The discovery does not improve the case for horses having survived the Ice Ages in the Americas
CHIRIBIQUETTE NATIONAL PARK, Colombia––Images of ice age horses, among thousands of other animals painted along an eight-mile mural of rock art recently found in southern Colombia, have revived hopes among wild horse advocates––and Mormon literalists––that horses somehow remained in the Americas between disappearing from the fossil record circa 11,000 years ago and reintroduction by Spanish conquistadores.
Reported Namita Singh for The Independent on November 30, 2020, “The 12,500-years-old artwork was uncovered by a British/Colombian team of archaeologists under the leadership of José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University, and was funded by the European Research Council.
A hairy horse, of course
“The pictures are so natural and so well made that we have few doubts that you’re looking at a horse, for example,” Iriarte said. “The ice-age horse had a wild, heavy face. It’s so detailed, we can even see the horsehair.”
“The team first began studying the region in 2014,” Singh wrote, “two years before the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] struck a peace treaty with Colombia’s government,” after 50 years of warfare in the surrounding countryside.
The rock art is deep within nominally protected habitat, in Chiribiquiette National Park, but the park itself, in the Serranía La Lindosa region, “falls under FARC territory, and entering safely still requires careful negotiations with the guerrilla group,” Singh explained.
Find does not confirm the Book of Mormon
Superficially, the depictions of horses among the rock art images seem to confirm that Native Americans at least saw horses long before any were brought by European invaders and settlers, and that horses existed in South America before European invasion and settlement, as the Book of Mormon alleges.
However, while the rock art images reinforce the increasingly strong case for a human presence throughout the Americas before the end of the Ice Ages, they do not push back the chronology for an equine presence. Indeed, the rock art images appear to long predate the mysterious sudden disappearance of horses from the North American fossil record about 11,000 years ago.
First scientifically observed by pioneering zoologist Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) circa 1830 and detailed by Leidy in his 1847 treatise On the Fossil Horse of America (1847), this verity has yet to be contradicted by fossil evidence despite nearly 200 years of increasingly intensive paleontological investigation.
Not so much as an unequivocally age-able bone has turned up to place horses in either North, South or Central America between the most recent Ice Age horse fossils and the arrival of horses with Christopher Columbus on his 1493 second voyage to the Caribbean region.
Yvette Running Horse Collin
Nonetheless, horse advocates on social media were within hours of publication of word of the Chiribiquiette National Park discovery dusting off and amplifying arguments advanced most vigorously in recent years by Yvette Running Horse Collin, cofounder with her husband Sean Collin of the Sacred Way Sanctuary in Florence, Alabama.
The Collins also operate a fishing pier and a souvenir shop in the vicinity.
At the Sacred Way Sanctuary, Yvette and Sean Collin keep––and breed––about 100 horses, “each a descendent of Native North American horse lines named for the nations associated with them, including the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Lakota, Cheyenne, Apache, Ojibwe, and Pueblo,” according to a Yes magazine feature by travel writer and dog trainer Shoshi Parks, published on April 27, 2020.
“The horses at the Sacred Way Sanctuary,” Parks claimed, “are different from those of European lineages. They’re smaller, for starters, rarely more than 14 hands high (4.7 feet high at the withers),” a description that would actually apply to many horse breeds of European lineage, especially from northern Europe.
Many of these smaller horse breeds were brought to the U.S., centuries after the arrival of Spanish horses, to work in the mining industry.
“Foods that European horses can’t digest”
“They stand differently, consume foods that European horses can’t digest, and their coats have distinct patterns and markings,” Parks continued. “There are speckled Appaloosas and patchwork paints,” common throughout the U.S. west.
Photos posted by critics of horse care at the Sacred Way Sanctuary show horses who may stand differently because their hooves are deep in mud, and may “consume foods that European horses can’t digest” because many are visibly underweight, despite a considerable number of photos posted by the Sacred Way Sanctuary showing resident horses at feeding time.
That Yvette Collin has horses from horse lines maintained within particular Native American tribes may be true, but that any of those tribes had horses prior to 1493 is not.
There is in fact relatively easily accessible historical documentation of exactly when and where each of those tribes first obtained horses, in all instances well within the past 500 years; several of these tribes first saw horses within the past 200 years.
“Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”
The historical record notwithstanding, Yvette Collin received a doctorate in Indigenous Studies from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in May 2017 with a thesis entitled The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth.
