Southwestern Classics On-Line | Lone Star Junction
Previous Chapter | Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest | Next Chapter

Guide to Life and Literature
of the Southwest

Horses: Mustangs and Cow Ponies

THE WEST WAS DISCOVERED, battled over, and won by men on horseback. Spanish conquistadores saddled their horses in Vera Cruz and rode until they had mapped the continents from the Horn to Montana and from the Floridas to the harbors of the Californias. The padres with them rode on horseback, too, and made every mission a horse ranch. The national dance of Mexico, the Jarabe, is an interpretation of the clicking of hoofs and the pawing and prancing of spirited horses that the Aztecs noted when the Spaniards came. Likewise, the chief contribution made by white men of America to the folk songs of the world -- the cowboy songs -- are rhythmed to the walk of horses.

By William R. Leigh, from his The Western Pony

Astride horses introduced by the conquistadores to the Americas, the Plains Indians became almost a separate race from the foot-moving tribes of the East and the stationary Pueblos of the Rockies. The men that later conquered and corralled these wild-riding Plains Indians were plainsmen on horses and cavalrymen. The earliest American explorers and trappers of both Plains and Rocky Mountains went out in the saddle. The first industrial link between the East and the West was a mounted pack train beating out the Santa Fe Trail. On west beyond the end of this trail, in Spanish California, even the drivers of oxen rode horseback. The first transcontinental express was the Pony Express.

Outlaws and bad men were called "long riders." The Texas Ranger who followed them was, according to his own proverb, "no better than his horse." Booted sheriffs from Brownsville on the Rio Grande to the Hole in the Wall in the Big Horn Mountains lived in the saddle. Climactic of all the riders rode the cowboy, who lived with horse and herd.

In the Old West the phrase "left afoot" meant nothing short of being left flat on your back. "A man on foot is no man at all," the saying went. If an enemy could not take a man's life, the next best thing was to take his horse. Where cow thieves went scot free, horse thieves were hanged, and to say that a man was "as common as a horse thief" was to express the nadir of commonness. The pillow of the frontiersmen who slept with a six-shooter under it was a saddle, and hitched to the horn was the loose end of a stake rope. Just as "Colonel Colt" made all men equal in a fight, the horse made all men equal in swiftness and mobility.

The proudest names of civilized languages when literally translated mean "horseman": eques, caballero, chevalier, cavalier. Until just yesterday the Man on Horseback had been for centuries the symbol of power and pride. The advent of the horse, from Spanish sources, so changed the ways and psychology of the Plains Indians that they entered into what historians call the Age of Horse Culture. Almost until the automobile came, the whole West and Southwest were dominated by a Horse Culture.

Material on range horses is scattered through the books listed under "Range Life," "Stagecoaches, Freighting," "Pony Express."

No thorough comprehension of the Spanish horse of the Americas is possible without consideration of this horse's antecedents, and that involves a good deal of the horse history of the world.


The Horse of the Desert (no publisher or place on title page), 1936; reprinted by Macmillan, New York. A noble, beautiful, and informing book.


Caballos de America, Buenos Aires, 1945. The authority on Argentine horses.


The Horses of the World, National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C., 1923. A concentrated survey.


Published at Fort Worth, this monthly magazine of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association began in 1939 to issue, for September, a horse number. It has published a vast amount of material both scientific and popular on range horses. Another monthly magazine worth knowing about is the Western Horseman, Colorado Springs, Colorado.


The Horse of the Americas, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1947. This historical treatment of the Spanish horse could be better ordered; some sections of the book are little more than miscellanies.


The Mustangs, illustrated by Charles Banks Wilson, Little, Brown, Boston, 1952. Before this handsome book arrives at the wild horses of North America, a third of it has been spent on the Arabian progenitors of the Spanish horse, the acquisition of the Spanish horse by western Indians, and the nature of Indian horses. There are many narratives of mustangs and mustangers and of Spanish-blooded horses under the saddle. The author has tried to compass the natural history of the animal and to blend vividness with learning. The book incorporates his Tales of the Mustang, a slight volume published in an edition of only three hundred copies in 1936. It also incorporates a large part of Mustangs and Cow Horses, edited by Dobie, Boatright, and Ransom, and issued by the Texas Folklore Society, Austin, 1940 -- a volume that went out of print not long after it was published.


