American Indian Horse

History 1492-1620
The Spanish Colonial Period

     The word "Mustang" comes from the Spanish word, mesteno, meaning "stray or ownerless" horse. This Wild Mustangs term aptly describes all wild horses in the United States.
     The modern horse evolved over three million years ago and then disappeared from this hemisphere 10,000 years ago. The horse returned to North America when explorers Cortes and DeSoto came mounted on magnificent Barbs from Morocco, Sorraia from Portugal and Andalusians from Spain.1

     Moorish occupation of the Spanish countryside brought with it the Berber horse, also known as the Barb, an animal that had a strong genetic impact on equine development throughout Europe, North Africa, and the New World. Interbreeding with native stock produced the delicately gaited Spanish Jennet. They were subsequently bred with the Andalusian.
     Just as the Moorish conquest of Spain introduced a potentially promising breed to that country, so it was with Columbus' second voyage to the New World, when he transported the first horses to Santo Domingo - now the Dominican Republic. These animals were a mix of the Berber, the Jennet and the Andalusian. Future voyagers would add to their numbers in Mexico and South America, but the overall isolation established these as the ancestors to the Paso Fino.
     As remount stock for the conquistadors, the progeny of these horses were dispersed throughout the lands attacked by the invaders. The early fifteen-hundreds saw famous and infamous explorers and conquerors such as Martin de Salazar, Diego de Velasquez, Hernando Cortez and others transport horses to Puerto Rico and Colombia, as well as Cuba, the Isthmus of Panama, Peru and Mexico.

Timeline of the Spanish Horse Movement into North America

  • 1492: Columbus’s first voyage carried no horse, however, after his first voyage Columbus and all others who traveled to this region flying a Spanish flag must carry horses, so ordered by the King of Spain.4

  • 1493: The first horses to arrive in the New World were transported by Christopher Columbus (Colon) on his second voyage . The catholic King wrote to his secretary, Fernando de Zafra and asks him to choose twenty fighting horses along with five “dobladuras” mares from the members of the “Santa Hermandad” which was in Granada. It was customary among the men of arms to ride a non-castrated horse; meanwhile by “dobladura,” we understand a second horses in case the first one went down. Now these were not the only horses that left Andalucia in 1493; among the 1,500 people on board, some took their own animals. Andres Bernaldez, who had a close relationship with the admiral, took a total of 24 horses and 10 mares. In spite of this, the spirited horses shown in the Seville parade were exchanged for “scabby horses” which arrived very weak and ill treated after the journey. Columbus had no option but to complain to the monarchs about the exchange that the squires had made. Columbus left Spain in September 1493 this time with 17 ships and 1,200 men, all eager to find wealth and immense riches.4  Second Voyage

  • 1496: Reports to the crown showed that the La Espanola presidio had twenty horses, after Columbus’s second voyage.4

  • 1498: Columbus on his third voyage transported 14 mares.4

  • 1501: Ovanda’s fleet brought 59 horses from Spain; ten of which were privately owned and ten stallions were from the Royal Herd.4

  • 1504: Citizens were allowed to use of the horses. Before this date only, the military and the royalty used horses.4

  • 1507: The last legal consignment of 106 exported mares left Spain, because the King set a ban on the exportation of any more animals without official license or permit.4

  • 1510: Captain Martin de Salazar brought some horses under the orders of Puerto Rico's first governor, Don Juan Ponce de León.5

  • 1513: Columbus had been made adelantado (military governor) for life, but upon his death, Spanish authorities refused to grant such privileges to his son Diego. The Crown selected Ponce de Leon to colonize Puerto Rico, a task he accomplished with just a few troops and one greyhound who scared the natives.

    Meanwhile, Diego Columbus had taken his claim to the courts in Madrid and won his rights. Ponce de Leon was removed from office and felt his good name had been damaged. Not wishing to serve Diego, Ponce de Leon obtained title to explore the Upper Bahamas and areas to the North.

    In March of 1513, Ponce de Leon sailed into the Bahamas headed toward Florida, then considered by slave hunters and fishermen to be a large island. He was seeking a spiritual rebirth with new honors, not a physical rebirth with some wonder water.

    On Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, his crew sighted land, probably Abaco Island. Six days later he reached the Florida coast and sailing northward to land near St. Augustine. He named the place "Pescua Florida", "the place of flowers," perhaps in honor of Easter Sunday. On the return voyage he encountered Indians near Jupiter Inlet and charted the important features of the Florida East Coast. He rounded the Dry Tortugas to explore the Gulf of Mexico and entered Charlotte Harbor.

