The Reintroduction of the Horse to the Canadian Prairies

By Tony Ward.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 21, 2016 $US5.00

The horse was native to North America, but became extinct as the first peoples arrived from Siberia 15,000 to 12,000 years ago. Reintroduced by the Spanish in the seventeenth century, horses spread rapidly, fulfilling an important role in the First Nations’ socioeconomic system. By the eighteenth century, horses were common on the prairies, and revolutionized the economic mainstay—the bison hunt. A man on a horse could outrun multiple bison, increasing output substantially. As with many open access resources, though, the new hunting technology led to overharvesting. A parallel technological change—the introduction of the transcontinental railway—further increased the incentive to hunt. Previously, the reward for a bison kill was the meat, the tongue, and the hide, which were used for clothing and shelter. As the cost of the hunt fell with the horse, and the value rose with railway transportation, hunting became a more valuable activity, with many bison killed solely for the value of the hide, which was needed for the drive belts of eastern factories. The number of bison killed rose dramatically, beyond the point at which the stock could maintain itself. Numbers fell dramatically, until the bison hunt was no longer a viable means of livelihood. The value of the reintroduction of the horse, then, was paradoxical. It at first benefitted the First Nations peoples, as it increased their hunt. Intrinsically, though, it led to the subsequent decline of that hunt, and with it the entire way of life of the First Nations of the Prairies in both Canada and the United States.

Keywords: Horses, Bison Hunt, Prairies, First Nations

The Global Studies Journal, Volume 9, Issue 3, September 2016, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 21, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 570.913KB)).

Dr. Tony Ward

Professor, Economics, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada


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