Friday, October 25, 2019

The Development of Horses in America – Part IV

Continued from the previous post regarding horses in the Americas.
    It is claimed that a Spanish explorer brought the “first horses” into the New World—but if that was true, the resident stallions and mares, first had to be killed off. Educators accomplished this feat by pointing out that many Ice Age (or Pleistocene) beasts didn’t survive the drastic warming of the Northern Latitudes. Initially, biologists suggested that all the horses were gone from both North and South America by 12,000 BC. Supposedly, this “extinction” coincided with the arrival of Big Game Hunters from Siberia.
    This “coincidental extinction” seemed to make a lot of “logical sense;” but it didn’t withstand the test of time. Archeologists kept uncovering horse bones that were subjected to radiocarbon testing; and the resulting dates kept getting closer-and-closer to the Modern Era. Currently, theorists who like the Extinction Model have to be content with 5,000 BC as the horizon for their presumed event. If this trend continues, by 2050 the gap in time will probably be down to nil; and the “extinction theory” will become extinct.
Przewalski's horse, Equus przewalskii or Equus ferus przewalskii, also called the Mongolian wild horse or Dzungarian horse, is a rare and endangered horse native to the steppes of central Asia

In Asia, there was never an extinction of the horse. Instead, there was “a transition” from ancient horses into modern varieties. Biologists suggest that most domesticated horses evolved from the intermingling of three basic horse types: 1) a primitive forest horse; 2) the wild horse of the Steppes (or “Przewalski”); and 3) the desert horse (or “Tarpan”).
    In the 20th century, an effort was mounted in an attempt to recreate the Tarpan by selective breeding of horses that manifested qualities of the more-ancient horse. A similar effort was undertaken by American breeders who tried to revive the lost “Chickasaw” horse of the Eastern American Woodlands. In both cases, breeders noted that ancient horse characteristics occasionally surfaced; but their frequency was insufficient to reverse the direction of evolution.
    Probably, a similar situation took place in the Americas. The presence of “throw-back” qualities seen in photographs of some Plains Indian ponies suggests that the ancient Native horse didn’t actually go “extinct;” it evolved or transitioned into later breeds that were imported from the Old World.
Illustration of a Tarpan made from life, depicting a five-month-old foal

The Native American horse might have looked something like the ancient Tarpan. The horse has some features (such as a short neck, short round face, and short legs) that are similar to the Mongolian “kit.” These features were apparent in the sketch that Rudolph Kurz made of a Blackfoot pony in 1851. Probably, Kurz picked this horse for his drawing because it seemed so unusual. It’s not the sort of horse that is typically included in most books about horses or Indians, because it is basically an ugly horse. A recent proposal by Chilcotin Ranchers in British Columbia to “eradicate the ugly wild horses” in the region is a reminder that such ungainly-looking beasts are occasionally encountered roaming in the northern forests. Due to widespread beliefs that “horses were extinct,” nobody has made a serious effort to verify the origins of most of America’s wild and ugly horses. They are simply regarded as being “expendable.”
In about 1884, Jean-François Albert du Pouget de Nadaillac (Marquis de Nadiallac) toured South America. He noted that Lund’s excavations at Minas Geraes, Brazil, had uncovered horse bones that were associated with human remains and with extinct fauna from the last Ice Age (although, obviously, the horse was not extinct). Du Pouget noted that the horse bones were similar to those of modern horses. In other words, the South American wild horse had evolved beyond the extinct species (Hippidion) that is known to paleontologists.
    It should also be noted that Sebastian Cabot inserted a sketch of a horse in the rolling grasslands of Argentina on his World Map of 1544. All of the sketches on his map were intended to portray the primary assets of each region – so we can be certain that he noted the presence of vast herds of horses. Cabot’s expedition to Argentina took place in 1526 – just ten years after the Spanish expedition by Juan Diaz de Solis to the Rio de Plata. Cabot’s entourage of a hundred-plus men spent four years in the region. What did they eat? They probably consumed a considerable amount of horsemeat and wild cattle.
    From 1536 to 1541, an expedition by Pedro de Mendoza spent five years near Buenos Aires. They also subsisted on herds of wild horses. Where did all the wild horses come from? Some writers have suggested that these enormous herds resulted from “an explosive population” that found a favorable habitat in the Argentine grasslands. While that is partially true, if all these horses had come from just a few abandoned Spanish horses left by de Solis; then the resulting herds would have been uniformly like typical Spanish horses. However, later settlers noted that the Argentine horse had an unusually comfortable walking gait; so they named these mounts Paso Fino (meaning “Walks Good”).
The spread of the horse in North America and northern South America

