Work­ing horses of the West

As the United States ex­panded dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, pres­i­dents, cow­boys, moun­tain men and Na­tive Amer­i­cans alike rode horse­back.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Deb Ben­nett, PhD

As the United States ex­panded dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, pres­i­dents, cow­boys, moun­tain men and Na­tive Amer­i­cans alike rode horse­back.

The first great west­ward mi­gra­tion from the newly minted United States of Amer­ica oc­curred be­tween the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War at the end of the 18th cen­tury and the Civil War in the mid­dle of the 19th. Peo­ple who came over the Ap­palachian Moun­tains brought thou­sands of horses into coun­try where horses had not lived since their ex­tinc­tion in North Amer­ica 10,000 years ago. In the last sev­eral in­stall­ments of this se­ries, we have stud­ied in de­tail how horses that es­caped or were set loose be­came lan­draces---pop­u­la­tions of do­mes­tic horses hav­ing dis­tinc­tive con­for­ma­tion and way of go­ing, which are tra­di­tion­ally bred by ru­ral peo­ple, and which ex­ist both as farm-kept an­i­mals and of­ten also as feral herds.

Two lan­draces de­vel­oped east of the Mis­sis­sippi: a more north­ern pop­u­la­tion which can be called the Mor­gan lan­drace, and a more south­ern pop­u­la­tion which is called the Moun­tain Horse. From the Mor­gan lan­drace dur­ing the 1880s Joseph Bat­tell chose about 400 an­i­mals to found his Mor­gan horse reg­istry, which is the ori­gin of the Mor­gan horse breed as a for­mal en­tity.

Be­gin­ning in the late 1950s, from the Moun­tain Horse lan­drace a num­ber of breed­ers in mid-South states like­wise chose “foun­da­tional” in­di­vid­u­als, in this case to suit the par­tic­u­lar pur­poses of a half-dozen breeds in­clud­ing the Rocky Moun­tain, Moun­tain Plea­sure, Mis­souri Fox Trot­ter, Ken­tucky Sad­dler, Rack­ing Horse and Spot­ted Sad­dle Horse. The roots of the much larger Amer­i­can Sad­dle­bred and Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse breeds also lie in the Moun­tain Horse pop­u­la­tion. Ex­actly as with the Mor­gan, the an­i­mals them­selves ex­isted for more than a cen­tury, but reg­istries were not es­tab­lished un­til much later. Only when there is a reg­istry can we be­gin speak­ing of a given type of horse as a “breed.”

The sec­ond great Amer­i­can ex­pan­sion, which be­gan in earnest in the decades lead­ing up to the Civil War, car­ried pi­o­neers and set­tlers across the Mis­sis­sippi. When the pi­o­neers ar­rived on the plains, one of the first things they bumped into was the Colo­nial Span­ish horse---the Mus­tang---an equine lan­drace al­ready well es­tab­lished, one that de­vel­oped from Span­ish ex­plo­ration and con­quest. But the

pi­o­neers them­selves would soon help in es­tab­lish­ing an­other equine pop­u­la­tion, which we will call the Plains Cayuse Lan­drace. The term “Cayuse” orig­i­nally per­tained to a type found in Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon, but I use the term in its ex­tended sense here, to mean “In­dian ponies” and “horses with mixed Span­ish an­ces­try.” They are the horses who de­serve pri­mary credit for help­ing ex­plor­ers, moun­tain men and cow­boys to “win the West.”


The Plains Cayuse is the last ma­jor “in­gre­di­ent” in the for­ma­tion of the Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse, which is fa­mous not only for “short” speed but cow sense---a tal­ent that comes pri­mar­ily from its Span­ish an­ces­try.

