Thursday, November 18, 2004
Breathtaking hills, valleys and grassy buttes surround the town of Linton, southeast of Bismarck. East of town, stallions run with their bands of mares. They are Nokotas, the ND State Equine.
In the late 1970s, Frank and Leo Kuntz of Linton bought a number of horses taken from the wild herds running in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They soon realized these horses were unique; they were built differently – more agile and stocky than other breeds. Anthropologist Dr. Castle McLaughlin, of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard, confirmed their suspicions; her studies revealed the breed – now called Nokota – appears to be unique to western North Dakota. Her research indicates the Nokotas descended from range and Indian ponies, including Sitting Bull’s warhorses.
Frank, Leo and Shelly Kuntz have since organized the Nokota Horse Conservancy to guard the breed from extinction. One of their horses, Black Fox, was born to the oldest mare in the Park in 1986. That year, the 3-month old and his aging dam were rounded up in a 20-mile helicopter chase. The mare and her foal survived the ordeal and were sent, along with others, to Dickinson for public auction. Leo Kuntz respected the old girl’s heart and bought her for $25. Moments later she laid dead when the gate was accidentally slammed down on her head and broke her neck.
The little orphan quickly became a favorite on the Kuntz ranch, where he matured into an exceptionally beautiful stallion with a distinctive proud carriage. Even those who find the breed’s stockiness unattractive couldn’t dispute his nobility. It’s said that while he loved to strut and show off, Black Fox rarely looked for a fight. Unlike many other stallions, he was never rough with his mares, and he was extremely protective of his young offspring.
The Conservancy’s registrar, Seth Ziegler, tells of a breezy summer day when one of Black Fox’s young colts fell asleep in a shallow depression. As the band grazed, it slowly moved toward the water, and the mother didn’t notice that she was getting farther and farther away from her foal.
A stallion named Red Badger was grazing with his band a few hundred yards away, and as they moved in behind Black Fox’s band to drink, the little colt woke up to find himself in the wrong herd. He whinnied for his mother, who realized her mistake and started running for him. Black Fox was faster and quickly charged ahead to split Red Badger’s band so that she could get her foal. His moxie nearly paralyzed both bands of startled mares.
“Red Badger reluctantly postured,” writes Ziegler, “…but Black Fox, rock hard and quivering, rearing and pawing, prancing and pacing…held him at a distance. The little and slight Black Fox was a snorting, bulging, and pulsating inferno, right there in the middle of another stallion’s mare band, buying time while his own mare worked to convince her lost foal that she was indeed (his mother). Finally, the mare and foal turned for home together, and when the distance seemed safe, Black Fox wheeled on a pinpoint and trotted, in a very exaggerated, long, and high reaching manner, to their sides. Somehow Black Fox had nearly halved another large band with so much courage and unpredictability that he did not even receive a scratch in return. And all for a small foal who probably would have found his way home on his own.”
The Kuntzes, like all the Conservancy’s supporters, grieved when Black Fox died a year ago. In a sort of eulogy, it was written, “Black Fox was peaceful yet strong, loving yet firm, wise yet carefree, old when young, but still youthful when old. He will be missed very, very much. At least he has his freedom again.”
(For more information, go to: http://www.nokotahorse.org/index.htm )
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm