When the horses first appeared to the Blackfeet people, they thought the strange animals were dogs sent as a gift from the sky from Old Man, creator of all things.
A long, long time ago we had to walk and walk from sky to sky, from camp to camp. Our dogs carried our rawhide bags and pulled our travois sleds. We walked so much that we wore out many moccasins going across the plains.
All of a sudden, one day, coming from Old Man’s sleeping room, west of the mountains, we saw some strange looking beasts. They were as big as elk and they had tails of straw. Lying across the backs of these beasts were two Kutani men. One beast was pulling a travois sled. We became afraid because we did not understand.
My best friend, Jumps-Over-the-Water hid behind his mother’s skirt. The bravest of all of us known as Running Bear, ran behind the nearest tipi to hide. I was so frightened I could not move. I was away from the safety of my father’s tipi. The men in our tribe yelled that we were not to be afraid – that we were the mighty Piegans who took the land away from the Kutani.
As I looked around I saw that they were afraid. They all had big eyes and four of them had their hunting bows aimed.
Then our chief Long Arrow laughed. He said, “These are from Old Man. They are a gift like the elk, antelope, buffalo and bighorn sheep they are called Sky Dogs”.
Now Long Arrow was very smart because he had walked around the Earth seven times from the Porcupine Hills down to the mouth of the Yellowstone. Everyone became quiet and trusted his knowledge. We waited for the Sky Dogs to reach our camp. We waited bravely with our sacred herb, nawak’osis, ready for smoking.
When they reached our camp we saw that there were two Kutani men and a Kutani woman in the travois sled. We took the three ill Kutani in but the medicine man could do nothing for the men. They died before they could tell us about the Sky Dogs and how they came to be from Old Man.
We took care of the beasts. We fed them dried meat as we fed our dogs. We threw sticks to make them fetch. One Sky Dog ran away. Some say he went back to Old Man. Some say that the coyote got him. The two that stayed showed us they like to eat grass.
Running Bear came away from his tipi and Jumps-Over-the-Water left his mother’s skirt. No one was afraid anymore.
I went up to the smallest Sky Dog. I touched him gently from hoof to mane. I felt his soft, warm skin. He did not flicker. He did not move. I pressed my face close against his face. He still did not move. Long Arrow smiled at me and gave me the name- He-Who-Loves-Horses.
The Kutani woman grew well, married my father and we lived in the tipi as a family. She sang to us the story of the Sky Dogs and her people. I learned how to mount and to comb the mane with a bone comb. And I learned how to ride into battle.
From this I earned a place in the Council of Warriors.
One of the major misconceptions about Indians is that they were exclusively a race of horsemen. The Indians of the Southwest region were the Indians that were first mounted on horses, in the early 1600s. And in this region, the Navajo, Apache and Comanche were tribes regarded as being certainly mounted.
The Apache were regarded as very poor horsemen. They enjoyed eating them as much as riding them and they usually fought their battles on foot.
The Comanche and other Plains tribes were horse-oriented tribes of the type that was depicted in movies from Hollywood. Most of those tribes didn’t get the horse until the mid to late 1700s.
The Navajo raised domestic animals for meat and clothing. They employed their ponies for tending sheep and cattle as they were pastoralists and herdsmen.
For 20,000 years they survived without the horse. It was only after the white man introduced the horse to the Indian that they began to use them in any sense.
However, archeologists today think the horse originated on the North American continent and migrated to Asia about 20,000 years ago and became extinct on the North American Continent.
Most Indian tribes say their tribe has always been here, so who can say whether or not their ancestors didn’t have a relationship with the horse more than 20,000 years ago, long before the white men reintroduced them to this continent?