AMS 105- American West: Images and Identities




Many Native Americans and early explorers made their way on foot. Many of the Plains tribes referred to their early days as the 'dog days' when they had no horses and dogs or people pulled extra equipment on a drag or 'travois'. Sometimes various kinds of boats from dugout to canoe were use to cross or go down rivers or lakes. When Europeans came to the West they brought various hoofed animals to include oxen/cattle/donkeys/mules, camels and the most important the horse.


The tradition of the Western horse began when the Spanish brought the horse, in domestic form, back to its place of origin, America. Of the many things exchanged in what is referred to as the Columbian Exchange, the return of the horse was one of the most significant. The Western horse was derived from Spanishand North African breeds that were variously modified to meet the needs of vaqueros/cowboys in the Southwest, California, Plains and later into mountain regions of the Rockies and the Northwest. However, when horses escaped and survived on their own they became known as "mesteo" or mustangs. Mustangs became rather 'wild' but they are actually still a domestic animal gone feral. The horse had originated in America 55 million years ago and became a wild Equus sp. about 1.6 million years ago and physically was similar to a zebra. A few million years ago these truly wild horses migrated to the Eurasia and Africa. In America the true horses became extinct by 10,000 years ago. Some believe actual wild horses may have held out in the interior of British Columbia. In Eurasia and Africa horses were domesticated (5,000 years ago +) and the domestic horse Equus caballus arrived back in America in 1519. In Spanish colonial times mustangs interbreed on their own while Native Americans and settlers recaptured many mustangs to breed with various Eastern breeds like Morgan and Thoroughbred. Military and wagon pulling horses would be further mixed with Percheron or Clydesdales in the Rockies and Oregon country. The Nez Perce developed their own mountain horse called the Appaloosa, that was later used by settlers. Much later a fast short distance horse breed was derived from Mustangs and Eastern horses for racing in a quarter mile which was referred to as a Quarter Horse. In California the Palomino enjoyed a notoriety and was somewhat isolated.

Spanish (sometimes called Andalusian); Arabian and Barb mixed in over time in Spain; 15-16 hands (height); compact; used in formal riding academies like Lippazzan
Arabian; a desert horse with ancient roots in N. Africa especially among Bedouin 14-15 hands with a unique wedge shaped head and sometimes only 5 lumbar vertebrae; showy tail. Often used in shows and circuses.
Thoroughbred; English/Arabian, 15-17 hands, lean and long legs
American Quarter; English/East coast bred for short distance;
14-16 hands more compact and agile. Brought out West for cowpunching.
Palomino; more a color breed with golden as an ideal derived
 from various breeds.
Roy Roger's Trigger was a Palomino.
Appaloosa; a breed with color variation noted in Asia, but redeveloped in America by the Nez Perce as a mountain horse (stocky chest) 15-16 hands with 'leopard spots'; ranchers preserved and revitalized the breed after Nez Perce lost so many horses after 1877.
Morgan; compact 14-15 hands derived from a single horse in Mass.; saddle horse and trotter
Percheron; French battle mounts for knights in medieval times and then became work/ carriage team horses 15-19 hands
Clydesdale; large work or draft horse from Scotland 16-18 hands, used to showcase old Budweiser Wagons.
Mustang; feral (free roaming) horses. Supposedly began with the release of Spanish horses and burros in the 1500s. Then any strays or Mavericks, Indian ponies and rustled horses were mixed in over the years. Currently these Mustangs are on the rise and being 'managed' by the Bureau of Land Management, BLM.  (BLM program)


 Horses were bred for various size or behavioral traits as well as for color. Color and markings often were connected to superstitions about behaviors. Expected coloration did not always remain consistent, but various color combinations arose from all these hybrids. White horses were considered weak, pintos were small, blacks suffered from heat, bays were vicious and chestnuts were thin skinned. Native Americans in the Plains, like the Kiowa, Comanche, Lakota and Blackfeet preferred different types and colors especially paints and pintos. Horses used by cowboys could be derived from Spanish vaquero horses many types were added based on preferences of appearences, breed or skills. Generally, the cow horses or ponies had to be hardy and smaller for the work needed...see below.