Publication of the thesis coincided, according to Sacred Way Sanctuary filings of IRS Form 990, with a rise in donations from the range of $15,000 to $25,000 over the preceding decade to more than $140,000 a year, as the story amplified by the thesis rapidly won favor with a variety of wishful thinkers.
Some supporters appear to be New Agers and members of the “Wanna-be tribe,” abundant in and around Yvette Collin’s former haunts in Greenwich Village, New York, and Taos, New Mexico. Some are wild horse advocates desperate to win recognition for horses as a North American native species, as a defense against roundups and extirpations driven by the equally questionable argument that horses are an “invasive” threat to native wildlife.
And some, predictably, are the same Mormon literalists who have vexed bona fide scientific and historical researchers since Joseph Leidy’s day.
“Deconstruct” = rewrite the evidence
Yvette Collin, according to her abstract, “seeks to deconstruct the history of the horse in the Americas and its relationship with the Indigenous Peoples of these same lands.”
Note that “deconstruct” is an academic term meaning, essentially, to rewrite something so as to extract a different message from it than whatever is plainly visible.
“Although Western academia admits that the horse originated in the Americas,” Collin summarizes, erroneously treating “Western academia” as a single body of thought, it “credits Spanish conquistadors and other early European explorers with reintroducing the horse to the Americas and to her Indigenous Peoples. However, many Native Nations state that ‘they always had the horse’ and that they had well established horse cultures long before the arrival of the Spanish.”
Collin chooses to accept this claim at face value, she says, because “To date, ‘history’ has been written by Western academia to reflect a Eurocentric and colonial paradigm. The traditional knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and any information that is contrary to the accepted Western academic view, has been generally disregarded, purposefully excluded, or reconfigured to fit the accepted academic paradigm.”
To some extent, and in some contexts, this may be true, but overlooked in Collin’s dissertation, which ANIMALS 24-7 has spent several days examining from front to back, is any plausible suggestion of a specific incentive for “Western academia” to collectively disregard anything verifiable in reference to horses.
Also overlooked is any consideration that people other than “western academics,” including Yvette Collin herself, though she claims “Western academic” credentials, might have their own motives for “deconstructing” evidence.
Francis D. Haines
Along the way, Yvette Collin briefly cites out of context the late Francis D. Haines (1899-1988), the pre-eminent historian of the introduction of horses to Native American peoples. The passage Yvette Collin cites is a paragraph in which Haines in 1938 summarized a then-prevailing “Western academic” view, which Haines then proceeded to demolish with a barrage of contradictory evidence.
Haines, in 1937, authored two articles for Western Horseman magazine which directly sparked equestrian interest in preserving the Appaloosa breed, the best known and most thoroughly authenticated Native American horse breed.
Those two articles were also among the first published defenses of western wild horses against the extermination campaigns which, by the passage of the 1959 “Wild Horse Annie Act,” had very nearly succeeded.
Helped to inspire “Wild Horse Annie Act”
The “Wild Horse Annie Act,” which protected wild horses from hunters using motorized vehicles on public land, was later reinforced by the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. The arguments for both Acts of Congress built upon Haines’ research, as well as the lobbying pressure built by Velma Bronn Johnston (1912-1977), nicknamed “Wild Horse Annie” for her political work.
Haines, raised among Native Americans in Montana, married into the Nez Perce tribal culture, on his way to earning a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1938.
Haines’ doctoral thesis, entitled The Northward Spread of Horses Among the Plains Indians, was published later that year in book form by the American Anthropological Association.
This was the work from which Yvette Collin misrepresented Haines’ findings.
Haines, after 1938, spent the rest of his life tracing the origins and distribution of Appaloosa horses, both backward to their Spanish origins and forward to introductions abroad, along with researching the history of the Nez Percé and Great Plains tribes.
This was accomplished largely by interviewing elders, as well as tirelessly tracking down written documentation and keeping up with archaeological and paleontological findings.
Just a year after Haines completed his Ph.D. thesis, the foundation of research that went into it also helped him to produce Red Eagles Of The Northwest: The Story Of Chief Joseph And His People, an authoritative 1939 biography of the renowned Chief Joseph (1840-1904).
This biography had quite a lot to do with making the last Nez Percé war chief the well-known and revered figure he remains today,
Nez Percé & horses
Horses, wrote Haines in a 1964 American Heritage article entitled “How the Indian Got the Horse,” were “obviously an inseparable and essential element of Indian culture on the Great Plains; and indeed, the first Anglo-Americans to reach those areas, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, found the mounted Indians already in full force. Yet in 1855 less than 150 years had passed since the first Nez Percé ever to mount a horse had taken his first daring ride.”
