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Posted by on Nov 19, 2008 in Guest Contributor | 1 comment

Lost Thunder: BLM Preparing To Execute 30,000 Wild Horses (Guest Voice)

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Walter Brasch, who has written many well-received Guest Voice posts for TMV has sent this Guest column, which we run in full here. His note:

Deanne Stillman is one of the nation’s best journalists, and an advocate of the nation’s wild horses and burros. The Bureau of Land Management, under the Bush-Cheney Administration, has been yielding to the pressure of the cattlemen’s associations, which want wild horses and burros removed from public lands. The BLM solution has been to round up the animals and allow the sale to persons who may claim they’re “adopting” the animals, but are likely to send the animals to slaughter. In her book, MUSTANG, Deanne writes eloquently about the animals and what the government and individual ranchers have done to destroy them. More important, she writes about why this nation must preserve its wild horse and burro population.

This article appeared Sunday, Nov. 16, in LA Observed and is sent to you with Deanne’s permission.

Lost thunder: BLM preparing to execute 30,000 wild horses

by Deanne Stillman

The 30,000 wild horses on Death Row are nearly out of appeals.

They were condemned by the Government Accounting Office just in time for Veteran’s Day – a profoundly cynical act when you consider that countless wild horses perished after being taken from the range and serving in the Civil War, our frontier wars, and World War I. The announcement concluded a dark cycle that began on July 4th as flag-draped horses paraded down Main Street, rekindling our birthday dreams and echoing our heartbeats with the clip-clop of their hooves. At that moment, the Bureau of Land Management stated that it may have to kill the “excess” mustangs in government housing as a cost-cutting move.

Since 1971, wild horses have been protected under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, signed into law by Richard Nixon, who quoted Thoreau during a stirring speech about the role of wild horses in America’s culture and history. Since then, the livestock industry – which views wild horses as thieves that steal food from cows – has tried to take the law down through five administrations, and under the Bush administration is finally succeeding. The unraveling began three years ago, when a rollback made it legal for the BLM to sell horses in its custody that are over ten or who haven’t been adopted on the third try through its adopt-a-horse program to the lowest bidder. This meant a ticket to the slaughterhouse.

Several days after the unraveling began, a number of wild horses were immediately shipped to the killing floors. Now, the BLM says that while it doesn’t like having to make tough calls, it may just have to go through with this one. Such is the language of dedicated bureaucrats, and it’s not unlike the language that was used in the 19th Century, when the government realized that to vanquish Native Americans, it had to strip them of their horses.

As I document in my recently published book, Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, in 1858, Colonel George Wright ordered the massacre of 800 horses that belonged to the Palouse tribe, east of what later became Spokane, Washington. The site is now known as Horse Slaughter Camp, and it has a stone marker. On Thanksgiving night in 1868, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked Black Kettle and his tribe along the Washita River in Oklahoma, killing the chief and many of his people, and then their 800 ponies. The Cheyenne woman Moving Behind, who was fourteen at the time, would later remember that the wounded ponies passed near her hiding place, moaning loudly, just like human beings. “There would be other horse massacres,” I wrote, “as if prefiguring the coming government war against the horse itself.”

And now, that war is upon us; what we did to the Indians we are about to do to ourselves – unless the many good citizens who are planning to confront the BLM’s wild horse and burro advisory board at its annual public meeting on Monday in Reno can head off the disaster at the pass. “We may be fighting wars around the world,” I conclude in my book, “but in the West, to paraphrase the great environmental writer Bernard deVoto, we are at war with ourselves. To me, there is no greater snapshot of that war than what we have done and continue to do to the wild horse. As it goes, so goes a piece of America, and one of these days, bereft of heritage, we may all find ourselves moving on down the road.”

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