First Vision: For many Native peoples, the first sight of a horse was
terrifying. A Spanish soldier on horseback seemed to be a single monstrous
creature. The Spanish used this terror to advance their conquest, sometimes
attaching bells to their armour to add more noise and confusion. Jose Barreiro
of the Taino people said, “In the islands of the Caribbean, Taino people were
the first to see the horse, and the sight inspired fear – animal fused to
sword-wielding conquistador – the legs of the rider blending with the galloping
extremities of his mount as it rode down Native people, while the metal of rein
and bit and stirrup clanged with the fury of war.”
‘Story of the Horse in the U.S.’. The
story of the relationship between American Indians and horses is one of the
great stories of human contact with the animal kingdom. Forty million years ago,
the horse originated in the Americas. About ten thousand years ago, after
spreading to Asia and Europe, it vanished from its homelands until 1493, when on
his second voyage Christopher Columbus returned the horse to the Western
Hemisphere. Horses flourished, eventually spreading across Central and South
America and what is now the United States and Canada, edging along Native trade
routes. In the 1700’s, traded guns and traded horses converged on the Great
Plains, resulting in the mounted Plains warrior, s feared opponent of settlers
expanding into the West and a source of many stereotypes about native people.
In horses, American Indians found an ally that
was useful and inspiring in times of peace and loyal and intrepid in times of
war. Horses transformed Native life, becoming a central part of many tribal
Between 1680 and 1875,
horses revolutionised Native life. By the
1800’s, American Indian horsemanship had become legendary, and many Native
peoples – especially those living on the Great Plains – had come to depend on
horses during their daily lives. In the early days of buffalo hunting, acquiring
food had become a full-time job, leaving little time for anything else. On
horseback, however, a lone hunter could bring down a buffalo virtually single
handed. As hunting became easier, many Native peoples had more time to devote to
art, spirituality and philosophy.
We had no idea there were so many Native peoples. Just the dozen or so mentioned by
Pictorial art of the Plains Natives was
mostly seen on tipi linings and on their clothing.
Later as new materials became available, vivid battle scenes sprang to life on
paper. The best know examples of Plains art are drawings made by Southern Plains
fighters held prisoner at Fort Marion in Florida. Men from the Cheyenne, Arapaho
and Kiowa tribes were arrested at the end of the Red River War in 1875 and held
as hostages to ensure the peaceful behaviour of their tribes. At Fort Marion,
many turned their hand to recording scenes of battle and traditional life in
army-issue ledger books. This example was drawn by Hunkpapa
Today lacrosse is an international sport played competitively by
teams all over the world. This modern game originated with the Haudenosaunee
people. Explorers to the territory saw the game being played on a field that
could be as short as one hundred yards or as long as two miles. Teams could have
from five players to hundreds.The game of lacrosse is a gift from the Creator.
It is a medicine game played for the healing and strength of the people.
Lacrosse was sometimes played to resolve a dispute and get rid of any bad
feeling between clans and nations within the Haudenosaunee. It was and still
played to bring families, communities and nations together. Playing the game
promises the continuation of Haudenosaunee culture and traditions. The game
should not be played for fame or money; the player should be humble and of a
good mind when the stick is taken in hand.
And there was I thinking it
came from Enid Blyton.
American Indians had traveled on foot or
by canoe before the arrival of horses. When the hunting tribes of the Plains
moved camp, tipis and other household goods were usually carried by women or
pulled on travois by dogs, this limited the distances
that could be covered and required that possessions were kept to a minimum. With
horses, tribes moved farther, faster and with larger loads. Horses brought a
period of abundance that lasted until the reservation era – more food, more
leisure time, also a mark personal and family prestige, the ownership of horses
conferred status and respect within the communities.
In the early 1800’s, on Native trade
routes, the going rate for a horse was:
A fine racing horse – 10 guns.
A fine hunting horse – several pack
Ordinary riding horse – 8 buffalo
or 1 gun and 100 loads of ammunition,
or 3 pounds of tobacco,
or 15 eagle feathers,
or 10 weasel skins,
or 5 tipi poles,
or 1 buffalo-hide tipi cover,
or 1 skin shirt and leggings, decorated
with human hair and quills.
Horses dramatically changed Native
warfare. On horseback, Plains warriors could move more quickly and stage more
complicated attacks; armed with guns, they became truly formidable. Horse
cultures in the United States arose as tribal nations struggled to defend
themselves against settlers and soldiers. At the same time, new intertribal
conflicts emerged as neighbouring nations sought to expand their hunting
trerritories. The battles that resulted produced new warfare strategies and
protocols, including the raiding of enemy horses.
Horse ownership became a mark of personal
and family prestige. In early times, people spent all their energies gathering
the bare essentials of survival. In many tribes, class divisions, based on the
number of horses a family owned, appeared for the first time. A name that
included the word “horse” – such as Crazy Horse, Horse Capture, American Horse –
signified strength of character. And images of horses on ceremonial objects,
clothing and personal possessions were a deep sign of respect.
Some names for horses:
Mistatim meaning big dog -
Sunkakhan meaning mystery dog or holy dog
- Lakota (Sious)
Thongatch-shonga or Sho-a-thin-ga meaning
big dog – Assiniboine
It-shuma-shunga meaning red dog - A’aninin
Ponoka meaning elk dog - Siksika
Native peoples paid homage to horses in
many ways in the last few centuries, incorporating them into their cultural and
spiritual lives and celebrating their grace, beauty, loyalty and bravery in a
variety of objects and songs, ceremonies and stories. Horse sticks honoured dead
war ponies, painted war shirts recounted dangerous battles. Intense personal
meanings were seen in beaded or quilled horse gear, stunning examples of this
creative _expression_ gave us much to admire.
Today many Native Americans continue to
honour the role of the horse in both their spiritual and contemporary lives.
Feats of horsemanship are seen at rodeos, mounted parades, fairs and just about
any gathering where Native people proclaim their identity.
Time to bimble on with my own – Wild Horse
ALL IN ALL A WONDERFUL