|The southwestern Indians gradually became mounted on Spanish horses by catching feral
animals, raiding Spanish ranches and stealing horses from Spanish missions. The
Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 in present day New Mexico was the beginning of a large
numbers of horses falling into Indian hands. By mid-1700, a few Indians in Canada were
making forays deep into the Spanish southwest, stealing horses and driving them back to
Canada. In this manner the Spanish horse was gradually dispersed from tribe to tribe by
trade or theft until all the Indian tribes in North America were mounted on horses
brought to the New World by the Spaniards.
No historian knows the exact dates or how the Indians became so proficient in
horsemanship. The Indians left no records. But it is known that the Indian learned
quickly to be the best horsemen as far as maneuverability and distance riding on native
grass that the world has ever known.
Once the Spanish horse gained his freedom and was away from man's careful breeding
for certain colors and conformation, the mustang reverted quickly to its ancient ancestors'
build and primitive colors. The next four hundred years spent fending for himself
developed his brain for above any domestic horse. According to the noted authority,
Bengt Lundholm of the University of Uppsala in Sweeden, "Wild horses generally have a
larger brain cavity than domestics." Cunningham Grahmn states, "Wild horses eyes
become more acute and third hearing infinitely sharper."
With today's improved feed and care, breeders will see the purest mustangs of today
reach fifteen hands in height, as they will revert to their ancient ancestor's size. J.
Frank Dobie state, "Mustangs can reach fifteen hands." Dobie's father and uncle
handled thousands of Mustangs when Texas was over-stocked with the purest Spanish
horses in North America (the purest and finest mustangs were on Wild Horse Prarie in
the Southeast and on Llano-Estacado), so J. Frank Dobie knew the Mustang form first
hand observation as a young man.
The Oregon Trail caused the Indian ponies, and all along the trail from Missouri to
Oregon to be mixed with draft horse blood. A large majority of people traveling was
North easterners whose horses were primarily draft. Oxen pulled a big number of the
wagons. This draft horse blood was the cause of many mustangs from Colorado north
being heavier boned and showing draft blood. Utah was as big melting pot for many
breeds of horse as Spain. The Mormons developed Utah early breeding and using many
breeds of horses.
The Spanish Trail from Missouri to Sante Fe, New Mexico was primarily used by
Mexicans and white traders of Southwestern heritage. Mules were mostly used to pull
wagons and many were rode. This is the reason the mustangs stayed the purest longer.
Mountain men like Peg Leg Smith drove thousands of Spanish horses and mules over the
Spanish Trail to SantaFe, Taos and Bents Fort. Unlike the Oregon Trail, Texas,
Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona never had much outside blood until 1890.
The artists of the Early West, like artists in ancient times, are the ones who portrayed
the types and colors of horses of their era. Catlin was the first artist of stature to paint
detailed, on-the-spot paintings of the Comanche horse while he was traveling with
General Leavenworth, Col. Dodge and their Dragoons through the Wichita Mountains, now
Oklahoma, in 1834. This expedition was sent out to learn something about the unknown
wild Comanche Indian and at that date the Indians' horses were pure Spanish. The
Comanche chief, His-oo-san-chees, the little Spaniard, leading a war party, met the
Dragoons on a prancing milk white steed of definite Arabian type. He led the Dragoons
to the top of a hill overlooking the Comanche village of 600 skin-covered lodges on
Cache Creek, with thousands of Indian horses grazing in the valley for Catlin to study.
Catlin described them as fourteen or fifteen hands in height and with many varieties of
color. They had profuse manes and tails that reached almost to the ground. Catlin was
riding, according to his own words, the finest horse he had ever ridden, a buckskin
stallion with black points named Charley. Charley was a Comanche Indian Stallion,
which was broken by the Indians, and Catlin said they never broke a hors's spirit while
It has been stated that the Mustang became mixed with escaped cavalry horses and
escaped domestic wagon train horses. The cavalry rode primarily geldings. Any Eastern
horse accustomed to grain and care that escaped from wagon trains could not have
survived the rigors of the frontier.
The book On the Border with MacKenzie, author Captain R.G. Carter of 4th Cavalry of
the Final Cleanup of the Comanche and Kiowa Indians in Paladura Canyon on
Llano-Estacado of Texas. Chief Quanah Parker and other bands anialiated or
surrendered. Their 2200 horses were killed and the Indians were forced to walk back to
the Indian Reservation at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and now Oklahoma. These highly
trained buffalo hunters and racehorses that had out run the 4th Cavalry thoroughbreds
were, according to Captain R.C. Carter, the finest horses to be had. The white scouts
like Jim (Lane) Cook and Tonk-Ka-Way Indian scouts were given quite a number of
these fine Indian horses which was sold to the public and scattered on Llano-Estacado
among ranchers. I, Gilbert Jones acquired some of the ancestors of Indian buffalo
hunting horses 40 years after the big horse killing.
When the Indian was at the height of living on Llano-Estacado without molestation, they
no doubt got horses at Sante Fe, Taos and Bents Fort from Comancheros (Mexican
Indian traders) who bought the finest bred California horses, stolen from Rancheros by
mountain men like Peg Leg Smith who stole thousands of fine Spanish horses and drove
them over the Spanish Trail to Bents Fort. Those at Bents Fort bought them without
question. These Comanches weren't far from Sante Fe, Tais and Bents Fort.
