild horses” in the region is a reminder that such ungainly-looking beasts are occasionally encountered roaming in the northern forests. Due to widespread beliefs that “horses were extinct,” nobody has made a serious effort to verify the origins of most of America’s wild and ugly horses. They are simply regarded as being “expendable.”
In about 1884, Jean Du Pouget (Marquis de Nadiallac) toured South America. He noted that Lund’s excavations at Minas Geraes, Brazil, had uncovered horse bones that were associated with human remains and with extinct fauna from the last Ice Age (although, obviously, the horse was not extinct). Du Pouget noted that the horse bones were similar to those of modern horses. In other words, the South American wild horse had evolved beyond the extinct species (Hippidion) that is known to paleontologists.
Hippidion — the extinct wild Pleistocene horse of South America.
Old World Horse Imports into Ancient South America
In 146 BC, Carthage fell to the Roman Legions in Africa. It was the last Phoenician stronghold along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Romans massacred all the people who stayed in the citadel to fight the final battle. However, this was not the end of the Phoenician Story. The proud seafarers had many ships; and these sailed off to a land of refuge across the Atlantic Ocean. Ships were packed with farm animals, iron tools, and brave people who were ready to begin new lives in the Land they called “Brazil.”
Legends about uncharted lands across the Atlantic were widespread during the 5th century BC. The Macedonian philosophers, Herodotus and Avienus, speculated about Phoenician Colonies in the Western Isles. In the 4th century BC, both Theopompus and Aristotle mentioned a “Western Continent” having forested lands and navigable rivers. In about 330 BC, the Greek navigator, Pytheas, sailed north to the Island of Thule. According to his account of the voyage, it was a “week-long” journey from Britain to the northern isle. Historians have speculated that he wound up in either Iceland or Norway. A tiny island is clearly-delineated north of England on the map by Eratosthenes; and this is where we would expect Pytheas to run pell-mell into the desolate shores of Iceland. In the 1st century, a Sicilian geographer by the name of Didorus Siculus indicated that the Phoenicians had discovered a large, fertile land that was situated west of Africa at a distance of about one or two-thousand miles. According to the Greek scholar, the discovery took place prior to the 12th century BC. This is what he had to say:
There lies out in the deep off Libya an island of considerable size. It is situated across the ocean from Libya by a voyage of a number of days to the west. The land is fruitful, much of it being mountainous and not a little being a level plain of surpassing beauty. Through it flow navigable rivers which are used for irrigation. The island contains many parks planted with trees of every variety; and there are gardens in great multitudes which are traversed by streams of sweet water. (Bailey, 1973, 37)
Didorus Siculus believed that the Phoenicians kept their discovery secret to prevent competition and to keep the land as a refuge in case Carthage was invaded. They called the southern continent Colchis and the northern continent Asqua Samal (or “Great North Land”). The 5th century AD Greek philosopher Proclus indicated that stone pillars in Egypt recorded the ancient history of lands that were located on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. (Bailey, 1973, 39)
We have every reason to believe that when the survivors of the Carthaginian Empire in North Africa, Spain, and Portugal fled from the Romans, they took along farm animals and many horses in their giant oceangoing ships. They landed along the shores of South America; and the survivors and their farm animals soon became established in villages along the major rivers in Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina. Naturally, the resident wild horses were eventually transitioned into the North African and Iberian breeds. As these were the same regions occupied by horses that the Spaniards and Portuguese later imported into South America, it would be difficult to differentiate the ancestry of horses that were present in the 16th century. In any case, the Inca Indians left artifacts confirming that they were familiar with horses prior to the arrival of Spaniards.
Inca bronze pins horse vs. alpaca/llama Inca mummy artifact
American Museum of Natural History Ice Maiden, Cuzco, c.1400
Bennett & Bird, Hadbook No.15, f.53, 1960
The wild horse of Argentina
Sebastian Cabot inserted a sketch of a horse in the rolling grasslands of Argentina on his World Map of 1544. All of the sketches on his map were intended to portray the primary assets of each region – so we can be certain that he noted the presence of vast herds of horses. Cabot’s expedition to Argentina took place in 1526 – just ten years after the Spanish expedition by Juan Diaz de Solis to the Rio de Plata. Cabot’s entourage of a hundred-plus men spent four years in the region. What did they eat? They probably consumed a considerable amount of horsemeat and wild cattle.
