Yes world, there were horses in Native culture before the settlers came

Lyla June Johnston

Yvette Running Horse Collin’s recent dissertation, historical documents and oral histories present a compelling new story of the horse in the Americas

Yvette Running Horse Collin’s recent dissertation may have rewritten every natural history book on the shelf. A Lakota/Nakota/Cheyenne scholar, Collin worked within the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Indigenous Studies program to synthesize fossil evidence, historical documents and oral history to present a compelling new story of the horse in the Americas.

The horse was here well before the settlers.

“We have calmly known we've always had the horse, way before the settlers came. The Spanish never came through our area, so there's no way they could have introduced them to us," reads one quote from a Blackfoot (Nitsitapi) study participant in Collin’s doctoral study.

Columbus didn't introduce them

The original theory accepted by the Western World was that there were no horses in the Americas prior to Columbus’ arrival in 1492. The Western World concluded that all horses of Native American peoples were, therefore, descendants of horses brought from overseas. 

This theory was forced to change, however, after paleontology pioneer Joseph Leidy discovered horse skeletons embedded in American soil in the 1830s. They were dated to be the oldest of any found in the world. According to Collin’s dissertation, the American scientific community was outraged and questioned his findings. Ultimately, they were forced to accept the evidence he provided. 

Clay horse figure pre-Columbian AD 1500 (Columbus Museum)
Image from "The Relationship Between the Indigenous People of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”, Yvette Running Horse Collins PhD Dissertation at University of Alaska, Fairbanks

At this point, the narrative shifted to say that horses originated in the Americas, but were later completely extinguished due to the last Ice Age period (roughly 13,000 to 11,000 years ago). Thus, the Spanish were still believed at that time to have “reintroduced” the horse to the Americas in the late 1400s.

 Support Indian Country Today by becoming a member. Click here. 

Collins' work disproves Spanish introduction of the horse to Native people

But on account of Collin’s work, the theory is being beckoned to change once again to say that Native Americans always had a sustained relationship with the horse. In the dissertation, Collin compiles a list of fossil and DNA evidence which dates after this supposed “extinction” period.

Split-twig figure from Stanton's cave (Arizona Museum)
Image from "The Relationship Between the Indigenous People of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”, Yvette Running Horse Collins PhD Dissertation at University of Alaska, Fairbanks

“The wonderful thing is that we now have Western technology that can provide very accurate dates,” said Collin in a recent interview. “Many studies show that these horses were present after the very same Ice Age that supposedly wiped out them all out. So, the most compelling data to support the Native narrative is actually from a lot of the western scientific measurements that are coming out.”

Collin didn’t stop there, however. She also drew from recorded observations in the diaries and maps created by explorers such as Sir Francis Drake, Sebastian Cabot, and other early Spanish conquistadors. Collin points to the first recorded sighting of horses with Native Peoples in the Carolinas:

Horseman petroglyph at Alto de Pitis, Peru
Image from "The Relationship Between the Indigenous People of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”, Yvette Running Horse Collins PhD Dissertation at University of Alaska, Fairbanks

“Columbus brought the first Spanish horse to the Caribbean in 1493,” remarks Collin. “The first documented arrival of horses on the mainland, near what we now call Mexico City, was in 1519. The Spanish took meticulous records of every mare and stallion. The first recorded sighting of Native people with horses, however, was in 1521 and that was in the Carolinas. No Spanish horses were recorded as ‘missing’ during this period. There’s no way Spanish horses could have made it through the dense forest and swampland to the Carolinas and repopulated in just two years.”

Representation of a horse in a Mayan temple
Image from "The Relationship Between the Indigenous People of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”, Yvette Running Horse Collins PhD Dissertation at University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Collin also drew from interviews with American Indian study participants from seven different Nations. Every indigenous community that was interviewed reported having horses prior to European arrival, and each community had a traditional creation story explaining the sacred place of the horse within their societies.

