⚓ Oklahoma’s Choctaw Horses Connect to Mississippi

Choctaw horses. (Photo Credit: returntofreedom.org)

Associated Press

POPLARVILLE, Miss. (AP) _ Six foals sired by a cream-colored stallion called DeSoto scamper across a pasture in southwest Mississippi, the first new blood in a century for a line of horses brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and bred by Choctaw Indians who were later forced out of their ancestral homelands.

Choctaw horses were thought to be long gone from this region, disappearing when their Native American owners were expelled from the U.S. Southeast by the government. But the surprise discovery of DeSoto on a farm in Poplarville 13 years ago led to a plan to help the dwindling strain survive.

``That really gives us a shot in the arm,'' said Bryant Rickman, who has been working since 1980 near Antlers, Oklahoma, to restore the line. He estimates he has bred more than 300 of the horses from nine mares and three stallions. But having so few stallions led to a bottleneck, because the gene pool was so small.

Choctaws saw great power in horses. Ian Thompson, tribal historic preservation officer for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said their word for horse, issoba, means ``like a deer'' and the deer was the tribe's most important animal, both economically and spiritually.

``So naming the horse after the deer was really saying something,'' Thompson said.

Ian Thompson, tribal historic preservation officer for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. (Photo Credit: Oklahoma Public Archaeology Network)

Choctaw horses are descended from those brought to the United States in the 1500s and later by Spanish explorers and colonists, said Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

It's one strain in a breed called Colonial Spanish horses, often referred to by the misleading term ``Spanish mustang.'' Colonial Spanish horses are among the world's few genetically unique horse breeds, and are of great historic importance to this country, Sponenberg said.

Choctaw horses are descended from those brought to the United States in the 1500s and later by Spanish explorers and colonists. (Photo Credit: The Equinest)

The Choctaw nation lived in much of what are now Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Choctaws owned tens of thousands of horses by 1830, when Congress gave President Andrew Jackson the power to force Indians out of lands east of the Mississippi, Thompson said.

The relocation of Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Indians to Oklahoma, which has come to be known as the ``Trail of Tears,'' took decades. Thompson said more than 12,000 Choctaw people made the journey but an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 died along the way. In Oklahoma, the Choctaw and their horses were part of the cattle-ranching economy.

The horses are small but tough and durable.

``They're very people-oriented. They're just as docile as your favorite dog,'' said Rickman.

Oklahoma range herd. (Photo Credit: returntofreedom.org)

DeSoto was discovered in 2005 when Sponenberg visited Poplarville to check out small cattle descended from Spanish colonial stock. He was surprised to find Spanish colonial sheep, there, too. Then came the day's biggest surprise.

``Out of the woods came this horse, single-footing,'' he said, referring to a smooth gait between walking and galloping, rather than the bouncing trot common to most horses.

Bill Frank Brown was 14 when he inherited the Poplarville farm that Sponenberg visited in 2005. The farm had been in Brown's family since 1881 and the livestock there, even longer. Brown had three stallions back then, including DeSoto. He called them pine tacky horses. The Texas A&M veterinary school tested samples of the stallions' DNA, and they matched those of Rickman's Choctaws.

Two of the stallions have since died, leaving only DeSoto. Sponenberg picked the mares that would be the best genetic matches for DeSoto, and they were brought to Mississippi last year. The Browns say some of the offspring will remain in Mississippi while others will go back to Oklahoma, along with pregnant mares.

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To learn more about Choctaw horses and efforts to save their herd and others, visit Return to Freedom. The organization's mission is to preserve the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy, and conservation.

The American Indian Horse Registry - 40 Years in Texas

By Nanci Falley, Contributing Writer

2019 will mark the 40th anniversary of the American Indian Horse Registry’s move from California to Rancho San Francisco, Texas (Caldwell County), where its museum and national headquarters are housed.

Founded in 1961 in California by Frank Green, the registry has been dedicated to preserving and promoting the horses of Native American Tribes and Nations. 

What is the American Indian Horse? Their ancestry can be traced from the mists of antiquity to the dust of the Arabian Desert, where they were housed with honor in the black tents of the roaming Bedouin tribes. From there they traveled to Spain, were bred with Barb, Iberian and Andalusian stock and became known as the finest horses in the world. They came to the New World from Spain on the ships of Columbus and the Conquistadors during the 15th and 16th centuries. Native Americans of that era had never seen horses and to them, horses and riders were Godlike beings.  Yet it was illegal for Native Americans to ride or handle horses, much less own one. In time, tribes acquired this “God Dog" and lives were changed dramatically.  Horses brought about a culture totally dependent upon themselves.  

