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The Mustangs

If you enjoy western history and have never read J. Frank Dobie I hope this will tease you into reading one. I have enjoyed Dobie’s writing for years and in particular, The Mustangs.

Each one of the sixteen chapters is a period in the history of the mustang. Starting at the very beginning, Dobie works right up to his day of the 40’s and 50’s. He masterfully weaves the general history of how the mustang came to be. In addition to that, he records fantastic individual stories of men and the mustangs they chased or rode.

A few highlights for me were as follows:

  • Among many things, chapter one points out how valuable mares were to the early Muslim Arabs in their conquests. They would trace a horse’s lineage through the mare line. Dobie cleverly tells several stories of these Arabs and their mares to illustrate the point. One mare’s name is Wadduda-meaning Love and Affection. Another Arab purposely loses his attempt to recapture his prized mare. He does so in order that it can never be said she was outrun! Living in the west of today, the geldings are king. Thirteen hundred years ago it was the mares that were most sought.

  • Dobie devotes chapter two to the Spaniard and his conquests. They had inherited much of the Arab blood as a result of Muslim conquest in Spain. What struck me was that of those first 16 horses that landed in North America, eleven were studs and five were mares. How they managed so many stallions in proximity to mares in combat situations is highly intriguing. In all the warfare, and despite being continually on the attack, these mares and studs appear to have cohabitated without posing a threat to their owners. How those Spaniards did it would have been something to see! As a man who cherishes his horse’s manes and tails I smiled when Dobie writes that the Conquistador would not roach the mane or dock the tail.

  • Chapter eight is on the stallion and his mares. At this point in the mustang journey we are in the latter half of the 1800’s. No longer is the mare the center of lore, now it is the stallion’s turn. Dobie points out how studs would run off domesticated mares whenever they could. The pioneers, frontiersman, surveyors and the army of the day were concerned not only about Indian attacks but also they had to stay alert for marauding stallions. Story after story tells of studs breaking into camp and running mares off! Something I never considered was the wild mules. Evidently they ranked up there with studs for creating havoc on the plains. Dobie details wild mules foiling the plans of mustangers and running off domestic stock.

These are just a few highlights out of a truly great book. Read and get to know J. Frank Dobie!

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