Roberta Conner: Columbia River tribes maintain horse traditions

" Before the arrival of the modern horse into the local landscape in the late 1690s to 1700, dogs were the domesticated animal central to tribal village life across the Columbia River Plateau. Dogs were called kúsi until the horses came at which time horses became kúsi and dogs became kúsi kúsi. By repeating the word, the meaning is either made diminutive or is pluralized. Thus, horses may be considered big dogs and dogs are their littler counterpart.

When the ancestors of present-day Cayuse and Walla Walla peoples greeted and took care of the members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Northwestern Discovery in 1805 and 1806, local Tribal horses were admired and prized for trading. The expedition journals reflect the observation that local horses “appear to be of an excellent race, lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable; many of them appear like fine English coursers and resemble in fleetness and bottom, the best blooded horses of Virginia.” On the home-bound route, Captain Clark was presented a fine white stallion by a local tribesman with hopes of obtaining one or more metal kettles. Instead Clark’s sergeant’s sword was traded. Likewise, one of Captain Lewis’ dueling pistols plus 100 balls and powder were traded for a worthy mount. The Expedition also purchased approximately 60 dogs from us for consumption outbound and returning.

When the Pendleton Round-Up track explodes with the excitement of the men’s and women’s Indian relay races or when the Tribal portion of the Round-Up program circles the arena, a little glimpse of the good old days comes alive for our Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla people. But, most visitors won’t know that the local Tribal history is extremely rich and particularly colorful with horses for more than 300 years."

Get the Story:
Roberta L. Conner: Tribal horse culture: Measuring wealth in big dogs (The East Oregonian 9/5)

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