Choctaw and Cherokee Horses
by Phil Sponenberg
The Choctaw and Cherokee tribes were avid horse breeders in their original territories within the southeastern United States. The horses they bred were Spanish and were obtained at first from the chain of missions across the deep South and west of the Mississippi in early Spanish colonial days. As the tribes became adept in horse breeding, the quality of the tribal horses gained a good reputation and was specifically mentioned as being excellent in various historic travel journals. Following the government removal in the mid-1800’s of the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes from the southeast to what is now Oklahoma, the tribes continued to breed their horses. The basis for the Oklahoma herds was horses brought from the southeast on the “Trail of Tears”, but no doubt some western horses were added as well. Because the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes became important as mediators between several of the more western tribes and the US government in the late 1800s, it is likely that exchange of horses between tribes occurred during the many meetings that were held.
There were individual families that played an important role in preserving the tribal horses. The Whitmire family line, which includes horses from the Corntassle family, is a Cherokee line of horses that can be traced back to the removal of the tribe from Etocha, Georgia in 1835. The line may go back in time even further as local court records from 1775 indicate that the Whitmire and Comtassle families had herds of horses at that time. The Whitmire line horses were always kept within the line on the female side, although outside stallions were occasionally introduced. The stallions were of Mexican, Choctaw, or Comanche breeding, and were therefore also Colonial Spanish. Some of the Comanche stallions came from the Black Moon Comanches of Oklahoma and were of leopard type color patterns. At least one Mexican stallion was a buckskin leopard. The outside stallions were carefully and specifically selected for inclusion within the Whitmire line and were chosen to be as similar to the Cherokee strain as could be had. Many of the Cherokee horses that remain are gaited and have unusual color patterns including several medicine hat paints.
The major families that preserved the Choctaw horses until recently were the Brame, Crisp, Locke, Self, Helms, Thurman, and Carter families. Their horses were run on the open range in areas where other types of horses were not kept. These families had hundreds of horses of consistent Spanish type with widely varying colors including the “Spanish roan” sabino type, leopard and blanketed patterns, and other colors such as overo paints. Choctaw horses are occasionally gaited and are notably quick. Choctaw breeder Hal Brame was well known for taking his favorite little paint horse to parties and dances and making wagers with other horse owners on races over 50 yards. In his lifetime Hal took a lot of money from the owners of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds who subsequently went away with increased respect for small Indian horses!
From the hundreds of Choctaw and Cherokee horses that were available as recently as 1975, ALBC estimates that less than 300 pure blooded horses remain as of 2008. This is due to the dispersal of many large herds following the deaths of some of the elderly breeders. Realizing that the once numerous horses were quickly disappearing, Gilbert Jones began the collection of as many pure blooded horses as he could find and assembled the largest known herd of these animals. Following Gilbert’s death in 2001, the horses were inherited by close friends Bryant and Darlene Rickman who remain stewards of the herd and staunch advocates of the Choctaw and Cherokee horse.
Choctaw and Cherokee horses are known for their hardiness, vigor, and adaptability. They are typically easy to train with a gentle hand and can be very people oriented. They make excellent trail and endurance horses but have the potential to do well in any riding discipline. They are all-around easy keepers and according to their owners have little to no health problems. These horses average 14 to 14.2+ hands although some may be larger. Despite their size, they easily carry adults with minimal effort.
More information about Choctaw and Cherokee Horses:
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312, (919) 542-5704, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.albc-usa.org
Horse of the Americas, 129 West Stage Coach Trail, Inverness, FL 34452, (352) 637-5775, email email@example.com, www.horseoftheamericas.com
Southwest Spanish Mustang Association, Bryant Rickman, PO Box 948, Antlers, OK 74523, (580) 326-8069, (580) 326-6005, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, www.southwestspanishmustangassociation.com