Exhibits: Conservation: Wild Horse and Burro
Return of the Horse
What more captures the essence of the freedom of our wide-open spaces than a herd of mustangs galloping across the land? That picture, seen on film, television and still photographs, has been indelibly engraved onto the minds of millions of Americans.
It may then come as a surprise to many people that horses did not exist in North America at the time of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Although fossil records show that horses evolved in North America, they became extinct here millions of years ago. Spanish explorers were the first to re-introduce horses to the continent beginning in the late fifteenth century. The native people who came into contact with the Spanish settlements were quick to acquire horses and from them the animals spread to other tribes. By the end of the 18th century horses have spread across the Great Plains and the West well into what is now Canada. The horse revolutionized the lives of the native people, some of who, like the Kiowa and the Comanche, ranked among the finest horsemen the world has known
Home on the Range
The ever-increasing number of mustangs roaming the Public Domain provided early settlers with an endless supply of stock. Farmers, ranchers, miners—even the US Cavalry utilized the wild herds and, in turn, also released unwanted horses onto the public lands. Horses continued to be used as draught animals and for transportation well into the 20th century but their significance diminished after World War II. For a while wild horses and burros continued to flourish on public lands but by 1971 their numbers have declined drastically, because of the encroachment of man and the efforts of mustangers who were hired to kill or capture the wild herds.
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