Oscar Wilde.

Lady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest online

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In considering the comparative merits of the leading founda-
tion stallions we find that Denmark was not a success in any
direction except as the sire of handsome and stylish saddle
horses. John Dillard may not have been the equal of Denmark
in the elegance of his progeny, but he far surpassed him in his
valuable relations to the trotter. His daughters became quite
famous as the producers of trotters of a high order, and they have
over twenty in the 2:30 list. The Tom Hals have developed
phenomenal speed at the pace, and a great deal of it, interspersed
with but few trotters.

Of late years many owners of the very best material for saddle
stock have given their whole attention to the development of
speed, either at the lateral or diagonal motion, because it has
been deemed more profitable. In thus selecting, breeding and
developing for extreme speed, the adaptation to saddle purposes
has been lost or bred out. While it is true that some colts come
into the world endowed with all the saddle gaits, it is also true
that skill and patience are requisite in teaching the saddle horse
good manners. There is no imaginable use to which the horse
can be put where he will show his beautiful form and thorough
education to so great advantage as under the saddle.



CHAPTEE XVI.

THE WILD HORSES OF AMERICA.

The romances of fifty years ago — Was tlie borse indigenous to this country? —
The theories of the paleontologists not satisfactory — Pedigrees of over two
millions of years too long — Outlines of horses on prehistoric ruins evi-
dently modern — The linguistic test among the oldest tribes of Indians fails
to discover any word for "Horse" — The horses abandoned west of the
Mississippi by the followers of De Soto about 1541 were the progenitors of
the wild horses of the plains.

Fifty years ago there was much that was romantic and mys-
terious in our conceptions of the real character and origin of the
vast herds of wild horses that abounded on our Western plains, and
the same remark applies to their congeners on the pampas of
South America. The wild horse and the Indian opened up a
most inviting field for the writers of romance, and current litera-
ture was flooded with "Wild Western" stories, with the horse and
the Indian as the leading characters. We are now one genera-
tion, at least, this side of the time when stories of this kind are
either sought or read, but we are not past the period when the
origin or introduction of the horse on this continent may be con-
sidered with interest and profit. Before touching upon the wild
horse, as known in our early history, however, it may be well to
consider, briefly, the question as to whether he may not have
been indigenous to this continent.

In our generation the spade has become a wonderful developer
of the truths of ancient history. The buried and forgotten cities
of the old world are being unearthed in Europe, Asia and Africa,
and thousands of works of art and learning that had vanished
from the face of the earth are again restored to the knowledge
of the human race. In a kindred branch of investigation the
geologists and paleontologists have been delving into the bowels
of the earth — not to find what previous generations of men had
left behind them, but to find what life was myriads of ages before
man was placed on the earth. Out of the rocks they have.



THE AVILD HORSES OF AMERICA. 197

literally, quarried many strange examples of animal life that
have been buried millions of years, and hundreds of feet below
the present surface. Among these strange petrefactions that
were thus buried when the earth was young, there is one that has
been widely exploited as the "Primal Horse," that is, the animal
from which our present horse was finally evolved. There are
three or four specimens of this petrefaction now on exhibition in
this country, the first having been discovered by Professor Marsh,
of Yale College, and now in the museum of that institution.
Nearly twenty years ago Professor Huxley, the great English
naturalist, delivered a lecture in this city on the Marsh petrefac-
tion as his text, in which he told us that the "Primal Horse"
had, originally, five toes on each foot, that after an indeterminate
geological period he lost the two outside toes on the hind feet,
iind after another million years, more or less, he lost the outside
toes of the fore feet, thus leaving him ready to go on developing
the middle toe into the foot and hoof of the horse while the out-
side toes disappeared. In proof of this he offered the fact that
horses of this day have splint bones on each side of the leg,
under the knee, and these bones are the remnants of the outside
toes. This was the explanation which the learned professor gave
in disposing of the outside toes when there were but three toes
on each foot, but he failed to explain what had become of the
outside toes when there were five on each foot, and there his
whole explanation toppled to the ground.

