The Virginia Range is an area of about 30 square miles located in Northern Nevada just East of Reno Nevada. The mountain range was infamous for the 1960’s Western TV series, Bonanza that featured the Cartwright family. Virginia City located near the center of the range, became famous from the gold and silver mining era known as ‘the Comstock Lode’. Early settlers and miners heading west followed the Truckee Meadows Trail to reach the dream of striking rich!

Wild horses have roamed the Virginia Range for an unknown number of years. During the 1860’s as thousands of immigrants converged on the area to search for gold, wild horses, or ‘Mustangs’ were seen along the landscape as they can be seen today. The word Mustang or Mustano’ was coined by the Spanish settlers more than two centuries earlier to describe the horses that escaped from their corrals or from Spanish Galleons that crashed along the coast lines of America.

After the ‘west was won’, many soldier horses that were European breeds of large stature were abandon and set free on the open range. Domesticated breeds mixed with the little Spanish horses and Indian ponies to produce a diverse variety of colors and sizes that you see in the wild horses today. Pyramid Lake and the land around it was set aside as a reservation for the Paiute and remains their land.

Life on the range is not easy. Horses rely on each other for emotional and physical support. They need to band together and form small herds, or family bands that are critical in the wild for existence. You will observe the herd behavior and communication between them. Family bands seen on open ranges may have only two or three horses and some travel in groups of ten to twelve. A mare usually gives birth each year to a foal. The male colt at the age of two or three will be outcast by the lead stallion. Stallions typically fight with each other and compete with one another to protect their mares. The wild horse prevails and maintains the fortitude of their ancestors from centuries ago.

An emerging theory has evolved recently that suggests that wild horses were present in North America long before the Spanish arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries. The theory known as ‘the Pre-Columbian horse’ is in contradiction with the long-standing theory ingrained in our minds that domestic horses were ‘reintroduced’ to America. The established theory contends that native horses disappeared some 10,000 years ago. The notion describes how horses left the continent over the land bridge that existed between Alaska and Russia. And/or that native people, through predation, eradicated the animal.

25KyroldstallionHowever, unwritten accounts by indigenous peoples dispute the disappearance of wild horses. In fact, two breeds in particular, the appaloosa and the pinto, were not only prized for their distinctive colors but were selectively bred by Native American people. This radical notion will only be substantiated over time as fossils are unearthed that may reveal a very different history. At Pyramid Lake, fossils were found in 1990 that are estimated to be 25,000 years old. As new discoveries are made, the wild horse – the Mustang, may be formally recognized as an indigenous species to North America.

Velma Johnston of Reno Nevada, also known as “Wild Horse Annie”, lobbied to change what was certain extinction for the horse. Due to her efforts, the first law was passed in 1959 that prohibited the use of aircraft and autos in capturing wild horses and burros. Wild Horse Annie also spearheaded the Federal legislation was passed in 1971 that established the preservation of wild horses on public lands. The act of congress reads: quote “that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people…” end quote


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