The horse evolved in the San Antonio region. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
The horse evolved in the San Antonio region. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Before today’s world of cars, trains and traffic, people shared a common history and culture through the horse. The Witte Museum explores the significance of the horse and its role in U.S. history in the new exhibit, Splendor on the Range: American Indians and the Horse. The exhibit, presented by PlainsCapital Bank and researched by South Texas Heritage Curator Bruce Shackelford, runs from March 5 through August 21 in the Kathleen and Curtis Gunn Gallery.  

The horse evolved in the San Antonio region, and made its way to Asia where it was domesticated, but it disappeared from the Southwest area 10,000 years ago. In the 16th century, the Spanish reintroduced the horse and brought a new way of life to the American Indian tribes throughout the United States, particularly the Southwest and the Plains.

“People are surprised to learn that horses started here, but they also went away and then came back,” Shackelford said. “We just assume that they were always here.”

The Splendor on the Range exhibit features the Witte’s impressive American Indian collection, including pieces that are on display for the first time. Artifacts – such as painted buffalo hides, saddles, moccasins, and special attire – give visitors a better look at the daily life and cultures of American Indian tribes.

Tribes held great reverence for the horse, Shackelford said, which provided them with a source of food and transportation for trading, hunting, fighting and traveling.

“With the horse, (these tribes) became the most powerful people in the United States, West of the Mississippi,” he said.

The exhibit also allows visitors to view artifacts and engage with history – listening to recordings of American Indian songs, seeing a rare film of Sioux tribesmen performing the Ghost Dance, and learning more about the events and effects of  the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Younger visitors can enjoy daily live performances and story times, play in the tipi (or teepee) area, and learn more about different tribe tools and culture.

There’s not much similarity between tribe life and modern society today, Shackelford said, “but there’s still that mobility and limitations of mobility with cars.” Like the previous generations who used horses,”it’s still about this freedom to travel and move wherever and whenever we want, at our discretion.”

Coming Events at the Witte

The Fort Parker Raid Revisited | Wednesday, March 30

The Museum will present a Louis A. and Frances B. Wagner Series presentation with Bruce Shackelford and Dr. Daniel Gelo, Professor and Dean of the Department of Anthropology at UTSA from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Time Travel Family Day| Saturday, April 9

There will be a particularly family-friendly day at the exhibit, running from noon to 4 p.m.

Admission for Splendor on the Range: American Indians and the Horse costs $3 for members and $5 for non-members, as well as general admission. For more information, call 210-357-1900 or visit www.wittemuseum.org.

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*Top Image: The horse evolved in the San Antonio region. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.