Some Appaloosa history from around the world


This one is a fish story. True, appaloosa is best known as a favorite kind of horse–sturdy, quick, and quick-witted–developed by the Nez Percé Indians living near the Palouse River in what is now Idaho. The river, therefore, has been suspected as the source of the name. Yet the first mention of “Opelousa” horses is from an 1849 book on Texas, and there is a source of the name closer to Texas in neighboring Louisiana, the Indian tribe known as Opelousa. Neither of these tribes speaks Choctaw.

Let us rein in speculation about the horse, however, and go fishing for a moment. The earliest record of something like appaloosa noted in the Dictionary of American Regional English is for 1845, and it is for a fish in Alabama: “Right round that was whar I’d ketch the monstrousest, most oudaciousest Appaloosas cat, the week before, that ever come outen the Tallapoosy.” This “Appaloosas cat” is a spotted catfish otherwise known as a flathead catfish, Mississippi bullhead, morgan cat, pied cat, and yellow cat, among other names. A century after the first mention, a 1948 newspaper in Oklahoma mentioned “tackle-busting river cats, or Appaluchians.”

The fish name appaloosa very likely comes from Choctaw apolusa, meaning “to be daubed” or “spotted.” It is tempting to take the Choctaw word as the source for the horse name too, perhaps reinforced by the name of the Louisiana tribe, since the appaloosa horse is also spotted in the back. But Idahoans and Nez Percé might disagree, because the latter are unquestionably the source of the horse, and they were a long way from Louisiana.

Choctaw is the language spoken by Indians who lived in present-day Mississippi and Louisiana when the first Europeans arrived. It is a member of the Muskogean language family. Most Choctaw now live in Oklahoma; there are said to be about 10,000 speakers of Choctaw in a total population of 25,000. One other English word from Choctaw, transmitted to us by the French in Louisiana, is bayou (1763).


More ……… (Another story of Appaloosa History)



The Rusian Origins of the Appaloosa 

The ancient line of “spotted horses” acquired the name “Appaloosa” from the Nez Perce Indians. The spotted horse existed prior to that time, certainly…but known by different names.

It all started in the early 1700s, when the Nez Perce’ acquired its first horses. The tribe’s oral history, while not supported by most non-native historians, has been passed down among some of the Nez Perce’. The first Appaloosa horses obtained by the Nez Perce’ tribe came from a Russian ship that had dropped anchor just off the shore of what is now northern Oregon. Three spotted stallions were swam from the ship to a tribe waiting on shore, in exchange for goods. These special stallions were then sold to the Nez Perce’, who bred them to the tribes best mares. According to lore, that was the beginning of the Nez Perce’ Appaloosa.

A well documented account from George Long Grass, of Nez Perce-Flathead extraction, in 1877 states that “His great great grand father and his great grandfather had gone to Tillamook Bay ( now northern Oregon) and bought their horses from the Siletz Indians, and for those horses they had paid twice the price.” There seems to be little known about the Siletz Indians who had lost their identity very early, but George Long Grass knew of them. He stated that ships came into the bay and the horses were pushed off then towed to shore by the Siletz Indians. He also stated that in 1762 two spotted stallions were taken off one of the ships and bred to some mares and taken back aboard the ship. He believed those ships to be Russian. George Long Grass wore a thong around his neck which carried a Russian ¼ rouble dated 1758, which his great great grand father had gotten in 1762 from the men who came on the ships. The coin would have been minted during the reign of the Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great.

In 1724 Peter the Great had commissioned Lt. Bering to explore – and he discovered Alaska in 1741 – (known then as Russian America) and for the next 60 years Russian ships were up and down the Pacific Coast from Alaska south past Canada and as far as California. So, from 1741 through to the 1800’s Russian traders, hunters & trappers – with horses – were moving along the coastline of Canada and the northwest USA. It is known that by the 1780’s they were exporting livestock to their colonies in North America.
Traditional belief is that the origin of the Nez Perce horses was the Spaniards who had settled the Southwest. Some historians say Cortez first introduced the “raindrop” horses to North America during the invasion of Mexico in the early 1500s. Later, many horses were set free or escaped and were captured by the natives. The Spanish horses were traded to tribes farther north until the horse gradually worked its way up to what is now northern Idaho. However, serious research into the spread of horses through North America will show that it is extremely unlikely that the vast numbers of horses reported in the Pacific Northwest in 1804-1806 would have been from Spanish origins, moving northwards. It is more likely that the Pacific Northwest had previous access to and developed large numbers of horses – from the Russian source.


Whichever account you choose to believe, one thing is for certain: The Appaloosa is strongly associated with the Nez Perce’ tribe.
The Nez Perce’ tribes inhabited the Palouse River country of central Idaho and Eastern Washington. Thus the horses became known as “the Palouse”; subsequent slurring of the word produced “Appaloosa”.
The Nez Perce’ believed the spotted ones to be tougher than ordinary horses and began to selectively breed for them, as well as for endurance, hard feet, and other characteristics that have become synonymous with the Appaloosa horse. A strict breeding program, using only the best stallions, was established and adhered to for over a hundred years.
When Lewis and Clark happened upon the Nez Perce’ people almost a century later, Meriwether Clark commented in his journal, ” Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable; in short many of them look like fine English coursers and would make a fine figure in any country.” And, according to Clark’s description, many of them had spots.
After the majority of  Nez Perce’ failed to outrun the U.S. Army in 1877, the government ordered the annihilation of the tribe’s beloved horses. Not only were the Appaloosas shot and trapped, but they were purposely crossed with draft animals, obliterating the centuries worth of careful breeding that had produced these superior animals. Those spotted horses that were swifter, savvier, tougher and more sure-footed than the mounts of the cavalry, were near extinction. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only a few hundred Appaloosas in existence in the USA.However, Chief White Bird and his group of Nez Perce did not surrender with Chief Joseph in 1877, but rather, escaped to Canada with Appaloosa horses. Sources: “The Story of the Ghost Wind Stallions” by Don LaLonde and “Horse Migration of North America” by Frank. C. Scripter
Some people believe that the Nez Perce involvement with the “spotted horse” for some 100 years has created the “Appaloosa” breed. Certainly, they have given the spotted horse this ‘name’.  In ancient China they were known as the ‘blood sweating heavenly horses’ and were also considered superior.The spotted horses are documented in pre-historic cave paintings, and are undeniably NOT native to North America.The Nez Perce and most all indigenous peoples of the Great Plains, in fact, moved freely back and forth between what is now Canada and the USA – trading, hunting, and raiding – prior to 1877.With evidence to support that these spotted horses came by Canada and to the northwestern USA via Russia, it supports  the concept that the “spotted horse” or Appaloosa – by any name you give it – belongs to the world and has it’s origins in many countries. 














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