"The History of Medicine Springs Mustangs"
From the Gilbert Jones Collection Horse of the Americas Library
My grandfather, a Civil War Confederate cavalry man, left the Jessie and Fran James outlaw country in Missouri in 1872. He drove his covered wagon, pulled by four Steel Dust mares, to north Texas, locating at Spanish Fort, almost on the banks of Red River. In that very place, H.J. Justin started his famous frontier cowboy boots shop, near Red River Station, the beginning of Chisholm Trail. Justin's handmade boots were in great demand by cowboys driving north thousands of Longhorn cattle out of Texas to Kansas cow towns with rail heads.
It was in this environment my father grew to manhood, among cowboys, outlaws and wild Indians just across Red River in the Indian Territory. He saw thousands of mustangs rode by cowboys in the cattle drives near his home. At that time, buffalo hunters were exterminating the great herds just west of where he lived. Wagon after wagon were passing his father's house, loaded with buffalo hides going to Fort Worth to market. The Comanche Indians were still off and on their reservation, occasionally raiding in Texas, riding their fancy fleet pinto ponies. However, their freedom was nearing an end as their source of food, the buffalo, was practically killed out. The government was turning the land over to the white man and determined that the Indians would become reservation farmers. The Army had already slaughtered thousands of their ponies, which the Indians prized above everything else.
In early 1900, the government opened up a vast area for settlement by drawing in Indian Territory. My father rode to Fort Sill, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and was quite lucky in drawing 160 acres of land just across Red River from where he was raised. He told of seeing, while on this trip, about fifty Indian boys, 8 to 14 years old, riding their ponies of every color from the top of a hill to a cache creek about half a mile away. They would ride single file at full speed up to the creek bank and dive off their ponies into a deep hole of water. Their ponies would run off a short distance and start grazing, waiting for their riders to return. No doubt these boys looked forward to someday being buffalo hunters and warriors. I think my father telling me this true story kindled my desire in later years to own a colorful mustang band.
My father married my mother in Texas and moved immediately to the homestead he had won. My mother's family had moved from Mississippi to Texas in a covered wagon in 1880. My grandmother was part Cherokee Indian and both my grandfathers were life-long breeders of running horses. So I think I inherited my love for horses honest.
I was born on my father's homestead in Indian Territory, November 10, 1906. The country was soon getting settled up and my father started moving west when I was seven years old. I was the only child and my father taught me very young to ride, swim, shoot guns and drive teams. I started riding at six years old on a black mustang cross gelding named Old Tough, my father's pet saddle horse. These were the essentials of life for boys in that day and time. My mother was a very good horsewoman; she rode and drove teams all her life. I owned my first horse when I was ten years old. My uncle gave me a little mare named Susie, a 900 lbs. Coyote dun Indian Territory mustang. She had blood in her veins to be proud of; her dam was a Coyote dun Texas mustang and her sire was a sorrel 850 lbs, 13.3 hand Comanche Indian pony named Old Harry. This was the horse that won the 160 acre homestead in northern Indian Territory in the early day land run. This stallion was fast and had stamina to hold it for miles. When I was growing up, my mother's brother was breaking many mustangs and Standardbred/Mustang crosses. He gave me all his old horse training books and always told me that mustangs and Indian ponies were the world's best long distance endurance horses. No doubt this was a great influence on me liking mustangs.
By the time I was fourteen years old, I had ridden every mile from where I was born at Hastings, then Oklahoma, to the New Mexico border on Susie. Our first move was from Hastings to Judd, Texas on the Brazos River. I drove a small herd of cattle behind my father's covered wagon. We only stayed there two years. My father decided to move on west to Seagraves, Texas on the New Mexico border, which was on Llano Estacado. So I drove a larger herd this time on the same mare behind the same covered wagon. These moves were made in dead of winter with snow storms, blizzards and sand storms to face. A boy had to take life as it came in those days to help his family survive.
Seagraves was a new town that the Santa Fe Railroad had built a branch to, for shipping the vast herds of cattle driven out of New Mexico and all directions from Texas. At that time, it was the largest cattle shipping point in the United States. It was truly a land of cowboys and mustang horses. These big ranches all had cowboys working for them with a reputation as being top bronc riders. Between the different ranches that had the best riders, there was naturally quite a rivalry and the one main street in Seagraves was where the contests were settled, while the vast herds were being held awaiting cattle cars.
