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.

  • 8
    You don't clearly specify which portion of Native American history you are referring to. In 1493, Columbus brought horses to America, and since then there have again been horses in the Americas which Native Americans might use. Prior to this point, yes, there had not been horses in the Americas since 8000 BP at the latest. Aug 1, 2016 at 18:56
  • 5
    Voting to close as trivial; if you copy the question into google the first five results answer the question.
    – MCW
    Aug 1, 2016 at 23:20

3 Answers 3


Not exactly.

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.

  • I don't see how a question concerning horses is "racist." The fact is the Native North American peoples did not even have the wheel so while they excelled at travel by water everything else was done along the foot path. "Horses" weren't truly introduced to North America until the "tow path" came along during the Canal building boom of the early 1800's. This also introduced Oxen to North America which were the only "beasts of burden" capable of working the massive forests of the American North. The native populations were simply overwhelmed by all the "wild life" Europeans brought. Aug 2, 2016 at 23:32
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    @user14394 that's false. Horses were introduced early on across North America (Mexico is also N. America) by Spanish explorers and colonists (along with rats, cows, and diseases) in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Wild horse populations flourished in the wild open, growing, and between this and nomadic tribes like the Comanche or Apache stealing them, they quickly learned to adapt to greater extent. The Spanish Solderos and later the Texas Rangers would remark upon how the Comanche seemed to be part man and part horse, owing to their prowess on horseback across the plains and "wild west". Oct 3, 2018 at 22:39

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.

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