Wild Horse Education

The Misfits, a history of killing wild horses that never really ended

At Wild Horse Education (WHE) our volunteers go through several steps. We take them to range, roundup and meetings. We require that they journal. Some understand that to become an advocate requires research and a careful analysis of politics, all sides of the fence. Rash action to fulfill a need to take center stage, when you are ill-equipped to even understand the props, create devastating consequence for the horses. WHE is fortunate to have a handful of dedicated individuals that are taking the time to learn the reality the horse lives in and how to truly advocate for the horse. Marie has been navigating through her personal journey into advocacy for over a year now, we know this is very rough terrain. We applaud her efforts and proudly present her latest piece. (Action item at the end of article) Marie read an article penned by WHE founder Laura Leigh in 2015, she was inspired to write:  https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/08/26/dangerous-myth-the-american-cowboy/ Dangerous Myth, the American Cowboy.


Marie at the Reveille roundup, 2017

The Duplicity of Mustanging and Murder, Marie Milliman (Wild Horse Education, volunteer corespondent)

Ranchers, extractive industries and federal governing agencies have claimed for decades that wild horses are the demon of “degradation of our public lands.”

Unsubstantiated myth could only be perpetuated with a conspiratorial effort, deceivingly structured, richly funded, and devoid of science which has created the current critical position of our treasured wild horses and burros. History, frustratingly repeats itself in regards to the void of scientific studies and the destruction of the range. Destruction of the range is scientifically proven predominantly due to cattle, sheep, the effects of extractive industries, and the tragic continuance of the horse bearing the burden. It is the irony of permitting the same abusers to promote and receive additional federal funding that elevates this offensiveness perpetrated by federal land managers that are sworn, by oath, to manage federal land for the “public good.” That means all the public, not just those that rape for profit, that is the law.

Whilst money is the genesis of their motivations, I would like to believe in the faith of humanity, and that the survival of our partners in evolution throughout history, can survive the iniquitous challenges to their very lives today. Regardless of the federal proposal to defund viable solutions, while they fund what is essentially nothing but an exercise of power over those that care about wild horses and shoot horses by the tens of thousands, I would like to believe that America could still take a stand beside our faithful partners. And, not only act to save them, but to improve their future as well.

My quest in this article is to grasp how the wild horses have been regarded in our history. I was profoundly offended with numerous articles from the NYT; dating from 1886 to 1957. A sampling of the descriptions of our now, loosely/federally declared living symbols of the West: “The facts as every Westerner knows, are that the wild horses had to go.” “Wild Horses on Parade: As a regular part of spring roundup, the ranchers gather up their stray horses and try them out. The unlikely and incorrigible nags are hauled to the public spectacle that will determine whether they will end up as pampered buckers on the rodeo circuit, or as canners, on their way to a dog food factory. Miles City, Montana annual Bucking Horse Auction”. “They are the worst nuisance that can be imagined”. Etc., etc.

Horses have been categorized, as livestock, but not consumable, but yet also as companion animals. Horses are distinct in the minds of Americans and it is reflected under law. An illustration of the American culture, excluding horses in the category of consumable livestock, is confirmed by this quote from the NYT July 23, 1895; “There is a market for it (horse meat). It cannot be sold to consumers in this country as horse-meat. Although we suspect that a part of it may enter into consumption under another name.” (sound familiar?) This is a representation of a corroborating statement that the civilized citizens of this country have held a contempt for horse slaughter, or hippophagy (consumption of horse meat) as of the 1800’s to present day.

While I generally believe, that training techniques have considerably evolved from this example: NYT May 1, 1886; “A Vicious Mustang Becomes Gentle Under the Hands of Prof. Gleason, excerpt; from a “performance” at the Cosmopolitan Theatre. “The professor used one of his “magic” bridles, and the mustang was “taught” the meaning of the word “whoa” through the use of the whip and the ropes, which brought him to his knees.”

The wild ones have also been involved in the controversy between the categories of wild or feral. On the land our wild horses face the same human confusion as their domestic cousins. Under law wild horses are to be managed as “wild,” the law was clear. But this debate is rooted in the prejudice of all that came before the law; if you can not kill it for a dollar it has no worth.

I mustered up the courage to watch the 1961 movie; The Misfits, on a suggestion from Laura Leigh. I’m not certain at this point, if they were just referring to the human characters in the movie, or including the horses in the category of the title? Laura said that the people are the “misfits” that are struggling to evolve in todays world desperately trying to hold onto a past that has faded and not much has changed, the wild horses simply a victim.


