LAWRENCE, Kan. - It was mistakenly billed as a "re-enactment" to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Instead spectators at the Douglas County Fairgrounds were treated to a Celebration of the Horse.
The celebration focused on the role the horse has played throughout history and was so well received, local residents say they hope it will become an annual event.
"We didn't want to redo the battle," said Anna Ancil, administrative services manager at the Natural History museum at the University of Kansas. "So we decided to celebrate the horse. Horses were and are a part of life of Native Americans as well as the people who went West.
"What got this started was that we knew the 125th commemoration of the battle was coming up," Ancil said. "We thought it would be good, because the Natural History Museum has Comanche, to do something that would benefit Comanche and the museum ... Then we thought it would be (good) to involve Native Americans, we wanted to give both sides. We talked to Benny Smith out at Haskell (Indian Nations University) and it just sort of bloomed."
It bloomed in a variety of ways including a series of commemorative model horses created by Peter Stone to mark the event and demonstration of traditional American Indian methods of gentling problem horses.
Stone, artist and creative genius behind the model horses, unveiled a replica of the horse it is believed Crazy Horse rode in the Battle of the Little Bighorn June 25, 1876.
His search for an accurate model started when Benny Smith, Cherokee, and Stone were discussing what kind of horse Crazy Horse may have ridden. A picture of a winter count dated shortly after the battle and created by a warrior who rode with Crazy Horse spurred the effort.
Stone and Smith stayed in contact and several models were made and painted until both were satisfied the model horse was as close to authentic as possible.
"There are four horses involved in our Stone Horses series commemorating the Battle of the Little Bighorn," Stone said. "Of course our 'survivor' horse is here in Lawrence and is Comanche. We created a replica of Comanche.
"We decided that we needed equal time to create a Native American horse. We did several samples to create a horse that we thought would look like Chief Crazy Horse's horse. We didn't know exactly what kind of horse he rode. He had a whole band of horses. He may have switched horses in the middle of the battle for all we know. So we had to do a fictional horse."
Throughout the project Smith was a stern taskmaster, Stone said, as he pointed out a horse that didn't make it. "This was one of the horses that Benny didn't believe was appropriate. The horses the Sioux rode at that time were primarily gruellas and duns. There weren't that many paint variety horses that many people imagine."
Smith concurred. "The Nakota horses and their dispositions and their style, they were really into the smokes and roans and shades of those colors."
Stone said his love for horses began when he was a little boy and went to Saturday matinees with his father. "We used to see Gene Autry and Bob Steele and all the cowboy stuff. I like this lifestyle."
When he was 7, Stone and his family spent the summer at a ranch in Montana and he was hooked.
"From that time on I decided I wanted to be a cowboy and I wanted to be in the West," Stone said. "I wanted to work with horses. I encouraged my dad (who) owned a company in Chicago called Breyer Molding to make a horse."
The first model was made in 1905 and Stone worked with the company from 1965 until three years later when the company wanted to "get out of the horses." Then he took over the model horse line. It eventually was sold, but Stone stayed with the new owners until three years ago.
After growing up and working with model horses, he wasn't ready to hang it up and Peter Stone Model Horses was born.
"I'm an old timer in this business. Thirty six years!"
And, his interest in horses isn't confined to model horses. He and his family raise appaloosas, bred from the original Nez Perce ancestors.
"Our presence here was stimulated by our relationship with Benny," Stone said.
The collector series Stone brought was part of a fund-raising effort. They were at auction to raise money to preserve the Comanche display at the University of Kansas and for Haskell's Emergency Fund for Students.
As the model horse show wound down, Cherokee horseman Benny Smith demonstrated traditional Native American methods.
He took two, unfamiliar problem horses and explained each step to the large crowd as he worked on "making a horse resourceful" rather than "training or breaking" in a session bonding horse and human in the round pen.
Even with the distractions from loudspeakers and moving crowds, Smith's session was successful. Within minutes of contact, both animals had responded and allowed themselves to be handled quietly, showing trust in Smith and his methods.
As Anna Ancil recounted the day's events, she said she was satisfied with the outcome. "I think it has been pretty successful. I'm very happy with it.
"The model horses are almost as expensive as my real," she added. "It could be addictive, the only thing that they don't have is the feed bills!"