mustang, Cayuse, bronco wild or unbroken; 'mockey' was a wild mare; 'manda' is aband of mares with a lead stallion
cow horse experience with cattle
work horse experience in a harness/ pulling a wagon, etc
stallion fertile male horse
mare fertile female horse (technically 5 yrs+); 'foal' is baby horse, 'colt' is a young horse ('potros'  in Span)
gelding a castrated stallion
fuzz-tails/ fuzzies range horse
willow tail long loose tail; 'ratail' is short or little hair
top horse a skilled horse in multiple skills of roping and cutting; as opposed to a day herding horse with lesser skills
jug-head, churn-head not very smart
spoiled horse outlaw, spoiled in breaking
salty bronc, spooky, snaky a bad horse
plug, shad-bellied, buzzard-bait a broken down horse
wind-bellied, grass-bellied, pot-gutted bloated on grass
cutting horse highly trained to cut out cattle, this horse was able to turn sharply and the cowboy had to stay on
rope horse highly trained to be the right distance for the release of the rope/lasoo (rietta in Spanish) and to maintain tension on the rope
night horse a horse that was calm with sense of direction and keen eyesight to find their way home in the dark
swimming horses a good swimmer and guide for spooky cattle in river crossings
remuda, string, cavvy (short for caballada), saddle band each cowboy at a ranch or drive was issued a 'string' of horses that performed the various tasks or skills in working or driving cattle
maverick a loose range horse with no brand, actually based on a lawyer, Samuel A. Maverick, who kept a herd of unbranded horses on the San Antonio R. in Texas

Much of the use of the horse or the Western horse was primarily based on the limited time of the open range opportunity after the Civil War. Explorers and ranches existed before the Civil War and the Spanish vaquero and Anglo cowboys worked cattle, but in the open ranges of Texas the roundups and drives of beef cattle reached a peak before the Civil War. Roundups were usually in the Spring for branding and Fall for the Big Drives to the north. It was in these roundups that the cowboy used a String or Remuda to perform all the needed tasks. A 'chuck' wagon went on drives and provided food. The introduction of fencing laws and barb wire greatly changed the role of the cowboy. A severe blizzard in 1886-87 decimated many ranches in the Northern Plains. The Western horse was kept alive with wild west shows and the rodeo.

Horses and mules were also used in 'Pack Trains" especially through mountain passes. The donkey was reliable but rather small and the mule ( a usually sterile hybrid of a horse and a donkey) was larger and yet more sure footed than a horse. Donkeys were often used by lone prospectors while pack mules were used by regular expeditions, couriers and the military. Mule skinners were those that packed and drove the mules. You can still take a mule ride into the Grand Canyon...good luck. Mules were also an alternative to oxen for pulling a plough, especially in the South. The U.S. military used horses, mules and camels before and after the Civil War. The horses were varied, depending on the supplier, but there was a tendency to import larger Eastern breeds, such as Morgan and Thoroughbred. For a very short time the US Mail was carried by a unique relay system called the Pony-Express. The run was from St. Joseph,  MO to Sacramento, CA (1,966 miles with 190 way stations). Riverboats completed the journey to San Francisco. The riders carried small locked pouches, called mochilas, that carried the letters. They made the journey in 10 days , which was half the stage runs of 22+ days. However, the Pony Express operated only from 1861-1862 and was replaced by the telegraph.


There were many kinds of carts and wagons that were pulled by single or teams of animals. Native Americans did not have wheeled carts (although they had wheeled toys). Therefore, Europeans introduced various carts and wagons. The Spanish brought a simple two wheeled cart called a 'caretta'. The wheel was easy to make because it was rimless and spokeless, cut from a slab of oak. Usually carretas were pulled by oxen and were rather slow that limited them to local travel. Most of the Spanish Expeditions and travel was conducted on horse along the old 'camino reals' or royal roads between Mexico and the Northern frontier areas like New Mexico and California. Highway 101 basically follows the old El Camino Real from San Diego Mission to San Raphael Mission above San Francisco.  In the French Canadian West a small cart called a 'pembina' was used but differed from the caretta in that it had spoke wheels. Anglo-Americans poured into the West on their wagon trains beginning in the early 1840s following the Oregon Trail, Immigrant Trail, Mormon Trail, and Santa Fe trail. The dominant wagon for the early pioneer was the Conestoga wagon or 'prairie schooner', which was a four wheeled wagon developed by Pennsylvania Dutch initially for the Great Wagon Road and later were made to travel over the Cumberland Gap and finally out into the West. It had various features to include out turned wheels, a rain tarp, a stable load carry configuration, and a steerable front axle. The Conestoga carried a lot of weight and due to its design was somewhat defendable. Many immigrant families made their way West from 1840-1870, so many, that wagon rut marks are still visible on some of the old trails.

