So I was reading my history text, and it states that horses were likely hunted to extinction in North America. However, many movies and books display Native-Americans as in-tune-with-nature horse-whisperers. Is this a false display? Or did Native-Americans have access to horses from some source that led to this portrayal? Overall I want to know what real-life facts/events have led to this portrayal of Native-Americans in popular culture.
Equus, the genus that contains modern horses and Zebras, most likely originated in the Americas. Fossil records shows all species from that genus dying out in the Americas about 12,000 years ago.
Now the climate changed around then. This is pretty much exactly when the last ice age ended. Equus (horse species) weren't the only ones to die out. Mammoths also died out world-wide1, as did every other large herbivore in North America aside from Bison.
However this is also coincident with the first settlement of the Americas by humans. We've got pretty good evidence of these humans hunting large herbivores2. There's been a raging debate over exactly how much of the blame for all the extinctions around this time belongs to these people, and how much to the environmental changes, but at best the human hunting probably didn't help.3
So that's the case in support of what you heard. The case against is the following:
- North American Equus and modern horses are completely different species. Its quite likely they were untamable creatures, like Zebra. Either way, it was probably 6,000 years before any human anywhere domesticated any horse, so at the time either people weren't capable of doing that, or horses weren't or both.
- The people doing all this hunting were not modern Native Americans. They were members of one of a series of waves of immigration that happened pretty much constantly over the Beringia area.
- The only time Native Americans encountered wild horses (Equus ferus caballus), without any influence from any European, they immediately started domesticating them.
- Due to the above, the statement as phrased is an inaccurate anachronism, that has the possibility to imply some things that go beyond being merely incorrect into the realm of racism.
1 - Its arguably more accurate to add "except Asian Elephants", as they are much closer related to each other than either is to African Elephants. Asian Elephants are essentially the Mammoths that didn't die out.
2 - Arrowheads from North America at this time tend to be "fluted" to allow for extra blood flow from the target. Probably worth the effort when the target weighs a ton or more, but the fluting stopped when the large herbivores died out.
3 - Guns, Germs, & Steel (required reading) makes the case that large African and Asian species had the advantage of evolving alongside the Homo species, and thus having some chance to adapt as their hunting capabilities slowly improved. American species got introduced cold to fully-modern humans with Neolithic hunting technology.
The horses of the Great Plains Indians escaped from New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, in New Mexico.. The "native" horses of North America became extinct shortly after the paleo-Indians arrival.
This site describes the spread of horses on the Great Plains. French traders operating out of St. Louis first reported that the Cheyenne Indians had horses in 1745.
If you copy your question into google, the first result is:
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. TexasIndians.
The next several results are similar.