The Nez Percé were––by general agreement of all oral and written accounts Haines discovered––the major distributors of horses throughout the northern Great Plains and Pacific Northwest.
As of 1964, Haines had for nearly thirty years been undermining through meticulous scholarship what was then the prevailing “Western academic” view of Native American horse acquisition, stirring considerable controversy among literalist Mormons, in particular, who left no stone unturned in well-funded rebuttal efforts.
Junked De Soto myth
“Until recent years,” Haines explained in his 1964 account, “historians and anthropologists accepted rather casually the theory that horses lost from early Spanish expeditions had, by natural increase, stocked the western ranges with wild bands that supplied the various Indian tribes with their animals. The favored choice for the supposed source of the breeding stock was either the expedition of Hernando de Soto or that of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, both of which reached the plains of Texas in 1541–42.”
“De Soto,” Haines summarized, “died of fever on the shore of the Mississippi River in May 1542. The remnants of his forces, led by Luis Moscoso, travelled west and south to Texas in a vain attempt to reach Mexico overland. Failing in this, they returned to the Mississippi and built a fleet of seven brigantines on which they embarked with 22 horses, all that were left of their original 243.
“As the Spaniards sailed down the river they killed the horses one by one for food, until only five or six of the best were left. These they turned loose in a small grassy meadow near the mouth of the river.
“Legend would have it that these horses remembered the plains of Texas and wished to return there,” Haines wrote. “They swam the river, splashed through a hundred miles of swamps and marshes, and finally reached open country with abundant grass.
“Here, supposedly, they settled down and reproduced at a prodigious rate. Soon their offspring covered the Texas plains and attracted the attention of the local Indians, who knew how to catch and train them from having seen the Spanish ride by on such animals years ago.
“Stubborn facts undermine this pretty tale,” Haines continued. “First, one of the Spaniards in Moscoso’s party said later that Indians came out of the bushes and shot the liberated horses full of arrows even before the Spanish boats had passed beyond the next bend. Second, even if they had survived, the route to the west was impassable for horses, which in any case had no way of knowing the direction to take to reach Texas. Third, and finally, these war horses were all stallions.”
Questioned Coronado myth, too
“The other candidate, Francisco Coronado, approached Texas from the west,” Haines recounted. “In 1541 he approached the Plains with a force estimated at 1,500 people, 1,000 horses, 500 cattle, and 5,000 sheep. He spent more than five months on the Plains, where he lost many horses. Some were gored by buffalo, some fell into a ravine during a buffalo chase. A few might have strayed away without their loss being noted by the chronicler, and it is conceivable that a stallion and a mare might have strayed off together. The muster rolls of the expedition list two mares, and there might have been a few more not listed.
“Assume, then,” Haines wrote, “that such a pair escaped in northern Texas, adjusted to the range conditions, and produced offspring, all of whom survived. It is mathematically possible that in sixty years or so the resulting herd would number several thousand. They would have ranged the plains for hundreds of miles.
“Yet,” Haines noted, “Spanish explorers and buffalo hunters from the later Sante Fe settlements found no wild horses of any kind in this area before 1700. It seems reasonable, then, that any such strays were wiped out by bad water, storms, accidents, and predators such as the wolf and cougar. These hazards to the foals should not be discounted; in 1719 the Paducahs reported that they had not been able to raise any colts, but had to obtain all their horses by barter—and they had owned horses for several years by that time.”
Learning to ride
Beyond that, wrote Haines, himself an expert horseman, “Nor could even the most intelligent Indian hope to learn the art of catching, breaking, and training wild horses just from watching the Spanish ride by on tame ones. For a primitive people to learn such a complex pattern in a short space of time, they must have skilled horsemen for teachers and gentle, well-trained horses to handle. Even under these conditions such learning is sometimes difficult.
“For example, according to Flathead tradition,” Haines mentioned, “their tribe secured a gentle horse in western Montana around 1700, and some of them attempted to ride it. One man would lead the horse slowly along while the rider attempted to balance himself with the aid of two long sticks, one in each hand, reaching to the ground like crutches. When one of the young men finally managed to ride unaided at a trot, he was the hero of the whole band.”