From 1536 to 1541, an expedition by Pedro de Mendoza spent five years near Buenos Aires. They also subsisted on herds of wild horses. Where did all the wild horses come from?
Some writers have suggested that these enormous herds resulted from “an explosive population” that found a favorable habitat in the Argentine grasslands. While that is partially true, if all these horses had come from just a few abandoned Spanish horses left by de Solis; then the resulting herds would have been uniformly like typical Spanish horses. However, later settlers noted that the Argentine horse had an unusually comfortable walking gait; so they named these mounts Paso Fino (meaning “Walks Good”).
Argentine Paso Fino
According to a theory by Haines (1938) and Denhart (1949) Spaniards brought the first horses to America – arriving in Mexico in 1519. Light ranch horses were brought to the Town of Onate in 1607; and by 1680, the herd included over a thousand horses. These were all taken away by Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo Indians in the rebellion of 1680. Most historians and ethnologists assume that the horses were traded northwards; and these served as “the first” mounts that became known to the Plains Indians. Academic scholars assume that the horses arrived at about the times they were first reported by Europeans who noted the horses in their journals. However, as the Theory is based entirely on written reports (and it assumes legends are false), it is only a record of European travels – not horse introductions. The Theory is totally inadequate, because it fails to consider claims by tribal elders that: “the Plains Tribes always had horses.”
The earliest Old World horse along the West Coast of North America might have been the Chinese Bashkir.
The Chinese Bashkir or Mountain Horse was also called “the Curly.”
An Afghani Buddhist monk by the name of “Hui Shen” reported to the Emperor of China that he had visited an Eastern Land between 458 and 490 AD. According to the monk, the residents of Fu Sang had horses and wagons. Hui Shen also reported that merchants paid no taxes. Archeologist Victor Von Hagen (1960) has confirmed that the merchants of Mexico paid no tax. The policy was part of an effort to stimulate commerce.
Most historians assume that there were no horses along the American West Coast in the 5th century; so they typically presume that Hui Shen’s tale is total fiction (even though it was recorded in the official Chinese chronicle. It is entirely possible that Chinese merchants brought horses across the Pacific Ocean in order to serve the needs of a colony on the West Coast. The discovery of Chinese anchor stones near Los Angeles is an indication that there was a community of Chinese fishermen and merchants in this region. The community could have been wiped out by a tsunami; or the residents could have moved to another location due to the weather. In any case, modern ranchers noted the presence of Bashkir horses in the Sonora Valley near Baja California. Some writers suggest that the horses were brought from China by the Manila Galleons; and their purpose was to serve the needs of the Franciscan Missions on El Camino Real (the Royal Highway). Skeptics insist that the curly-haired horses were escapees from a Hollywood movie that went haywire. Mexicans called these alien horses Chinos.
Migration of Scythian-Tartar Horse Tribes from Asia to Canada
The largest number of Asian horses to reach America’s West Coast arrived with a migration of Scythian-Tartar refugees during the 13th century. Marco Polo mentioned in his Travelogue that tribes living in Northern China were decimated by Genghis Khan. Chinese chronicles reported the almost total annihilation of the Hia Hsia Tribe. According to the chronicle, survivors fled in riverboats down the Hwang Ho (or Yellow River); but where they went after reaching Bohai Bay was unknown. Modern scholars have estimated that this genocide resulted in the deaths of nearly 4,000,000 people. Certainly, the Hia Hsia had a strong motive for fleeing their homes.
Canadian ethnologist Ethel Stewart (1991) believes she knows where the refugees eventually landed: Central Canada. Stewart noted that according to a legend among speakers of the Dene NaDene Language in Central Canada, ancestors fled a massacre by “the Crow who runs” (whom she identified as Genghis Khan). The legend also mentioned that the refugees followed “a chain of islands.” Stewart identified the island chain as “the Aleutians.”
The Time Detectives have noted that Plains Indian drawings and paintings of their own horses are very similar to the 13th century Chinese horse. Both tend to have small heads, powerful hindquarters, and thin, short tails (as seen in the illustration above).
In Marco Polo’s private letters that the author examined in the Rossi Collection, he mentioned learning about the migration of the Hia Hsia Tribe while he was in China (1275-1292). He learned from a Syrian trader named “Biaxo Sirdumap” that the refugees had landed along the West Coast of Fucan (or Alaska) and Quivira (the Pacific Northwest). Marco later confirmed this tale by using the Tartar language to communicate with some of the inhabitants in the West Coast Region.