Modern day Indian Horses have retained their toughness, spirit and willingness to partner with humans.  They are loyal friends, often bonding with one person or family.  Those of us who share our lives with them are truly blessed.  

There are 5 classifications of registration within AIHR:

Class 0:

Horses are not bred to conform to popular current standards, but to preserve original bloodlines of Native American Indian tribes. Class 0 horses registered since 1979 have bloodlines that trace back to various American Indian tribes and families. (Most horses registered with the SMR, SSMA, SBBA as well as other “Mustang” registries, qualify for 0 classification).

Class AA:

Horses are at least half-0 in breeding or are of exceptional 0 type. BLM horses may qualify for AA classification. To be inspected and to qualify as AA on inspection, a horse must be at least 4 years of age.

Class A:

Horses with unknown bloodlines, but who are definitely Indian Horse type. Most MA horses qualify for A registration as well as many so called grade or backyard horses. Class A horses are eligible to be inspected at age 4 or over and may be passed to Class AA.

Class M:

Horses include breeding of modern type. They may have parents registered with the AQHA, APHC, APHA, APA, etc. Such ancestry will be shown on the registration certificate.

Class P:

Ponies of Indian Horse type. Eligible ponies include those with Galiceno, POA, etc. in their pedigrees. Ponies of unknown ancestry may also qualify.

Membership in the registry is open to any owner of an American Indian Horse or to any person interested in preserving the heritage and traditions of American Indian Horses. Members receive a quarterly journal and qualify for lower registration fees. They are also eligible for award programs sponsored by AIHR.


Nanci Falley has served as President of the AIHR since 1979. She grew up in South Texas, not too far from what was called the Nueces Strip back in the late 1800s, early 1900s.  When the Spaniards began to explore North America, they came up from South and Central America, through Mexico into Texas and on northward.  At every river crossing they left breeding herds of horses, cattle, sheep, goats so that the colonists who would follow in a few years would have a ready supply of animals to aid them in colonizing the area for Spain.  Growing up in the 1940s/1950s, with tales of the wonderful horses, Nanci fell in love with these animals - and her first few horses were descendants of those Spanish horses.  While she explored other horse breeds, she always came back to the Spanish/Indian ponies and they never let her down.

Photo Credits: Courtesy American Indian Horse Registry

Black Snake Chronicles: KXL Returns and Wiindigo* Economics

Story By Winona LaDuke

News From Indian Country

As the plagued Keystone Pipeline spilled 200,000 gallons of oil near the Sisseton Dakota reservation, the Nebraska Public Service Commission made a convoluted approval of a permit. In the meantime, the Dakota, Lakota and allies stand strong.  (*Wiindigo is an Ojibwe description of the spirit of excess)

“Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin Lands,” Faith Spotted Eagle tells hundreds gathered for the signing of the Treaty to Protect the Sacred. “If anything, it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock.” Oyate Win Brushbreaker, a 97 year old elder reminds those present  “Reaffirm the boundaries of that treaty. Keep out that black snake you have been talking about.” The Gathering to Protect the Sacred was sponsored by the Braveheart Society of Women, Wiconi Un Tipi, Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee, and Dakota Rural Action, and brought together two hundred water protectors.

This is a story about Wiindigo Economics, or Wasichu economics if you like. We can say that it begins in the US, where a fossil fuel economy rules, or we can say that it begins in Canada, where 90% of the value of the Canadian dollar, the looney, is based on tar sands. Now that’s a stupid idea. Simply stated, we have Canada, with all the oil company allies, and a land locked province, which is Alberta, and no way to get all that oil to market.  This is also a story about how that is unlikely to work out for Canada, because we are stopping them. We are killing the Wiindigo.

The Keystone and the Spill
What the ..? The Keystone Pipeline is not even fully operational and can’t operate safely. The mid-November South Dakota Keystone spill, well the last five Keystone spills were not supposed to happen. That’s what they all tell us, after all it’s new pipe and such. TransCanada’s June 2006 pipeline risk assessment found no reason for alarm: “...the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years…. Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years..”