    He realized that Florida was more than a large island. He saw the Chief Calusa village near Mound Key and discovered this tribe was unfriendly. He selected Estero Island to repair his vessel and escaped as bands of Calusa descended on the intruders.6

  • 1516: Diego Miruelo mapped Pensacola Bay.6

  • 1519: Alonso Álvarez de Pineda commanded a Spanish expedition that sailed along the Gulf of Mexico coastline from Florida to Cabo Rojo, Mexico, in 1519. He and his men were the first Europeans to explore and map the Gulf littoral between the areas previously explored by Juan Ponce De Leónqv and Diego Velázquez. Álvarez de Pineda's voyage of "more than 300 leagues" ended when he encountered Hernán Cortés, who perceived him as a rival and arrested the messengers he sent ashore near Cortés's base at Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz on the Bay of Campeche. Álvarez de Pineda then withdrew back up the Mexican coast to the Río Pánuco, where he established a settlement of his own near the site of the future city of Tampico.Alonso Álvarez de Pineda

  • 1519: Cortez lands on the mainland and marches to Mexico City with 16 horses. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who recorded the expedition wrote, “The natives had not seen horses up to this time and thought that the horse and rider were all one animal.”

    The horses and owners:

    1. Captain Cortez had a “vicious dark chestnut,” which died when they arrived at San Juan de Ulua.
    2. Pedro de Alvarado and Hernando Lopez de Avila owned “a very good sorrel mare,”
    3. Juan Velasquez de Leon had a “gray mare called La Robona ,”
    4. Alonzo Hernández Puerto Carrero had a “ good gray mare charger,”
    5. Cristoval de Olid a “dark chestnut,”
    6. Francisco de Montejo and Alonzo de Avila a “parched sorrel, not good for warfare,”
    7. Francisco de Morla a “dark chestnut,”
    8. Juan de Escalante a “ light chestnut with three white stockings, “
    9. Diego de Ordas a “gray mare,”
    10. Pedro Gonzalez de Trujillo “a good chestnut,”
    11. Gonzalo Dominquez “a dark chestnut,”
    12. Moron a settler of Bayamo, a “dapple horse with stockings on the forefeet,”
    13. Buena, a settler at Trinidad a “dapple horse almost black,”
    14. Lars a “Light chestnut,”
    15. Ortiz, the musician and Bartolome Garcia a “good dark horse called El Arriero,”
    16. Juan Sedeno, a settler at Havana, a “chestnut mare which foaled on the ship,”

         During the next six months, Cortez was joined by more Spaniards sent by the crown, with the original intent of placing him under arrest, but who joined him instead. These new groups brought with them many horses, the exact count is not known but during a least three different battles, Culuca, Zocotla, and Xalatcinco, 15 horses were killed, and 10 wounded.4

  • 1520’s: Horses now inhabit all the islands of the Caribbean’s.4

  • 1521: In the winter of 1521, Ponce de Leon headed for Calusa Territory with a 500 man force, including Florida's first priests, farmers, and artisans. They landed on the Gulf beaches between Charlotte Harbor and Estero Bay. His goal was to establish a permanent colony in South Florida.

    The choice of location proved weak. Requiring food and fresh water, Ponce de Leon led some troops into the dense coastal forest for a spring. Suddenly, the conquistadors were ambushed from all sides by Calusa warriors. The European weapons were rendered ineffective by the close combat. Ponce de Leon was pierced in the thigh by a reed arrow.

    The soldiers carried their wounded adelantado to the ships. The colonists agreed to return to Cuba and evacuate the project. Ponce de Leon promised to return, but his health deteriorated and he never saw his discovery again.6

  • 1523: Mares are prohibited from being taken out of the Caribbean Islands.4

  • 1526: Trade for horses renewed. Horses were so valued, breeders, only traded for slaves and gold.4

  • 1527: It was at the Spanish court where Panfilo de Narvaez met a devout nobleman named Cabeza de Vaca, who wished to duplicate the exploits of his grandfather who conquered the Canary Islands. The red-haired conquistador hired de Vaca as a partner and together in 1527, landed north of the mouth of Tampa Bay with an armada of five ships and 400 soldiers.6

  • 1530-1540: Market and supply centers for horses move from the Caribbean’s to the mainland, New Spain, Mexico City, Venezuela and Peru.4