The presence of Scythian-Tartars along the Coast of Alaska and in Central Canada along the Mackenzie River Valley is also indicated on a map by Cornelius Judaeus in 1578. A caption on this map along the West Coast of Alaska indicates: “this is where the Tartars live.” The map portrays Tartar camps with cone-shaped tents; and nearby it shows the earliest-known portrayals of bison. These were, of course, the principal game animals that Scythian-Tartars hunted in Central Canada. The map shows the location of the Mackenzie River and also Great Bear Lake. Both were totally unknown to Europeans in the 16th century. The only place Judaeus could have acquired this information was from a Marco Polo map or Journal. We know that such documents existed in some of the chartrooms of Europe, because correspondence between John Dee and Mercator mentions “a China chart” and “a Marco Polo map” (Taylor, 1956; Thompson, 2013a, 2013b).
Cornelius Judaeus 1578.
KEY: 1) Strait of Anian – entrance to the Northwest Passage; 2) caption: “This is where the Tartars live; 3) Quivira Kingdom – Marco’s name for the West Coast. Arrow points to Vancouver Island and Salish Sea at 48°N Latitude.
Close-up of the Judaeus Map of 1578. Caption (2) indicates “this region of the Anian Kingdom (or Alaska) is where the Tartars live.” In Central Canada (Bergi or Mountain Kingdom) the map portrays Tartar tents called “tepees.” This is a Turkic word that Plains Indians also used to identify their cone-shaped tents. This is the oldest known map to portray bison. The Tartar camp of Bergi is situated on the Mackenzie River. It was the route to the Great Plains.
Another “fingerprint” from the Scythian Tartar migration in the 13th century is the presence of Appaloosa horses. The Chinese Appaloosa (left) was called “the Ferghana horse” or “the blood-sweat horse.” This type of horse often has a distinctive “spotted blanket pattern” on the hind quarters. Note also the smallish head and short, wispy tail. A Nez Perce horse (1850) shows a wispy tail and a spotted pattern that was a common Appaloosa coat. The smaller head and neck on the Indian horse resulted from selective breeding. During the 20th century, breeders combined studs and mares of both Appaloosas and Thoroughbreds – yielding a more-streamlined, elegant, and faster horse (as shown below).
Appaloosa in the Palouse Country, Washington Ming Appaloosa, c.1450
Horses with the spotted blanket pattern are known only from the arts of Persia and China. They are unknown anywhere in Europe or in the Spanish Colonial Territories. According to Native Traditions, the Appaloosa was bred originally by the Nez Perce (Nee-mee Poo, or Chopunnish Tribe). The only way this breed could have reached the American West is if it were deliberately transported across the Pacific Ocean from Asia. The ancestors of the Nez Perce had both the means and the motive for bringing this breed of horse to their new homeland in the New World.
Nez Perce Migration Map and Story
There’s more to our story of the migration of Scythian-Tartar Horse Tribes from Asia to Central Canada and the West Coast than just the Chinese chronicles, Marco Polo’s Travelogue, the testimony of a Syrian fur trader, Indian legends, a map by Judaeus in 1578, and the research of Canadian ethnographer, Ethel Stewart. In 1806, the migration of the Nez Perce Horse Tribe was even documented by the Team of Exploration led by Lewis and Clark.
In 1741, Natives living in Winnipeg (Central Canada) told a French explorer, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes (Sieur de la Verendrye) that there was a “tribe of whites” living west of Lake of the Woods. They were a tribe of horse people that had iron tools and cats. The Indians of Winnipeg called them “the Ouachipounnes.”
A branch of the Tartars that Judaeus had portrayed west of Great Bear Lake on his map of 1578, they had moved southwest to a camp near Winnipeg by 1740. They were still on the move – probably in an effort to find a warmer climate and closer access to trade or buffalo herds. In 1785, the Royal British Cartographer, William Faden, indicated that a Tribe called “Wachipaunnes” was located in Montana. Lewis & Clark came upon them in 1806 alongside the headwaters of the Missouri River in Idaho. In the entry made in Clark’s journal, the explorer indicated that “the Chopunish Tribe” was noted for its beautiful spotted horses (the Appaloosas). Fifty years later, French trappers identified the migratory horse tribe as the Nez Percé (People of the “pierced nose”). They were situated along the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon.