Rather, Haines suggested, “The simplest and most effective way for the Indians of the Southwest to learn how to break, train, and care for horses was for them to work for the Spaniards,” as thousands demonstrably did during the seventeenth century, after the conquistador Juan de Oñate introduced Spanish settlement to New Mexico in 1598.
Juan de Oñate: “The Equestrian”
“Year by year,” Haines summarized, “the tribes adjacent to the Spanish settlements learned to use horses, and slowly increased their herds. The first documentary evidence of the use of horses by Indians in the American West comes sixty-one years after the arrival of Oñate’s colony: In 1659 the governor at Sante Fe sent to Mexico City an official report of a raid from the northwest by a band of mounted Navaho Apaches.”
Insisted the dog trainer Parks, paraphrasing the Yvette Collin thesis, “Early explorers and settlers chronicled the presence of horses throughout North America. In 1521, herds were seen grazing the lands that would become Georgia and the Carolinas. Sixty years later, Sir Francis Drake found herds of horses living among Native people in coastal areas of California and Oregon. In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate described New Mexico as being “full of wild mares.
1521 story is at best garbled
“Yet, the official story that was written into the history books,” Parks continued, “and which persists today, is that the New World had no horses before the arrival of the Spanish. According to the narrative, the first horses to arrive in the New World in 1519 were the progenitors of every horse found on the continent in later years. That it would have been biologically impossible for a small group of horses in Mexico to populate regions thousands of miles away in as little as two years is never discussed.”
But Haines had already refuted and replaced “the narrative” referenced by Parks and Yvette Collin long before either one of them was born.
That in 1521 horses “were seen grazing the lands that would become Georgia and the Carolinas,” or at least some of those lands, is no mystery, but also––at best––somewhat garbled.
The slave trader Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1521 received a charter from the Spanish king that gave him the right to explore and colonize much of the eastern seaboard.
Francisco de Chicora: story-teller
Thereupon, de Ayllón sent Captain Francisco Gordillo to the Cape Fear region, where Gordillo impressed into slavery 60 Native Americans. One of them, a youth who was baptized Francisco de Chicora, accompanied de Ayllón back to Spain.
There, like Scheheradzade, the story-telling narrator of the Arabic literary classic A Thousand & One Arabian Nights, de Chicora regaled court chronicler Peter Martyr with strange and fantastic tales of the New World, none of them identifiably anchored in history and archaeology despite many attempts by scholars over the past 500 years to find a few grains of truth in de Chicora’s accounts.
Finally de Chicora was sent back with de Ayllón to try to establish a permanent Spanish base in the Carolinas.
Ran for the hills
De Ayllón sailed in 1526 from Hispaniola, the Spanish regional capital at what is now Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, with de Chicora, cattle, sheep, pigs, as many as 700 people, and 100 horses to Winyah Bay, South Carolina.
There, on August 9, 1526, the largest ship in de Ayllón’s fleet ran aground and sank. De Chicora fled ashore, presumably back to his own people, and was never seen again, though he may have helped to incite the Native American attacks on the colonists that followed.
Within less than three months the entire colonization venture failed. De Ayllón himself died of an unidentified illness on October 18, 1526. About 150 survivors of the de Ayllon mission made their way back to Hispaniola, leaving their horses and other animals behind.
The horses are believed to have been the ancestors of the wild horses who continue to inhabit islands off the South Atlantic coast of the U.S. to this day.
Sir Francis Drake
The tale that Sir Francis Drake saw horses in northern California appears to be of Mormon origin.
Drake sailed up the U.S. west coast in 1579, hiding from Spanish pursuit after attacking Spanish ships and settlements along the coasts of Chile and Peru.
Drake made two landings, first at South Point, Cape Arago, just south of Coos Bay, Oregon, on June 5, 1579. Twelve days later Drake landed a second time, at a location believed to have been Drake’s Bay, California. There Drake caulked the hull of his ship, The Golden Hind, and did some local exploration,
Neither Drake nor any of his crew ever verifiably mentioned horses, but two men who promoted English settlement of North America supposedly did: Richard Hakluyt and Robert Dudley, both writing many years after Drake’s voyage.
Tip-toeing around the tules
Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616), whose life overlapped Drake’s, knew Drake (1540-1596), and wrote extensively about Drake’s exploits, but if he actually wrote anything at all about Drake seeing horses in California, it seems to have eluded verifiable scholarship.
