Wild Horse Timeline
(Webmaster note: This webpage uses the term "Mestengo" to differentiate feral horses
of Spanish descent from those of mixed descent.)


1600
to mid
1800's
 Spanish horses are dispersed by settlers throughout the Southwest and California. Indian tribes disperse them further into the Great Plains, the upper Green and Colorado River basins, and the Snake and Columbia River Plateaus. Escapees form vast herds of "Mestengos" the feral descendants of the Spanish horse. They may number as many as a million when Americans begin to settle the west.
1859 Horses have still not found their way into the interior of the Great Basin. Captain J. H. Simpson documented a Paiute's infamiliarity with the animals as follows: "In mounting the mule, he invariably would protrude his legs through and between his arms while resting his hands on the saddle and in one instance, in his attempt to mount this way, akwardly tumbled off the other side."
 The Comstock Lode is discovered in western Nevada, preciptating the settling of the state. Statehood is granted in 1864. In the ensuing years, American settlers bring horses into the interior of the Great Basin where they roam semi wild on the public domain. Ranchers raise horses to sell to the mines and freight companies. To meet the demand for larger horses, they introduce draft stallions into the semi wild herds.
Late 1800's The Mestengo is almost completely exterminated from the Southwest, California and east of the Continental Divide. Most of the remaining herds are in the upper Green and Colorado River basins, and the Snake and Columbia River Plateaus.
 Mining in the Great Basin begins to wane, decreasing the demand for horses. Ranchers are not as diligent about maintaining their herds.
1897 Nevada passes a law allowing citizens to shoot unbranded horses on government lands (public domain).
1901 Due to protests of Nevada ranchers that their horses were being shot, the 1987 law is repealed.
1905February 1The Forest Service is created, and 63 million acres of public domain are transfered to the Department of Agriculture.
Early 1900's Mechanized equipment beginning to replace horses on farms and the end of the Boer war result in thousands of excess horses which go wild throughout the West and whose numbers increase rapidly. During World War I, many of these horses are rounded up and shipped to Europe.
1912March 5Velma Bronn Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) is born in Reno Nevada. By this time, about 100,000 horses roam wild (unclaimed) in Nevada.
1920's Fueled by the new commercial demand for horse meat and other byproducts, efforts to capture as many wild horses as possible begin in earnest.
1930 R.B. Cunningham Graham publishes The Horses of the Conquest
1930's The Great Depression makes tractors unaffordable for many farmers in the South, and many captured wild horses are diverted from the slaughter houses to Southern farms.
1934June 28The Taylor Grazing Act is passed to manage grazing on public lands. Ranchers could no longer freely turn their horses onto the public domain, and instead of paying grazing fees they simply did not claim the semi wild herds. The Federal Government joins the war against wild horses.
 J. Frank Dobie publishes The Mustangs
1945 Walker D. Wyman publishes The Wild Horse of the West
1946 The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is formed in the Department of Interior.
1955 Frank Gilbert Roe publishes The Indian and the Horse.
1958 About 33,000 wild horses are estimated to be on public lands.
1959September 8The Wild Horse Annie Act is passed, prohibiting the use of aircraft to round up wild horses on public (federal) lands. Although roundups still continue to take place by other means, the population of wild horses stabilizes.
1962 Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall establishes the Nevada Wild Horse Range on the Nellis Air Force Base.
1965January 13The National Mustang Association is incorporated in Utah.
May 27The International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs and Burros is incorporated in California.
1966 Marguerite Henry publishes Mustang : Wild Spirit Of The West
1967 The BLM estimates there are about 17,000 wild horses left.
1968SeptemberSecretary of Interior Stewart Udall establishes the The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range
1969SpringUtah Senator Frank Moss introduces a bill drawn up by the National Mustang Association proposing that the mustang be protected as an endangered species.
