The Plains Indians Horses
Horse. The horse became a very important part of all of the Plains Indian tribes. Each family owned at least a few and every person learned how to ride at a very young age. Plains Indians were excellent foot hunters before they acquired the horse but this animal made it much easier to hunt the buffalo, move from place to place and defend the tribe. Dogs previously pulled travois for these nomadic tribes. Often the Indian pony found water in the plains for the tribe by digging in the earth with its hooves.
|The American Indian's
horse was likely a descendant of the Barb horses introduced into Spain
by the invading Moors of the 8th Century. In the hands of the Indians
they developed a personality of their own. They were not fed any grain
like the white man's work horses but they soon became a distinct breed
that was hardy, tough and with plenty of endurance and speed. They were
called the Mustang and some still run free and wild in many western
states of the USA.
The Indian pony wasn't very pretty. It was just at the point of measurement that could be considered to be a horse or pony, averaging about 14 hands high and weighing 700 pounds. [A hand is equivalent to a man's palm width, about 4 inches.] The mustang has a large head and barrel, unmanageable manes, heavy shoulders and hips, strong legs and small feet with strong hooves. Pinto and buckskin colored horses were most preferred by the Plains Indians.
"Until the horse fell into the American Indian's hands, all horses were trained on the world-wide theory of the time-domination; bigger spurs, nastier bits, bigger whips, greater restraints where the tools of the day.
The Indian reversed the theory and tried something totally new - training the horse with kindness. The Indian had to approach the horse without frightening him. He slowly let the horse become familiar with him and with his bow, arrows, leather thong bit and blanket. When it came time to mount the horse, the Indian would gently put his elbow on the horse's back and apply pressure for short periods of time. It may have taken weeks before the horse would let the rider mount, but that was okay with the Indian.
Many horses were taken into a river or lake until the water reached their shoulders-then the rider mounted. The horse might try to buck or jump, but the water kept him injury free, and after having his head under water a time or two, he quieted down nicely.
Horses and Indians seemed to possess a certain affinity for each
other, I told Walter. The Indian didn't feed treats, or grain, or curry
and groom and shampoo his horse, but he didn't confine him either. He
worked his horse, but he also gave him freedom to graze and play and be
"Between 1630 and 1770, Spanish horses and horse culture spread across the Great Plains. The Plains Indians' passion for stealing horses earned them honor and high adventure. It also fueled intertribal feuds that kept certain tribes locked in bitter retaliatory wars for generations. Since raids sometimes ended in pitched battles, young warriors had ample opportunity to display their courage. In 1833 a party of 40 Southern Cheyenne, bent on stealing Kiowa horses, was surprised by the Kiowa, who then killed, scalped, stripped and laid all 40 of them out on the ground for the wolves.
Among Southern Cheyenne, professional pride decreed that raiding parties should set out on foot, without horses, and travel mostly at night. After infiltrating the enemy's herd, they rode home triumphantly on stolen animals, driving a large horse herd before them. But the journey south to Comanche country was considered too long and dangerous to be made on foot by Indians living farther north than the upper Arkansas River, so a territorial system of theft and trade evolved.
Raiding as they did below the Mexican border, the Comanche and Apaches became noted for the quality of their horse herds. The Southern Cheyenne, living along the Arkansas River, were a mere eight "sleeps" away, so they usually targeted Comanche or Apache pony herds. Sometimes, out of spite, they stole Pawnee horses, because the Pawnees were the Cheyenne' bitterest ancestral foe. (One reason many Pawnees served gladly as U.S. Army scouts in the 19th century was because it gave them an excuse to hit back at their long-time enemies.)
The Northern Cheyenne and Sioux from the Black Hills region either raided the Southern Cheyenne horse herds or traded peacefully with these near relatives for mounts. Blackfoot, Flathead, Crow, Shoshone, Ute and Arapaho Indians, along with other northern tribes, usually stole their horses from the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. Farther west, the Nez Perce obtained horses from Shoshone herds and eventually became well known for their excellent mounts.
This rage for horses completely transformed the once cautious and ground-tied Plains tribes. From time immemorial they had all hunted on foot, many too frightened of enemy hunters to even venture out onto the buffalo plains. Then suddenly one day it seemed to be raining horses, and pony tracks were everywhere! The speed and exhilaration of riding made horses attractive, but it was more than that. The Plains Indians now needed horses to survive and prosper. Horse theft began to be regarded as high art. Certainly, it could earn young warriors the admiration of their people and the respect of their enemies."
Graphic from http://www.jsmagic.net/westindians/