Wild Horse Education, Summer 2017 Emag, click image to read

The movie is set in Nevada, and is deemed to portray the mind set and, technique of the inhumane Mustanging process. Nevada was referred to as the “Leave it State”. You could “leave your money, wife, extra atom bomb and nobody would mind in the slightest”.  An early scene was depicted with a plane over head, and Gay (Clarke Gable) informing Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) that if they were to shoot/kill Eagles from airplanes, they would receive $50 per bird. The ranchers believed their livelihoods were at risk due to the Eagles “threat” to their livestock. Approximately 20,000 golden eagles were shot from airplanes to protect their livestock between 1941 and 1961, leading the Golden Eagle to become a federally protected species. * Golden Eagles and Wild Horses, the epitome of the Western landscape and a paradigm of freedom, both killed for profit to protect a livestock industry by the “cowboy”.

As the web of complicated relationships progress, the hideous method of Mustanging is exercised. While Gable’s dog shakes with fear, the day prior to the “round up”, Guido (Eli Wallach) explains;  “It’s common sense Gay (Gable), he knows there’s wild horses out there. He’s been up here enough times to know what’s gonna happen, he’s just scared he’s gonna end up dead too.” Roslyn, “You kill them?” Gay, “No, no, we sell them to the dealer”. Roslyn, “He kills them.” Gay, “ Honey, I just round ‘em up and sell them to the dealer, always have. They’re real strong horses, they are. Little as they are. They used to breed to them for stamina. Why there was mustang blood pulling all the ploughs in the west, they couldn’t have settled here unless somebody caught mustangs for ‘em.” Roslyn, “But you know what you’re doing isn’t right, don’t you?” Gay, “Honey if I don’t do it, somebody else would. I hunt these horses, so I can keep myself free.” Roslyn. “I liked you because I thought you were kind.” Gay, “Honey, a kind man can kill.” Roslyn, “No he can’t.”

In the morning, they load up in the truck, with the sound and sight of the plane in the distance. The ropes and chains tied to the tail end of tires are in the back. Gay tells Roslyn, “they’re just a bunch of misfit horses.” The plane is tied down, once it lands and I dread to watch what is imminent. They relentlessly chase down each horse with the truck, rope it, and the tire falls off of the truck to the ground. Some of the horses are roped with a second rope and tire. A stallion and four mares (one with a baby) are now scattered on the sparse plain. The horses desperately battle, are then “choked” down, and a noose is wrapped around all four legs. The stallion groans from exhaustion and fear, the baby paws at its mother, and remains by her side. As the disbanded horses are to be left for the night, Roslyn finally produces an admirable fit of rage and disgust. Now she has Gay thinking, and he thinks out loud if 5 horses are really worth it?  Roslyn and Perce (Montgomery Cliff) team up and conspiratorially cut the stallion loose first. Gay re-catches the stallion from the end of the cut rope and gets the crap beat out of him in the process. He ties him to the front of the truck, and then cuts him loose himself. Now Gay finally speaks some words filled with compassion for the “misfits”, “You know what, no one makin’ my mind up for me, that’s all. Damn ‘em all, they changed it, changed it all around, smeared it all over with blood. I’m finished with it, it’s like ropin’ a dream now. I just gotta find another way to be alive now, that’s all. And if there is one anymore. Cut that mare loose for me, will ya?


One of Marie’s adopted NV mustangs doing the “wild thing” promotion this spring.

For me personally, the misfits are not misfits at all. Their unique spirit and image have established a deep root in my heart, where I believe they dwell in many other hearts as well. They are a symbol of a dream, where wildness is revered, and their soul is a mirror. Even though these “misfits” do not seem to understand that they are destroying the very thing they claim to be themselves. Laura said the movie the Misfits, written by Arthur Miller, is a tragic irony. I now know what she meant.

Is it 2017, or 1961? Are we in a time warp where it is morally and socially acceptable to kill our wild horses? Have we as humans, society and an “advanced” culture not evolved? Or do we digress to the days of mustanging, “destroying” our wild horses, and slaughter? Will the greed for the last blade of grass, for the last drop of oil drilled, for the last ounce of natural gas to be fracked, for the last lump of coal to be burned, prevail? Will the moral compass of our government support such a proposition?


WHE Summer Emag, click to read more

I plead with you to join me, join us at WHE, in a united stand. If we believe in the beauty of freedom and a wild heart, we must make a stand now for our wild horses.

The proposed budget debate may have wild horses lined up to be shot by the “misfits” of today, those hanging onto a past begun to fund a civil war (grazing and mining program began to fund the war) that ended a long time ago and is killing the very things we claim to cherish as a nation.



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We have already lost entire herds that never had a management plan. We are heading into the largest years of removals with no management plan. Sterilization is not “off the table” for any herd. 15-20K a year will hit holding facilities and the system will collapse. More wild horses than ever will be in danger of the slaughter pipeline.

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Categories: Wild Horse Education