Horses of the Old West

The Cowboy by John C.H. Grabill, 1888
The Cowboy by John C.H. Grabill, 1888

When I was looking for images of Comanche, the horse that survived the Battle of Little Big Horn, I came across a fabulous site, the Old Picture Internet site,  with photographs taken from the 1850s to the 1940s.

They offer incredible insights into life at that time, but what particularly interested me was the horses! Some of them are quite magnificent and obviously well loved and cared for.

Two of the most frequently featured photographers were John C. H. Grabill  and Edward S. Curtis. Their photos provide a glimpse into a time and place that otherwise survives only as the stuff of legends. The quality of their photographs is amazing!

Not much is known about John Grabill’s life. His legacy is a collection of 188 photographs that he sent to the Library of Congress between 1887-1892. This collection is considered the premier collection of western frontier photography in the United States today. You can read more about the mysterious Mr. Grabill in this article: The Deadwood Historic Photo Mysteries.

Edward S. Curtis made it his life’s work to record the life style of Native American tribes before their contact with Anglo culture overwhelmed them. It took him 30 years to complete his photographic compilation, “The North American Indian.” There is a facinating overview of his work compiled by the Smithsonian Museum: Frontier Photographer: Edward S. Curtis that includes his writings as well as his photographs.

“I have the ability, strength, and determination to finish . . . but have gone to the end of my means and must ask someone to join me in the undertaking and make it possible for all ages of Americans to see what the American Indian was like.”
~ Edward S. Curtis in a letter to J.P. Morgan, January 23, 1906

Oasis in the Badlands, 1905 by Edward S. Curtis. The picture presents an Oglala Sioux Indian man (Red Hawk) on a horse that is drinking at adesert oasis. The Indian is in full traditional dress and is wearing a war bonnet.
The Cavalier by John C.H. Grabill, 1890. This photo shows a young cavalry officer and his horse at Camp Cheyenne. What a magnificent horse!
Ned Coy, a famous Dakota Cowboy, taken in 1905 by John C.H. Grabill.
Crow Warriors on Horseback, Edward S. Curtis, 1908.
Crow Warriors on Horseback, Edward S. Curtis, 1908. The two warriors are Crow on the Ground and Forked Iron.

Cayeuse woman in decorative attire, Edward S. Curtis.
Cayeuse woman in decorative attire, Edward S. Curtis.

4 thoughts on “Horses of the Old West

  1. Brought up on the old west from the 1950’s up to now we think of the cow boy films with people like John Wayne and the rest of the real wild west but in fact it’s much more interesting. These Photo’s show real people and it’s great to see these people and the horses.

    I live in the UK in Wales.

  2. WONDERFUL PICTURES ,,,, but has nothing in the world to do with a decision about END OWNERSHIP OF HORES
    The real old west ; ate their horses
    I have eaten lots of horse and like it, especially filets (these you can wrap in bacon as they have less fat than cattle)
    I grew up with Cowboys and Indians;
    1. My mother was raised on an Indian Reservation
    Educated till 8th grade SO SHE had to move away at 13 to work as a maid 40 miles away (in White Man’s World) so she could go to high school.
    My GRAND FATHER (mother) cut blocks of ice from the Columbia River to put in DUG OUT CELLARS, CAVES for their refrigerator till the “next winter”
    MY GRANDFATHER would to out on the lake at 5 am and be back for breakfeast with 20 fish
    I have an uncle (past) who “broke horses” till one broke his back.
    I have an uncle (past) who was a “fur trapper) till he died.
    My father rode horses to school as a child with “Deb Copenhaver” (world champion bronco buster)
    We raised chickens, rabbits (to eat); had a cow (TILL it got blood in the milk = had it BUTCHERED n QUATERED) we had a 4′ by 4′ freezer that (yes I got my tongue stuck on the frozen lock)
    We grew corn, strawberries, raspberries, currents, beans, squash, water melons, Potatoes (thousands)
    Peas, carrots, rhubarb,
    WENT TO THE COAST and MOUNTAINS for Black berries, huckleberries
    Blue berries, goose berries,
    I enjoyed “rocky mountain oysters” as a child
    I had a girl friend that BIT w/her teeth the cord (testicular) on sheep =they did so to prevent the animal from bleeding (they don’t heal as well as other livestock)
    AS A CHILD I had some of the BEST times of my life riding horses and I had a couple mean ones try to crush my leg against a fence BUT I learned to deal with them and love them and appreciate them (I had GO CARTS, MOTOR SHOOTERS, TOTE GOATS, MORORIZED BIKES, then cars I specialized for drag racing
    I THINK I KNOW ABOUT AS MUCH ABOUT HORSES AS ANY OF YOU and “I still like eating horse”
    BUT maybe you would rather PRETEND and slowly watch them STARVE, shrivel and die; LEAVING nothing but a “worthless carcass and wondering what to do with it”
    but what the hell do I know; I grew up with Cowboys and Indians

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