Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Nature of a Wild Horse Herd -- WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR

Wild horse herd along the Powder Rim in Wyoming. John Branney Photo.  

My newly released novel entitled WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR is a historical adventure based on the introduction of horses to the Plains Indians in the latter years of the 17th Century. Even though most of the characters originated in my mind through my experiences, the storyline of the novel follows historically documented accounts from Native Americans who claimed to have been there at the first encounter with horses.

I wrote WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR using separate plots for three different
The red roan colt in 2002, the inspiration for WHEN 
LEAVES CHANGE COLOR. John Branney Photo.  

characters. As the story develops the paths of these characters begin to intertwine. One of the main characters was a young Spaniard by the name of Santiago who was embarking on a journey back to the north to find his brother Luis, an Indian captive. Santiago despised the Indians for what they did to Luis and his family and he sought revenge for the Indians destroying his family and life. The second main character in the book was a young Indian hunter named Ouray. He was also on a quest, but his quest was in search of Haiwee, the girl he loved. A hostile tribe of Indians had taken Haiwee and Ouray vowed to find her and exact his revenge on the Indian people who stole her. However, Ouray in his search for Haiwee found something else instead, something so remarkable that it would transform his life and his tribe's life forever. The third character in WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR was a wild horse herd. I won't spoil the book by telling you anymore, but below is a short outtake from the book briefly describing the horse herd.               

The big sorrel mare led the herd up the steep slope of a rock-strewn ridge. The hooves of the band of horses clattered against the cobbles of broken sandstone lying along the rough-cut animal trail. The big sorrel mare was the matriarch of the herd. Being the matriarch meant that she made all of the day to- day decisions for this particular group of horses. She decided which water hole they would drink from and where they would graze throughout the day. She decided when the herd would stay put and when they would move on to better pasture. She was also the disciplinarian in the herd, at least this matriarch was. She tolerated little. She meted out justice, in her own harsh way. The big sorrel mare had two characteristics that boded well for this horse herd: she was very intelligent and she was very careful. Most of the horses in the herd feared the big sorrel mare, but since she had always kept them out of harm’s way, they followed her without hesitation.

This particular morning, the big sorrel mare was leading the herd over the high ridge to a watering hole on the other side. Call it an extraordinary sense, but she knew that there was both water and forage over the ridge. Bringing up the rear was the other leader of the herd, a tall bay stallion. He was the monarch of the herd and the breeding stallion. His role was to protect the herd and to procreate. He would remain in his position as monarch as long as he could fight off all new challengers. When the day came when he could no longer defend against a younger and stronger stallion, he would leave the herd to live his final days alone. Ultimately, he would become prey to the wolves and other predators that roamed the area.

Wild horse herd along the painted clays in the
Washakie Basin of Wyoming. John Branney Photo.
Once the herd crested the windblown ridge, the horses followed the sorrel mare down a winding animal trail toward the water. The horses’ hoof prints intermingled on the powdery trail with tracks from deer, elk, coyote, and even wolves. Over the years, animals had carved out a deep path in the rocky soil, leading to and from this watering hole. When the horses neared their destination, they smelled the water and picked up their pace, loping along behind the sorrel mare with manes waving and tails swirling behind.

Why do horses live in herds? Horses live in herds because they are social animals and because the herd provides each member protection from predators. For each wild horse herd, there is a social pecking order and each horse has a role. The stallion in the herd serves the purpose of procreating and protecting the herd against predators, but it is the matriarch, the dominant mare, that officially leads the herd. The matriarch picks where the herd will get water and where the herd will graze. The matriarch leads the herd and makes all of the day-to-day decisions. She is the disciplinarian of the herd and usually has a way of dealing with anti-social behavior within the members of the herd. Her punishment can include driving the offender out of the herd and she decides when the offender can come back into the herd. Since the horse herd is in constant danger from predators, banishment from the herd can be fatal for the offender without the protection from the rest of the herd.

Read WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR for the rest of the story.

Monday, September 14, 2015

An Adventure with Grasshoppers - Read WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR!!

WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR (Click Here for Information on the Book) 
I based my new novel, WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR, in the late 17th Century and on the pre-horse lives of the Plains Indians. Just as some people seem to fare better than others in today's society, back in the 17th Century some Plains Indian tribes fared better than other Plains Indian tribes. While some tribes feasted on bison, elk, and deer, a few tribes had to survive on less appealing cuisine. One such tribe is described below in a short passage from WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR. The short outtake is about a young Indian boy-man named Ouray from the Snake tribe. I will let you determine on your own what is happening…      

Native American Grasshopper Trap
(Courtesy of

The people stood silently under the broiling sun, waiting for the signal. For a long time, that signal never came. People became impatient and started looking around, wondering what was happening. Then they heard the yipping call of a coyote, the signal for them to advance.

Everyone in the circle began screaming and walking forward, heading straight for the deep hole in the ground. Then, as if all of the people were a single animal, they began yipping and barking like the coyote. The people pounded the grass and ground with broken tree branches and sticks, creating a tremendous racket as they advanced towards the hole in the ground.

Winged insects catapulted themselves from the tall grass by the hundreds, snapping their wings and flying in every direction. Ouray slowly advanced alongside the others, pounding his juniper tree branch against the grass while wailing his best coyote imitation, loud and monotone. Insects flew up into his face and grabbed ahold of his bare skin with their stick legs. Ouray reached up and grabbed the insects with his hands, throwing them toward the trap in front of him. People kept moving forward, beating the ground with sticks and branches, howling loudly. The clacks and buzzes of hundreds of flying insects joined in the
Yummy grasshopper.
Love those drumsticks.

Grasshoppers by the thousands took flight from their grassy existence, flying ahead of pounding tree branches and screaming coyote calls. Ouray and the other people advanced towards the trap while hundreds of grasshoppers escaped by flying past them. As the tribe approached the trap, the distance between people decreased, reducing the grasshoppers’ avenues of escape.

Most of us probably cringe when we think about eating grasshoppers. I know I do. But for this particular tribe called the Snakes, they had no other choice than to eat these flying insects or dig for grubs to eat in the ground. You see, the Snakes were one of those less fortunate Plains Indian tribes. The Snake tribe was in a desperate day-by-day fight for survival. Most of them felt blessed to have the occasional grasshopper to eat. Much of modern society shuns eating grasshoppers and other insects, but are they really so bad? Have you ever looked closely at a shrimp or an oyster? Hmm, grasshoppers aren’t so ugly after all.  
Read WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR to find out what happens at the grasshopper hunt. What ultimately happens is not what you might expect. CLICK for BOOKS!!!!
Looks tasty to me...Not!

Friday, September 4, 2015

An Adventure About Horses -- WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR

The Victors, a painting by Howard Terpning 
When I wrote When Leaves Change Color, I had to imagine and then dramatize what it would have been like for the Plains Indians to first lay eyes on horses. To do this, I put myself in their shoes, I mean their moccasins. If I saw a horse for the very first time without any previous knowledge of horses, what would I think? You will have to read When Leaves Change Color to find out how I dramatized this same situation for the Indians in the book. In the meantime, here is a little history of horses in North America.

The Spaniards arrived on the southern plains of North America in the early 1500s and brought modern horses with them. It was around 1531 when Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca roamed the plains of Texas and northern Mexico on horseback and it was around 1541 when another horse-riding explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, reached the great bend of the Arkansas River in central Kansas. Over the next century, the seed stock from these first Spanish horses grew and expanded geographically.

So, how did the Plains Indians get horses? The first few horses and mules may have been obtained from the Spaniards around 1600 by settlement Indians near Santa Fe, New Mexico who then traded horses to the various tribes in the area, including Ute, Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche. Horses gradually spread northward onto the high plains of Wyoming and Montana.

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Most documented folklore from Plains Indians does not specify where and when they first obtained horses. Interviews by other authors with tribe members in the early 1900s does not  help either. Many of the tribe members stated that horses had always been a part of their tribes and culture! Fortunately, for history's sake, there are a few documented accounts by Plains Indians that help to unravel the where and when of their first horse acquisition.

According to Shimkin (reference available upon request), the first horses reached the Wind River and Big Horn Basins of Wyoming sometime between the years 1700 and 1740. It appears that the Shoshone Indians first obtained horses from their southern allies and relatives, the Utes and Comanche, and by the 1720s the Shoshone had become full-fledged, horse-mounted warriors. The Shoshones then traded some of their horses to the Crow and other northern plains Indian tribes and that's how horses spread (Secoy: reference available upon request).     

Horse of a Different Color, a painting by Howard Terpning

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