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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Indian's Horses

Dallas Bogan on 10 August 2004
"The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow" by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Used by The Tribes In Ohio at The Time of The First White Settlement.

Origin of The Indian Pony--How The Ohio Indians Got Their First Horses--Cleanings From Narratives and Reports of Military Expeditions--Horses Shift For Themselves In The Winter.

December 8, 1910.

When the Spaniards first penetrated into the continent of North America the only domesticated animal found was the dog. Some western tribes assert that their ancestors had the horse long before the white man was seen, but it is more probable that the Indian pony long extensively used by the tribes on the plains is descended from the animals brought over by the Spaniards. When Cortez and DeSoto invaded the continent they found no horses, wild or domesticated. The Indians who had in South America domesticated the Llama, the alpaca and the dog, knew nothing of the horse and were astonished at the sight of the strange animals which the strangers rode. The horses abandoned by DeSoto near the Texas border are believed to be the progenitors of all the wild horses of North America. These horses, running wild, flourished and increased greatly, showing how well the country was adapted to their needs.
The dog appears to have been common to all the Indian Tribes thruout America. The yelping of curs at night was a great annoyance to the white captives in Indian villages, and the loud and continuous barking of dogs sometimes prevented the white armies from surprising the Indians. In the Ohio villages the Indians used their dogs to assist them in hunting. Some tribes reared dogs and fattened for food. The Eskimo and other northern tribes used dogs for drawing sleds. All the Indian dogs, domesticated when the Spaniards first came, were probably descended from wolfish ancestors and they retained something of the aspect and disposition of their wild progenitors.
The Indians of Ohio obtained horses first, not from the tribes of the western plains, but from French Canadians and English colonists. The first horses seen in the Indian towns of Ohio were doubtless those of the white traders and the redmen obtained some by legitimate trade and afterward a larger number by their marauding expeditions into the border settlements.
Of all kinds of property belonging to the white men on the borders, horses were most likely to be stolen by the Indians. The theft of their horses greatly enraged the backwoodsmen against the redmen. Horses were taken from the white settlements of the Ohio in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky before the first fortified stations were begun on the north side of the river. In the Miami valley it was found so difficult to prevent the theft of horses that oxen were largely used by the settlers instead of horses. The first settler at Lebanon, Ichabod Corwin, in 1796 had his horses stolen by Indians and they were replaced with oxen.
Wayne's treaty of peace with the Indians August 5, 1795, put an end to the slaughter of white men by Indians but horses continued to be stolen by them. Judge Symmes thought that the white men who bought horses from the Indians were to blame, as the redman would steal a horse to take the place of the one he sold. Symmes wrote to Gen. Dayton in 1796 that he wished congress would make it a penal offense for a white man to buy a horse from an Indian, as no Indian would walk if he could steal a horse.
Our knowledge of the extent to which the Indians on the northwest of the Ohio kept and used horses is obtained from sources widely scattered. Chief among these are the narratives of white captives and missionaries among them and the reports of military expeditions against them.
The earliest picture of life among the Indians of Ohio we have is given by Col. James Smith's narrative of the remarkable occurrences during his four years captivity beginning in 1755. More than thirty years before the settlement at Marietta Smith found horses in use by the Indians of northern Ohio. Their horses, however, do not seem to have been numerous and while the hunters sometimes brought great quantities of meat and skins to the village on horseback, at other times the captive accompanied hunting parties on a distant hunt and after killing a number of deer and beavers they would return to the village heavy laden with skins and meat which, he says, they would carry on their backs, as they had no horse with them.
On one occasion young Smith and an Indian companion were encamped at some distance from the village in the winter and they had a large amount of meat and skins to carry on their shoulders. They found three horses running wild and finding subsistence on the grass of a large treeless plain beneath the snow. They found it impossible to catch the horses. The Indians then proposed that they should run them down. Smith did not believe this could be done but the Indian said he had run down bear, deer, elk and buffalo and he believed that he could run down any animal except the wolf. The experiment was made and the two men began the chase at daylight on a cold day, the horses running in a circle of six or seven miles in circumference. The run was kept up all day, the Indian running all the time and Smith a part of the time. At dark the horses were found to run still with vigor and the task was abandoned.
David Zeisberger, the faithful Moravian missionary among the Indians, wrote in 1779 at his mission home on the Muskingum extensive notes on the life, manners and customs of the redmen. He makes little mention of their cattle and horses. He says: "Because the savages are accustomed to go about in the forest, which is their great delight, they do not care to keep cattle, for in that case they must remain at home to look after them and are prevented from going into the forest. Some have secured cattle, for they are fond of milk and butter. They have horses that roam about and are rarely used except when they wish to ride and it is too troublesome to break them to work." We read with some surprise that both cattle and horses were allowed to find their own food on the Muskingum in winter. Zeisberger says: "The Indians make little provisions to feed their cattle in the winter, for as there is no deep snow and the weather is generally mild, cattle and particularly horses can forage for themselves, finding feed in the woods. In the bottoms grass never quite dies away but remains green and toward the end of March and the beginning of April grows again."
During the Revolution the Indian towns on the Miamis and the Scioto had obtained a considerable number of horses, many of which had been captured from the Kentucky settlements. In 1778, Simon Kenton, then living in Kentucky with two companions set off for the avowed purpose of taking horses from one of the several Indian towns called Chillicothe. They were provided with salt and halters. At night they went into a prairie near the town in which a drove of horses were feeding. With some difficulty they captured seven and set off rapidly for Kentucky. They reached the Ohio near the mouth of Eagle Creek in Brown county. The wind blew violently and the waters were rough and it was found impossible to get the horses to take to the water. They encamped in the hills and the next day after the wind had subsided again attempted to get the horses across the river, and again were unsuccessful. While at the river bank, a pursuing party of Indians on horseback discovered them, shot and scalped one of Kenton's companions and made Kenton a prisoner. The Indians recovered all the seven horses. The third white man in the party escaped and arrived in Kentucky safely.
In May, 1779, Col. John Bowman of Kentucky led an expedition against Old Chillicothe on the Little Miami in Greene county, and he was reported to have captured 180 horses from the Indians, 163 of which were brought safely into Kentucky. This seems a large number to be taken from a single village, but the Virginia Gazette, July 10, 1779, published the statement of a frontiersman that Bow- man had captured "163 valuable horses."
O.M. Spencer when a boy captive in 1791, lived at the mouth of the Auglaize. He found the Indian women cultivating fields of corn near the village. He says:
"Around these fields they made no enclosures not indeed, having no cattle, hogs nor sheep, were fences necessary. As for their few horses, they were either driven out into the woods or secured near their cabins, and having bells on, were easily prevented from trespassing by the boys, whose duty it was, by turns, while amusing themselves with their bows and arrows, to protect the fields."

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This page created 10 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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