Conestoga Wagons

 A derivative wagon, called the Santa Fe Wagon,  was like the Conestoga wagon, but  was larger and pulled by 3-4 yolks of oxen or mules. Large trains of Santa Wagons were used after 1821 from St. Louis down to Santa Fe and in 1848 when New Mexico became part of the US these trains were more common. A more luxurious mode of wheeled travel came in the form of the Overland or Stage Coach, that were derived from England and the East coast. These made their appearance in the West in 1820 and came in various forms, with the Concord coach being the most common style. Initially, these coaches provided passenger service but later provided mail service. The Overland Mail Company (or Butterfield Stage) ran from New Mexico to California and Wells, Fargo and Company prevailed in the North with San Francisco runs to the gold fields, Virginia City (Nevada) and points east. Individuals or gangs of 'road agents' plagued these runs robbing passengers and the mail. On of the most famous of these road agents was "Black Bart" (C. E. Bolton) who was active in California. Some of these road agents successfully used dummy figures placed in bushes at the ambush site to create a gang and reduce any hesitation from the unsuspecting passengers and driver. There were many smaller buggies used  in towns or for local travel, such as buckboards, surreys, hand carts and special hearses that were used in the West. In the 1870s the 'wheelmen' craze emerged with of all things the bicycle and this in turn was the impetus to get local roads improved in the early part of the 20th century. Healdsburg, CA wheelmen: All these wheeled vehicles were motorized in the early 1900s and initially took over local travel, but the railroads still dominated long distance travel especially in the West.


The Civil War 1861-65 expanded railroad building and some local lines were built in the Western states. The States and federal government gave free land to the railway companies. In what is deemed as one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century, the Central Pacific under Leland Stanford with mostly Chinese labor built track over the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Union Pacific under Thomas Durant with mostly Irish workers ("paddies") built track over the Rocky Mountains. The two subsidized and competing companies met on May 10. 1869 at Promontory, Utah to drive the famous 'golden spike' to complete a transcontinental railroad. As wagon feeder roads were replaced with railroad lines transportation in the West became faster and more luxurious. The famous 'Pullman' car and 'Silver Palace' cars provided relatively smooth rides. The railroad changed economy and ecology in the West. Competition for railroad line courses was great and brought boom or bust. The bison herds were divided forever and settlers invaded American Indian lands.

The initial trains brought out West were wood burning steam locomotives since there was initially little coal in the West but plenty of timber. The Eastern trains had begun to run on coal. In fact in the meeting of the two trains at Promontory, Utah notice the steam engine on the left has huge funnel shaped stack that is distinctive of a early wood burner, while the engine on the right is a coal burner. As steam trains evolved at first for passenger service and then freight they became larger and faster. The 'Pullman" sleeping car increased convenience and luxury such that it normally took only 10 days from St. Louis to California. The wagon trips were three-six months and express horse drawn coaches 18-30 days. In the early 20th century steam trains developed streamliners like the California Zephyr and the Daylight to provide similar service in 13- 26 hours. During WWII the largest steam locomotive the 'Big Boy" was developed to transport wartime equipment over the Rocky Mountains. Steam trains ran into the 1950s and were replaced by diesel and electric trains. Unfortunately, America went with the automobile and interstates for passenger and freight service in the 1950s and 1960s. American railroads technologically fell behind and have never recovered. Even Walt Disney envisioned high speed monorail service but it never came to be. More money was to be had producing autos, aircraft and the voracious quantities of fuel they demanded.

Trains: Steam trains are designated by their wheel pattern/ # front pilot wheels / # drive wheels/ # rear pilot wheels; e.g. The classic Berkshire engine is 2-8-4           


Early Steam Wood Burner 2-8-0
Early Steam Coal burner (Baldwin) 4-4-0
Steam 4-8-4
Durango-Silverton Steam, Durango, CO
2-truck Shay Narrow gauge steam; Roaring Camp, Santa Cruz, CA
Southern Pacific Daylight 4-8-4 Lima GS-4 1941-1971/ Alco Diesel/Pullman/Diesel  
California Zephyr 1937-1971/ Amtrack Zephyr  
Big Boy Steam Engine   
Various Steam Engines in the Am. West   


All the modes of transportation discussed were some form of land travel. Some decided to get to the West via boat or ship. Initially the journey around South America was grueling and fraught with danger. Juan Cabrillo first made the journey from Guatemala to San Diego, California (he called it San Miguel) in 1542.  Sailing ships at that time had a very limited capability of sailing close to the direction of the wind, in fact there were only about 180 degrees that could used. Therefore sailing north along California's coast was difficult and required tacking to get wind and since the fog was extensive many ships ran aground. In fact Chumash Indian planked canoes, 'tomols',  were considered faster and safer for coastal travel than Spanish sailing vessels. As with land travel technological innovation brought improvements. The great Boston ships that came around in the 1800's were the peak of sail technology. They came for sea otter trade and later brought people into the California gold fields. In 1845 Richard Henry Dana wrote of his experiences on a merchant ship, called Two Years Before the Mast. Eventually steam and diesel came on the scene. San Diego, San Pedro, San Francisco and Seattle became greater commercial and Naval harbors of the West coast. Often ferry boat services added connections between various waterways and the railroads often operated these boat services. In San Francisco the Central Pacific Railroad interconnected the vast San Joaquin Delta between the capital in Sacramento, Stockton, Oakland, San Francisco. Seattle/Tacoma developed a ferry system for Puget Sound.

