Friday, December 10, 2010

Cultural Resource Wars, in brief

I do not have to see free-roaming horses galloping unbridled on the ranges to know they are important to many American people. Whether these people are loyal volunteers and adopters, photographers, viewers, activists fighting for what they feel is right for the care of horses, or any combination thereof, mustangs have a place in our hearts and souls. Horses are no longer viewed as simply a tool to get work done on farms and ranches, or a vehicle to get from point A to point B. They are a cultural resource, as important to some people as historic properties are to archaeologists, or cultural properties are to native peoples. Americans have formed a kinship with the horses that have roamed the ranges of the Great Basin since the 16th century. They are a very valuable cultural resource.

The ongoing dispute that has been roaring since Velma Bronn Johnston is how I know that horses are important to America.  If they were not, the fight to preserve them would not be so intense.  Cultural resources are important for the identity of people and they are always surrounded by extreme emotions. The horses are no different. Americans identify with them.  They are an iconic figure of what the west once was, freedom, our history.  Their existence value outweighs the value of many other rangeland values.  This is where the conflict has clashed.

Arguably, there are two, or more, cultural resource wars occurring.  The free-roaming horses and cattle are the two most disputed.  Yes, cattle are a cultural resource as well.  They define many western people of the Great Basin.  The cow.  The range.  Wide open spaces.  And then the horses.  Freedom.  The old west.  A living legend.   It is a war to decide whose resource has more value on rangelands.

The cattle ranchers depend on their cattle for their livelihood, therefore the rangelands are very important for their use.  The horse activists depend on their horses because they are central to their identity, therefore the horse's existence on the ranges is very important.  Between these two resources, angry words and clashing values collide.

I will not try to decide whose resource is more beneficial or valuable to the common American.  I am simply writing this for my own benefit in order to help myself understand both sides of the issue at the heart.  On either side is justification and the threat of identity loss.  Understanding this further will help me interact with both sides of this great debate.  We can all hope that in the future a solution will be discovered that benefits both the cattle ranchers the horse people of America.


  1. Sorry to bug you again, but I just want to say "very cool"! I'm so glad I found your blog. I just sent an email to one of the professors in my major to ask him about starting an independent study on wild horses. Can't wait!

  2. Haha no problem! It's great to hear from folks reading my stuff. Good luck with an independent study! I'd be super excited to read anything you write up for it if he okays it! I did an independent study as an undergrad. It was looking at aerial photographs to determine horse use impacts. There's a picture of the poster I created on my About Me page. It was tons of fun!

  3. Hi Jessie,

    Thank you for inviting me to read your blog. It is both thoughtful & insightful and I am really looking forward to watching your research unfold!

    May I ask of you one thing, and that is to revisit the claim that "The horse activists depend on their horses because they are central to their identity, therefore the horse's existence on the range is very important." I am more an activist for mustangs & burros because I demand accountability from my government (this is only part of it). I am on many sites posting often about many things as they relate to government accountability attending meetings on energy and more than I want to bore you with. The numbers from the government, and those from the mustang & burro activists vary so much it all needs research & clarification.

    In truth- your statement is relevant however it's only for a very small percentage that your statement gives merit. Ask activists why they care so much. Find out what these people do with their spare time. You might find that their (grand)children, their art, or other hobby etc are more central to their identity than the part of their life that is important too- the mustangs & burros.

    Thank you for your research. This data is important for the mustangs, the burros, for the sage grouse, the cattle, (peace of mind!!) data like this keeps our government accountable! Keep up the great work.


  4. Thank you for your interest, Kimberly!

    My claim that horses are central to the identity of many Americans is of course just what my experience has dictated. Most of the horse people I know that love mustangs feel that way. They live and breathe the wild horses. I am not denying that some people feel horses are important because they demand accountability from the government. But from my experience, it is the former.

    I will soon have some posts up as I work towards completing my thesis proposal. I always welcome constructive criticism, suggestions, and tips!