In the American Museum of Natural History, in this city, there
is a very fine representative of this particular type of petrefac-
tions. It is about fifteen inches high, with a head that is dis-
proportionately large, and a tail that is long and slender, sug-
gesting that of a leopard. On each fore foot this animal has four
toes, or claws, as we might call them, and on each hind foot
three claws. With these claws this little animal might dig in
the ground, or he might climb a tree when necessary for either
safety or food. Each one of these toes nas its own distinct
column of joints and bone extending to the knee, and there is no
material difference in the size and strength of these different
columns. Now, with three toes and three columns only, we can
accept or reject, as we please. Professor Huxley's method of get-
ting the two superfluous ones out of sight by pointing to the
splint bones on the leg of a modern horse and saying these are
the remnants of the outside toes. But, in the meantime, neither



198 THE HOESE OF AMERICA.

Mr. Huxley nor anybody else has told us what became of the-
outside toes and their columns in cases where there were five
toes. It will not do to chuck these out of sight and say nothing
about them; they must be accounted for or the theory fails. In
the specimen now under examination the fore feet are each sup-
plied with four toes, and each toe is supported by its own distinct
column of bone. Here we meet with the same difficulty as in
the case of five toes, for we have more material than the Huxley
theory is able to provide for. This theory has been generally
accepted among specialists, in this line of investigation, and they
all point to the splint bones, as already stated, as the remnants
of the two toes, adhering to the main column. This leaves the
one superfluous toe wholly unprovided for, and thus the theory
discredits itself and leaves the question in a shape that is entirely
unsatisfactory and unacceptable to the understanding.

The teeth of this specimen, in their shape and arrangement,
very strongly resemble the teeth of the horse.' Upon this one
fact is placed the chief reliance to sustain the claim that this was
the "Primal Horse," but this fact, when taken without the sup-
port of other facts, simply proves that the animal was herbivor-
ous, subsisting on the same kind of food as the horse, but it does-
not prove that he was a horse. The teeth are an excellent start-
ing point, and we admit their arrangement and resemblance to
the teeth of the horse, but the rules of comparative anatomy, as
well as common sense, require that at some other point or points
there should be at least a suggestion of resemblance. In this
case there is absolutely no resemblance, but a very marked and
unmistakable divergence. The foot of this little animal, fifteen
inches high, bears no more resemblance to the foot of the horse
than the foot of the dog bears to the foot of the horse. Indeed,
the foot of the specimen before us, whether provided with three,
four or five claws, very strikingly resembles the foot of the dog.
The arrangement of the different specimens of the feet, commenc-
ing with the smallest with four toes and ending with the perfect
and full-grown foot of the horse as we know him, intended to
illustrate the process of evolution, is a very interesting study, but
when you have done with the last foot with claws and reach for-
ward for the first foot with a hoof, you find there is an impassable
gulf between them, over which the theory of Evolution has not
been able to construct a bridge. But there is another considera-
tion that is final and that cannot be overcome by any theory



THE WILD HORSES OF AMERICA. 199

•whatever. According to the chronology widely accepted among
geologists, this little animal was buried in the sand more than
two millions of years ago, and in a grave more than a hundred
feet below the general surface of the country in which he was
found. In some great upheaval or cataclysm of the earth's sur-
face, this little animal, with all his contemiaoraries, perished, and
there perished with him all possibility of propagating his race.
It is only a waste of time, therefore, to speculate upon what a
certain race of animals might have produced in our day, when
they were all cut ofE two millions of years ago. With this dis-
position of the little animal with the variety of toes, quarried
from the rocks and by courtesy here called the "Primal Horse,"
we reach another prehistoric epoch in our inquiry, but much,
less remote than the one just considered.

