In 2005 the Forest Service would have eliminated the Heber wild horse herd had it not been for those who fought to keep them free in the forest. Due to their efforts in 2007 a Federal Court Judge determined no free-roaming horses could be removed from the Sitgreaves until the Forest Service developed a Heber Wild Horse Territory management plan. Many years ago the original timeline composed by the people who fought to save the horses passed their information to our group and we have been adding to it ever since. Although not all of us were a part of the original group that saved them we were well aware of the Heber horses during that stressful time. We heard their thundering hooves, we watched them, photographed them, and documented them for our own sake.
Over time we would like to share some of the history of the Heber wild horse herd as they once again teeter on the brink of destruction.
Arizona’s very own living symbols of our rich American history
As he crossed Black River at Big Bonita Creek and approached a meadow where Francisco Coronado had camped in 1540 near a trail used in the 1870s by U.S. Cavalry General George Crook and his troops, Arizonan and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall said, “I am reminded of the extent to which, for many centuries, horses played a major role. This very forest has been the scene of a dramatic pageant of military horsemanship. If we had a time machine to go back, we would have watched young Spaniards, in the summer of 1540, astride the first European horses ever to stomp the ground in what is now the American West (Arizona Highways, April 1984).” Many experts agree that the first true ancestor of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF) wild horses roamed North America during the prehistoric era and then migrated to Eurasia where they evolved into the modern horse as we know them, were domesticated and spread throughout Europe including to Spain.
Historical documents provide much evidence that some of the ASNF wild horses are ancestors of the first horses reintroduced in North America by Francisco Coronado in 1540. In his search for the seven cities of gold Coronado spent much time on the Mogollon Rim and in ASNF. He brought with him scores of mounts. Servants drove more horses to be used as remounts. When they camped, the horses were allowed to graze and run in the meadows of ASNF. In 1653, the letters, maps and diary of Father Eusebio Kino demonstrate that he brought more horses to the Rim, on an apostolic exploration to possibly expand his ministry. Later, General George Crook brought mounted soldiers to the region using a trail close to the Coronado trail. The wild horses of ASNF have a rich history of military equitation.
Photo of Heber wild horses from the original timeline composed by people who were instrumental in saving them. Without their efforts most of the people who visit and photograph the Hebers today would never have known the Heber herd ever existed. The question today is will the Heber wild horse herd be around for future generations?