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Wild and Free


America’s wild horses are descendants of animals that escaped from the Spaniards. They were known as mustangs, and they changed the lives of Great Plains Indians, who soon became known as formidable horse warriors.

As motorized vehicles and farm equipment became more widely used, the horse began to lose its usefulness. Many farmers and ranchers dumped horses in the North Dakota badlands to fend for themselves. These domestic horses ran wild with the mustangs and Indian ponies. They interbred, and the result is a horse unique to North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established in 1947, and a fence was completed ten years later. Many wild horses were trapped in the Park. They were rounded up and sold until they were almost eradicated. In the 1960s, people began to see the horses as a representation of wild North Dakota. Since then they have been carefully managed. Horses are still rounded up and sold to keep the population at a sustainable level, and there is no desire to remove them entirely from the park.

By the late 1970s, there was evidence of inbreeding. This included deformities like swayed backs and crooked legs. Several of the old stallions were removed and seven new stallions were introduced. These included Arabians and Quarter Horses. Horses taken from the Park were entered into a breeding program to preserve them. The result is the Nokota: North Dakota’s very own horse breed.

On this date in 1971, The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law by President Nixon. The act covered the management, protection and study of wild horses and burros. The act makes it a crime to kill or harass wild horses or burros on federal lands. They’re protected as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”

There have been court challenges to the Act. Many farmers and ranchers consider wild horses as an invasive species. But the Act has been upheld all the way up to the Supreme Court. Thanks to the efforts of advocates, wild horses still run free in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Bureau of Land Management. “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.” "http://www.blm.gov" www.blm.gov Accessed 18 November, 2014.

Bureau of Land Management National Wild Horse and Burro Program. "http://www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov/92-195.htm%20Accessed%20November%2018" http://www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov/92-195.htm Accessed November 18 , 2014.

The Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. "http://wildhorsesoftrnp.blogspot.com/2011/03/north-dakota-badlands-horse.html%20Accessed%20November%2014" http://wildhorsesoftrnp.blogspot.com/2011/03/north-dakota-badlands-horse.html Accessed November 14 , 2014.