AMERICAN INDIANS HAD PLENTY OF DOGS, BUT SPANIARDS INTRODUCED HORSES TO CONTINENT
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
When the Spaniards first penetrated into the continent of North America the only domesticated animal found was the dog. Some western tribes assert that their ancestors had the horse long before the white man was seen, but it is more probable that the Indian pony long extensively used by the tribes on the plains is descended from the animals brought over by the Spaniards. When Cortez and DeSoto invaded the continent they found no horses, wild or domesticated. The Indians who had in South America domesticated the Llama, the alpaca and the dog, knew nothing of the horse and were astonished at the sight of the strange animals, which the strangers rode. The horses abandoned by DeSoto near the Texas border are believed to be the progenitors of all the wild horses of North America. These horses, running wild, flourished and increased greatly, showing how well the country was adapted to their needs.
The dog appears to have been common to all the Indian Tribes throughout America. The yelping of curs at night was a great annoyance to the white captives in Indian villages, and the loud and continuous barking of dogs sometimes prevented the white armies from surprising the Indians. In the Ohio villages the Indians used their dogs to assist them in hunting. Some tribes reared dogs and fattened for food. The Eskimo and other northern tribes used dogs for drawing sleds. All the Indian dogs, domesticated when the Spaniards first came, were probably descended from wolfish ancestors, and they retained something of the aspect and disposition of their wild progenitors.
Of all kinds of property belonging to the white men on the borders, horses were most likely to be stolen by the Indians. The theft of their horses greatly enraged the backwoodsmen against the Indian. Horses were taken from the white settlements of the Ohio in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky before the first fortified stations were begun on the north side of the river.
Wayne's treaty of peace with the Indians August 5, 1795, put an end to the victimizing of white men by Indians but horses continued to be stolen by them.
One account of life among the Indians is given by Col. James Smith's narrative of the remarkable occurrences during his four years captivity beginning in 1755. The Indian's horses, however, do not seem to have been numerous and while the hunters sometimes brought great quantities of meat and skins to the village on horseback, at other times the captive accompanied hunting parties on a distant hunt and after killing a number of deer and beavers they would return to the village heavy laden with skins and meat which, he says, they would carry on their backs, as they had no horse with them.
On one occasion Col. Smith and an Indian companion were encamped some distance from the village in the winter and they had a large amount of meat and skins to carry on their shoulders. They found three horses running wild and finding subsistence on the grass of a large treeless plain beneath the snow. They found it impossible to catch the horses. The Indians then proposed that they should run them down. Smith did not believe this could be done but the Indian said he had run down bear, deer, elk and buffalo and he believed that he could run down any animal except the wolf. The experiment was made and the two men began the chase at daylight on a cold day, the horses running in a circle of six or seven miles in circumference. The run was kept up all day, the Indian running all the time and Smith a part of the time. At dark the horses were found to run still with vigor and the task was abandoned.
David Zeisberger, the faithful Moravian missionary among the Indians, wrote in 1779 at his mission home on the Muskingum River in Ohio extensive notes on the life, manners and customs of the Indians. He makes little mention of their cattle and horses. He says: "Because the savages are accustomed to go about in the forest, which is their great delight, they do not care to keep cattle, for in that case they must remain at home to look after them and are prevented from going into the forest. Some have secured cattle, for they are fond of milk and butter. They have horses that roam about and are rarely used except when they wish to ride and it is too troublesome to break them to work." We read with some surprise that both cattle and horses were allowed to find their own food in winter. Zeisberger says: "The Indians make little provisions to feed their cattle in the winter, for as there is no deep snow and the weather is generally mild, cattle and particularly horses can forage for themselves, finding feed in the woods. In the bottoms grass never quite dies away but remains green and toward the end of March and the beginning of April grows again."
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