1970January 30After having intervened for the protection of the Pryor Mountain mustangs 18 months earlier, Wyoming Senator Clifford Hansen introduces a bill drafted by Clyde Reynolds, mayor of Lovell Wyoming, into the Senate. It was very similar to the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed almost two years later.
OctoberHope Ryden publishes America's Last Wild Horses. In the epilogue (removed in subsequent printings of the book), she states that the number of wild horses had significantly declined from the 1967 17,000 BLM figure.
December 31Despite mounting publicity on the issue, Senator Hansen's bill dies with with the conclusion of the 91st Congress. He declined to sponsor the bill the next year, and in 1997, he was quoted as saying: "The law was intended to recognize the significance of wild horses and burros, but talk about a waste of public funds!"
1971 Several new Wild Horse bills are introduced into the House and Senate. They spur a spike in wild horse roundups by ranchers trying to remove horses before they became protected. One such roundup resulted in horses being released into the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona.
June 22The National Wild Horse Association is incorporated in Nevada.
June 30Wild Horse Horse Organized Assistance (WHOA, not to be confused with the Wild Horse Observers Association or Just Say Whoa) is incorporated in Nevada. One of WHOA's founders was Wild Horse Annie, and the organization works with the BLM to place captured horses into adoptive homes.
December 15After unanimous passage in the Senate and a majority vote in the House, the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WFRH&BA) is signed by President Nixon. According to the 1978 and later editions of America's Last Wild Horses, the BLM estimated at that time that about 9500 wild horses and 7500 burros were on the public lands.
1973 Under the authority of Section 3(b) of the WFRH&BA which stated: where an area is found to be overpopulated, the Secretary, after consulting with the Advisory Board...may cause additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros to be captured and removed for private maintenance under humane conditions and care, the BLM begins capturing and adopting out wild horses from the Pryor Mountain herd.
1974 A "ground count" is done and finds about 42,000 horses and 15,000 burros. The next year, the BLM concedes there were probably considerably more than 9500 horses in 1971; probably closer to 28,000. (The figure of 17,000 in 1967 was probably also low.) The 28,000 figure assumes a middle ground in the disparity between the 1971 and 1974 figures, by considering the 1974 figure to be about about 10% high.
1975JulyThe BLM conducts its first roundup in Nevada at Stone Cabin Valley. It water traps 80 horses, which were subsequently impounded by the State of Nevada which declared the WFRH&BA to be unconstitutional. Rather than keep the horses penned up until the matter was resolved, the BLM released the horses. BLM roundups of burros continue in other states. The State of New Mexico also challenges the constitutionality of the WFRH&BA, and rounds up burros from public lands and sells them at auction.
1976June 17In Klepp vs New Mexico the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the WFRH&BA
October 21The Federal Lands Policy and Management Act Amends the WFRH&BA to allow the BLM and Forest Service to use mechanized vehicles to round up wild horses and burros. By this time, there are about 53,000 horses on public lands, and roundups to keep populations down begin in earnest. Excess animals are put into private maintenance for an adoption fee of $25.00, but there is little control over what happens to the adopted horses. even though there are no provisions to ever give title to the adopters.
1977June 27Wild Horse Annie dies.
 Drought in the west compels the roundup of about 10,000 horses over the next two years. There is talk of trying to get population levels down to the 1971 estimate.
 Anthony Amaral publishes Mustang: Life and Legends of Nevada's Wild Horses
1978October 25The Public Rangelands Improvement Act is passed stating: (6) the Act of December 15, 1971 (85 Stat. 649, 16 U.S.C. 1331 et seq.), continues to be successful in its goal of protecting wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, and death, but that certain amendments are necessary thereto to avoid excessive costs in the administration of the Act, and to facilitate the humane adoption or disposal of excess wild free-roaming horses and burros which because they exceed the carrying capacity of the range, pose a threat to their own habitat, fish, wildlife, recreation, water and soil conservation, domestic livestock grazing, and other rangeland values. The WFRH&BA is amended to reflect the concerns.