The 19th cen­tury Quar­ter Run­ning Horse, some­times called the Colo­nial Quar­ter Run­ning Horse or Cel­e­brated Quar­ter Run­ning Horse, was orig­i­nally a spe­cialty type se­lected for speed and bred by men in­ter­ested in mak­ing a bit of side money through match rac­ing. In our last in­stall­ment we had some fun track­ing the ad­ven­tures of the Al­sup clan, who made Quar­ter Run­ning Horses big busi­ness in Mis­souri from about 1860 to 1880 and who were in­stru­men­tal in es­tab­lish­ing the Billy, Cold Deck and Rondo strains, which later were rec­og­nized as foun­da­tional blood­lines for the Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse breed. The Civil War, in which sev­eral of the Al­sup men served as of­fi­cers on the Union side, set the stage for the next great mi­gra­tion west­ward. Wagon trains fol­lowed two main routes, the Santa Fe Trail and the Ore­gon Trail.

The way this phase of Amer­i­can his­tory is of­ten pre­sented can make it seem like the pi­o­neers were mov­ing

into a void---a vast sea of grass in­hab­ited only by herds of buf­falo and pronghorn an­te­lope, plus some scat­tered Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes. In re­al­ity, the Span­ish had ex­plored and oc­cu­pied parts of western North Amer­ica for over a cen­tury be­fore ei­ther the English or French ar­rived to oc­cupy any ter­ri­tory east of it. Amer­i­cans who mi­grated across the Mis­sis­sippi en­coun­tered not only nu­mer­ous In­dian tribes---some of whom were re­cent im­mi­grants to that area them­selves---but also Span­ish Mex­i­cans who styled them­selves Te­janos (in ter­ri­tory that would later be­come Texas, Ari­zona or New Mex­ico) or Cal­i­fornios (in Baja and Alta Cal­i­for­nia). Un­til the con­clu­sion of the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War in 1848, most of the land that now com­prises Cal­i­for­nia and the south­west re­gion of the United States be­longed to Spain and was gov­erned from Mex­ico City. Thus be­fore we can go any fur­ther in trac­ing the his­tory of the Quar­ter Horse, we must take a look at the horse­mounted his­tory of Span­ish con­quest and col­o­niza­tion in Old Mex­ico.


Her­nan Cortés, by pro­fes­sion a lawyer---a sly and am­bi­tious man who could look any­one straight in the eye and lie to him---set out from Cuba to the con­quest of Mex­ico in Fe­bru­ary 1519 with 11 ships, 608 Span­ish sol­diers and sailors, 10 African slaves and 16 horses. They landed at the bay of Cozumél, an is­land off the coast of the Yu­catán Penin­sula. There they pushed their horses over­board and swam ashore with them. Over and over again, horses would prove to be the Spaniards’ most effective weapon, a ral­ly­ing point both sym­bolic and ac­tual. Of the 16 mounts which came with Cortés’ ar­mada, a de­tailed and fas­ci­nat­ing de­scrip­tion has

been pro­vided by eye­wit­ness Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Cortés’ cavalry cap­tains, in his His­to­ria Ver­dadera de la Con­quista de la Nueva Es­paña (the Span­ish called Mex­ico “New Spain”). “I wish to place here as a memo­rial,” said the sol­dier-his­to­rian, “a list of all the stal­lions and mares that sailed, for af­ter God … we owed the vic­tory to our horses.”

Diaz goes on to de­scribe in de­tail the col­ors and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the “first six­teen.” He also records how and where most of the horses fell. The ma­jor­ity died in bat­tle, their bod­ies chopped up by the na­tives so that parts could be sent to vil­lages far and wide to prove that the power of horse and rider was not su­per­nat­u­ral and could be over­come. It did not take long for the Aztecs to re­al­ize that the in­vad­ing “cen­taurs”---fe­ro­cious mon­sters or su­per­nat­u­ral war­riors---that they saw charg­ing up the beach were re­ally men on horse­back, and that the horses were only an­i­mals just as vul­ner­a­ble as their own dogs. They soon learned to fo­cus their at­tacks on them.

There is no space here to record the many bat­tles that pre­cip­i­tated the even­tual over­throw of the Aztec rul­ing elite and the cap­ture of Mex­ico City by Cortés’ forces, but only one year later, thanks to al­most con­tin­u­ous fight­ing, only two of the 16 horses that orig­i­nally came to Mex­ico re­mained, and even they came to their end within the next year. None of the orig­i­nal 16 thus be­came part of the founder pop­u­la­tion of Mex­i­can horses.

