The History and Status of the Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Part 4

The file above, Castle’s report part 3, is made up of many of the oral interviews Castle did with local residents and ranchers.  This included Tom Tescher and Leo Kuntz, who assisted her with this research paper.

This part is pretty straight forward and interesting to read.  I know I caught myself getting lost in the stories that were shared as I imagined the world they explained that once existed in this area in Southwestern North Dakota.

Castle states:

“Most people interviewed for this study believed that wild horses have been present in the badlands continuously since the nineteenth century, although few were old enough to have observed them prior to circa 1920.  Brothers Jim, Alvin, and Tom Tescher have been more intimately associated with area wild horses than anyone and learned about chasing and handling these animals from men such as Hugh Armstrong, Louis Pelissier, and “Badlands Bill” McCarty.  Alvin Tescher began observing and chasing horses in the late 1930s and says, “I know they were there way before my time, because I heard the older men talk about them when I was young.””

Some key highlights in this section of Castle’s report for me:

“In The Mustangs, Dobie states that the ranchers of western North Dakota used horses descended from the Sioux-Thoroughbred crosses bred by DeMores and Huidekoper:

“When, after four years of exile in Canada, Sitting Bull of the Sioux finally, in 1881, surrendered at Fort Buford, North Dakota, his war ponies were sold at auction and bought for a song by post traders.  The mares went to that fantastic character, the Marquis de Mores of Medora.  Then the Little Missouri Horse Company topped these mares and bred them to a Kentucky Thoroughbred stallion.  Among them were grullos and buckskins with black stripe down their back.  Some showed scars from the bullets of Custer’s Troopers.  In the terrible winter of ’86-87, which killed a great majority of cattle on all northern ranges, these little Sioux mares survived.  Their clean boned, strong, fast, long-winded offspring are still a tradition among Dakota ranch people.””

“Mr. Harry Roberts stated that he felt that the THRO horses are representative of the early Indian-based ranch horse.   When shown photographs of the THRO horses, he said, “Oh yes, those are the old-time horses.  They sure do look different from other horses.” When asked if he thought that the park horses could still have some of the early Indian horse blood, perhaps even be partially descended from the Sioux mares his father managed at the RT, he answered, “I’m sure of that.””

John Pusenchenko, whose parents homesteaded near Grassy Butte in 1912 told Castle this in her oral interview with him:

“The first horses around here were bound to have Indian blood.  There were wild horses in the badlands and Killdeer mountains.  There were a lot of paints and Indian horses early on.  There were quite a few roans, especially strawberry roans—Indian horses.”

“In 1934 42% of the people in Billings County were on relief, and the “the drought reduced the grazing potential of the land to the point where the ranchers were almost out of business.”  Many farmers and ranchers abandoned their property in western North Dakota, including livestock.  In 1931 Crawford wrote:

“The taxes and interest on the investment in lands have been too high to make ranching profitable.  The range counties are bare of cattle and county commissions are acquiring much land by tax title.  In the meantime, grass is going to waste or is eaten by straggling bands of horses that no one is anxious to claim.””

Gerald Barnhart who moved with his family from Grassy Butte to Medora in 1942 recalled “that as late as the early 1950s there were free-roaming horses “all the way to Williston” and that he used to chase them west of Grassy Butte.  Ranchers chased horses in the park and kept the colts that were caught:

“The park round-ups took out the owned horses.  Bay was the ideal; people didn’t try to catch the Indian type or colored horses.  But the park never got them all—no one.  I mean the cowboys, wanted to.  The park wanted them out, but the locals didn’t.  They were fantastic to watch, as smart as they were.  The mares were easier to catch than the studs.  There was a heavy blue roan stud in the late 1940s and early 1950s that was a hell of a horse—no one could catch him.  One time near Peaceful Valley he jumped an 8-foot corral and went straight up the side of a cliff.””

“The Tescher brothers—Tom, Alvin, and, to a lesser extent, Jim—have been observing and chasing horses in the badlands for 40 years.  When they were young, they chased the horses to make money selling them, because they “liked to watch them,” and because they enjoyed the challenge.  During the 1950s and 1960s, THRO relied on the Teschers to help eliminate the horses from the park; subsequently, Tom Tescher has assisted in the planning and execution of each round up.  Simply put, the Teschers have more knowledge of and have had more impact on the THRO horses than anyone.”

“Alvin Tescher believes the blood of the park horses “could well go back to the early days; it goes back to at least around 1900, there were lots of horses early on, they took over the range.  There were there long before my time, because I remember the old guys talking about them.” He described the park horses as “more mustang than wild horses elsewhere” and said, “We probably harmed them by taking the mustang out” (by catching them and introducing new types).”

The next sections of Castle’s report cover Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s management of the horses.  We will break this up into 3 parts: 1947-1970, the 1970’s and then 1980’s.  Just a reminder, you are welcome to download the Castle’s entire report in the library section of our website

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