A Choctaw mare (right) and her 3-month-old foal (center) run with other Choctaw horses in Poplarville, Mississippi. (AP)

A Choctaw mare (right) and her 3-month-old foal (center) run with other Choctaw horses in Poplarville, Mississippi. (AP)

Bill Frank Brown feeds DeSoto, a 19-year-old stallion. His DNA was checked and confirmed that he was a Choctaw horse. (AP)

Bill Frank Brown feeds DeSoto, a 19-year-old stallion. His DNA was checked and confirmed that he was a Choctaw horse. (AP)

A photo from around 1910 shows cowboys on Choctaw horses in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. (AP)

A photo from around 1910 shows cowboys on Choctaw horses in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. (AP)

This stallion, DeSoto, may save the line of horses brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and bred by Choctaw Indians. (AP)

This stallion, DeSoto, may save the line of horses brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and bred by Choctaw Indians. (AP)

Bill Frank Brown stands among Choctaw mares on his family farm in Poplarville, Missouri. (AP)

Bill Frank Brown stands among Choctaw mares on his family farm in Poplarville, Missouri. (AP)

Almost-Forgotten Choctaws

Posted: December 31, 2018

A cream-colored horse named DeSoto walks out of the woods in Poplarville, Mississippi. He is one of the rarest horses of all: a Choctaw.

Choctaw horses belong to a group called colonial Spanish horses or Blackjack Mountain horses. They were brought to America by the Spanish. That was in the 1500s. Back then, Choctaw Indians lived in present-day Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They bred the horses. By the 1800s, they owned tens of thousands of them.

But things did not go well for the Choctaw people or their horses. In 1830, Congress gave President Andrew Jackson the power to force Native Americans from their land. The Native Americans were made to leave places east of the Mississippi River. Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Indians ended up in Oklahoma. This huge movement of Native Americans is called “The Trail of Tears.” And for good reason! More than 12,000 Choctaw people made the journey. But somewhere around 3,000 or 4,000 of them died along the way. The Choctaw Indians who survived became ranchers in Oklahoma.

Choctaws like this mare and foal are descended from horses brought to the United States in the 1500s by Spanish explorers and later colonists. (AP)

Choctaw horses are small but tough. They are gentle. They like people. But they are critically endangered. A man named Bryant Rickman works in Oklahoma to bring Choctaws back. He guesses he has bred more than 300 of the animals. But all the horses he has bred are closely related. The gene pool he used was too small. To create a healthy breed, he needed new blood!

Then in trotted DeSoto. He saved the day! DeSoto is a stud. Studs are male horses that can still reproduce. People thought the Choctaws’ old horses were gone from the U.S. South. But DeSoto was still in Mississippi! Now six of his foals scamper across a Mississippi pasture. They are the first Choctaw ponies with new blood to be born in 100 years.