William Faden Map, 1785: A) Nez Perce Tribe migrates from Northern to Central Canada. B) Ouchipaunnes near Winnipeg; C) Wauchipaunes in Montana; D) Chopunnish in Montana; E) Nez Perce along Columbia River. Star is Seattle.
Artworks by Nez Perce warriors show them riding Asian horses not Spanish mounts. The mounts they brought on their migration originated in Central Asia and in Northern China. One Indian artifact found by archeologists and dated by radiocarbon analysis is the Utz-Oneota Tablet (c.1300). The Tablet shows a horse being pierced by an arrow.
Utz-Oneota Tablet, c.1300
Origin of Indian Saddles
Several writers have speculated that the Plains Indians didn’t know how to make saddles until they learned the craft from Spanish cowboys. The Spanish saddle consisted of a solid wooden foundation that had a curved bottom that fit snugly on top of a horse’s back; and an inverse curved surface with a leather covering provided a seat for the rider’s bottom. This style of saddle was actually unknown among the Plains Indians.
Indian warriors preferred riding bareback or with a small pad. Riding ponies was not as difficult as sitting on a horse with full armor. The heavy horses that carried armored cavalry were often huge and difficult to manage. Indians and Mongols preferred light horses, or ponies. Typically, they wrapped their feet around the horse’s chest. This manner of riding was impossible with a heavy horse. The “Women’s Saddle” was derived from the Afghan saddle or Mongol saddle that used a double-arch for support.
Plains Indians used the short, laminated, compound horn-bow that was preferred by Mongol riders. The bow was sufficiently powerful to drive an arrow clear through the body of a bison. Bows used by Marco Polo and by the Hidatsa “Dog Dancer” were essentially the same kind of weapon. It took a skilled Indian craftsman a whole month to build the complex weapon – going through all the same steps that were followed in Mongol and Chinese craft shops. Thus: Indian immigrants brought the weapon from Asia.
Marco Polo Hidatsa Tribe, Dog Dancer
Plains Indians and Mongols used the same kinds of bows and the same kinds of saddles, or they rode bareback. They used the same kinds of hunting techniques; and they rode the same kinds of horses. Actually, the Plains Indians were essentially Scythian-Tartar warriors who migrated into Central Canada.
The Spanish Horse in Post Columbian America 1492 to 1776
A comparison of Indian artworks, Chinese silk paintings, Spanish and Andalusian art, and tipi-paintings by Native American horsemen provide an excellent basis for evaluating the sources of Plains Indian mounts. Most Tribes got their horses from the thousands of Scythian-Tartar mounts that refugees brought across the North Pacific Ocean in the 13th century. Along the East Coast, early sources included the 6th century Arthurian-Welsh colonies, Iberian immigrants in the 8th century, Welsh migrations in the 12th century, and refugee farmers from Greenland in the 13th century.
It was not until the 17th century that Spaniards had a substantial impact on horse herds in North America; and this impact was principally with the Southwestern Tribes (Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo). The big break for Southwestern Tribes came with the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. In Florida, Seminole Indians had horses before the Spanish established a colony at St. Augustine in 1565. Their horses were derived mostly from Welsh and Iberian mounts brought by immigrants between 500 and 1300 AD.
There were so many horses in the American Southeastern Woodlands that American historians were initially inclined to think that they were strays from expeditions by Ponce de Leon (1513) and Hernando De Soto (1540-45). However, most early Spanish explorers brought heavy mounts that were not of much interest to the Indians. Scholars now accept the interpretation that neither De Leon nor De Soto contributed significantly to the Indian horse population of North America.
The Spanish-Iberian heavy horse was great for carrying an armored rider; but it had little appeal to Indians who liked riding light, fast, and agile.
Most of the Spanish artworks of the Conquest (1519-1550) show heavy horses that were suitable for carrying armored knights into battle.
It was only after Spanish governors turned their interests towards developing haciendas, industries, and cattle ranches that the military suppliers in Barcelona began importing light horses into New Spain.