“I didn't expect that,” says Collin. “If you lay out a map, these Nations are all over the place. These communities do not speak the same language, share the same culture or the same geographical areas. Yet, their oral histories were all completely aligned. They each shared when the horse was gifted to them by the Creator, that the acquisition was spiritual in nature, and that they did not receive the horse from the Europeans.”

Horse history was purposely distorted

The dissertation posits that the discrepancy between the Spanish “reintroduction” theory and the story reflected by current evidence has to do with a cultural bias that is still present within Western academia. Collin theorizes that because horses were a symbol of status and civilization in Spain during that time, and because conquerors needed to illustrate the Native people as savage and uncivilized to justify their conquest to the Queen of Spain, the truth about the relationship between Native peoples and the horse was purposefully distorted.

“When Columbus came, the Spanish had just finished an 800-year war with Muslims,” Collin cited. “Queen Isabella gathered every horse in the vicinity and those horses became part of her army. With that horse power, she was able to conquer the Muslims. So, the horse was incredibly valuable. You'll find paintings of her on these beautiful palominos. The horse was very much connected with nobility, power, and the concept of ‘civilization’ for these people.”

For this reason, she posits in through an “intercultural translation” lens that the history of the relationship between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and their horses was covered up and rewritten.

Sacred Way Sanctuary Founder, Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin.
Photo by: Mary Katherine Morris

In a recent interview, Collin gave greater insight into the political and cultural nature of science. In April 2017, mastodon bones with designs carved by human hands were dated in San Diego showing human presence in the area as long as 130,000 years ago. This scientific dating is drastically different than the dates previously given by Western academia regarding how long Indigenous Peoples have existed in the Americas. Such dates only went as far back as 10,000 to 15,000 years at most, explained Collin. Again, many Western scientists expressed initial disbelief and even outrage with this new evidence. Collin finds a parallel between the reaction to these new Western findings and that of the fossil evidence showing horses were always in the Americas.

“What they are trying to do is shorten the length of time that we were here to make us not as critical to this place. They say, ‘Native people came over the land bridge.’ Why? Why are they making us as having been from somewhere else? Why couldn’t we have been here? That’s number one. Number two is that Europeans are still credited for bringing the horses and introducing them to Native people. What does that mean? They are telling us over and over again that anything that they consider to be of value in our cultures is still ‘derivative’ of theirs.”

 Support Indian Country Today by becoming a member. Click here. 

The Sacred Way Sanctuary

Collin currently takes care of over 100 horses she claims to be descendants of the ancient horse of the Americas. Some have manes that grow down to the ground. Some have stripes on their legs. Some have spots all over. Some are much smaller than most horses. Some have curly hair. 

“Storm” is from South Dakota. He has stripped legs, a dorsal stripe, and long hair.
Photo by: Jacquelyn Córdova
Curly-line Lakota horse at Sacred Way Sanctuary.
Curly-line Lakota horse at Sacred Way Sanctuary.Photo by: Jacquelyn Córdova

Her hope is to find more caretakers for these horses and create a movement of Indigenous horse culture revitalization. Collin says, according to her ancestor’s ways, she refuses to sell her horses but gifts them to people who are interested in them for ceremonial or healing purposes and are willing to care for them according to her cultural traditions.

Spotted Appaloosa Curly-line foal and her Mother at Sacred Way Sanctuary.
Spotted Appaloosa Curly-line foal and her Mother at Sacred Way Sanctuary. Photo by: Mary Katherine Morris

Collin seeks to inspire more research to illuminate the truth behind what the government has labeled as “feral” so that wild horses can be protected by the Indigenous Species Act. Currently, they are being run down and mass slaughtered if they are in the way of certain commercial projects.

