This is a Kickapoo saddle, used for horse riding. This saddle is only the wood base of what would have been an elaborate piece of equipment. The horse’s back would have been covered with a saddle blanket and the saddle would rest on top. the blanket was made of leather, cotton, or wool which could be adorned with beads, and sometime feathers or quills. Often saddles like these are wrapped in leather, the stirrups and leather girth would be set in the space between the wooden sides of the saddle. The girth, sometimes called a cinch strap, wrapped around the belly of the horse to secure the saddle on the horse’s back.
The last prehistoric horses in North America died out over 11,000 years ago but horses remained and evolved in Asia, Europe, and Africa. In 1519 horses returned to the Americas with the conquistadors from Spain. In the land that is now Mexico, the Spanish began breeding their horses and taught Native Americans how to ride and take care of the herds of horses. These herders were the first vaqueros, or cowboys. Although the Native Americans were herding, riding, and caring for the horses, the Spanish kept the Native Americans from owning their own horses for many years. The first Native Americans to acquire horses were the Apache, in modern day New Mexico. As more groups of Native Americans adopted the horse, stealing, bartering and breeding horses became a significant part their way of life.
The Kickapoo are a group of Algonquian speakers originating from the Great Lakes area, east coast, and Canada. Before European contact they relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering roots, seeds and wild rice. The Kickapoo first encountered the French in the 1640s when they were still living in modern day northern Michigan. However, the threat of white expansion grew and the Kickapoo gradually migrated south. Resulting in the Kickapoo disbanding into the three distinct groups that exist today, the Oklahoma Kickapoo, the Kansas Kickapoo, and the Mexican Kickapoo (later Texan Kickapoo). During the Civil War Spain granted displaced Native Americans land in the northern part of the Spanish Territory of Mexico. These groups wanted to get out of the United States to get away from the American Armies who were either trying to recruit them to fight or massacre them for their resources. In 1865 a band of Kickapoo led by No-ko-aht traveling to Mexico to seek refuge, were attacked by Confederate soldiers and Texas Rangers, commanded by Captain Henry Fossett. The battle took place on a branch of Dove Creek, east of Mertzon, Texas. The Kickapoo were hunting when the battle began, chief No-ko-aht’s daughter was killed when she went to meet the troops with a white flag. The Battle of Dove Creek is well remembered because No-ko-aht’s account of the battle still exists, making it one of the rare occasions that the Native American side of these conflicts are heard.