  • 1539: Desoto’s expedition from Florida to Mississippi started with 223 horses.4

    Priest traveling with Hernando de Soto, and traveled the regions of Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas, in search of gold, baptize their American Indian guide. It is the first recorded baptism in the New World.7

  • 1539: Coronado expedition came to the region in 1540. The expedition started with 552 horses and 2 mares but they lost several, some to natural causes, others killed during battles, and even a few to during hazardous events. Almost 50 horses and seven mules were lost during the battle of Arenal, another three were lost during a river crossing when they were exploring the area around present day Kansas,and six were lost during a Buffalo stampede. What is interesting is that no horses, other than those killed, remained after the expedition. All horses are accounted for when the expedition return to New Spain.4

  • 1540: The first branded horses enter what is now the United States of America. Breeding of horses regulated by Council of the Indies and the horses were protected and subject to periodic veterinary checks of stallions. Prohibition of colts, less than two years of age, mounting mares, enacted.4

  • 1540: The first horses race of record in what is now the United States of America was run on December 27th between Rodrigo Maldonado and Francisco Vazaque de Coronado. Coronado fell off his horse in front of Rodrigo's horse and was hit in the head.4

  • 1540: The Conquistadors and Friars arrive in Navajoland bringing sheep, goats, and horses. The Conquistadors later return to Mexico leaving behind sheep and horses, and the beginnings of the use of wool and the weaving on flat looms.

    Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, Spanish Explorer, leads an expedition of soldiers from Mexico into the American southwest in search of gold. They arrive and discover the Hopis during the summer of 1540, where Navajos were already in the Hopi province.

    During this time and up to the recent past, Navajos were referred to as Apaches. At the time of the conquest, the word "Apache", from the Zuñi "apachú" (enemy), their appellation for the Navajo, was used by the Spaniards to denote any hostile Indians. Oñate even employed it in reference to the people of the pueblo of Acoma.

    Soon it became known to the Spaniards that most of the enemy tribes surrounding New Mexico spoke a common language, and the name thereafter was applied only to the southern Athabascans. Gradually, other designations were given to the various Athabascan tribes of different regions, and the Navajos became known as the "Apaches Du Nabahu". Throughout the 17th century and frequently in later years, however, many Spanish documents referred to them simply as Apache.

    It is probable the Navajos aided the Zuñis in their resistance to Coronado. "Coronado, in relating his war with the Zuñi, mentioned that the pueblos and the province were up in arms and that he saw many smoke signals rising at different places. The experiences of later Spanish forces in the region suggest that the Navajo were involved, for they frequently aided the Pueblo tribes against the Spanish."7

  • 1547: Governor of New Spain, now Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza had 11 estancias and over 1,500 horses.4

  • 1565: King Phillip II named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain's most experienced admiral, as governor of Florida, instructing him to explore and to colonize the territory. Menendez was also instructed to drive out any pirates or settlers from other nations, should they be found there.

    When Menendez arrived off the coast of Florida, it was August 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine. Eleven days later, he and his 600 soldiers and settlers came ashore at the site of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy with banners flying and trumpets sounding. He hastily fortified the fledgling village and named it St. Augustine, making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent.  St Augustine History

  • 1580: Fray Rodriquez, and the Caspar Castano de Sosa expedition of 1581, had with them 720 horses and mules,eighty-eight soldiers and religious, the French prisoner, called Andrés, twelve muleteers, and thirteen servants.4

  • 1582: Antonio Espejo’s, group which consisted of Fray Beltran, Antonio Espejo, Fifteen soldiers, servants and several others left from San Bartolome on November 10, 1582. The expedition followed the same route that the Rodriquez expedition had traveled and was equiped with one hundred and fifteen horses and mules.4

  • 1598: The muster rolls for the original Onate entrada showed that he and the settlers brought to New Mexico over 1500 head of horses and mules, (1007 horses, 237 mares, 137 colts and 91 mules. 119 of these horses and 85 of the mares belonged Onate the other horses and mares were owned by the settlers.