“You have whole horse populations that are so run ragged, so stressed out by the helicopters, and the constant running from the government,” states Collin. “Then if you take a closer look, this land that the horses are on is the same land from which corporations are trying to extract resources or water. So, they’re just moving them around, taking away their homeland and their ability to have any habitat that’s at all livable. Nobody can be healthy when you run them that hard and make no place for them. They’re going to get sick, right?”

Ultimately, Collin’s dissertation is a groundbreaking piece of comprehensive research, employing a blend of both Western and Indigenous research methodologies, that will lay a firm foundation for further research.

Collin’s horse programs, ways to visit her museum on the Indigenous horse and the dissertation itself can be found at her website: www.SacredWaySanctuary.org.

 Support Indian Country Today by becoming a member. Click here. 

Comments (54)
No. 1-29
CRoeBravo
CRoeBravo

This is groundbreaking research bringing to light what we've know for a long time -- that the horse is native to North America -- and what we've long gathered, though without enough definitive proof -- that the horse never left North America. The myth of the horse being an introduced species not only disfavors indigenous cultures as to their relationship with this treasured animal. It also devalues wild horses, which the BLM and Forest Service treat as "overpopulating" nuisances, while large-scale ranchers, mining, herbivore hunting and other commercial interests lobby to drive them off their lawfully designated public lands. Along with our mustangs and burros and other allies, we salute you Yvette Running Horse Collins for this luminous work.

renegademax
renegademax

Never fails to amaze me that the Caucasian narrative always corrupts the facts to suit its own agenda. And then along came Yvette Running Horse Collin with her science based facts that are indisputable; bravo.

caniscandida
caniscandida

It doesn't seem the Euro-Americans need any monkeying-around with the natural science of horses in North America to add to their reasons, such as they are, for keeping Native Americans in submission. So the paranoia in that regard is misplaced. There are plenty of better causes to complain about, regarding what Europeans have done to Native Americans.

One bit of evidence that suggests Native Americans have made the acquaintance of horses only relatively recently is that the names they use for "horse" tend to be compounds, including names that belonged to other animals. E.g. Lakota "sunka-wakan," meaning something like "dog of supreme power."

Lisacanada
Lisacanada

This is exciting and wonderful. I love the horses that you have. What should we call those animals that run loose - wild horses or feral horses?

Bazarj
Bazarj

This article said nothing. I believe there may be hard evidence of horses existing in north America, but it was not put forth here. As far back as 130,000 years. Studies have shown. This is stuff you see on the side of a bottle of herbal supplements. Not evidence. Our ability to accurately date archaeological findings is excellent. 50 phone calls would have made this a story. This appears to have been researched on Google or wikipedia.

The Clovis People were here 50,000 years ago or so. No records of anyone before. As early as 130,000 years ago is an enormous cop out. If you can't say something concrete, say why, or better yet, don't say it at all. Consider this to be a job application.

Minexplorer
Minexplorer

Keep telling a lie long enough ........eventually everyone will believe it!

rocksand
rocksand

There are numerous issues with both the article and the thesis. The PhD dissertation does not provide scientific evidence that the cultures directly prior to Columbus colonization had access to horses. It provides a type of evidence, "oral tradition" upon which we can further investigate. However, this alone by itself is no better than other evidence (i.e. bible, book of mormon). There are many issues with the successful PhD candidate prefacing the actual science with claims of it being biased and weak, without ever providing concrete examples of where the current scientific literature has explicitly been manipulated. In a similar vein, the general weaknesses of oral tradition from very few and specific people being used to accurately describe the biodiversity of an area that existed hundreds of years ago is not discussed. Upholding or cheerleading one type of knowledge above the other ("western" science or traditional knowledge) is wrong either way. There are a great many archaeologist, ecologist and anthropologist interested in this same question. Demeaning their methodology and doing a really poor job at reviewing the scientific literature supporting or contradicting the narrative the author puts forward is a poor way to go about answering this question.

elfhellion
elfhellion

The debate about horses coming into the New World with the conquistadors is a big part of why the Bureau of Land Management tries to claim they have the right to round up our wild horses and pimp our their land to cattle ranchers - makes me sick! I am sending this to Las Vegas journalist George Knapp who has worked tirelessly to help save our wild horses and fight the evil, greedy BLM!

