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.