The supposed Robert Dudley horse reference dates to 1645, meaning that it came not from the most famous Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), who knew and promoted Francis Drake, but rather from his son Robert (1574-1649), also an adventurer and explorer. The younger Robert Dudley was also acquainted with Drake, but probably received his information second hand.
In any event, this reference likewise has eluded verifiable scholarship. Even if it did somehow turn up, the only large quadrupeds Drake might have seen would have been tule elk, who still inhabit the area. Female tule elk, if seen at a distance through fog, could conceivably be mistaken for horses.
De Oñate brought the horses he saw
Don Juan de Oñate may well have described New Mexico as being “full of wild mares” in 1598, because he brought them himself. Setting out from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua state, Mexico, with 400 soldiers, 130 of whom brought their families, and 7,000 horses, oxen, sheep, goats and cattle, reached and crossed the Rio Grande into what is now New Mexico on April 20, 1598.
Attempting to requisition food from local Native Americans, who had no surplus to spare, de Oñate encountered armed resistance at Acoma Pueblo, and responded in January 1599 with the infamous Acoma massacre, in which about 500 Acoma men and 300 women and children were killed. The survivors were enslaved; 24 men had the big toes on their right feet amputated, to keep them from running away.
Beheaded for horse theft
Two years later, in 1601, de Oñate took from 350 to 700 horses and mares, 130 Spanish soldiers, 12 Franciscan priests, and 130 Native American soldiers, slaves, and servants east on an exploring mission into the Great Plains.
Horse theft afflicted the expedition. Lieutenant Gaspar Perez de Villagra (1555-1620), whose 1610 epic poem Historia de la Nueva México is the chief documentation of de Oñate’s travels and deeds, at one point pursued and beheaded two deserters who fled back south with stolen horses. For this deed, Villagra, who had returned to Spain in 1605, was convicted in Mexico in absentia in 1614 and punished by banishment.
Haines may have been off a little in his report that the first documented use of horses by Native Americans came in 1659, but not by more than a decade.
Horses traded to the Apache for slaves
National Park Service historian John L. Kessell in Kiva, Cross, & Crown (1979) recounts that “In 1650, a revolt, reportedly involving Jémez, Keres, Southern Tiwas, and Apaches, aborted. The Pueblos had arranged to hand over to the Apaches the Spaniards’ horse herds, thereby immobilizing their oppressors for the kill.”
The Pueblos had the opportunity to turn the Spanish horse herds over to the Apache because, as Haines wrote, thousands of Pueblos and other Native Americans had become the animal caretakers for the Spanish.
Franciscan priest Fray Alonso de Posada in 1686 recalled that while he “was minister at the pueblo of the Pecos,” 21 years earlier, “a number of rancherías of the Apache nation used to bring some Indian males and females, girls and boys, to sell for horses.”
Two thousand horses stolen in seven months
By that time the Apache were fully engaged in becoming a horse culture, not by capturing wild horses, who were still scarce, but by alternately trading for already trained Spanish horses and simply stealing them.
Fernando de Villanueva arrived as governor of New Mexico in 1665, just as Posada left. During de Villanueva’s brief tenure a Native American collaborator named Esteban Clemente, who had been entrusted as governor of the pueblos of Las Salinas, led another failed revolt which centered on a plot to release the Spanish horse herds into the surrounding mountains. This may have been the major, though not exclusive, origin of wild horses in North America.
Don Juan de Medrano y Mesía succeeded de Villanueva in November 1668.
“During the first seven months of his term,” Kessell wrote, “Apaches killed, by his tally, six Spanish soldiers and three hundred and seventy-three Christian Indians, stealing more than two thousand horses and mules and as many sheep.”
Comanche also traded slaves for horses
Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which drove the Spanish out of New Mexico for a dozen years, the Pecos and Apache tribes resumed trading child slaves captured from other tribes for horses.
The Comanche likewise traded slaves for horses, and whenever the occasion offers for stealing horses, they do not pass it up,” wrote territorial governor Tomás Vélez Cachupín to the viceroy in Santa Fe on March 8, 1750.
By 1760, when mapmaker Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco offered a margin note that the Comanche “are extremely skillful in horsemanship,” the oldest Native American horse cultures had possessed horses for barely 100 years.
A Spanish massacre of Comanche in 1774 reportedly captured more than a thousand horses and mules.