In 1520 Cortés ap­pealed for re­in­force­ments, send­ing four ships back to His­pan­iola, which re­turned loaded with 40 horses. Still other ships ar­rived so that by 1521 Cortés had 86 mounts at his dis­posal. In 1523, he cap­tured a fleet be­long­ing to his ri­val Fran­cisco de Garáy and gar­nered his en­tire troop of 144 Ja­maican-breds. In that year for the first time, im­por­ta­tion be­gan to be sig­nif­i­cantly aug­mented by breed­ing. Less than a decade later, there were so many horses in the coun­try­side around Mex­ico City that the Royal Au­di­ence ruled that res­i­dents who had two horses could sell one, al­though al­ways stip­u­lat­ing that it could not be to hos­tile tribes­men and it could not be a mare. As a re­sult, the Chichimecs of Mi­choacán be­came the first Mex­i­can tribe of record to use horses---as pack an­i­mals.


By the 1540s, Mex­ico had be­come a land of good horses, and Mex­i­can In­di­ans of many tribes had learned to ride, hunt and fight from horse­back. Mex­i­can gover­nor Luís de Ve­lasco gave horses to tribal lead­ers who fought as al­lies of the Spaniards against tribes still re­sist­ing takeover. “All the chiefs,” recorded Bernal Diaz, “have horses and they are rich; their horses wear trap­pings with good sad­dles … and in some cities, they even ‘play the cane game’ [sim­i­lar to a rough ver­sion of ‘cap­ture the flag’] and run bulls or run at the rings … and many of them are horse­men [ca­pa­ble of break­ing and train­ing young­stock and mak­ing a fin­ished horse], and those chiefs are all the more likely to have horses and also some herds of mares and mules.”

By the 1540s Mex­ico had en­tered the era of the en­comienda, in which na­tives who had sur­vived the wars and the plagues of small­pox that fol­lowed were en­slaved to Span­ish over­lords of­fi­cially con­cerned with their spir­i­tual well­be­ing but ac­tu­ally ea­ger to squeeze the last ounce of work out of each and ev­ery one of them. Thus it is not surprising

that many na­tive Mex­i­cans leaped at the chance to be­come va­que­ros---the Span­ish word for cow­boys---whose life of roam­ing the open range pro­vided at least a sem­blance of free­dom and dig­nity. Con­tact be­tween va­que­ros in the em­ploy of Span­ish over­lords and their free-liv­ing rel­a­tives rapidly spread horse­man­ship knowl­edge among na­tive tribes. Along with the herds of Mex­i­can horses ex­panded even greater herds of Mex­i­can cat­tle. Be­fore Cortés’ death, all the land within 500 miles of Mex­ico City had been di­vided up, hi­dal­gos tak­ing con­trol of large tracts and stock­ing them with cat­tle, horses and na­tive and African slaves (the Span­ish word “hi­dalgo” is a com­pound of hijo and al­guién and means “the son of a Some­body,” i.e., an im­por­tant per­son). Out of cen­tral Mex­ico, in a great wave spread­ing ever north­ward, came “wild” cat­tle and “wild” horses, which quickly pop­u­lated Texas and the Amer­i­can south­west. Their name, “Mus­tang,” comes from mesteño, the Span­ish word for “un­branded.”

Through­out the 16th and 17th cen­turies, the Span­ish con­tin­ued to push north­ward from Mex­ico. In 1540, the dash­ing Fran­cisco Vásquez de Coron­ado, then only 28 years old, re­ceived King Charles V’s com­mis­sion for Cíbola (roughly, the area that is now the Amer­i­can South­west). The main im­pe­tus for this ex­pe­di­tion, as for many oth­ers in the New World, was a quest for gold; tales had been cir­cu­lat­ing of the glit­ter­ing city of El Do­rado ly­ing some­where in the un­ex­plored north. Ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Herbert Bolton, Coron­ado’s send­off from Mex­ico “was

