Saturday, October 26, 2013


General Crook's horse, Dragon Trail, Rangely, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, September 1990.

 Some petroglyphs that illustrate horses seem to also indicate a mark on the body of the animal. In some instances that probably indicates the paint on the horse that warriors of Great Plains tribes are known to have applied when they are faced with combat and have adequate time to prepare.  

The other possible implication of a mark illustrated on an image of a horse is that it is a brand and the horse was obtained from an Anglo. Since Native Americans are thought to have not used permanent brands to identify their own stock, a branded animal must have either been purchased, or stolen from an Anglo during a horse raid, or taken as booty after a fight with white men. Jim Keyser has illustrated instances in which the mark is readily identifiable as a US Government brand and those suggest that the animal was formerly a cavalry horse. Jim Keyser has long advocated comparing rock art to painted robes and ledger book art for models to aid interpretation. 

The so-called General Crook’s Horse, from Dragon Trail, a few miles south of Rangely, Colorado, is explained by locals as follows: “The Utes, once they incorporated the horse into their way of life, took long trips to the plains to the east to hunt buffalo. There is a Ute petroglyph some miles south of Rangely that pictures a horse with a brand on it. An enterprising resident checked out the brand with the National Brand Registry and found that it was from the Seventh Cavalry under General Crook who fought the plains Indians in the 1870s. Utes served as scouts for the Cavalry, and one of these scouts no doubt carved a picture in stone of the horse he rode during those wars.“ (

Closeup of so-called General Crook's horse, Dragon Trail,
Rangely, CO. Photograph: Peter Faris, September 1990.

Is the marking on this horse actually a Seventh U. S. Cavalry brand? I do not know, it certainly does not match any of Jim Keyser’s collected examples of brands portrayed in rock art.  Keyser has, however, illustrated a number of instances of rock art panels showing brands on horses. He also has collected a group of horse brands from Ledger Book art as seen below.
U.S. Cavalry brands from rock art (a Joliet) and ledger art
(b-f adapted from McCleary 2008:244). 
Keyser, 2012, p. 15, fig. 7.

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and
Combat, 1997, Afton, Halaas, and Masich,  pl. 127, p.247.

This example of a ledger book drawing shows Cheyenne warrior Brave Wolf fighting against a Crow warrior on horseback. The leading cavalryman has obvious brands on his horse, and Brave Wolf's horse shows a brand very much like that in Keyser's compilation of brands shown above.

Plains biographic rock art panel, 48HO9, Keyser, 2012, p. 14, fig. 5

In "My Name Was Made High: A Crow War Record at 48OH9" (2012:20-23), Jim Keyser has published drawings of a number of rock art panels showing brands on horses. This particular example was found on a boulder in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. He has matched the brand in this panel to two other examples of Plains Indian art. "One is painted on a Northern Plains bison robe now in the British Museum and thought to be of blackfoot origin that is tentatively dated on a stylistic basis to the period between about A.D. 1825 and 1850. A rock art horse at site 24YL589 in Montana, known from a tracing, has the same brand."

Keyser was an early proponent of comparative interpretation in rock art. He pointed out back in the 1980s that elements of Plains Biographic Style rock art matched elements found on painted robes and in the illustrated Ledger Books. His insights and amazing body of published work has made an immense contribution to our study of rock art.


Afton, Jean, David Fridtjof Halaas, and Andrew E. Masich
1997    Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and Combat, Colorado Historical Society and University Press of Colorado, Denver.

Keyser, James D.
2012    “My Name Was Made High:” A Crow War Record at 48HO9, The Wyoming Archaeologist, Vo. 55, Spring 2011 (pub. Oct. 2012).

Keyser, James D. and Michael A. Klassen
2001    Plains Indian Rock Art, University of Washington Press, Seattle.

McCleary, Timothy P.
2008    Ghosts on the Land: Apsaalooke (Crow Indian) Interpretations
          of Rock Art, PhD Dissertation, University of Illinois,

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone have any information on the carved horse ABOVE the cavalry horse shown here? It's smaller, apparently older (either weathered or less deeply scored originally), and a very different phenotype. I'm curious if there is any credible way to date this carving?