It was an honor for Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and the Confederated Tribes that inveterate horse people stepped forward to share their experiences. Some remarkable feats were described during ‘Reservation Round-Ups’ by those who experienced it: Bryson Liberty, Alphonse Halfmoon, Antone and Douglas Minthorn, Bill Burke, Jesse Jones, and Etta Conner. Thankfully, Dara Worden of the Tribes’ Cultural Resources Protection program recorded the event for posterity. Here are a few particles of stories as recalled from Saturday, September 29.
Alphonse Halfmoon, Cayuse nonagenarian, talked about how he attained his Indian name because of what his elders did after all the horse doings were over. The boys were shut in the corral and told to throw each other out. Halfmoon was the ‘Last One Standing’. Can you imagine what a feat it was. Mr. Halfmoon maintained his record through his youth and truly befits his name.
Bryson Liberty told about how they would ‘run the horses’ to get them to funnel into the corral without diverting, and the horses would circle in a big whirlpool pattern. He named off the nicknames of the guys he knew, including ‘Poots’ whose horse galloped beneath a tree with Poots lying backward on his saddle to avoid the tree branches, then once beyond the tree he sat back up, still at a full gallop. Pretty amazing horsemanship won the day.
Bill Burke related how he, cousin Richard ‘Summer’ Burke, and Leonard ‘Ma’uuts’ Cree missed the 4 a.m. convening because they stopped for breakfast. By the time they got there, somebody else had done their job. Willie Wocatsie summoned the boys to tell him what had happened. He listened. Then he drew out his quirt, and asked, ‘Who’s going to be first?’ Summer went first and took five licks of the quirt without crying. Wocatsie said, ‘five wasn’t enough? You need five more’. Summer finally busted out crying. At that moment, Bill resolved to start crying with the first lick. This sparked lifelong promptness among the three.
As a young man, Douglas Minthorn witnessed some spectacular horse athletes including a black bucking horse that he claimed for his uncle Joe Thompson. When he brought the horse to its owner, Joe said, “well, all the boys are gone now, so you can have him.” Douglas sold the horse to a rodeo stock supplier for $200, then later saw cowboy Jim Shoulders win the Pendleton Round-Up championship on that horse.
Jesse Jones shared that although he participated in the big McKay Creek doings, he felt he had missed the great horse round-ups of yesteryear. He too saw some great horses. He remembered how the former stallions would jump up and strut off to reclaim their harems, not knowing.
Some panelists addressed how they thought the wild horse problem should be handled. Mr. Halfmoon said, since these Tribes were known for their horses, they should remove all the cows off the reservation and pasture horses exclusively. Antone Minthorn thought since the tribes were made horseless virtually overnight, the wild horses should be rehabbed and made into saddle horses for families that want them. Douglas Minthorn weighed in stating since the government instituted range units, the horses are shutting other animals out of pasture; they should be disposed of, so families can collect their wheat and pasture income. Bryson Liberty said he wrote a letter to the government, advising them to emulate the Tribes’ traditional practice of ‘tying off’ the stallions to reduce populations. A few months later, he received a stock form letter as an acknowledgement.
‘Reservations Round-Ups’ was wonderfully rich in stories. The people that experienced those days are extraordinary. They are a breed apart. Their impromptu speaking skills kept the audience captive. It makes us modern ones feel rather meager in personhood.