the most bril­liant re­view yet held in New Spain. Most of the cava­liers were astride the best horses from the stock farms, and had equipped them with col­ored blan­kets trail­ing al­most to the ground, be­sides leather ar­mor and sil­ver-mounted har­nesses. Their own mail was pol­ished like wo­ven sil­ver, and the tips of their lances, held erect, flick­ered in the sun like sparks of fire … at royal ex­pense the ex­pe­di­tion was equipped with pack-mules, can­non, and a thou­sand horses. For food on the way and to stock the new coun­try there were droves of cat­tle and sheep, goats, and swine. Lead­ing all this splen­dor, and dulling it by his own brighter glory, rode Coron­ado in golden ar­mor.”

To the al­most in­fi­nite dis­ap­point­ment of the young com­man­der, his ar­rival sev­eral months later at the Zuni pue­b­los in Ari­zona re­vealed to him that the “seven cities of Cíbola” were built of adobe, not gold, and filled with agri­cul­tur­al­ists, not min­ers. The Zu­nis found the Spaniards to be very bad guests who were not above plun­der, tor­ture, mur­der and rape. Des­per­ate to lure the Spaniards away from the pue­b­los, tribal el­ders se­cretly en­listed the aid of one of their own slaves---a Plains In­dian who had been born in what is now Kansas. This man, Xabe, whom the Spaniards called “The Turk,” re­galed Coron­ado with tales of an­other city of gold---Quivira.

At this junc­ture, Coron­ado was just as ea­ger to be gone as the Zu­nis were to have him go, so in April of 1541 Coron­ado set out with re­newed am­bi­tion to cross the buf­falo plains. He forded the Pe­cos and en­coun­tered the Co­manche, who told him that Quivira lay far­ther north and east. A month later, Coron­ado crossed the Arkansas River into Kansas. At Great Bend he found a large en­camp­ment of Wi­chi­tas,

but there was not an ounce of pre­cious metal among them. In a last des­per­ate re­con­noi­ter, Coron­ado then sent out par­ties of two and three who went south­west to El Paso, east­ward as far as present-day Kansas City, and may also have ex­plored north­ward as far as the up­per Mis­souri.

At all times dur­ing Coron­ado’s long but fu­tile quest his horses proved to be a prime ne­ces­sity, al­ways pick­eted near the wary sol­diers’ bil­let, never per­mit­ted to stray. Ex­cept for those who died from bat­tle in­juries or ex­haus­tion, all were in con­tin­u­ous ser­vice. “None of this,” his­to­rian Án­gel Cabr­era notes, “ex­cludes the pos­si­bil­ity that one horse could have strayed, or could have been aban­doned be­cause of sick­ness, in­jury or lame­ness; but it is not likely that an an­i­mal in this con­di­tion could sur­vive in a coun­try where wolves, bears, and cougars abounded and where the na­tive was a con­sum­mate hunter---not to men­tion the fact that in or­der to give rise to de­scen­dants, a stal­lion and a mare, or a mare and her colt foal, would have to have been lost at pre­cisely the same time---and both sur­vive.” His­to­rian Fran­cis Haines has like­wise noted that

if a num­ber of horses had got­ten loose from the Coron­ado ex­pe­di­tion suf­fi­cient to found Mus­tang herds, it is strange that the fact was never men­tioned by Span­ish chron­i­clers. On the contrary, when 40 years af­ter Coron­ado’s re­treat An­to­nio Espejo trekked north­ward to ex­plore New Mex­ico, he ob­served that the Plains tribes had only as much knowl­edge of horses as hearsay could

sup­ply, for they had never seen one.