From the incredible numbers of wild horses on our Western
plains and on the pampas of South America, at a very early
pariod in history, it became a question of some interest with
many thinking men as to whether the horse was not indigenous
ou this continent. It is within the knowledge of everybody that
this continent was inhabited by a mysterious and unknown race
of people long before it was visited by Europeans. These mys-
terious people seem to have been driven out by the fierce and
warlike savages who occuplied the country at the time of its dis-
covery, and even they knew nothing about the people who had
preceded them. In very many localities the vanished people left
behind them marks, numerous and unmistakable, that they had
made considerable progress in the arts of civilized life. Writers
have generally designated them as "the Mound Builders," be-
cause :hey heaped great tumuli of earth over the graves of their
distinguished dead, but the real "Mound Builders" did far more
than this, for with immense labor they built great, strong de-
fenses for their protection against their enemies. When we go
further West and South, into the fertile valleys among the moun-
tains, we find still later traces of these unknown people in the
ruins of buildings and dwellings erected, with infinite labor,
traces of irrigating canals, etc., but we still fail to come up with
them, or any trace of their history. In that region ruins of this
type are designated as "Aztec Ruins," but this title puts us no
further on the way of who the builders were. In 1877 a corre-
spondent of a Colorado newspaper, who seemed to write intelli-
gently and candidly, described some of those ruins which he



200 THE HORSE OF AMERICA.

found in the valley of the Las Animas, in Southwestern Colorado.
He speaks of a valley fifteen miles long and seven miles wide, on
the Animas River, and says this valley was covered with dwellings
built of stone, but he gives particular attention to a row of build-
ings built of sandstone laid in adobe mud. These buildings are
about three hundred feet long and three hundred feet apart, as
I understand the writer, and extend a distance of six thousand
feet. The outside walls are four feet thick and the inside ones
from one and a half to three feet thick; there are rooms still left
and walls remaining that indicate a building four stories high.
In some of the rooms there are writings that never have been
deciphered, and in one of them there are drawings of tarantulas,
centipedes, horses and men. The word "horses" riveted my at-
tention, and connected with it there were several things to be
considered. First, were the drawings really intended to represent
horses? Second, if so might they not have been placed there long
after the builders had disappeared and in recent years? Third, if
placed there by the builders, what was their date, and were they
before or after the introduction of the horse into Mexico by the
Spaniards? The possibility of ever obtaining any satisfactory
information about these drawings and their date seemed very
remote, but after watching and waiting for about eighteen years,
I have recently received two letters that settle the whole matter
so far as these particular ruins are concerned.

Mr. Charles McLoyd, a very intelligent gentleman of Durango,
Colorado, who has made a special study of the Cliff Dwellers and
kindred subjects, in that part of the world, writing under date
of January 10, 1895, says:

" I am unable to inform you in regard to the pictures on those particular
ruins, but can say that in no other locality have 1 found pictures of horses or
anything to indicate that these prehistoric races had any knowledge of the
animal. If such pictures existed we would be unable to determine anything
definite from them; or in other words, it would not show that the horse was
on this continent before the Spaniards brought him, but rather that the people
who constructed the buildings lived here after the Spaniards came. I have
often seen pictures of horses on the walls of canons, but there is no question
but they were the work of the present Indians. We often find associated with
them pictures of railroad trains, etc., that indicate that some of them are of
very recent date. To sum the matter up, would say that, so far, there is no
evidence that these races had any knowledge of the horse, or had ever seen
the Spaniards."

Mr. John A. Koontz, of Aztec, New Mexico, writes under



THE WILD HORSES OF AMERICA. 201

date of January 24, 1895. He knows all about the ruins in ques-
tion, for he owns the land on wliich they are situated, and puts
the whole matter very clearly, as follows:

" I know nothing of the drawings of horses and other animals on the walls
of the ' Aztec Ruins ' here that Mr. Wallace speaks of. I think the drawings
were all in the imagination of the correspondent to whom Mr. Wallace refers.
I have been familiar with the ruios for fourteen years and this is the first time
I have ever heard of any drawings of horses on any of the walls. There are
drawings on some rocks some miles from the ruins, but from their naiure I
hav^e considered them the work of the modern Indians. These ruins were
visited by a party of archeologists two years ago, who spent several weeks
here, and made a survey, with maps and general drawings of ihe same. They
decided that the main building had, originally, over seven hundred rooms."

