Wild Horse Country: The History, Myth, and Future of the Mustang, America's Horse (Paperback)
“We kill the things we love”
David Philipps, after talking to scientists and ranchers across the American West,
has written a grand story of the wild horse from its prehistory to the introduction
by Spanish conquistadors and its inclusion in the early American wars. Mustangs have
ingrained their presence in the imagination of the country, from books to films. Yet,
to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “we kill the things we love” and the horse finds itself
in the cross hairs of controversy between animal rights activates, ranchers and the
Christopher Columbus brought no horses on his first visit to the New World, but it soon
became apparent that the horse would be valuable on further trips. The Spanish brought
horses and used them to conquer the Native Peoples who were awe struck by them; Pueblo
Indians smeared the horses' sweat on their chests to transfer the power. As Philipps
says,“The assertion that horses are not native made perfect sense to me at first.” Yet,
palaeontologists have uncovered remains of early horses throughout the West.
The author then studies the history of exploitation of the West's native resources by
Eastern businessmen, whether it be of beaver furs, mining, lumber, bison or even wild
horses. All they saw were resources for the taking and money-making. Ranchers practiced
the “round-up and ground-up”: capturing and sending the horses to slaughter. Today,
animal activists try to save the wild horse, while government officials try to control
the numbers. Phillips enlightens and makes his point for the preservation of the resources
we have left.
The wild mustang has from very early on become a symbol, not of greatness or strength
like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, but of one of Independence. Writers like Zane Grey
exploited the West and created a mythos that included the White Stallion, which became
embedded in the American Culture. This book also fits well in our area: we are surrounded
by the hostile and vacant areas the Wild Mustang calls home.
Wild Horse Country wraps up with what may seem like an idealistic solution to the problem,
but one that might be feasible under new bureaucratic guidelines. Phillipps travels to
remote Montgomery Pass, Nevada, a wild, dry country known to be home of a large herd of
wild Mustangs. There, a researcher who has spent several summers doing population studies
of the horses, has realized that the numbers have remain steady, due to the existence of
mountain lions. Natural predation has kept the herd in check.
— Frank Pester
The “insightful [and] even-handed” (Outside) story of a heroic animal whose existence is in danger.
The wild horse, popularly known as the mustang, is so ingrained in the American imagination that even those who have never seen one know what it stands for: freedom, independence, the bedrock ideals of the nation. But in modern times it has become entangled in controversy and bureaucratic mismanagement, and now its future is imperiled. In Wild Horse Country, Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter David Philipps traces the rich history of wild horses in America and investigates the shocking dilemma they pose in our own time.
About the Author
David Philipps is a Pulitzer Prize–winning national reporter for the New York Times. He is the author of Lethal Warriors and a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. He lives in Colorado with his family.
Wide-ranging [and] scrupulously reported.
— Pia Catton - Weekly Standard
Colorful, well-researched and well-reasoned.
— Bruce Jacobs - Shelf Awareness
A gripping, myth-busting biography of the mustang.
— Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes
A gimlet-eyed look at the place of the wild horse in the landscape of the American West.… Of a piece with Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert.
— Kirkus Reviews