The Llano Estacado was called the staked plains by Coronados conquistadores and so named from the cane-like stem growing out of the center of the many yucca plants, which were locally called bear grass. These stems had the appearance of stakes driven into the ground. The vast plains, almost as level as a dance hall floor, were devoid of any trees. For centuries, it had been the favorite buffalo hunting round of wild Comanche and Kiowa Indians, called the lords of the southern plains. It was truly a land of mustangs, buffaloes and the dreaded lobo wolves. Laguna Sabino was eight miles east of where we lived. It was the biggest of several salt lakes, covering ten sections of land. It was covered with about two inches of salt brine water. All around the edge were rough brakes with thousands of diamond back rattlesnakes, fossil rocks and scrubby cedar trees. At each end of the lake were clear, fresh water springs where the Indians got their supply of drinking water, and water for their hundreds of ponies and mules. This was also a very big Indian burial and campground for centuries where the famous Indian, Chief Quanah Parker was born in 1849. For centuries, the Indian carried on a trade at Laguna Sabino with the comancheros of New Mexico. These were a very unscrupulous bunch of renegades who would trade guns and ammunition for stolen mules, horses, and cattle as well as captured Indian women and children. These would be sold as slaves in New Mexico. And no questions asked as anything once on Llano Estacado was out of reach of the long arm of the Texas Rangers. New Mexico had an agreement with the Indians for this trade and this domain was a barrier between the hated Texans, known as Tejanos and New Mexico. For many years, no white man dared penetrate this desolate and supposedly waterless country. As a matter of fact, the sources of water were unknown by anybody except the Indians who had camped at Laguna Sabino and the comancheros of New Mexico, who had plain trails marked deep going back and forth from New Mexico to Texas. One company of soldiers, trying to explore this desolate area, lost several men from thirst. All over this treeless plain were small, dry lakes caused from buffaloes wallowing in the same spot for centuries. In these dry lakes grew the hairy loco weed that was so deadly to livestock, especially horses, as stockmen found out when the country began to settle up with white people. There was one wet year in five usually that these lakes would fill up with water.
It was in this atmosphere that I grew to manhood and at seventeen, I began acquiring the mustang blood I have today. Although as my mustang experience unfolds, the reader will see that, at several stages in my life, I have been almost wiped out of the blood I started with, but never completely, always having a few of the original blood left. At seventeen, I traded a bull for a very old, well-trained mustang stallion. He had been an iron grey, but had turned white. He weighed 800 lbs. and stood 14 hands. I believe he was as pure a mustang as ever lived. At that time, many little iron grey ponies were scattered over the country, the grey being one of the Barb horse colors. I bred my first little mare, Susie, that I had ridden to that country, to this grey stallion, named Grey Eagle. The result was one of the nicest fillies I ever saw. She was a palomino color, then called claybank, speedy and really had cow sense. I named her Blondie and she was a natural running walker. I was also buying and trading for a few outstanding mares. Horses were cheap at that time and though money was hard for me to get, I was slowly accumulating what I thought to be the purest in the country.
Grey Eagle had died, but not before I got one more filly out of him and Susie. I named her Little Coalie because she was black as a crow, with one white sock on a rear foot. Her mane and tail were long and heavy. Then Susie died of old age as well. At this time, I traded a .30-.30 saddle gun for an old, highly trained roping stallion named Baldy Sox. He was an apron faced bay roan, with four white socks with dark eyes and eyelids. I bred him to Blondie, getting a red roan filly I named Comanche Squaw. The next year, I got a blood bay filly from Little Coalie and Baldy Sox; naming her Miss Comanchero. About this time, Baldy Sox died with blind staggers. I had traded for Old Dunny Boy as a two year old; he was the best stallion I ever owned. He was a true buckskin, no stripes with a black mane and tail and a silver overlay. His mane was long and heavy and he had roan hair at the base of his tail, a big, bald face, glass (blue) eyes with dark eyelids, big mustache and pin ears that at times almost touched at the tips. Old Dunny Boy had a very small muzzle with very crescent nostrils and a heavy jaw. He had no chestnuts on his legs and he stood 14 hands, weighing 925 lbs. His sire was a perfect red roan and the dam was a bay pinto overo Indian pony. I considered his breeding the very best. I had bought and traded for three of the best mares I had ever seen before or since. Their names were the Bobtail Dun, a honey-colored true buckskin; the Gotch-eared Dun, a true claybank as classified today and Laguna Sabino, a sorrel and white pinto. I had also bought a mare I named Miss Staked Plains; she was a rare brown grulla color.