Airplanes were developed at the beginning of the 20th century in conjunction with the automobile. Initially the airplane was for longer distances for mail services, military, aerial photography and eventually passenger service. Lindberg's "Spirit of St. Louis" was developed and built by Ryan Air in San Diego. Howard Hughes, originally from Texas flew in air races and developed his "Spruce Goose" in California. Many airplane companies located their companies in the West for the space and year-round weather for flying. These are a few of the companies but most have consolidated and merged in recent years. However, with new high speed aircraft the West is still the primary test area, especially in remote desert regions. The downside is that weapons test has taken its toll on cultural and natural resources. Air races have become popular in recent years in which you can see some of the WWII aircraft like P-51 Mustangs racing around courses outside of places like Reno, Nevada. Airships, blimps or dirigibles had a short history and one sees the Goodyear Blimp at sports events today. At California's Moffett Federal Airfield  USS Macon ZRS-5 that was built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corp was housed in a huge hanger. In 1935the USS Macon crashed off of Pt. Sur, California. Recently, in 2006, a expedition of under sea probes found the wreckage of the USS Macon and some of its Sparrowhawk airplanes on the ocean floor.

Lockheed Aircraft 1912, Santa Barbara, CA; later merged w/ Martin of Baltimore, MD: Lockheed-Martin Lochheed-Martin SR-71 "Blackbird" 1960's- 1980's high recon plane Mach 3+F-22 Raptor newest fighter
Boeing Aircraft 1916, Seattle, WA Boeing's China ClipperB-17 Flying Fortress, WWI bomberPSA Boeing 727 Commercial Airliner
Douglas Aircraft 1921, Santa Monica, CA (merged w/ McDonnell Aircraft 1928/1938 St. Louis, MO);
 McDonnell-Douglas part of Boeing
McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, 1960's Vietnam fighter/bomberF-15 Eagle
Ryan Airlines 1925, San Diego, CA Lindberg's  1927 Spirit of St. Lous
North American Aviation 1929 merged a number of companies including Curtis-Wright; moved from NY to CA;
 later merged with Rockwell Intl. and under GM now part of Boeing 1996
North American P-51 Mustang, WWII fighterB-25 Mitchell WWII medium bomber
Northrop Aircraft 1939 Hawthorne CA; Grumman 1929 PA merged in 1994 to form Northrop-Grumman F-4 Wildcat and F-8 Bearcat two of Grumman's WWII fightersF-14 TomcatB-2 Spirit; stealth bomber
Hughes Aircraft 1932 Glendale, CA H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose"
Consolidated Aircraft 1935 moved from NY to San Diego, CA later merged with Convair and eventually
consolidated with General Dynamics all headquartered in San Diego.
PBY-7 Catalina; Consolidated's recon/search and rescue aircraft of the WWII Pacific TheaterConvair's B-58 Hustler


Automobiles emerged in the early part of the 20th century and served for local travel in the West. However, it was not until the 1950s that interstates were built and the automobile displaced the railroad, including urban rail services. This displacement was more dramatic in the American West, where in cities like Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, etc. old trolley/bus systems were lost. San Francisco's famous Cable Car was kept merely as a tourist attraction. In California the car including the convertible and hot rods became the rage. Racing was popular throughout the country but drag racing was born in California. Top speed runs were made at the Bonneville Salt Flats but the streets of Southern California with warm nights were the breading grounds for drag racing and motorcycle clubs. In 1949 at the Goleta Air Base, Santa Barbara, CA were the first 1/4 mile drag races. In the 1950s Pomona, CA became a drag racing hub with early hot rods and later AA fuel dragsters and funny cars. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) formed in 1951 and the Pomona Winternationals are still a popular event . Sports cars and road racing also were popular in California again with the weather and the fact that foreign cars became more popular on the East and West coasts. Early Porsche, MG, Alpha Romeo and more exotics like Ferrari became more common after WWII. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) started after the war and sponsored amateur races at places like Laguna Seca in Monterey California. James Dean was on his way to Laguna Seca from Hollywood to race his new Porsche when he was killed on the trip to Monterey. Today, our freeways are congested and Rap singers and movie stars prefer a Lamborghini because of the cool doors. Nobody can really drive as fast as these cars go. The rail system is coming back and we may see all kinds of changes in modes of transportation in the emerging 21st century. Since the American West is so expansive it may be too expensive to build more efficient public rail, auto carriers, etc. Automobiles with robotic controls may get developed to go faster and safer. We need vehicles that do not require wheels.