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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