The story of American Indians and horses is one of the great sagas of human contact with the animal kingdom. The foundation of this extraordinary relationship was laid in 1493, when Christopher Columbus brought the first horses to the Western Hemisphere. As Spaniards surged westward from the Caribbean and northwards from Mexico, American Indians caught their first glimpse of the horse, and soon adopted it into their world. Horses revolutionized Native life and became an integral part of tribal cultures, honored in objects, stories, songs, and ceremonies. By the 1800s, Native American horsemanship was legendary in American culture at large, celebrated in paintings, photographs, Wild West shows, and later in movies and television programs. Today, the image of the mounted Native warrior remains fixed in the American imagination. With traditional and contemporary stories, songs, and poetry and using archival photographs, lithographs, maps, books, magazines, and audio-visual presentations, the exhibition brings the story up to the present, demonstrating that the horse, though no longer ubiquitous, is still venerated in Indian Country today.
This exhibition is an outgrowth of the NMAI publication A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures, edited by George P. Horse Capture and Emil Her Many Horses (2006).
In support of this exhibit, these three images showing the topography and seasonal landcover over North America were created as a background for an 'interactive map' where museum visitors can learn about the relationship between humans and horses over hundreds of years, and how trade, migration, and technology impacted this relationship.