So, to be clear, Keystone has now had at least a dozen spills. They are all going down the line in succession. One journalist asked if the pipeline was passing a kidney stone. In a 2011 analysis, University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury estimated there would be at least two major spills per year, some potentially releasing as much as 180,000 barrels. Told you so.
It appears normalized pipeline spills and the public utilities commissions of Nebraska (giving a go ahead for the Keystone), South Dakota and Minnesota are in the thick of the confusion - Wiindigo Economics. This is, in fact the new norm.  In 2016, there were 220 significant incidents, or pipeline spills in the US, with 3,032 since 2006 - those provide a stark reminder of the environmental hazards of an aging pipeline infrastructure carrying fossil fuels. And that new pipes have catastrophic leaks. The costs of these leaks since 2006 has amounted to $4.7 billion. (Not sure on clean up.)

Watchdogs? Inspectors for leaks are few and far between, with unclear regulatory jurisdiction. The US now has 553 pipeline inspectors (208 federal inspectors and 345 state inspectors). They are still responsible for nearly 5,000 miles of pipeline each. These inspectors work for PHMSA, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. It is high risk, “Pipeline Roulette.”

Wiindigo Economics and Pipelines
While Donald Trump was so busy approving all these pipelines, another reality continues. Water Protectors challenge pipeline viability, as does oil economics.

A few months ago there were four big pipelines proposed to bring Canada’s tar sands out of that land locked province of Alberta.

On October 5, the longest tar sands pipeline proposal - the $l5.7 billion Energy East was scrapped by TransCanada. Canadian oil economists pointed to economics - the decline of tar sands production and prices as a driving force for project cancellation, augmented by Canadian Premier Trudeaus’ more stringent review of pipeline projects to include green house gas emissions and downstream impacts.  One down, three to go.

While TransCanada received approval recently for a pipeline, they do not have a route. The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to give the project the go ahead but rejected pipeline TransCanada’s preferred route. TransCanada must now submit an application for an alternative route or appeal the decision, a process that could take up to two years. That is catastrophic in itself for a pipeline company. One thing for sure: the new route will face fresh opposition.  That’s the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, and they defeated the pipeline last time. 

And, as Wiindigo Economics goes, tar sands divestment is climbing, electric cars are coming on line and Fox News reported in June, “…Keystone XL is facing a basic challenge. The oil producers and refiners the pipeline was originally meant to serve aren’t interested in it anymore.” In other words, the company has no customers for the pipeline, and a pipeline without customers is not going to be built.

At the Enbridge hearings in St. Paul, Minnesota this past month; a Canadian official sat quietly in the audience, worried and watching.  At the end of the day, he approached one of our attorneys asking if the tribes were likely to sue, and stop the pipeline. It turns out TransCanada had asked the Alberta government to buy some oil shipping space on a KXL and the Wiindigo Economics wizards of Alberta may be  hedging their bets. 

It’s an uncertain time for sure. If I was South Dakota, I would be making sure that there was a great clean up of this catastrophic spill before anything else moves ahead, and maybe before Trans Canada goes bankrupt. Indeed, the South Dakota PUC issued the Keystone permit in 2007 with 57 conditions, ranging from construction standards to environmental requirements. The Commission may revoke or suspend it if the company is found to have made misstatements in its application or does not comply with the conditions. “If it was knowingly operating in a fashion not allowed under the permit or if construction was done in a fashion that was not acceptable, that should cause the closure of the pipe for at least a period of time until those challenges are rectified,” said Gary Hanson, one commissioner.

In the meantime, the Dakota and their allies remain committed to protect Mni Wiconi. “The coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength,”  Lakota organizer Judith LeBlanc writes. “The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have. The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that’s rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights …Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet..”At the Gathering to Protect the Sacred, Arvol Looking Horse tells the crowd, “We have been here before.  Time and time again we have faced this invasion in our camps and our communities. But we always prevail.”
Julian Brave Noisecat was there as well, “After the treaty was signed, we came together to dance in victory. As the drummers hit the honor beats, we raise defiant hands. Women clutch red scarves symbolizing scalps and emblematic of the victory our people and planet so desperately need right now.”

The path forward for Keystone XL remains full of peril.  Landowners, tribes and opponents of the pipeline have time to organize an appeal, and  more than 5,000 people have signed up to join Indigenous people in acts of civil disobedience when and if construction begins.

Winona LaDuke is a writer, environmentalist, and economist, known for her work on tribal land claims and preservation, as well as sustainable development.  In the 2016 presidential election, she became the first Native American woman to receive an electoral vote for Vice President of the United States.