Horses traded north along bison migration routes
Using horses to hunt bison and trade with northern tribes along bison migration routes running as far north as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, the Apache and Comanche, within just a few generations, had already distributed horses throughout the American west, and had conveyed horses to the Nez Percé, who rapidly completed the job of reintroducing horses throughout the Northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.
There is no mystery about any of this: Haines documented the time, place, price involved, and how the price was negotiated in many of the transactions.
There is only a slight mystery about how two horses and a donkey came to be buried high on a hill overlooking the Agua Hedionda lagoon in Carlsbad, California, whose remains were discovered by the archaeologist Dennis Gallegos of Gallegos & Associates in July 2005. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the three equines died at about the same time, between 1625 and 1705, long before San Diego Mission de Alcala, the first of the California missions, was founded thirty-three miles south of the site in 1769.
“Big deer or antelope”
The two horses and a donkey were buried near a Native American campsite used for at least 5,000 years, never wore horseshoes, and neither died in a violent manner nor were butchered for food, Gallegos reported. Glass beads of Spanish origin were found a few hundred yards away.
Mark Mojado, cultural representative for the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, suggested to San Diego Union Tribune staff writer Philip K. Ireland that the equines were lost, traded, gifted, or otherwise left by Spanish explorers who never returned to their point of departure to leave any written record of themselves.
“There were no horses here then,” Mojado said. His ancestors of that era “didn’t know what a horse or a donkey was. They would have seen them as big deer or antelope.”
But such animals, if obtained, wrote Ireland, “most certainly would have been revered, which could explain why they were buried high on a hill in the same way some Indians buried their own, Mojado said.”
No biological, paleontological, or genetic sources
Observed U.S. Forest Service archaeologist Carl Feagans, in an extensive debunking of The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth posted soon after Yvette Collin published it, “What Collin noticeably omits in this literature review are biological, paleontological, and genetic sources of information.
“There is no ‘western’ science,” Feagans pointed out. “There is science. The methods of which work regardless of where you are geographically or what your ethnicity is. The wonderful and marvelous thing about science is that it can be wielded by even the most oppressed or marginalized among us, if its methods are adhered to. The only real trick is to observe the universe in a logical fashion and record data in a manner reasoned enough that it will provide consistent results.”
“Fake, fraudulent, & fantastic”
After detailing many of Collin’s more obviously questionable assertions, Feagans mentioned that “Collin’s dissertation,” while purporting to counter racist influences on horse history, “cites [the web site] Ancient Origins, Richard Thornton, and Dell Dowdell. Each of these sources variously or indirectly promote ideas about Native Americans which can be considered racist. Dowdell actively promotes the notion that Native Americans are the descendants of white Mormons. Conspiracy theorist Thornton publishes pseudo-archaeological claims of Maya settlements in Georgia. And Ancient Origins traffics in all manner of fake, fraudulent, and fantastic archaeological news, books, and media for profit.
“Coming across any one of these in a dissertation for a Ph.D.,” Feagan opined, “should be enough to put all that dissertation’s sources in question.
“I’m certainly not categorically opposed to the idea that Equus may have survived the Pleistocene extinction and continues even today,” Feagan finished. “This, I think is a perfectly valid scientific hypothesis. But it should be tested using science, a set of methods available to anyone willing to use them regardless of geographic origin, cultural affiliation, or ethnic heritage.”
Joseph Smith Jr.
Before the Yvette Collin Ph.D. thesis popped into prominence in 2017, recycling much of the Mormon material, practically every argument for the presence of horses traced directly back to defenders of the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844), founder of the Mormon religion, claimed that at age 17 he was led by an angel named Moroni to a buried book of golden plates inscribed in an otherwise language he called “reformed Egyptian” with the history of a “lost tribe of Israel.”
This purported “lost tribe” fled across North Africa shortly before the Babylonian conquest of Judea and Jerusalem in 586 BCE, sailed to South America, and after initially settling there, relocated to the future United States, where they were visited by Jesus, became Christians, and were ancestral to the more technologically advanced and socially organized Native Americans.
Lacking any formal education as a linguist, and not known to speak any language but English, Smith eventually “translated” the gold plates into the Book of Mormon, structured and written in the style of the King James edition of the Bible, published in 1830.
Arrested 42 times, mostly for fraud
Moroni supposedly took the plates back, never to be seen again, when the translation was finished.
