Russian curly horse
by Canita M. Prough
A runner had arrived in our camp telling us that the white man in the East was at war. The white man was fighting with the French of the North and others. The story was told among my people that mothers were gathering berries when they looked up and saw the first cannibal owls, white men. They were white with lots of hair on their faces. Fathers in our clan had visions of the arrival of these people. We had seen a few of them. They had with them two PoKo, dogs that were much bigger and could carry more supplies than our PoKo. There had been discussion among the mothers and sisters about how we would like to have some of those PoKos. How we would be able to move so much more as we traveled.
We travel about a lot. We carry woBoi, conical burden baskets full of supplies and babies from place to place. If the camp has a PoKo we attach a drag sled/travois to it and load it with things like, flat rocks for the fires, to make our loads lighter. When the mother and sisters told the fathers about the special PoKo they began searching for them on their trading journeys. Our PaBe’, chief now has one it is called a tsagase’e, donkey. The story was told that the white men who dig in the ground of rocks brought the first tsagase’e to this area. The PaBe’s wife can now move so much more, much easier.
I can remember so well the day when I saw for the first time an even bigger PoKo than the Tsagase’e. We were further North of the Snake River during the seasons of pine nuts. We were giving thanks to the pine trees for the bountiful supply of nuts on the trees. Praying for the next seasons that it would be bountiful too. When a group of our warriors came whooping and yelling as these majestic PoKo’s were ridden into our camp. The whooping and yelling was to warn us of the arrivals. There were a group of five warriors from the Nez Perce clan riding on the backs of these huge PoKo. These PoKo had long flowing tails that reached to the earth, long necks with hair flowing along it, nails that were very thick on each of it legs, they were taller than most warriors when their heads were held high. One of them was white with black dots on its back. One was brown with lighter brown hair, another was all white, one was a reddish brown with black hair and the other was brown with large white patches. They pranced and pawed as the warrior came to a stop in the camp. The warriors from Nez Perce delivered their message and then rode off to the West. The legs of the PoKos prancing high in the air, their hair flowing back toward us. They moved really fast and made the earth fly in the air. It was later than we found out that these were not PoKos, they were wesepooggoo’s, horses.
The wesepooggoo were considered sacred because they had long flowing hair. In the Paiute culture hair was a physical extension of thoughts that allow for the direction along the Path of Life. It showed strength and power, could defeat evil, cutting of the hair could defeat a people and could show humiliation. When the hair is flowing straight it showed the letting go of the cares of life. The longer, healthier and vibrant the hair the more sacred the thoughts. Hair was private, personal, spiritual and an expression of feelings. It was considered that the health and future of a horse was intricately tied to that of their keeper.
It was years later when old Chief Winnamucca and Natchez were given wesepooggoos for helping the white man find the Indians who had been stealing from them. Old Chief Winnamucca was given a wesepooggoo that was called a “bay.” It was reddish-brown with black hair. Natchez was given a white wesepooggoo. These were the first horses that the Cui-ui clan shared. Because the wesepooggoo’s were so rare and sacred both braves and warriors would take turns taking the wesepooggoos out to eat the green grasses and to get pa, water. Every young braves and every warrior dreamed of having a wesepooggoo.
As more white men came to our area there were more wesepooggoos. We would trade for them and eventually every warrior except for some of the very old had a wesepooggoo. When we traveled the loads were so much lighter for the mothers and sisters. We also gathered more things that had to be carried. Things that had never existed before the coming of the white man such as the rifle.
It was my twenty and two season when I went on a trading journey to the North. I had saved many seasons of furs in hopes of trading for a wesepooggoo. There was a white man who traded in the wesepooggoo. It was with him that I planned to trade my furs. I had two deer hides, three antelope hides, ten, two times in mountain sheep skins, ten, four times and four raccoon skins, ten, four times and two beaver skins, and ten, ten and two times of rabbits skins. They were all fine, clean skins. I had made some clean arrows, made an extra pair of mo’q’o, moccasins, and had extra dried fish. I was hoping I had enough to get the wesepooggoo.
It was eight moons of journey to the North where the white man with the wesepooggoo traded. It was a long slow journey traveling with a drag sled full of furs. There were eight horses in the corral that the man said he would trade.
The one that first caught my eye was cloudy or smoky colored, strong horse with curly hair that looked like the bagootsoo’s, buffalo’s hair. It had curly black hair at its neck, a black curly tail and even curly black hairs in its ears. Its hooves were black and had black curly hair that crawled up its legs like smoke. I checked out all the other wesepooggoo, but kept returning to the one with curly hair. The man said that the Sioux, to the east, considered it to be a sacred horse to the chiefs and medicine men.
We were staying two moons, so I decided not to make my choice right away. I would watch the horses. The cloudy horse seemed to like people. I never shied away when I approached it. This could be a good thing and a bad thing. It is good for it would be good with the mothers and sisters. A bad thing because it would also be good with someone trying to steal it. The man trading said, that this wesepooggoo was easy to train. He said, only having to show it two times. It learned to separate itself from the other horses and be lead out the gate for care. When he had first gotten the horse, that it had very little hair and was not curly. Its hair had started getting longer and curly as the weather got colder. He was only trading the horse because he was needing furs. It was told that this wesepooggoo was from way, way North. He was not ready to ride, but would follow a lead and carry a pack.