Crabcakes
Crabcakes

A docent at the Heard Museum told me, about 12-14 years ago that there were horses here before Europeans came. I had always thought they were brought by the Spaniards as well. I am glad to hear they were here all along. Those are beautiful horses in the photos!

leehester
leehester

In the Choctaw language horses are "Isoba" short from "Issi Holba" meaning deer-like. It sure seems as if I have heard tribal accounts of first encounters with horses and the sudden changes they wrought in some tribes. The Comanches broke off their normal lifestyle and alliances and became the "lords of the plains" after they got horses.

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

Four questions:
A) Were the horses native to North America even domesticable ???
[ Most of the subspecies of Equus are not domesticable and behave just like a wild animal. for example: Zebras will savage anyone dumb enough to try to domesticate them. ]
B) Why are we uniquely adapted to pull a Travois ???
[ Most Native Men of North America have very Broad Shoulders and a High Endurance, which suggests we were once our own pack animals. ]
C) If there were domesticable horses in the Americas, why was the Lama even domesticated as a pack animal ???
[ The trade between the Nations of the Americans was significant, and if horses could be domesticated, they would have quickly been adopted. [
D) Didn't the chaotic period at the end of last Ice Age wipe out most of the large animals of the Americans ???
[ Given how dumb horses are, how would they have been an exception ??? If horses had been at least as intelligent as Donkeys or Mules, then perhaps, but they aren't. ]

Susancrisp
Susancrisp

Hi. I am an equine facilitated therapy practitioner and a licensed therapist in Virgina. We would love to talk to you about having a member or members of your herd join ours in treating the 2 leggeds in our community!

Roxdextor
Roxdextor

New York Times: An Ancient Horse Is Unearthed in a Utah Backyard

“Paleontologists recently determined that a skeleton discovered during a landscaping project belonged to a horse from the Pleistocene Era.”

EZM
EZM

Although interesting, oral history, and theory are not evidence. There needs to be sound scientific evidence, such as sequencing the DNA of these horses, which should be routine and, archaeological evidence of some sort to confirm the presence of horses post ice age and pre-European. which also should be pretty straight forward. I have read many, many of these stories (or theories), and as much as I want to believe it, I have yet to see one single shred of credible evidence, peer reviewed and validated, by one single source. Not one.

Sandefur
Sandefur

Just another example of the decline in American scholarship. https://ahotcupofjoe.net/.../pseudoarchaeological-claims.../ . He doesn't cover this but I will. The San Diego mastodon bones involve a dubious claim that mastodon bones were smashed open by humans over 100,000 years ago. She made up the nonsense about "designs carved by humans".

Turtle2
Turtle2

There’s problems all throughput here # 1 she says “the Spanish never came to this area so how could they introduce horses to us” that misunderstands the history of the horse trade and how horses moved like guns from one tribe to another in trade and theft don’t forget ... Another point where she gives away that this is purely political not scientific is the denial of human migration no land bridge and the reason is whites don’t want us here for very long .. These are beliefs not science .. Explain to me how wooly mammoths ,mastodons ,bison , moose , bears , musk oxen , elk , caribou , even red squirrels, marten, beaver are all on both continents?? Circumpolar !! No land bridge so they swam?? This is what happens when you have no foundation in paleontology and geology etc .. This is not ground breaking it’s embarrassing..

WestrnHunterGatherer
WestrnHunterGatherer

"What they are trying to do is shorten the length of time that we were here to make us not as critical to this place. They say, ‘Native people came over the land bridge.’ Why? Why are they making us as having been from somewhere else? Why couldn’t we have been here?" History hurts sweetie, take one out of the Hindu's book and let the evidence persuade you away from your conflation of spirituality and history.

vlkea01
vlkea01

Indigenous horses were here, just as Indigenous peoples were here, along with indigenous dogs.

