Did you know that less than 200 years ago thousands of horses were running free on the Great Plains in Texas? We came across this information in an article about early horse trading by Professor Dan Flores (“Horse Trading in the Early West” available on historynet.com) because we are boning up on horse history and preparing to celebrate the horses of Corrales on Heritage Day on May 13. Besides general information from scholarly sources, we are looking for stories about Corrales horses. Most of the farms here in the 18th through the mid-20th century had at least one horse and in this century Corrales has become “the horse capital of New Mexico,” so we expect there is some great horse history out there. Anyone who wants to share please email us at CHSarchives@corraleshistory.org.
Professor Flores’ article about horse trading quotes a Texas rancher who reported “immense herds all over the western country, as far as the eye or telescope could sweep the horizon.” Flores ends his paragraph with the triumphant sentence: “After a 10,000-year absence, the horse had returned to its wild state in the West, and from Texas and New Mexico westward, they seemed to be overspreading the countryside like dandelions after a spring shower.”
Indeed, paleontologists have found evidence that several varieties of a horselike animal thrived in the Americas millions of years ago and spread around the world. They died out in the Western hemisphere, but evolved elsewhere. The descendants of these horses came back with the Spanish when they crossed the ocean to the Americas. In these decades of European exploration and colonization, horses’ broad backs and powerful legs were the primary means enabling puny humans to travel and transport goods, so hundreds—if not thousands—of horses, mules and burros accompanied the Spanish.
In New Mexico, horses were needed to herd cattle, a task often given to the Pueblo Indians. Although reports from the Coronado expedition of the mid-16th century state that at first the Indians the Spanish met were terrified of their horses, it is clear from 17th-century documents that the native fears disappeared. Interestingly, horses were first considered as a food source by the nomadic tribes, but one writer estimates that the Apaches began to see them as mounts as early as 1620. In time, the Comanches became the preeminent horsemen and horse traders on the Great Plains. Comanche leaders said the tribe had so many horses “they were ‘to us like grass.’”
We already have some Corrales horse stories. Welch Mattox may be best remembered as a local grocer, but according to his wife his first love was horse trading. When he did not have to work in the store, he would buy horses at the horse auction on South Broadway. His best customers were from Santo Domingo Pueblo who would often request a certain type of horse for which he would search at the auction. He was usually paid with jewelry and his daughter remembered that such jewelry was all over the house.
T.C. Perea recalled that he would help catch the wild horses who lived on the empty grant lands west of Corrales. He and his friends would break them on the sand dunes where they could be thrown off the horses without being hurt.
We welcome many more stories! Please let us know if you have one to share (CHSarchives@corraleshistory.org).
Information provided by Corrales Historical Society (CHS) Archives Committee. Want to learn more? Visit www.CorralesHistory.org for all the exciting things the Historical Society has to offer. New CHS members are always welcome.
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