These letters are conclusive, so far as the region of the Las
Animas is concerned, and with that region knocked out there is
not enough left to justify further search for evidence that the
prehistoric races had any knowledge of the horse. Nothing re-
mained then but the linguistic test, and in 1885 I had such an
opportunity for applying this test as may never occur again.
Tliis test formulated itself in my mind, in this shape: ''Did any
of the nations or tribes of the aboriginal inhabitants of this con-
tinent have a word in their language indicating a horse?"
When in California I applied to Mr. Bancroft, the compiler and
publisher of the great documentary history of the Pacific coast,
who then had a large corps of skilled translators at work on his
famous compilation, and submitted my question. He introduced
me to his principal linguist, who knew not only Spanish, Eng-
lish and other modern languages, but also the language of the
Indians of the coast, the mountains and the plains, of the period
covered by the question. The question did not seem to be new
to him, and he answered with the candor and conscientiousness
of a man who knew what he was saying, that there was no word in
any of the Indian tongues, ancient or modern, that represented
the horse. This settled the question of the supposed prehistoric
character and rank of the horse, and we are thus driven to accept
the infinitesimally small number left behind by Cortez, Nunez
and De Soto as the seed from which sprang the countless thou-
sands of wild horses that for generations roamed the Western
plains.

The story of the Conquest of Mexico is full of blood and
cruelty, but as we have nothing to do with any part of the story



202 THE HORSE OF AMERICA.

except so much of it as relates to the introduction of the horse to
the continent of North America, it will require but small space
to tell it. Oprtez sailed from Cuba for Yucatan, Feburary, 1519,
with an army of six hundred and sixty-three men, two hundred
Indians and sixteen horses. Tliis wholly inadequate supply of
cavalry was the weak place in his venture, but the horses could
not be had in Cuba, without paying an incredible price. Those
he was able to secure cost from four to five hundred pesos de oro
each. The j^jeso was the Spanish dollar. The expedition was
nominally fitted out for Yucatan, but its real aim was the heart
of Mexico. In his first fight with the Indians near the coast,
men mounted on horses were feared by the natives as monstrous
apparitions. This overwhelming fear of the horse may seem to
some of my readers as overdone by the historian, but it seems to
have been the common experience of all the different nations and
tribes of Indians wherever the horse made his first appearance in
battle. In the first battle two of the horses were killed, and in
the second another was killed, and all that remained were more
or less severely wounded. Cortez was afterward joined by Alva-
rado, at Vera Cruz, with twenty horses and one hundred and fifty
men. In making his official reports directly to the home govern-
ment in Spain instead of the governor of Cuba, Cortez gave mor-
tal offense to that dignitary, and he sent out an armada under
Narvaez to supersede Cortez and return him in chains to Cuba.
This armada consisted of eighteen vessels, carrying nine hundred
men, eighty of whom were cavalry. After some diplomacy,
Cortez, feeling that with his little handful of men he was wholly
unable to meet Narvaez, he did all he could to avoid a conflict.
Each party knew the exact strength of the other, and as Narvaez
began to threaten, Cortez determined to fight for his rights and
his liberty. He then had but five men mounted, but he took ad-
vantage of the carelessness of his adversary, made a night attack
in the midst of a tempest, and captured Narvaez and his whole
army. The private soldiers of that day, like their commanders,
had no idea or principle to right for except for plunder, and they
were always ready to attach themselves to the most successful
robber. Cortez was their ideal leader, and at once he liad a new
army of devoted followers. He then had eighty-five mounted
men, and he felt strong enough to hold and rule the great coun-
try he had conquered. Mexico was conquered in 1521, and the
news of the vast amount of treasure captured broiTght a greot



THE "WILD HORSES OF AMERICAc 203

•crowd of emigrants from Spain and from all her dominions. The
Spaniards, like other nations of Southern Europe, kept their horses
entire and whenever representatives of both sexes strayed away,
reproduction would follow. As the country became more tranquil,
and as the tide of European settlers kept pouring in, we can easily
understand how the little bands of estrays should grow into larger
bands and soon become as wild as though they had never seen a
human being except to flee from him.

