Jones Benally received this gelding, Moonwalker, pictured here just outside the Navajo Nation in Arizona, from a patient for his services as a medicine man. By tribal tradition, lightning is thought to be the spark of all creation. © Erika Larsen/National Geographic
WASHINGTON — The March 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine features a beautifully written article about horses and their historic connection to American Indians.
Credit: National Geographic
The article provides a history of how horses originated in North America and spread to Eurasia and shares the story of how horses changed life on the Great Plains forever. The story features many stunning photos of horses that portray their connection to American Indians today.
Author David Quammen and photographer Erika Larsen traveled throughout the Great Plains to learn about different American Indian tribes’ traditions involving horses and to document how horses endure as an emblem of tradition and a source of pride for Native Americans today.
Nakia Williamson rides a cross between an Appaloosa and the hardy Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan, one of the world’s oldest breeds, renowned for courage and endurance. The horse he’s leading at his home in Lapwai, Idaho, is his full Appaloosa. © Erika Larsen/National Geographic
Excerpt from the March issue of National Geographic magazine:
Horses had opened new possibilities. They allowed men to hunt buffalo more productively than ever before, to range farther, to make devastating raids against other tribes. They relieved women of some onerous duties, such as lugging possessions from camp to camp. They tipped the balance, in population growth and territorial expansion, between hunting tribes and farming tribes, favoring the former. They also replaced the only previously domesticated animal in North America, the dog, which was much smaller and weaker and had to be fed meat. A horse could live off the land, eating what people and dogs didn’t want: grass. When drought or winter snows made grass unavailable, it could even survive on cottonwood bark…
As his horse applies the brakes, a rider in the Indian relay race on the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ reservation begins his flying dismount. Each bareback rider has to make three laps, leaping on a new horse at the end of each one. © Erika Larsen/National Geographic
The negative aspects of the horse revolution have passed into history, but horses remain vastly important to many Native Americans, especially the Plains tribes, as objects of pride, as tokens of tradition, and for the ancient values they help channel into a difficult present: pageantry, discipline, prowess, concern for other living creatures, and the passing of skills across generations.