By this time, I had married. We lived on Llano Estacado for thirteen years. The country was getting fenced up and we were ready for greener pastures over the hill with big open range. We loaded our stock, household goods, wagons and enough barbed wire to fence a section of land on three semi-truck trailers and headed for Horse Springs, New Mexico, locating at the foot of Horse Peak. We moved into the big open range in Bear Canyon. The altitude where our log house set was 7,800 feet with pine trees 80 feet high in the yard. I saw three pine trees burning near the house at one time, struck by lightening, which seemed to be right on the ground.
I unloaded my mustangs at Horse Springs on April 26th, 1935 and drove them twelve miles on the 27th through the mountains to Bear Canyon. They were fat and shed off slick. On May 6th, it came twelve inches of snow and it was deadly cold. Fourteen head died in twenty-four hours. I was sure ready to move to a warmer climate. The mustangs stood it better than the other stock, but I only saved Old Dunny Boy, five mustang mares, one Spanish jack and two jennets. In five years, I had rebuilt to twenty-five head of pure mustangs, three Spanish jacks and nine jennets. I lost several head of stock from lightening.
My wife held what stock we had left together with my two under school age daughters, in this remote wild country, as I was away working to make ends meet. If she hadn't been the pioneer type, the years I had spent accumulating my mustangs would all be lost. At that time, cattle were very cheap and every cowman in that country owed more money than it looked possible to ever pay. It was practically impossible to sell any horse. What mustangs I had were badly locoed. My two daughters were becoming school aged so it was time to move again. I hired two semi-trailer trucks and moved all our stock and household furniture to a place I had leased one half mile west of the Rio Grande River, directly west of Albuquerque, New Mexico with open range for 40 miles.
Here I had the most disastrous luck with my stock I have ever had in six months time, all my stock was either dead or locoed so bad they were practically worthless. This time, it was from eating the roots of rattle weed loco in the winter time. It was a sandy land and the mustangs would paw down in sand, locating the green roots. The rattle weed loco was much more poisonous than hairy loco I knew in Texas. I only saved four mustang mares, Old Dunny Boy, one jack and jennet. I was some forty miles north of the old Romero Ranch which had been raising mustangs for over 100 years. Some thirty years later, my friend, Susan Field, started the Spanish Barb Breeders Association with the Romero blood and the help of Ilo Belsky and Bob Brislawn's Buckshot (SMR-1) blood.
I moved east of Albuquerque at Tijeras, New Mexico, in the Sandia Mountains on 35,000 open acres range. My mares were so locoed and I was getting very few colts but I did get a few colts from Old Dunny Boy before he died. However, a big rancher from Texas had given me a real old Coyote dun stallion that was foaled in deep south Texas supposedly around 1916, named Little Buck. He had been used on big ranches as a cutting horse; he had never been overworked and had been taken good care of. He had a big, white spot under his belly and occasionally sired snow white foals with coal black eyes. He was a true old south Texas Spanish horse. I got a few outstanding colts out of him before he was shot by hunters. He sired an outstanding stallion named Zebra Dun, whose dam was The Gotch-Eared Mare. He was the finest mustang stallion I had ever owned up to that time. He had every stripe known to Spanish Horses and was a true mustang in every respect.