Coron­ado’s horses are thus not the founder pop­u­la­tion of the Amer­i­can Mus­tang. Nei­ther do Mus­tangs descend from horses aban­doned by the ex­pe­di­tions of Pán­filo de Narvãez or Cabeza de Vaca (1528-1537), nor from those aban­doned by Her­nando de Soto or Luís de Moscoso (1539-1543). Rather, the be­gin­ning of Mus­tang herds in what is now the United States dates to the col­o­niza­tion of Santa Fe led by Juan de Oñate in 1598. Oñate ini­tially brought 25 stal­lions, 55 mares and some foals north­ward; later royal grants pro­vided him with 7,000 head of cat­tle and 800 horses. Un­like Coron­ado’s very care­fully guarded mounts, Oñate’s ex­pe­di­tion lost many horses ei­ther be­cause of the fence­less herd­ing typ­i­cal of the Span­ish style of stock-keep­ing or be­cause they traded horses to tribes­men for food, women or other goods. In 1600 Oñate rode north­ward from Santa Fe on his own quest for Quivira, and on this ex­pe­di­tion his men care­lessly lost dozens of horses in the buf­falo grass.

The re­sult of this mul­ti­ple “seed­ing” of the Plains was a horse pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion of un­prece­dented pro­por­tions. With the heart­land of the con­ti­nent be­fore them, the Mus­tangs bur­geoned to fill a range ex­tend­ing from New Mex­ico and Texas to the Mis­sis­sippi in the east and the Rocky Moun­tains in the west. Ul­ti­mately the wave reached north­ward far into Canada. The grass re­mem­bered them; even though their hoof­beats had been ab­sent from the Plains for 10,000 years, the species Equus ca­bal­lus had once been an im­por­tant and indige­nous part of the North Amer­i­can fauna, and the species re-oc­cu­pied its eco­log­i­cal niche as if it had never been ab­sent.

The last Mus­tang ex­pan­sion brought them into Alta Cal­i­for­nia, a coun­try that colonists from Mex­ico ini­tially found dif­fi­cult to reach ei­ther by sea or by land. Nu­mer­ous early ex­pe­di­tions by sea were wrecked be­cause of the sea­sonal storms that make Cal­i­for­nia beaches fa­mous for high surf, and over­land ex­pe­di­tions suf­fered be­cause of hos­tile na­tives, harsh con­di­tions and lack of wa­ter­holes.

Fi­nally, in 1687, Fray Eusébio Fran­cisco Kino es­tab­lished cat­tle rais­ing among the Pi­mas and Yu­mas in the Gila River re­gion of Ari­zona. Thanks to Fa­ther Kino who pointed the way, from Ari­zona the Span­ish were fi­nally able to pen­e­trate across moun­tain and desert to Cal­i­for­nia. An ex­pe­di­tion led by Cap­tain Gas­par de Por­tolá, ac­com­pa­nied by Friar Junípero Serra, reached the San Diego area in 1769 and Mis­sion San Diego be­came the first horse and cat­tle-rais­ing cen­ter in Alta Cal­i­for­nia.

By 1823 a chain of mis­sions had been founded as far north as San Fran­cisco and Sonoma, each of which trained In­dian converts to be­come va­que­ros. Mis­sions were gen­er­ally well man­aged with min­i­mal es­capes of live­stock, but af­ter sec­u­lar­iza­tion, which be­gan in 1826, no one re­mained to over­see the live­stock, and the Mus­tang pop­u­la­tion in Cal­i­for­nia ex­panded un­til there were great herds roam­ing the hilly coun­try of the Coast Range as far north as Mon­terey and also in the cool, dry up­lands north of the Sacra­mento River.


In 1821, Louisiana res­i­dent Moses Austin re­ceived from the Span­ish Crown the ti­tle of Em­pre­sario to the ter­ri­tory of Té­jas. Em­pre­sario means the same in Span­ish as in English: a con­duc­tor or leader---in this case, a ti­tle granted to Amer­i­cans will­ing to lead a wagon train of set­tlers and their live­stock to Té­jas in or­der to found a colony. The Span­ish govern­ment en­cour­aged for­eign im­mi­gra­tion be­cause for decades hos­tile Co­manches and other tribes­men had beaten back al­most all at­tempts to col­o­nize Té­jas from Mex­ico. Moses Austin died be­fore he could carry out his plan of col­o­niza­tion; the project was then en­thu­si­as­ti­cally taken up by his son Stephen. How­ever, the War of Mex­i­can In­de­pen­dence blocked his ef­forts un­til 1825, when Austin per­suaded the govern­ment of new­lyin­de­pen­dent Mex­ico to rec­og­nize his fa­ther’s ti­tle and grant of land and to wel­come an ini­tial group of 300 set­tlers to the area near present-day Hous­ton.