GabeMCisneros
GabeMCisneros

I have to admit that I was one of those persons in 2020 that assumed that horses were introduced by the Spanish to the Americas. Then came to discover that horses trace their origin as a species to the Americas, who then traveled across the Bering land bridge into Asia were they were domesticated and eventually taken to America. However, there does seam to be quite a bit of controversy as to why American horses went extinct 10-15,000 years ago when, coincidentally, people arrived. Nobody wants to make the obvious connection that they are tasty when cooked properly. Now this study makes the claim that the American horse did not go extinct. That in fact it was always the brilliant cohort of the Native American as described in oral history. Part of me wants to accept this study as true for the simple reason that it has a kind of cultural beauty. But part of me is skeptical exactly because of this cultural beauty. On the other hand, archeological finds, theories and proof have always been the stuff of controversy. It is impossible to say conclusively that nothing new will be discovered regarding the ancient past. Carbon dating, DNA mutation extrapolations and now sonar imaging in the jungles of Central America keep blowing our minds. So who is to say that some of the American horses never left? It seams that it wouldn't be difficult to find the preserved remains of a horse from a year pre 1492 that would prove this out more definitively. Especially if they did exist in an exalted ceremonial form. Similarly, wouldn't genetic testing of Collins American horses also indicate a uniquely American heritage?

larrygau
larrygau

Found this in thehistoryblog and please do some research. The mastodon carving is real and authenticated and worth millions so do not just poo poo this amazing lady...please

larrygau
larrygau

Also consider that even at 130,000 years, that is just a few seconds in Earth's timeline. And compared to the timeline of the universe and the scope and size of the universe, we are just a flash of a pixel

Howarthe
Howarthe

If there were horses in North America before Columbus, what role did they play in Native cultures? We’re they domesticated? We’re they tame? Were they ridden? Did they pull carts? Did they help indigenous people with their work? Were they hunted like bison for food?

BlackTears
BlackTears

It is a travesty what America has done to such great and proud people. Indian of the Americas have always had a rich tradition of culture and civilization. I am not surprised that western historians are still giving credit to a Spaniard that committed genocide on indigenous peoples of the carribean and Americas. They take their land now they want to re-write history. I am happy that the ancestors left evidence to refute these lies. Russell Means once said that the white man is the trickster...He lies and does not honor contracts. I always knew that horses were in the Americas long before Columbus and his invaders arrived.

Hezzi
Hezzi

You are probably wondering why this particular story is blowing up with so many references to religion, Joseph Smith, and the Mormons. The Book of Mormon, the book of faith used by various Mormon religions, references a group of Israelites that came to the Americas to become the ancestors of present-day native Americans. This book claims that horses existed in the Americas before Columbus. Critics of the book of Mormon point to this (along with numerous other issues) as evidence that the book is not a true history of native Americans. Whenever a story like this comes out, the Mormons and their critics rally around it. This is becoming a proxy battle about the larger truth claims of the Mormon churches.

So, sadly, this is just one more way the Mormons have made native history all about them.

emmajoe
emmajoe

The horses need their natural environment. This helps them grow more quickly and heathily. https://word-topdf.com

JasonJay
JasonJay

There is a significant error in this article. The 130,000-year-old mastodon bones found in San Diego did not have designs carved on them. Rather, they appear to have been crushed with rocks, perhaps by hominids.

deaine R.
deaine R.

As the USA has recently launched the 1776 Commission to Restore "Patriotic Education"... It is no wonder there are so many colonizers who refuse to even consider the fact that there is a precolonial history.

Reference their own science:

An ancient archaeological discovery on Triquet Island on B.C.'s Central Coast affirms the Heiltsuk Nation’s oral tales.


News

FEATURED
COMMUNITY