In 1955, I got a letter from Bob Brislawn in Veterans Hospital in South Dakota. He said my old friend, Ilo Belsky, had given him my address as a mustang breeder. I had corresponded with Ilo since 1936, and at that time, his address was Tuthill, South Dakota. He had been breeding a strain of horses that came up from Texas trail to that country in 1885. By 1936, he had bred them up to perfection with conformation like the old Spanish Ginete of Spain. They were mostly grulla, blue roan and dun colors, and he called them Spanish Barbs. I had hopes of getting a stallion from him. Bob Brislawn stated in his letter that his oldest son, Emmett, was in the Army and would be out soon. He hoped to turn the Cayuse Ranch over to him and come down to New Mexico and inspect some mustangs. He also said he had hopes of starting a mustang registry to preserve and record what pure ones that were left for future generations to see. So, in September of 1956, Bob, Emmett, Colleen and Shane Brislawn showed up at my home near Tijeras. We went out and looked at my little band of mustangs. Bob pronounced the four-year-old Zebra Dun stud one of the best he had ever seen. Emmett went on back to the Cayuse Ranch (Wyoming) and Bob rented a house and started Colleen and Shane to school in Albuquerque. His oldest daughter, Dipper, also came down and stayed awhile. We saw the Brislawns every two or three nights in the week. For the next year and a half, they stayed at Tijeras. Bob had a box of pictures of his and other mustangs. Bob wrote to Ferdinand L. Brislawn, his older brother, living in Casper, Wyoming to bring down a small truck load of mustangs from Cayuse Ranch. There was no doubt that Ferdinand had, at that time, the biggest band of War Bonnet and Medicine Hat mustangs in the world. So in about ten days, Ferdy arrived with several mares and the stallion, Ute and later registered in the Spanish Mustang Registry as #2 stallion. Ferdy bought Buckshot, registered later as SMR #1, and Ute from Monty Holbrook, the famous mustanger who raised these two horses from the famous Montie stallion (and an Indian mare, registered as Bally, SMR #3), that he had caught in the Book Cliff Mountains of southern Utah.
Ferdy kept Ute as he told me because Ute got more color and that he was the best of the two colts. Ferdy always bred for color and he gave Buckshot to Bob. Buckshot and Ute were full brothers and the main SMR foundation stallions. As soon as I saw Ute, I fell in love with him, as I had never seen northern mustangs before, with the heavier bone, ram nose and much blockier than the southwestern mustangs I was raised with. I tried to buy Ute, but Ferdy said no. He would in no way sell him or give him to me, but would let me keep him until he died. When he was SMR registered, the papers were made out to Ferdy, but he gave them to me and said, "Handle Ute as if he belonged to you." Ute died at Medicine Springs, Oklahoma in 1962. It has been stated that Ferdy carried Ute to Gusher, Utah, but Ute never saw Utah. I had him in my possession before Ferdinand moved to Gusher.
About a week after Ferdy went back to Casper, Wyoming, I was riding the Zebra Dun around a narrow trail on a very steep mountain slope near my house, leading a very snakey Spanish mule that was tied hard and fast to the saddle horn. The Zebra Dun was very bad to buck; he started bucking off this trail with the mule setting back. The mountain was almost straight down. He went down about a hundred yards and suddenly fell on his side, kicked about two or three times and was dead. So this left me with Ute as my only mustang stallion.
In 1956 and 1957, Bob and I looked at many mustangs in New Mexico. While Ferdy was down, I went with him and Bob when they went up to Cedro village in the Manzano Mountains. They bought the old mare, Cedro, registered as SMR #29, from a Spaniard. Then my old cowboy friend, Raymond Meeks, located the famous Medicine Hat stallion at the San Domingo Indian village on the San Domingo Reservation. Bob bought him and registered him as San Domingo, SMR #4. The man who founded the Ponies Of The Americas, from Mason City, Iowa, was buying Navajo's ponies for foundation stock from my friend, Homer Autry, a big horse dealer. They were shipping the horses in box cars and holding them in Santa Fe railroad stock pens in Albuquerque. So we inspected many true Indian ponies that came right off the Navajo Indian Reservation. Larry Richards, the university professor who was helping Bob to get the mustang registry founded, had written to me, saying that he thought that between Bob Brislawn, Ilo Belsky and myself, we had enough mustangs to get a registry started. Larry did come down to see me and I sent him the Zebra Dun stallion skull and also his dam's skull, The Gotch-Eared Dun mare. (My neighbor was killing my mustangs and selling the meat in Albuquerque for human consumption.) Larry was making up a collection of mustang skulls for study. He had lived in Hawaii and knew the native Hawaiian ponies with hooves so hard that even riding on the lava rocks, they had never been shod. We even thought of importing a few to cross with our mustangs. As it turned out, all I had to do with founding SMR was registering two mares, since between loco weed and my neighbor butchering my horses, I was about out of breeding mustangs again.
