According to Luigi Gianoli, Horses and Horsemanship through the Ages, about 60 million years ago horses roamed the western plains of the North American continent. They “became extinct in the wake of cosmic upheaval, so that when the Spaniards arrived in the New World, they could find no trace of a horse.” These little guys were about the size of a little dog and ran in herds. Back then, man hunted them for food and drove these little creatures over cliffs. Then, in 1882, professors of Columbia University found the bones of these mini horses “in the Mississippi Basin and at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.” So horses were here.
Then, around the 1600’s, when the Spaniards met the Aztecs, they brought horses with them. When the conquistadors left to return to Spain with the Aztec’s gold, they left their horses behind. Once again, the horses gathered in herds and became the stock of the American mustang.
So, if you are writing a story before the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, remember, the Native Americans did not ride horses back then. Native Americans walked everywhere they went, carrying their belongings or using the domesticated wolf as a pack animal.
Eventually, the Navajo, Pueblo and Apache heard of these “great dogs of the white man” through the trader’s stories or from the few who managed to actually see this animal. By this time the horse had evolved to the size of a large pony and now had a hoof instead of four toes. The Native American tribes had no idea how this curiosity would impact their future.
But the horse did.
From 1600 to today, the horse has been and is revered by all the tribes of the Native Americans. Some came to believe that the sun had herds and blessed earth with them. They were associated with the moon. Or, according to Laverne Harrell Clark in her book ‘They Sang for Horses,” these magnificent creatures have gods riding them or being gods themselves. (I can’t say enough about Ms Clark’s book if you want fantastic details about the coming of the horse to the Native American Indians.)
Young braves soon became adept at stealing horses anywhere he could find them. This theft gave this young men status in the tribe because when they returned home with their prizes, they gave these stolen horses away to tribe members. Imagine a father approached by a successful brave seeking the man’s daughter as his woman. If the young man presented him with many horses, the father would know the young brave could care for his daughter and the father could now give these away as gifts.
The tribes swiftly incorporated the horse into their lives as quickly as we have computers. Horses provided better hunting as well as protection and the tribes could travel farther distances for shelter and food because they ride and could use these ‘big dogs’ as pack animals. Needless to say the Native Americans quickly came to love and honor this animal in their ceremonies as well as become experts on riding bareback (No stirrups !) That is until they met the American cowboys and they learned of saddles and such.
Put all this on a time line of American history. By the time of the Westward Expansion and the Civil War–barely two hundred years, the tribes had just mastered horses. Then, the automobile was invented, changing lives for everyone.
You know the history from here. But regardless of whether the truck or car have replaced the necessity of horse, the horse is still revered by the Native Americans. To own one is to have a gift from heaven.
Thank you Picturedepot.com for the horse picture.