The next day before we headed South, the trade was made, that curly haired horse was in my care. Our people believe the curly haired one has the ability to understand the spiral and curves of the energy of life and growth of the earth. In a dream, the word Kwchowbee, was given as the way to call this wesepooggoo. I knew it would be some time before I would be riding him or him pulling a drag sled. I had the long, cold winter ahead to train him.
Kwchowbee was ten and four hands high at the shoulder. His hooves were very thick and hard. He was calm and would stand without flinching while I would remove the course hairs that grew in his fur. I would only do a section the size of my hand each day. His eyelashes were extremely curly and the snow would collect on them while he slept. He could stand all day under a tree without lying down. For three full moons I fed him from my hands, touch him all over, and spoke softly to him. Then I began attaching the drag sled daily adding more weight over the moons. Because he was so intelligent and friendly the mother and sisters came to know him really quickly. Then on the seven full moon I began loading furs on his back so he would get comfortable with the weight. He quickly learned to raise his back and lower his head to carry the load. Each day I added more and more till there was enough weight that he could bear my weight. He had a natural rhythm and was very relaxed. As we rode along his tail would swing back and forth. All through the winter, Kwchowbee and I were together. If I was not twisting twine, making an arrow, or hunting, I was with Kwchowbee. When summer came Kwchowbee was allowing riding and pulling freely.
As we traveled from gathering to gathering Kwchowbee was calm and very reliable. There was the time when one side of the drag sled came loose, where most wesepooggoo would jump and run, Kwchowbee seemed to understand that he should remain calm and wait for a person to come and correct the problem.
It did not take long until the tsagase’e relied on him to pick the path. He was sure footed and had great endurance. He became the leader of the tsagase’s and pack wesepooggoo. Because of his endearing qualities when special traveling took place he was requested.
One winter the snow rose to where it was higher than the tsagase’e and up to the shoulder of the wesepooggoo. We do not travel during these storms, but this winter early in the season a couple were out hunting and did not arrive back at camp. The warrior’s Kuma’, wife was about to give birth. Chief asked who would go and find them. It was agreed that Kwchowbee and I would go. They had left camp headed to the North and West. There had been reports of oba-yo’na, grizzly bears in that direction. We traveled for two moons looks for signs of them. With the snow being so deep we had not traveled far. Because of Kwchowbee’s strength and staying power we had traveled to the top of the mountain. It was the third day when started smelling fire. Eventually, I saw smoke coming from under a willow tree. We traveled toward the tree calling out to whomever it may be. Soon the tree parted and there was the warrior. The mother had given birth to a boy. She had hoped to see the great oba-yo’na before the birth of her child. Fortune was with them and they had seen the oba-yo’na. The mother went into birthing shortly after seeing it. The snow began falling so they took shelter under the willows. Kwchowbee and I camped under another willow tree for two moons until the couple were ready to return to camp. More snow had fallen, so the return trip took three moons.
On one of our gathering trips an old wesepooggoo was carrying a pack sled when it left for the Spirit-land. It was traveling along when it fell to its knees and dropped its head. Most of the other pack sleds were on ahead. I tied the second pack sled to the top of the one Kwchowbee was pulling and he safe moved them both to the next camp.
One moon, a summer storm traveled through the mountains while we were gathering the pine nuts. The tuggweggwetseba, lightning struck a dry tree and a fire began. When the tsagase’e and wesepoogoo started to smell the heat and smoke they became very restless. The Numa were packing to move when they stampeded. That is all except for Kwchowbee. He watched the Numa, smelled the air, moved restlessly, but he never broke off and ran. The Numa were trying to move to a safe place. It took some time to round up the tsagase’e and wesepoogoo. With Kwchowbee and I making several trips very little was left behind.
There was the day when I slipped down the muddy bank of the Snake River while trapping beaver. It was a step bank and it had collapsed as Kwchowbee and I walked along. I dropped three times my length down into a collection of limbs and logs stuck in the bank of the river. Kwchowbee immediately looked for a path to get down. When he could not find a path. He moved so the rope around his neck was dangling down the bank. I was able to crawl to the rope and with his help able to return safely to the top of the bank.
Kwchowbee and I spent many years together. Then one summer we took a trading journey to the East. There we met a white man by the name of John Damele. He had another buffalo coated horse. When I found out it was a mare and Mr. John Damele asked to trade for Kwchowbee; I knew this was how I would want to end our time together. I traded Kwchowbee to Mr. Damele as breeding stock and I went away with a blue-gray two-year-old appaloosa. Many moons later we traveled that way again. Mr. Damele said, that Kwchowbee and the mare had produced three foals; one mare and two studs, before he moved to the Spirit-land. I knew my time with Kwchowbee was as it was to be.