According to a theory, Spaniards brought the first horses to America, arriving in Mexico in 1519. Light ranch horses were brought to the Town of Onate in 1607; and by 1680, the herd included over a thousand horses. These were all taken away by Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo Indians in the rebellion of 1680. Most historians and ethnologists assume that the horses were traded northwards; and these served as “the first” mounts that became known to the Plains Indians. Academic scholars assume that the horses arrived at about the times they were first reported by Europeans who noted the horses in their journals. However, as the Theory is based entirely on written reports (and it assumes legends are false), it is only a record of European travels—not horse introductions.
    In addition, the Theory is totally inadequate, because it fails to consider claims by tribal elders that: “the Plains Tribes always had horses.”
    In fact, the earliest Old World horse along the West Coast of North America might have been the Chinese Bashkir, which had a short body coat that felt like crushed velvet. Over this coat, they grow a thick, curly winter coat that often has ringlets several inches long. Their hair is round instead of flat like other horsehair; tests reveal that Bashkir Curly hair is more closely related to mohair than common horsehair. Originating in Central Nevada, it had wide-set eyes with curly lashes. His back was short, and he had a deep girth, heavily boned legs, and short cannon bone. He averages 15 hands high and 800 to 1,000 pounds. In addition, the horse had a calm, gentle temperament, dense bone, tough, round hooves, intelligence, and remarkable memory. They were also quite strong with tremendous endurance, especially valuable in mountainous country.
    The origins of the Bashkir horse are not known. In the nineteenth century its economic value was recognized, and steps were taken to increase both its working abilities and its traditional qualities as a producer of milk and meat. Breeding centers were set up in 1845 (Elwyn Hartley Edwards, The Encyclopedia of the Horse, DK Adult, London, 1994).
    An Afghani Buddhist monk by the name of “Hui Shen” reported to the Emperor of China that he had visited an Eastern Land between 458 and 490 AD. According to the monk, the residents of Fu Sang (mysterious land to the east) had horses and wagons. Hui Shen also reported that merchants paid no taxes. In 1960, Archeologist Victor Von Hagen was able to confirm that the ancient merchants of Mexico paid no tax. The policy was part of an effort to stimulate commerce in antiquity.
    However, since most historians assume that there were no horses along the American West Coast in the 5th century, they typically presume that Hui Shen’s tale was total fiction, even though it was recorded in the official Chinese chronicle of the Era of Disunity following the Jin Dynasty and China's political fragmentation into a succession of dynasties that was to last from 304 AD to 589 AD.
    Whatever the cause of the horse being in the Americas in pre-Columbia times, and even as far back as the so-called extinction period, the point is, they were here. When Colonial Pioneers crossed the Appalachian Mountains on their way into Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1600s, they encountered Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw Tribes that had an exceptional breed of horses. It is highly unlikely that these North American tribes had huge herds of horses only 100 years after the Spanish landed in Mexico and 120 years since they landed in Central America. In fact, knowledge of the Spanish horses in what is now the United States did not actually occur until 1680, at Oñate, New Mexico.
The Appaloosa Horse, a smaller, sleeker, faster and more-agile animal than the heavy war horses brought and released by the Spanish 

Called “Chickasaws,” their smooth-gaited walking gait of these Indian horses made them attractive for trade and theft. Similar smooth-gaited horses in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida were called “Seminole ponies” or “prairie ponies.” One Colonial trader noted that the Eastern Forest Horse was “different” from European breeds. In fact, they were so-common along the Frontier that settlers said they were “pests,” because they wandered into farmyards and munched on garden vegetables.
    These Appaloosa horses were called “the Ferghana horse” or “the blood-sweat horse,” and had a distinctive “spotted blanket,” a smallish head and short, wispy tail. The Nez Perce horse of Idaho also had a wispy tail and a spotted pattern that was a common Appaloosa coat. The smaller head and neck on the Indian horse was distinct and resulted from the result of constant in-breeding. To think that these horses were the result of the large, heavy Spanish war horse is unrealistic. Horses with the spotted blanket pattern are unknown anywhere in Europe or in the Spanish Colonial Territories. According to Native Traditions, the Appaloosa was bred originally by the Nez Perce (Nee-mee Poo, or Chopunnish Tribe). The ancestors of the Nez Perce had both the means and the motive to develop such a fast and highly maneuverable horse as the Appaloosa, which made an excellent Indian-style war horse, as well as a fast horse for hunting buffalo, with their short, laminated, compound horn-bow that was sufficiently powerful to drive an arrow clear through the body of a bison.
(See the next post, “The Long History of Horses in America – Part V,” for more on the  evidence that horses were known in the Americas before Columbus)

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