When we think of Indians we picture a warrior with a spear or bow and arrow sitting on a horse. But, the Indians did not always have horses. In fact, they did not always have bows and arrows, but that is a different story. This page is about horses and Indians.
The Indians got their first horses from the Spanish. When the Spanish explorers Coronado and DeSoto came into America they brought horses with them. This was in the year of 1540. Some horses got away and went wild. But, the Indians did not seem to have done much with these wild horses. They did not start to ride or use horses until much later.
In the 1600s there were a lot of Spanish missions and settlers in New Mexico just to the west of Texas. This is where the Pueblo and Navaho Indians live. The Spanish in New Mexico used Indians as slaves and workers. These Indian slaves and workers learned about horses working on the Spanish ranches. The Spanish had a law that made it a crime for an Indian to own a horse or a gun. Still these Indians learned how to train a horse and they learned how to ride a horse. They also learned how to use horses to carry packs.
In the year of 1680 the Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish and drove the Spanish out of their land and back down into Old Mexico. The Spanish were forced to leave so fast they left behind many horses. The Pueblo Indians took these horses and used them. The Spanish did not come back until the year of 1694. While the Spanish were gone the Pueblo Indians raised large herds of horses. They began selling and trading them to other Indians such as the Kiowa and Comanche. The Pueblo Indians also taught the other Indian tribes how to ride and how to raise horses.
Horses spread across the Southern Plains pretty quickly. French traders reported that the Cheyenne Indians in Kansas got their first horses in the year of 1745. Horses changed life for the plains Indians. Plains Indians, including Texas Plains Indians, hunted buffalo on foot before they had horses. Buffalo are not easy to hunt on foot. They can run away faster than a hunter can run after them. With a horse, a hunter can chase after the buffalo and keep up with them. A group of hunters can ride horses up to a heard of buffalo and get close enough to shoot arrows at them before the buffalo run away.
Plains Indians are nomads. Nomads means they are always moving from place to place looking for food. Nomads have to carry everything they own with them every time they move. Before they had horses, the Indians would have to carry everything on foot or use dogs to carry things. Yes they used dogs with packs like saddlebags and with travois to carry stuff.
When the first horses arrived they looked like very wonderful and magical dogs that could carry a lot of stuff. That is why many Plains Indians called horses "sacred dogs".
In a very short time Plains Indians learned to be expert riders. Along with hunting they learned to use the horses to make war and go on raids. They could go much farther than they ever could on foot and arrive rested and able to fight. The tribes who learned how to use horses first and fast had a huge advantage over other tribes. They quickly pushed other tribes out of their former territories and expanded their territories. Tribes like the Comanche and Cheyenne who had horses and knew how to use them first pushed other tribes like the Apache, Wichita and Tonkawa south and west off the plains. The Apache who now live in New Mexico and in Old Mexico used to live way up in the Texas panhandle and north of Texas. Bands of Comanche warriors on horseback were powerful and feared by everyone – Indians and Europeans.