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Wild Horses of the Chilcotin

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Horses came to North America with the Spanish. Cortes had between 13 and 15  when he invaded Mexico, and once the Conquest was underway more and more were brought in. The Spanish were awarlike people in those days, and the horses were instruments of war.   They had made it to the Great Plains before the mid-point of the 16th century, and in the process some horses escaped and some were stolen.  Horse culture among the First Nations probably began that early.  

As more colonization took place  the Spanish enslaved First Nations people and as a by-product taught them to work with horses.  The Spanish mission system spread rapidly across Northern Mexico and the  Southwest US, all the way to California. In light of the conflicts that arose from contact between the First Nations and the Europeans its not surprising that slaves escaped, revolted and stole horses, which they subsequently traded with other tribes.   By the late 1600s French  couriers des bois from Quebec reported that Missouri Indians  had acquired horses. Anthony Hendry, working for the Hudson's Bay Company, reported in 1754 that the Blackfoot had many horses.  Its clear that horses spread across the Western part of North America much faster than Europeans.

In 1808, during his journey down the Fraser River from present day Prince George to the sea,  Simon Fraser came across mounted First Nations people on the west side of the river.  Although the HBC and Nor'westers had been trading to the north previously, it's likely the first time these natives had seen white men, yet they were already well acquainted with horses. 

Clearly, the horse has been in BC for well over 200 years.  Although many were domesticated, many were undoubtedly wild.  These populations still exist, and though they are sure to have many strains of equine blood its equally clear that they have a direct relation to all the other wild horses of western North America- that is to say, they are related to the original horses brought here by the Spanish.

There are wild horses in the Brittany Triangle area of BC, in the Nemiah Valley. While proteced in the US since 1971, horses in BC are not protected and can, and are, shot.  The Xeni Gwe'tin ("Honey Co Teen") First Nation and the Frends of Nemiah Valley have been trying to preserve the herd in the face of some people in agriculture, forestry and government who do not want the horses preserved.   There are probably over 100 wild horses in the Nemiah/Brittany area.  However, as recently as 2008 the provincial paid First Nations people to hunt wild horses for a wolf kill project in order to help preserve mountain Cariboo.

This year the provincial government captured some wild horses in the Deadman Valley area, west of Kamloops, this year.  The goal was to protect grazing land.   As it stands now, wild horses in BC face an uncertain future, and probably need more champions if this important part of our history isn't to disappear. 

 


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