The explorer. De Soto sailed for Florida in 1539, in search of
gold. He had in his command Ave hundred and thirteen men,
exclusive of sailors, and two hundred and thirty-seven horses,
besides some for the purpose of bearing burdens, the number
not given. In all his weary journey of three years he found the
Indians active, hostile, and courageous fighters. In one of his
first battles he lost twelve horses, and had seventy wounded. He
pursued many phantoms in search of gold, in different directions,
but his general course was westward and northwestward. He
was the first European to discover the Mississippi Eiver, not far
from the mouth of the Arkansas, and there he was buried in the
middle of the river, to prevent the Indians from discovering he
was dead and from desecrating his remains. His followers then
determined to push on westward to Mexico, and reached as far as
the borders of Texas, probably, when they became discouraged
with the magnitude of the difficulties that surrounded them, and
determined to return and seek an outlet from the wilderness by
water. On this last Journey, west of the Mississippi, they suf-
fered their greatest loss of horses. They had not been shod for
more than a year, and a great many were lame and unable to
travel. When the Spaniards had comi^leted their boats and were
ready to leave the scenes of their sufferings and disasters, they
turned loose upon the bank of the river their four or five remain-
ing horses, which manifested great excitement, running up and
down the bank neighing for their masters, as they sailed away.
This alarmed the Indians and they ran into the water for safety.

The Indians were afraid of the horses and the horses were
afraid of the Indians. It seems to be a fact, observed in all the
early intercourse of the Spaniards with the Indians, that uni-
versally they had a kind of superstitious awe of the horse as a
superior being, and it is probably due to this awe that the Indians
did not utterly destroy every horse that fell out of the ranks or
that escaped in the wilderness. As I understand the history of



204 THE HORSE OF AMERICA.

this terrible exploration, when the Spaniards crossed the Missis-
sippi they had two hundred and fifty men and one hundred and
fifty horses, and when they came back and were ready to sail
they had but four or five horses left. It is fair, therefore, to
conclude that the greater portion of these hundred and fifty head
was scattered in the wilderness as they went out and as they re-
turned. This provides a sufficient breeding basis for the count-
less multitudes of descendants, and places that nucleus in the
right region to nourish them in a feral state.

While this exploration of De Soto seems to furnish a breeding
basis of sufficient breadth to account for all the wild horses that
have appeared on this continent, there is another consideration
that we must not overlook, and that is the inborn tendency of
the domestic horse to become wild when in wild associations.
By turning to the chapter on the colony of Virginia you will see
that there were many wild horses there at the beginning of the
last century. On the frontiers, near the habitat of wild horses,
they became a great nuisance to the settlers in ''coaxing" away
their domestic horses and making them as wild as the wildest.
These accretions to their strength from the domestic horse have
been going on for generations, and thus the wild horse became
conglomerate in the elements of his blood, with the Spanish
traits still predominant. Fifty or a hundred years ago the pens
of many writers were employed in idealizing "The Wild Horse of
the Desert. " He was made the leading figure in many a romance,
and the hero of many a triumph. Tom Thumb, the great trot-
ter that was taken to England, astonished all the world with his
speed and his endurance, and, following the fashion of the day,
he was represented to have been caught wild on the Western
plains. For many years the wild horse was the "fad" of Ameri-
can writers, just as the Arabian was of English writers, and the
writers on one side were Just about as far from intelligence and
truth as those on the other. When, forty years ago, great droves
of the half-breeds, Mustangs, were brought from the plains to
the border prairie States, seeking a market, the scales began to
drop from the eyes of the worshipers of the wild horse. They
were homely little brutes, and they were as tough as whit-leather.
But the countless multitudes that roamed at will over their
grazing grounds, making the earth tremble when they moved,
have dwindled down to a few insignificant bands, and the whole
glamour around the wild horse of the desert has vanished.



CHAPTER XVII.

MESSENGER AND HIS ANCESTOKS.



Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 22 of 61)