The old stallion "Cortes SSMA #299" was a descendent of Mexican Comanches whose
ancestors owned and bred these California Spanish horses. These ancestors were
Comanches and bred these horses since the Indians existed on Llano-Estacado. Their
names are Romero Cantalesano Marquez, who lived at Caballo, N.M., Rio A County.
John James Audubon, the famous painter and naturalist, related buying a newly caught
wild Mustang he named Barro from a frontiersman who had ridden him from the
headwaters of the Arkansas River to Natchez in thirty days. This horse averaged 35 to
40 miles a day without shoed and with nothing but prairie grass to eat. Audubon had
him shod and put on grain, then rode him from Henderson, Kentucky to Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania and back to Henderson. This was a distance of 2,000 miles, during which
he averaged not less than 40 miles a day. Upon his arrival back at Henderson, his
doctor declared Audubon's horse to be in as good condition as when he left. Audubon
thought this Mustang blood would have improved the Eastern horses of that day.
Major General William Harding Carter, United States Army, in his "Great Story of the
Horse", National Geographic Magazine, November 1923, told of riding Mustangs in
Mexico in 1880 while chasing the famous Apache Chief Victorio. He mentioned a small
line-backed buckskin he rode. He declared these Spanish horses superior to all other
breeds in fleetness and endurance. No mixture of other blood will ever produce a
gamer, hardier, or more enduring animal for the deserts and mountains of the west that
the Mustang, hand for hand of height and pound for pound of weight.
Frank Hopkins, in 1890, rode Hidalgo, the Sioux Indian tobiano stallion in the grueling
3,000-mile endurance race across the Arabian Desert and crossed the finish line on the
68th day, the winner. Hopkins and Hidalgo won over blooded Arabian horses in their
native Arabia. Hopkins had participated in four hundred endurance races using
Mustangs, and he stated the Indians were the greatest horsemen until the government
forced them into continuous wars and onto reservations.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition used Spanish horses and some of them carried Spanish
Zublon Pike Expedition used Spanish horses all through Texas.
John Charles Fremont, the pathfinder, used Spanish horses on all four of his expeditions,
as Kit Carson advised him that blooded horses couldn't live
off the land.
Another noted frontiersman, Sam Houston, was a great admirer of blooded horses. Having
imported Copper bottom from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Texas in 1839 when he was
elected Governor of Texas for the second time in 1859 and was confronted with
protecting the Texas settlers from Indian depredations along the frontier border, he
employed a force of one thousand Texas Rangers. Houston had lived many years among
the Indians and knew the Indian horses' greatest asset was stamina. He stated flatly that
the Rangers would have to be mounted on Texas horses that could subsist on grass in
order to fight Indians as the cavalry's fine American horses could not chase Indians
without getting tender footed. American horses could not subsist in that country without
grain to feed them.
It was also Texas Horses that were the ones to gather and drive 12,000,000 Longhorns
up trails to northern markets from 1866 to 1890. They did it while eating nothing but
prairie grass. The Southwest was the cradle of the purest and finest Spanish horses and
where they existed the longest.
James Walker, (1819-1889), painted the truest to life and most authentic Spanish horse
of North America while staying at the Mission de San Fernando Rancho in California, he
was on the spot painting the Spanish horses from life. See "Roping a Wild Grizzly",
"Roping Wild Horses" and Vaqueros Roping Out Mounts in Corral".
The only rancher of size that bred Spanish horses up until 1920, to the author's
knowledge, was Tom East in deep South Texas. One hundred head of East's horses
were used as models by the famous sculpturer, A. Phi mister Procter, who sculptured the
bronze statue group of authentic mustangs at the University of Texas. Procter lived on
the East ranch while studying these colorful Spanish horses for a year before starting this
masterpiece. In the author's collection are two pictures of East's colorful horses. One
is of a top pinto cutting horse. The other is a group of dun and grulla mares and colts
on his San Antonio Viejo Ranch. These pictures were published in Farm and Ranch
Magazine around 1922 and show what the authentic Spanish horse looked like in their
Up to 1920 comparatively few Mustangs and Spanish Jacks remained almost in their
pure state in small, remote and isolated areas of the southwest. The BLM Wild Horses
of today are of many mixtures of different breeds and not recommended by SSMA as
having much Spanish blood in them. Several small ranchers kept a few of the pure
mares and stallions and Spanish Jacks because they had soft spots in their hearts for
the little horse and mule that had performed so well for them. Nine such breeders are
known to have existed in the past ninety years.
The Southwest Spanish Mustang Association, Incorporated, was formed with these nine
breeder' best bloodlines. The registry is based on bloodlines and performance by
riding. Emphasis in on riding which is the only way to prove that the Mustang has the
stamina and endurance today that they had in the 1800's. Two annual trail rides are
held at Medicine Spring Ranch, which is the modern day proving ground. We have
unequaled records on my racing events. We invite all dedicated Mustangs admirers to
join the SSMA.
For details write to Bryant Rickman, Chairman, P.O. Box 948, Antlers, Oklahoma 74523.