Austin’s con­tem­po­rary, Sam Hous­ton, mi­grated to Té­jas not as a colonist but be­cause he was in trou­ble with the law. In 1822 he had been elected to the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the State of Ten­nessee. He be­came gover­nor in 1827. On a trip to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 1830, he be­came in­volved in a phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion with a po­lit­i­cal en­emy, Con­gress­man Wil­liam Stan­bery of Ohio, nearly beat­ing the man to death with a hick­ory cane. In 1832 he was brought to trial, con­victed and fined, but fled to Té­jas. There he im­me­di­ately be­came in­volved in pol­i­tics and, as the Texas Rev­o­lu­tion be­gan to heat up, in 1835 was elected Ma­jor Gen­eral of the Texas Army.

In 1836 Hous­ton was se­lected as Com­man­der in Chief at the Con­ven­tion to De­clare Texas In­de­pen­dence, and he signed the Texas Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence on March 2nd of that year, his 43rd birth­day. Four days later, af­ter a 13-day siege, Mex­i­can troops slaugh­tered Jim Bowie and other Texas in­de­pen­dents at the Alamo in San An­to­nio, and in the same week they sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted a troop of 400

oth­ers who had sur­ren­dered. Hous­ton’s ill-equipped and ill-supplied mili­tia was like­wise ini­tially forced to re­treat be­fore the su­pe­rior forces of Mex­i­can Gen­eral An­to­nio López de Santa Anna, but when re­in­force­ments ar­rived, Hous­ton turned the ta­bles on Santa Anna and in a sur­prise at­tack de­feated the Mex­i­can army on April 21. The Treaty of Ve­lasco, signed May 14, 1836, es­tab­lished Texas as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

Elected first Pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­lic of Texas, Hous­ton is re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing the Sir Archy son Cop­per­bot­tom (1828) across the Mis­sis­sippi along with much other qual­ity live­stock. Austin like­wise en­cour­aged Amer­i­can im­mi­grants to bring good live­stock. It was not long be­fore thou­sands of peo­ple be­gan to ar­rive with horses, cat­tle and slaves, for Eastern Texas of­fered rich bot­tom­lands suitable for cot­ton plan­ta­tions, while the more up­land ter­rains of the cen­tral and western parts of the state were ide­ally suited for cat­tle ranch­ing. In 1845, Texas was an­nexed by the United States, be­com­ing the 28th state.

The foun­da­tional Quar­ter Horses Steel Dust and Shiloh were both born within one year of Texas state­hood--Steel Dust in Ken­tucky and Shiloh in Ten­nessee---but they had hardly been weaned be­fore be­ing pur­chased and taken to the Dal­las area. It was dur­ing the early phase of Texas state­hood, in the late spring of 1861, that Mis­souri Quar­ter Run­ning Horse breeder Lock Al­sup rode the mare Dolly Coker on a fate­ful busi­ness trip to Dal­las, from which came the Cold Deck foun­da­tional Quar­ter Horse blood­line (see “The Stuff of Leg­end,” EQUUS 491).

Be­sides the Al­sups there are very few other breed­ers who were specif­i­cally in­volved with Quar­ter Run­ning Horses in Texas at this early date: Al­fred Bailes (Bailes Brown Dick and Fly­ing Dutch­man), Frank Lilly (the brood­mare Paisana), Wil­liam “Billy” Fleming (who owned Old Billy and who bred many other “Billys,” in­clud­ing An­thony, Billy Di­brell, Alex Gard­ner, Lit­tle John Moore, and McCoy’s Billy), Jones Greene and Mid­dle­ton Perry (Steel Dust) and Jack Batch­ler (Shiloh).

