Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Do you know that the Plains Indians lived in North America for centuries before they got horses? These people were nomads, moving from place to place through the seasons as they sought protection from winter weather and hunted for buffalo, their main source of food. Can you imagine how difficult it was, walking many miles in soft moccasins across the rough prairie ground with only dogs to help carry their possessions? The dogs dragged goods on a travois, a set of wooden poles strapped together. A big, strong dog could manage a load of just seventy-five pounds or less. It took an Indian band a long time to get from one place to another, and the people couldn’t bring very many things along.
Then, in the 1500s, Spanish explorers and settlers brought horses with them to North America. Indian slaves in the Southwest took care of the horses on Spanish ranches but were forbidden to ride them. Of course they figured out how useful horses were, and soon the Apache tribe had horses. In 1680, the Indians rebelled against the Spanish, driving them out of New Mexico and forcing them to leave many horses behind. From then on, horses spread northward and by 1750, tribes all the way into Canada had horses.
These powerful animals revolutionized Indian culture. With horses, the Indians could ride instead of walk. They could bring along more goods, as a horse could drag a travois load of three hundred pounds. Just five horses could transport everything needed by a family, including enough buffalo hides to make a big, comfortable tepee. Old or sick family members could be carried along on a travois as well.
Just as the Indians were embracing the horse, European Americans were moving into Indian lands, forcing some tribes to move westward onto the prairie and adopt the horse culture. Within a generation, Indians became supreme horsemen and used horses to hunt buffalo and to wage warfare. They fought against one another as well as against the U.S. Army, which was trying to clear the way for white settlers to make their homes on the prairie. By the late 1800s, the Plains tribes had been beaten and forced to live on reservations.
The Indians still value their horses, competing with them in rodeos and races as well as for recreation and transportation.
Every winter, a group of young Indians show their pride in their cultural traditions by challenging themselves to repeat the frigid 287-mile ride of Lakota Chief Big Foot and his band to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where they were massacred by the U.S. Army in December, 1890. Indian Teens, Wm. Munoz
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent says about her book, The Horse and the Plains Indians: "This book was truly a labor of love and respect. Within a few years of acquiring horses after the Spanish brought them to America, Indians became among the greatest horsemen in the world and created vibrant new horse-related aspects to their cultures. I wanted to communicate these achievements to young people and to show them that despite all they have suffered at the hands of European American culture, the Indians heart and soul attachment to horses endures." For more information, click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "How Horses Revolutionized the Lives of the Plains
Indians." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Mar. 2018,
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