Riders of Many Lands, New York, 1893. Illustrations by Remington. Wide and informed views.


The Horses of the Conquest, London, 1930. Graham was both historian and horseman, as much at home on the pampas as in his ancient Scottish home. This excellent book on the Spanish horses introduced to the Western Hemisphere is in a pasture to itself. Reprinted in 1949 by the University of Oklahoma Press, with introduction and notes by Robert Moorman Denhardt.


Bois d'Arc to Barbed Wire, Dallas, 1936. OP.


A Ranchman's Recollections, Chicago, 1921. "Old Gran'pa" is close to the best American horse story I have ever read. OP.


Points of the Horse, London, 1904. This and subsequent editions are superior in treatment and illustrations to earlier editions. Hayes was a far traveler and scholar as well as horseman. One of the less than a dozen best books on the horse.


Smoky, Scribner's, New York, 1930. Perhaps the best of several books that Will James -- always with illustrations -- has woven around horse heroes.


The Western Pony, New York, 1933. One of the most beautifully printed books on the West; beautiful illustrations; illuminating text. OP.


Horses, Reilly and Lee, Chicago, 1936. Interesting illustrations.


The Untamed, New York, 1911. A collection of short stories, among which "Corazon" and "Neutria" are excellent on horses. OP.

by Charles M. Russell, in George Pattullo's
The Untamed


The Pinto Horse, Santa Barbara, California, 1927. A fine narrative, illustrated by Edward Borein. OP.


The Origin and Influence of the Thoroughbred Horse, Cambridge, England, 1905. A standard work, though many of its conclusions are disputed, especially by Lady Wentworth in her Thoroughbred Racing Stock and Its Ancestors, London, 1938.


Men and Horses, New York, 1926. Three chapters of this book, "A Fool About a Horse," "The Horse Wrangler," and "The Rough String," are especially recommended. Cowboy, New York, 1928, reveals in a fine way the rapport between the cowboy and his horse. Sleepy Black, New York, 1933, is a story of a horse designed for younger readers; being good on the subject, it is good for any reader. All OP.


Horses: The Story of the Horse Family in the Modern World and through Sixty Million Years of History, Oxford University Press, New York, 1951. In the realm of paleontology this work supplants all predecessors. Bibliography.


Mustangs of the Mesas, Hollywood, California, 1941. OP. Modern mustanging in Nevada; excellently written narratives of outstanding mustangs.


Horses and Americans, New York, 1939. A survey and a miscellany combined. OP.

THORP, JACK (N. Howard)

as told to Neil McCullough Clark. Pardner of the Wind, Caxton, Caldwell, Idaho, 1945. Two chapters in this book make the "Spanish thunderbolts," as Jack Thorp called the mustangs and Spanish cow horses, graze, run, pitch, and go gentle ways as free as the wind. "Five Hundred Mile Horse Race" is a great story. No other range man excepting Ross Santee has put down so much everyday horse lore in such a fresh way.


The Arabian Horse: His Country and People, Edinburgh and London, 1894. One of the few horse books to be classified as literature. Wise in the blend of horse, land, and people.


The Authentic Arabian Horse and His Descendants, London, 1945. Rich in knowledge and both magnificent and munificent in illustrations. Almost immediately after publication, this noble volume entered the rare book class.


The Wild Horse of the West, Caxton, Caldwell, Idaho, 1945. A scholarly sifting of virtually all available material on mustangs. Readable. Only thorough bibliography on subject so far published.

Previous Chapter | Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest | Next Chapter
Southwest Classics On-Line | Lone Star Junction

Online Edition Copyright © 1997 Lone Star Junction. All rights reserved.