1980 Despite the removal and adoptions of some 20,000 wild horses and burros since 1974, the estimated population has peaked at 65,000 (50,000 horses and 15,000 burros).
1981 Through the Land Use Planning Process, in accordance with 1333(b)(1) of the WFRH&BA the BLM sets an Appropriate Management Level (AML) of a total population of 25,000 wild horses and 5,000 burros on the public lands. This figure came from the number of animals estimated to be on public lands at the time the WFRH&BA was passed, less the number of animals on HMA's that had been zeroed out.
1982March 9The BLM Director raises the adoption fee to $200.00 for a horse, and adoptions fall off dramatically. Idaho Senator Jim McClure introduces S. 2183 reducing the number of horse that could be adopted by one individual in any one year from four to two, and allowing for disposal by sale of unadoptable horses. The bill doesn't make it out of committee.
1983MarchThe adoption fee is dropped back down to $125.00.
1985 Richard Symanski publishes Wild Horses and Sacred Cows.
1986March 3In accordance with 1336 of the WFRH&BA, regulations for the management and adoptions of wild horses are put into effect.
1989August 3Nevada Senator Harry Reid introduces S. 1508 to increase the penalties for killing a wild horse. It does not make it out of committee.
 The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) ruled that AML's must be based on monitoring, not on estimated 1971 numbers. At the time there are about 45,000 horses and burros on the public lands. The target number is eventually set at 28,000 (25,000 horses and 3,000 burros).

If the 1958 figure of 33,000 horses was in the ballpark, with the passage of the Wild Horse Annie Act the next year, the number of horses probably remained fairly constant through the 1960's at somewhere above 30,000. The illegality of using aircraft, along with the fact that those 30,000+ remaining horses were in the more inaccessible areas, made capturing them more difficult, and "mustangers" were only able to capture enough to keep the numbers from increasing. However, increased efforts in 1970-71, probably did lower the numbers to somewhat below 30,000. If the BLM succeeds in reaching its present goal of 25,000 horses, that will probably be the lowest number since horses first began going feral in North America
1990 Congress's circumvention of 1333(b)(2)(C) of the WFRH&BA by mandating that no appropriated funds could be used to destroy healthy horses leads to overcrowding of BLM holding corrals. Sanctuaries are set up for unadoptable horses.
1991 Dr. Gus Cothran releases Strategies for Genetic Management of Feral Horse Populations on Public Lands in the United States proposing genetic testing of all the wild horse populations.
1992August 5The 43 CFR 4700 regulations are amended to make BLM decisions to gather wild horses or burros or to be in full force and effect.
1997January 29The BLM releases a Wild Horse and Burro Evaluation.
March 7The 43 CFR 4700 regulations are amended to allow for competitive bidding at adoptions. Also, mare/foal pairs are no longer adopted at a two for one price, and the fee for burros is increased to a minimum of $125.00
 The BLM enters into a settlement agreement with wild horse advocate organizations to add the following language to the adoption form: "I hereby state that I have no intent to sell this wild horse or burro for slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products."
 Hardy Oelke publishes Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction
1998January 23BLM Director Pat Shea re-establishes the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, after a several year hiatus.
2001October 1The BLM begins genetically testing every herd gathered. Until then, only a handful of herds had been tested.
2004December 8Despite the removal of 227,000 horses and burros since 1973, there are still 37,000 wild horses and burros on public lands (probably about the same number as in 1971, except that there are about 33,000 horses and 4000 burros The Forest Service has probably another 1500 horses and 100 burros). The 2005 Omnibus budget bill amends the WFRH&BA, to allow the commercial sale of unadoptable horses and expedite reaching the target number.
2005January 25West Virgina Representative Nick Rahall introduces HR 297 which would repeal the 2004 amendment allowing the commercial sale of unadoptable horses.
June 20Nevada Senator introduces S 1273, which would make the sale and adoption authorities more consistent.