In 1958, we moved to Finley, Oklahoma, leaving the loco, alkali, snow banks, poison water and the five year drought behind, bringing what few mustang mares I had, Ute, my only stallion; one Spanish jack and jennet; a few saddle and work mules; furniture and wagons. I bought Medicine Springs, ten miles back in the Kiamichi Mountains with one and a half million acres of Big Timber Company open range to graze by permits. I have always run my stock on open range as I don't like to be fenced in. I talked to several very old men, including Indians, the first six months I was there. Several of these men had at one time run several hundred Choctaw ponies, using native stallions, and I found out at one time that there were hundreds of wild Choctaws here. But when the tick eradication program was imposed here, every wild pony was shot, except a very few they couldn't kill. So it was about the same old story as in all places I had lived before. The mustang or Choctaw pony was on its way out; the only difference was that southeast Oklahoma still had real big open range and the country was more backward, allowing the native horses to remain in certain areas until the 1960s.
I did buy a few good mares and one outstanding stallion named Chief Kiamichi, aka Rooster. He ran back to the Lock Indian Choctaws brought here in the Trail of Tears. He was a buckskin and white pinto. Today, he is the most sought after strain I have for endurance races.
Buyers began coming and buying all the nice little ponies and hauling them out of the country. In the spring of 1958, Bob and Emmett Brislawn came down to look at the Choctaws and they were impressed with what they saw. Emmett traded for the great sorrel stallion, Choctaw, SMR #66, and used him over his mares at Cayuse Ranch. I had located Chief Pushmataha and checked his pedigrees. When Bob saw him he pronounced him as the best appaloosa Indian stallion he had seen in forty years. (Bob and Ferdinand were raised among Nez Perce Indians and were plenty knowledgeable to judge.) Bob and I bought him jointly in partnership. At this time, Bob and Emmett were moving to Gusher, Utah. Ferdinand hired Red Clark and Emmett to catch some outstanding mustangs out of the Book Cliff Mountains. These were Four Lane, SMR #175, a blue corn stallion; Syndicate, SMR #100, and several pure mares. Red Clark's father, a famous mustanger, had caught mustangs in the Gusher area since 1907, which gave Bob and Ferdy a better knowledge of purity of horses in that area. Bob later moved to Nevada, to a newly built ghost town named Sundown Town, carrying some of his horses for dudes to ride. Emmett had moved to Lovelock, Nevada, taking Chief Pushmataha with him, so I only got one crop of colts from Pushmataha as he was never back in Oklahoma again. In about a year, Bob moved back to Gusher. He wrote me that he was out of grass, so I wrote and told him to bring all his horses down. He brought the following stallions: San Domingo, SMR #4; Straight Arrow, SMR #5; Jack, SMR #59; Rim Rock, SMR #158 (Romero blood) and Syndicate, SMR #100. Buckshot, SMR #1, had died at Gusher in 1960 and Ute, SMR #2, died here in 1962. So I was getting about out of mustang stallions when Bob arrived with most of his early stallions. So I had the use of these stallions until Bob went back to the Cayuse Ranch in 1964.
In 1963, Ed Phillips of Kansas City brought down to Bob a very outstanding grullo stallion he had bought from Bob a few years before, while Bob lived in Gusher. This stallion was sired by Buckshot and a very outstanding mare by the name of Little Buck, SMR #17. Ed Phillips thought he was too small. He carried Rim Rock back and left this grullo stallion on the range at Medicine Springs Ranch. He was never recaptured. I did get some colts out of him. When Bob moved back to the Cayuse Ranch, he gave me the stallion. The great old purple roan mare, Teton, SMR #24 died here, leaving me an orphan filly by Chief Pushmataha, SMR #47. Bob gave this filly to my wife, who hand raised the foal. She was registered as Orphan, SMR #249. The grullo stallion, Jack, SMR #59 also died here.
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