Subject:      precolumbian Amerindian horse?
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky 17784)
Date:         1997/09/10
Message-ID:   <5v6bf8$c26$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology.mesoamerican,sci.archaeology,


By Yuri Kuchinsky.

THE INDIAN AND THE HORSE, 1955, by Frank Gilbert Roe, University
of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 


Prompted by the recent interest in these ngs, and by the
questions asked about the early American horses, I have been
reading the above very interesting volume. It is a very detailed
and determined effort by Roe to document from historical sources
the history of Indian horse in America, and of the Native
traditions associated with it. What are my conclusions so far?
Well, it almost seems at this point that the more I try to
research this question, the more questions are emerging... The
whole thing is a veritable puzzle, and anyone who would wish to
claim that we know all we need to know about this, and the thing
is settled, really doesn't know what s/he is talking about.

Some things seem pretty obvious, though. One is that the Indian
horses were very different from the horses both the Spanish and
the English usually introduced. The difference is in the colour
and the size. Of this, more later.

Another thing that is very clear is that, as many early European
eyewitnesses reported repeatedly, many Native tribes had the
horse, and were expert horsemen extremely early in the game, in
fact suspiciously early to square with the mainstream view that
their horse came from the Spanish sources. This holds true for
the Indian tribes both in the South and in the North.

The earliest explorers in the North-West reported consistently
that, by the time they made it to their areas, the Indians were
already expert horsemen and women, and must have had the horse for
some time. Roe is persuaded that these Indians had the horse very
early indeed.

Who may have brought the horse to America before the Spanish? One
feature of his book is that Roe has not asked this question even
once in it. This question never seems to have occurred to him!
All in all, my general impression of him is that he is honestly
trying to answer the difficult questions about the likely
chronology of the Indian horse without actually considering one
rather obvious solution -- the horse was there before the
Spanish. So he is confused most of the time as a result. His
confusion may have been diminished considerably if he looked at
some alternatives to Spanish introduction.

Myself, I certainly believe it is possible that the horse could
have been brought before Columbus both by the Scandinavians
(and/or Celts), and by the Asians. The book provides much support
for this, without Roe being aware of this!

As I say, Roe, himself, seems to be rather confused most of the

     It is mortifying to have to acknowledge how little our
     researches really add to our definite knowledge as to when
     and how any one tribe actually acquired the horse. ... When
     periods of thirty or fifty years intervene, we can but
     conjecture and balance probabilities. And frequently our
     conclusions cannot be made to agree. (p. 134)

Here's an honest man. I wish more scholars could be so forthright
about their findings...

So, first, let us look at the early European accounts, and at
Roe's attempts to establish some kind of a reasonable chronology
for horse among the Natives.

Roe disposes quite early of the idea that horses were first
acquired by the Natives as strays from ill-fated Spanish
expeditions (Ch. 2). He believes this was unlikely for a number
of reasons.

One of the big questions that Roe tries to answer next is when
the wild horses, or mustangs, were first reported in America. Of
these wild horses, huge herds were reported by various observers
at various times. some very early. I find the following witness
quite amazing,

     Be this as it may, in Virginia, about 1669, wild horses ...
     [originally imported from England?] ... were a pest. (p. 67,
     quoting Wissler, INFLUENCE OF THE HORSE)

Strange, but this is what our sources say... I really cannot
believe these would have been English horses originally...

And here's a report from an early observer,

     Le Page du Pratz (1719) and others speak of horses being
     "numerous" in the South, and seemingly "different from the
     European horse". (p. 69)

The interesting thing here is that while the Southern horses'
derivation from the Spanish stock would have been quite likely,
apparently this wasn't the case...

And here are the opinions of some reputable scholars about the
very early Indian horses,

     The earliest hypothetical date in Wissler's paper is where
     he considers that many tribes should have had horses before
     1600. This opinion is endorsed by Walter Prescott Webb, a
     high authority on Plains history. (p. 72)

And here is another amazingly early date, in reference to the
testimony coming from Francisco de Ibarra who was in the Sonora
Valley in 1567,

     In that account we find the tribes -- or some of them -- in
     that territory not merely acquainted with the horse, but
     practiced horsemen at that date. (p. 73, quoting Denhardt,

So this was the situation in the South. How was it possible that
the Natives close to Spanish areas could have horses so early,
and a _different kind of a horse_, the one that the Spanish were
strongly prejudiced against, and probably did not introduce? These
are very difficult questions...

[second part coming up]

Best regards,


Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- [22]

It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
to put out on the troubled seas of thought -=O=- John K. Galbraith

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