Smith, both before and after the Book of Mormon appeared, was arrested at least 42 times in four states for a variety of alleged offenses mostly involving fraud, but including conspiracy to murder a critic. Jailed for inciting a riot that led to the destruction of a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor whose only published edition exposed the Mormon practice of polygamy, Smith was lynched on June 27, 1844.
The Book of Mormon contains only two passages suggesting anything about the origin and evolution of horses.
1 Nephi 18:25 asserts, “And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men.”
“Cureloms and cumoms”
Ether 9:18––yes, there is a “Book of Ether”––adds that “And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.”
Even Mormon sources acknowledge that no one has ever verifiably seen or identified “cureloms and cumoms,” though some suggest they were camel-like beasts, perhaps llamas and alpacas, whose ancestors last co-existed anywhere with elephants at approximately the same time horses vanished from the North American fossil record.
Smith published The Book of Mormon almost simultaneously with Joseph Leidy’s discovery of Ice Age fossil horses, woolly mammoths and mastodons having been identified in the eighteenth century. The first mastodon fossils had in fact been excavated in upstate New York, a few days’ journey from Smith’s early homes in Sharon, Vermont and Manchester, New York.
George Quayle Cannon rose to the defense
Smith may have anticipated that further fossil discoveries would serve to authenticate the otherwise far-fetched “history” in The Book of Mormon, but exactly the opposite occurred.
By 1883, Mormon elder George Quayle Cannon (1827-1901) felt obliged to defend The Book of Mormon against the increasing weight of paleontological evidence that no one could have discovered horses in North America circa 600 BCE, when the book says the proto-Mormon leader Nephi found them.
Wrote Cannon in The Life of Nephi, the Son of Lehi, “Nephi informs us in his record that, among the other animals which they found in the wilderness upon their arrival and the promised land, was the horse. There have been persons who have declared that because of this statement the record could not be true. They have used this as an argument against the divine origin of the Book of Mormon; for, as they have asserted, the horse was not known upon this continent until it was brought here by the Spaniards.
“But recent researches by scientific men have demonstrated beyond the possibility of doubt that America is the original home of the horse, and at certain periods it was occupied with horses of many and various forms. Professor O.C. Marsh, whose patient and intelligent investigations have thrown a flood of light upon this subject, states that the true horse at one time roamed over the whole of North and South America.”
“The Bone Wars”
Professor O.C. Marsh (1831-1899), of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, may be best remembered today for his long and bitter rivalry with Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897) of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.
Summarizes Wikipedia of what are often called “The Bone Wars,” “Each of the two paleontologists used underhanded methods to try to outdo the other in the field, resorting to bribery, theft, and the destruction of bones,” sometimes by dynamiting quarries to rebury fossils.
“Each scientist also sought to ruin his rival’s reputation and cut off his funding, using attacks in scientific publications,” Wikipedia adds.
Marsh was “not inclined to accept Dudley’s statement as true”
The Cannon defense of The Book of Mormon appears to have been at least close to the origin of the unverified saw that Robert Dudley, Earl of Northumberland, wrote in 1630 that Sir Francis Drake “found many wild horses on the west coast of North America.” Cannon, however, attributed it to Edward Everett Hale.
Continued Cannon, “In conversation with Professor Marsh, at Washington, in the winter of 1881, we called his attention to this statement of Dudley’s. He had heard of it; but, possessed of the belief that the horse was extinct when Europeans came to this continent, he was not inclined to accept Dudley’s statement as true.”
Jay F. Kirkpatrick
Wildlife contraceptive researcher Jay F. Kirkpatrick (1940-2015) made probably the most plausible theoretical case to date for horses having survived extinction circa 11,000 years ago in the 2001 Fund for Animals video El Caballo: The Wild Horses of North America, directed by Doug Hawes-Davis.
But Kirkpatrick only mentioned as a hypothetical possibility that Spanish horses, verifiably introduced from the southwest, might somewhere in the Northwest have met and mingled with a few hardy bands of survivors from the extinction event of 11,000 years earlier.
The absence of recent fossils of horses, Kirkpatrick explained, does not necessarily mean horses had not survived in North America; it merely means that they had not survived in great numbers on soils conducive to forming fossils.
Many other species known to have persisted here throughout the same epoch, Kirkpatrick argued, also left little fossil trace.
Characteristically, Kirkpatrick, a scientist, awaited the discovery of physical evidence before trying to further advance what he acknowledged as only an attractive theory among those who believe wild horses should be recognized as a reintroduced native species, rather than alien invaders.