    After a brief severe winter at San Juan Pueblo, Onate resettled his people at San Gabriel across the river from the original settlement. Very few documents relate to the livestock of the settlers however one incident occurred where a report was made, it was a military event. In 1599 during the month of October a patrol that was going to the pueblo of Zuni encountered a freak snow storm that caused the a halt to the march and forced the patrol to set up camp approximately twelve leagues west of the pueblo of Acoma. During the evening in blizzard like conditions, almost thirty head of horses managed to break out of the temporary corals set up by the soldiers. The next day when it was found that the horses had escaped the soldiers mounted a search but to no avail. This is the first band of horses, of record, in what is now the United States of America to run free.4

    The first Spanish colony established in New Mexico was San Juan de los Caballeros. The first capital of New Mexico was San Gabriel del Yunque, constructed on the ruins of a nearby pueblo in 1600. By early 1601, many of the soldiers and families were dissatisfied with New Mexico and with Onate’s leadership and a large group of the original settlers left the settlement of San Gabriel del Yunque.  People of the Camino Real

  • 1600: Reinforcements came from New Spain the animal count was 275 horses, 10 mares, 10 colts, and 16 mules. Also brought to New Mexico were 277 oxen and 613 cows. For the next twenty year’s little information about horses is found in the documents except, for the complaint filed against Onate by some of the settlers. Stating that most of the horses were either killed or in poor condition.4

  • 1607: Santa Fe was inhabited on a very small scale in 1607, it was truly settled by the conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta in 1609-1610. Santa Fe is the site of the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors.  History of Santa Fe

  • 1607: 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of 104 English men and boys began a settlement on the banks of Virginia's James River.

  • 1608: Mar 6 - The first site selected by Don Juan de Oñate and his Spanish colonists around 1600, was San Gabriel del Yunque which was located between the Chama and the Rio Grande Rivers near Santa Clara Pueblo, " ... at the entrance to the Navajo country ... early in 1608 Father Lázaro Ximénez informed the viceroy that the Spaniards and Christian Indians of New Mexico were regularly harassed by the Apaches who destroyed and burned the pueblos, waylaid and killed the natives, and stole the horses of the Spaniards. He asked that the governor be required to keep some soldiers in the field for the defense and security of the land, as there was much grumbling among the natives ... ". The Viceroy, Don Luis de Velasco of Mexico, on March 6 1608, ordered the Governor of New Mexico to send out patrols to end such outrages and to defend the friendly natives. "The destructiveness of the Indian raids soon forced them (Spaniards) to abandon the settlement (of San Gabriel dle Yunque) and move to a more secure location, where Santa Fe was founded ... the abandonment of San Gabriel and the founding of Santa Fe were owing to the raids of the Navajo."9

    John Smith asked Powhatan for his submission to the English Crown and to provide the settlers with an annual tribute of corn.

  • 1609: The Spanish Crown gave land grants around Santa Fe and encouraged the establishment of Catholic missions in the pueblos. Ongoing wars between the Spanish, the Pueblo peoples, and the Navajo continued. The Spanish encouraged active slave trade, particularly in Navajo women and children. The practice continued until the early 1900s.

    Mar 30 - The Viceroy's instructions to New Mexico's newly appointed Governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, included: "Some villages and tribes are on the frontiers and lands of the Apaches (Navajos) who are usually protectors or hosts of enemies and among whom are the planners and plotters against the entire country and from which they issue to do damage and make war." Peralta's immediate task on becoming Governor was to reorganize the defenses of the province.

    Sept 28 - Spanish colonist at the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico, San Gabriel del Yunque, located between the Rio Grande and Chama Rivers, were ordered to remain at the site after they petitioned the Viceroy to permit them to return to New Spain (Mexico) because the harassing raids and constant thefts of their livestock by Navajos made life too hazardous for them. The settlement, however, was abandoned a short time later and moved to a more secure location where Santa Fe was founded.

    The Governor's Palace at Santa Fe is built. Spain declares Santa Fe the new Capital of the Province of New Mexico. The Governor's Palace is the oldest surviving non-Indian building in the U.S., it combines Spanish and Pueblo architectural styles.9

  • 1620: Pilgrims on the Mayflower land at Plymouth Rock on December 21, 1620. The first words they hear were "Welcome Englishmen" by Samoset, an Abenaki Indian, who greeted them as the Pilgrims made it ashore. By the spring of 1621, 50 of the 102 colonist had died from scurvy, pneumonia, or tuberculosis.9

     Up to this point there is no mention of indians riding horses, but the Apache-Navajo had been stealing them. The Indians in the Gulf Coast States would have at least seen descendants of horses left by DeSoto and other explores.  See History 1620-1800 The Indian Horse Period

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