Spanish horses change plains Indian culture forever
Steamboat Springs — Free-roaming horses have been a part of the Western landscape since Spanish explorers arrived in Mexico searching for gold in the “lost city” of Cibola.
The Spanish conquistador Coronado first brought an estimated 1,500 modern European horses to the New World in 1554, but it is the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680, in what is now modern New Mexico, that is credited with ultimately disseminating wild horses among North American Plains Indians.
Author J. Edward De Steiguer describes in his scholarly book, “Wild Horses of the West, History and Politics of America’s Mustangs,” how the Puebloans, upon violently evicting the abusive Spaniards from their homeland, inherited thousands of horses and burros. The Pueblo dwellers were small-scale farmers who did not have a need for large numbers of horses but knew the value of trade.
De Steiguer writes that the southern Ute Indians of what is now Colorado were some of the first to inherit Spanish horses. On a map of early horse-trading routes, his book depicts one path directly from Santa Fe, New Mexico, through Western Colorado to the Great Salt Lake, which operated in about 1650.
The European Americans who subdued the Plains Indians also took an active interest in wild horses. Most U.S. Cavalry troops were mounted on horses brought west from the Eastern states. If anything, soldiers butchered and ate horse flesh to sustain them during long marches.
However, it’s widely known in the West that ranchers and cowboys would sometimes choose a stallion from their own herd that they thought could elevate the breeding of a band of wild mares and introduce their horse into the herd and later lasso their progeny to add to their own corral.
Colorado Northwestern Community College biology and math instructor Kathy Simpson, who is a member of the Sand Wash Advocacy Team and grew up in the region, said a sImilar practice took place during the Great Depression.
People in Northwest Colorado, who were desperate for hard cash would sometimes rope a wild horse, break it, train it and sell it, she said.
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