All of these men were ranch­ers as well as race­horse hob­by­ists, but there were many other set­tlers not in­volved in rac­ing who needed tough horses who could han­dle the arid con­di­tions, hard soils and long miles of “ridin’ fence” that ranch­ing in Texas en­tails. The Allen Ranch, part of Stephen Austin’s orig­i­nal colony, was founded in 1844 and was fol­lowed by the es­tab­lish­ment in dif­fer­ent parts of Texas of the Paisano, SMS, Cíbolo Creek, Wag­goner and Co­tulla Ranches---all be­fore Cold Deck was foaled. These big ranches, each com­pris­ing thou­sands of acres, were them­selves some­what ex­cep­tional be­cause most Texas fam­i­lies worked much more mod­est hold­ings. Nonethe­less even the smaller out­fits were rais­ing cat­tle, and all em­ployed cow­boys. Work­ing ranches typ­i­cally main­tained a string or re­muda of “usin’ horses” that the cow­boys rode while per­form­ing their everyday work.

Ranch horses of this era were not Quar­ter Run­ning Horses; they were not spe­cially bred for rac­ing, and most car­ried a high per­cent­age of Span­ish blood, which shows in their con­for­ma­tion. Austin’s peo­ple and other Tex­ans quickly came to rec­og­nize the value of the Mex­i­can-bred and Mus­tang-re­lated horses of Span­ish ex­trac­tion that they ob­served Mex­i­can and Te­jano va­que­ros us­ing. Vet­eri­nary ge­neti­cist Phil Spo­nen­berg, DVM, PhD, has de­voted a life­time to pro­fil­ing, doc­u­ment­ing and ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic about the Colo­nial Span­ish Horse, the lan­drace to which the horses of the Con­quest---of Old Mex­ico, of Santa Fe, and of all mod­ern Mus­tang herds---be­long.

There were many Mus­tang-hun­ters through­out Mex­i­can Té­jas and the South­west, and the va­quero---or the In­dian brave---who had the skill to cap­ture and tame them was held in high es­teem. White set­tlers from Austin’s time on­ward took Colo­nial Span­ish horses and crossed them with those that they had brought from East of the Mis­sis­sippi, and in this way cre­ated a pur­ple zone of mix­ture along the pi­o­neer road con­nect­ing the Hous­ton area east­ward to Natchez, Mis­sis­sippi.

Note that a much larger Plains pur­ple zone had ex­isted north and west of St. Louis from at least 1790; this was the re­sult of Amer­i­can and FrenchCana­dian ex­plor­ers and pi­o­neers push­ing west­ward across Canada and up the Mis­souri River to the Columbia. Their Eastern-bred horses--- Old Cana­di­ans and Amer­i­can-breds of both the Mor­gan and the Moun­tain Horse lan­draces---crossed with Mus­tangs to pro­duce the Plains Cayuse, a mixed type larger and heav­ier than Span­ish horses, but tougher and hardier than the Eastern-breds.


By 1870, Amer­i­can emi­gra­tion across the Mis­sis­sippi was in full swing. The last spike had been driven in 1869 at Promon­tory Sum­mit, Utah, link­ing the Union Pa­cific and Cen­tral Pa­cific grades to cre­ate the first transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road in North Amer­ica. Al­ready by the mid1840s cat­tle were be­ing driven north­ward along the Shawnee Trail from San An­to­nio, Hous­ton and Fort Worth. Be­tween 1865 and 1890, cow­boys took droves of “do­gies” north­ward to rail­way stops in towns like Dodge City, Ellsworth and Abi­lene, where the cat­tle were loaded into box­cars and shipped to slaugh­ter­houses in Kansas City, St. Louis or Chicago.

Big Texas ranches, in­clud­ing the Spade, the Pitch­fork, the XIT, the Tay­lorSteven­son, the Mata­dor, the Fri­jole and the enor­mous King Ranch were founded in this era. They pro­duced thou­sands of head of longhorns as well as Here­fords and Shorthorns for con­sump­tion in the East.

The horses who helped ranch own­ers and cow­boys to do the work of herd­ing, brand­ing, driv­ing and

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