The principal Spanish light horse was an Arabian breed (A). It was developed principally for speed, endurance, and agility – all of which were needed for controlling cattle. Apache Indians (B) made excellent use of Spanish mounts that were stolen or captured in the 1680 rebellion. Some of these horses were traded to Northern Tribes; and some of the Arabian traits were used to improve Asian horses that were the traditional mounts of the Scythian-Tartar Horse Tribes. (Sources are available in Thompson, 2013)
George Catlin made a sketch of a Crow Chief’s stallion in Montana in 1851. This horse is not from Asia. It is most-like the Andalusian breed – with a prominent neck, elegant head, and powerful body. This is a medium build horse – somewhere between light and heavy. It was an excellent mount for parades or warfare; but on a buffalo hunt, the chief probably picked a faster, more-agile mount from a corral of lightweights. Whether this horse descended from trade with Mexicans or from British Colonial traders is a matter of speculation. By 1750, horses of every imaginable denomination (including Mongolian ponies) were being shipped through East Coast ports. George Washington preferred this type of stallion; so did Napoleon. As they said back in the Colonial days: “The Horse made the Man!”
Horses of the Eastern Woodlands
American Indian Tribes that were situated along the Eastern Seaboard consisted mostly of Nordic, Germanic, Iberian, Mediterranean, and African refugees. Carthaginians fled mostly to South America when they left behind their cities in 146 BC in order to escape the Roman Legions. The withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain in the 5th century left the Welsh cities and farmlands at the mercy of invading Angles and Saxons. During this onslaught, King Arthur turned to the Western Land of Refuge as a sanctuary for his beleaguered kin. An account of the Arthurian Colony was known to Mercator who wrote a testimonial to John Dee in 1577 (Taylor, 1956, 56-68). According to Mercator, the expedition consisted of 1,800 men and 400 women. They were sent overseas in the Year 530. Of the twelve ships that comprised the colonial fleet, five were lost in a storm; but the rest of the vessels, their occupants, and many farm animals made it safely to port along the shores of Delaware. A Colony of New Albion (or “New England”) was established. During the Medieval Warm Period, the Colony prospered; and the population of Welsh immigrants grew to many thousands of individuals and many thousands of horses, cattle, and assorted pigs, goats, chickens, and sheep. This introduction of Celtic farm animals probably included the band of horseback riding Irish who rescued “Bjorn of Iceland” from the surf along the shores of Nova Scotia in about 1250 AD. The tale was recorded a century later by some Icelandic monks; but historians don’t like any stories about sailors who beat Columbus; so it is rarely mentioned.
In 1851, Frontier artist Rudolph Kurz made a sketch of an Indian pony that looks like it might have been born in an Irish stable.
Indian pony Celtic horse
From the Welsh Tribes in the Ohio Valley there came a pleasant breed of pony with a gentle gait. Colonial traders called it “the Chickasaw horse.” Various strains of these horses spread across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas. When the Spaniards of St. Augustine imported light Arabian stock from Barcelona, the new horses quickly mixed in with the Welsh horse. These horses were often called “Florida Crackers.”
Portuguese Iberian horses from the 7th century exodus also joined the party. The resulting mix lost most of the old Chickasaw temperament and profile. In the 1970s, an effort was made to reconstruct the “lost” breed; but it had to be abandoned as an impractical goal. In this manner, many of the ancient breeds lost their individuality – just as the Native Peoples found themselves being either absorbed or pushed away by the “Anglo Frontier of Progress” that moved relentlessly Westwards.
In the Northeast, Indians adopted mounts from Greenland refugees in the 13th century (the fjord horse), French settlers in 1535, and the English in 1620. A lot of Indian horse-trading brought Spanish mounts to the north; and Mongol ponies went south – as a delightful sport horse for children. In 1925, Tsireh Awa painted a Navajo teenager riding a pony that looks a lot like the spirited Mongol pony that was painted in China during the 13th century.
Top two riders from Mongol silk paintings; bottom – Tsireh Awa, Navajo (after Chamberlain, 2006, 11).
Bailey, James. God Kings & the Titans. New York: St. Martins, 1973.
Chamberlain, J. Edward. Horse. New York: United Tribes Media, 2006.
Du Pouget, Jean. Prehistoric America. London: J. Murray, 1884.
Haines, Francis. Horse Diffusion, in the American Anthropologist, Vol. 40 (3), 1938.
Taylor, E.G. “Letter dated 1577 from Mercator to John Dee,” Imago Mundi, 10, 1953.
Thompson, Gunnar. American Discovery. Seattle: Misty Isles & Lulu.com, 2013a.
—Marco Polo in Seattle. Seattle: Misty Isles & Lulu.com, 2013b.