The History and Status of the Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Part 2

“The sight of wild horses streaming across the prairies made even the most hardened of professional mustangers regret putting an end to their liberty.” ~ Frank Dobie

This first section of Castle’s report (file posted above) starts to give the background on horses in America and also their roles within Native American tribes. There are images scattered throughout this report.  Castle references them as she goes through her research.  I will do my best to include those photos in each post.  They are all available to view in the full report located in our Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates Library section of our website:

It is worth noting that as Castle conducted her research, part of that included countless oral interviews, that have proven crucial to framing the story of the significance and importance of horses in North Dakota.  The story of the horse in North Dakota goes beyond the park boundaries of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You will see as we read through her report how rich the entire western part of the state is in equine history. 

Castle teamed up with Tom Tescher and Leo Kuntz who supported her as research assistants on this project.  At the time of her report, Tom Tescher had spent over 40 years literally “chasing” and documenting the horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  There is no question that without Tom, we would not have any genealogical records of the horses in the park.  Also at the time of her report, Leo and his brother Frank had spent over a decade researching the origins of the horses in the park.  The two brothers had just begun what would become their lifelong work of preserving this historical breed of horses.  Frank and Leo had almost 100 head of what would become “Nokota” horses when Castle’s research was complete.

Some notable parts of this section for me include:

Wolf Chief, a Hidatsa, speaking of the dominance and behavior of stallions: “The best stallion was kept for breeding.  Stallions were not all alike; some gave more attention to mares than others.” (We still see this very clearly today in TRNP)

Frank Dobie stated in 1952 that “The chasing and capture of wild horses was an integral aspect of cowboy culture that has been perpetuated by ranchers and professional “mustangers” into the present century.”

Castle’s research shows that by 1773 the Indian horse or pony was already a recognizable type of horse: “The Indian pony was close to being a type…The adult male Indian pony averaged a little under 14 hands in height, weighed about 700 pounds, possessed a large head in proportion to its body, good eyes, “neck and head jointed like two parts of a hammer,” large, round barrel, relatively heavy shoulders and hips; small fine, strong limbs and small feet.  Indian ponies exhibited a wide range of solid and mixed colors…The Indian pony was no beautiful animal, but it was a tough, sturdy, long-winded beast that possessed great powers of endurance.”

Castle also found through her research what is a sad but resounding theme “Government stock reduction programs circa 1880-1930 aimed at reducing the herds on reservations and replacing the Indian pony with more useful draft stock met with strenuous resistance.” She recounts personal conversations she had with the Tribal Chairman, Ed Lone Fight, from the Fort Berthold Reservation.  He said that in the 1950’s residents of the reservation were “informed that their horses should be removed or destroyed.”  Castle noted that she was at a meeting in 1987 where the top order of business was “wild horse resolution.” 

No doubt this is an issue that still faces our wild horses today, over 140 years from the start of the government horse reduction programs. 

The next part of Castle’s report explores the Northern Plains Ranch Horses.  The file is below.  We will discuss this part tomorrow.  You are also welcome to download the entire report from the Library section of our website:

Thank you for your support and we welcome your comments as we read through this significant research of the TRNP horses together. 

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