Well, the potted, spotted, version! The Appaloosa we recognise today all started in the early 1700´s when the Nez Perce Indians acquired their first horses. Previously a sedentary fishing tribe, the Nez Perce´s acquisition of horses improved their mobility, their ability to hunt and their power, thus altering their culture forever.
The Nez Perce took to horsemanship fast. Quickly learning and becoming the first known people to selectively breed only their best stock. With their superior horses they were now able to trade their hunting skills and craftmanship throughout the Northwest of America.
The famous explorer Meriwether Lewis noted the breeding accomplishments of the Nez Perce, of these then named ´Palouse´ horses due to the Northwest river and valley of that name, in a diary entry from February 15th, 1806 "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable....some of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bay or some other dark colour"
But to learn where those spots came from we need to look further back.... Evidence of spotted horses can be found in the paleolithic era, 18,000 B.C., in cave paintings in France.
There is also evidence of spotted horses existing in Egypt, China and Persia. Spain breed them and developed them into a riding horse later taken to Mexico in the 16th century by the conquistadores.
The spotted horses of Russia also play their part according to the oral history of the Nez Perce. A Russian ship dropped anchor off the shore of what is now known as Oregon and three spotted stallions were swam ashore in exchange for supplies. According to many, most notably George Long Grass , these stallions were purchased at ´twice the price´ by the Nez Perce from the Siletz Indians and bred to their best mares produced the coveted bloodlines of today. From these breedings came the Ghost Wind Stallion . The famous medicine horse that the Nez Perce gave their lives to protect as they fled the murderous cavalry in the 1877 war.
The Legend of the Ghost Wind Stallions
The legend of Ghost Horse and the Ghost Wind Stallions has passed down through the generations in oral history from the Nez Perce and the Flat Head Indians. From the memories of such people as Howling Elk, Soft Wind and George Long Grass; comes the tale of the spotted horses of the Pacific Northwest Tribes. Many places in the history of the Ghost Wind Stallions are now etched in the pedigrees of the Appaloosa. Names such as White Bird (canyon), Yakima, Lolo (pass), Tillamook (bay), Walla Wall (valley), Palouse (valley), Bear Paw (Mt.), Washita, Okanogan, Snake (river), Loop Loop, Tecumseh and (the) Seven Devils. The story dates as far back as 1762 and continues even after the Nez Perce War of 1877.
Old cowboy folklore also tells of a wild mustang called ¨Wind Drinker¨, the pacing white stallion of the prairies, also know as ¨Ghost Horse¨ of the plains. He was considered to be supremely superior to all others. He was described as being exceedingly intelligent, beautiful, graceful, fiery, and possessing an unmatched speed and endurance. He moved so smoothly that he seemed to glide, pacing and racking on and on forever. It is said that he moved like a white shadow, like a Spirit Horse. He was revered as strong medicine. In 1879 a reward was offered for his capture.
The Indians called him ¨Ghost Horse¨, winged steed of the prairies. He was sighted from Mexico to Oklahoma, from Washita to South Canada. He was caught by a vaquero after a band of professional mustangers chased him pacing for 200 miles away from them. Roped and Staked, he refused grass or water and after ten nights the proud stallion just laid down and died. Still he was sighted again and again, slipping in and out of the mist from the Rio Grande to Alberta. Could there be more than one Ghost Horse? These sightings continued well into the mid 1900´s¨; until as the wild mustang began to vanish from the western plains, so too did ¨Wind Drinker¨. It is said that Russian sailors brought the medicine horse to sell amongst the tribal people of Oregon and Washington with natives coming from as far away as Idaho to breed with or buy the spotted horses. These strong medicine horses were thought to be the descendants of Russian Akhal-Tekes and spotted horses of the Russian Don region. They were known for their special traits and unique characteristics. The stallions were left in the care of children after great hunts and battles, attesting to their docile temperaments. They had mottled skin, stripped hooves, varnish marked faces, dark points, and skimpy manes and tails. They were prized for their bravery, intelligence, extreme stamina and surefootedness. The Ghost Horse gets its name from it´s natural camouflage which enables it to fade in and out of sight in rain, snow, mist and fog. A Ghost Wind Stallion or any direct male descendant should be bred to a Palouse type mare of strong leopard ancestry with black or blue-roan colouring to produce another Ghost Wind coloured stallion. It is believed that in or around 1840 ¨Fire Eyes¨ was foaled, a Ghost Wind coloured stallion that in turn produced ¨Spotted Eagle¨ another Ghost Wind colour stallion in approximately 1860. In 1872 the next Ghost Wind coloured stallion was foaled from Spotted Eagle and named ¨Winged Hawk¨. George Long Grass was entrusted with the care of Winged Hawk by his grandfather Howling Elk, and sadly became the last known Native American Ghost Wind Stallion keeper.
George Long Grass took Winged Hawk from native lands in Idaho, through Montana, Colorado, Canada, The Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and into Michigan in search of sanctuary. He bred mares all along the way. They witnessed the re-building of a city after the great Chicago fire in 1881. The safe haven George Long Grass sought after was sadly never found. In 1898 Winged Hawk died, leaving his unborn colt ¨Blue Hawk¨, the next generation of Ghost Wind coloured stallions to carry on. In 1901 George Long Grass sent Blue Hawk by train to Ranchita, California, with hopes that the stallion would be safe and continue the Ghost Wind line. He was the founding stallion of The Desert Horse Ranch. Blue Hawk, bred to Arabian mares produced a Ghost Wind colour stallion ¨The Pharaoh¨ in 1918. Blue Hawk died in 1919. The Pharaoh was bred to a black leopard ¨Argentine¨ mare imported from Mexico named ¨Tavisheen¨. Together they produced a black leopard Ghost Wind son ¨Desert King¨ in 1923. Sadly this was the end of The Desert Horse Ranch. Desert King was sold and his name changed to ¨Jazzo¨.
In 1935 Desert King produced a black leopard Ghost Wind son, ¨Arab Towshiri Alkhar¨, which was also sold and his name changed to ¨JazzboI¨. In 1938 Arab Towshiri Alkhar sired a black leopard Ghost Wind son ¨Siri Skiek¨, re-named ¨JazzboII¨. George Long Grass passed away a very old man in 1952. In 1960 Siri Sheik sired a black leopard Ghost Wind son, ¨Siri Sheik´s Double Heart¨. In 1983 Siri Sheik´s Double Heart died, leaving behind an unborn Ghost Wind coloured stallion, ¨Doubleheart´s Kid¨, foaled in 1983 out of an ApHC mare.
Some say this story was written to promote certain Appaloosa bloodlines. Some say that the names of the horses have been changed or that they came from different areas. Research is on-going to verify all the claims in the book. Whatever the result it only adds to the charm that IS the Appaloosa. A breed that evokes great emotion and grander memories.
If you would like to learn more about the True Appaloosa here is some great literature to read. With much thanks to Paul Scott for the information. Alvin M. Joshy, Jr. 'The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest" (The author has a doctorate in history, and thoroughly researched his information before publishing this book. Lucullus McWhorter, "Yellow Wolf. His own story". "Hear me, My Chiefs!" In 1928 McWhorter, Yellow Wolf and other Nez Perce war veterans made an automobile trip of the route of the 1877 war.