Plains Folk

Wild Horses in Wishek



An hour early the sale barn at Wishek Livestock was full of bidders and spectators. Latecomers had to avail themselves of the auction video streamed over to the Civic Center. Which meant they got less ambience but also fewer flies.


We found our place in the sale barn crowd an hour before the 11am starting time, when it occurred to me that it was Hot Bologna Day over at Stan’s SuperValu. So my companion held our place while I raced over and retrieved a pack of hot bologna, with fresh buns.


The steaming sausage fit right into our program, because we made the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Wild Horse Sale, on September 28, the impetus for a Wishek weekend. We took a cabin at Beaver Lake State Park, did some reading and hiking, listened to a coyote concert, attended the wild horse auction, saw old friends, and ate too much.


So that I don’t forget, not that it’s likely, I have to mention the sale barn café, which turns out remarkable fare. There are spectacular hot beef sandwiches, and the homemade fleischkuechle are the best commercially available anywhere.


Now, as for the horses, this was an educational experience for them and us both. On Friday night there was a hospitality event at the civic center, with the Methodist church serving a meal, Alvin Entzie from Fredonia playing the accordion, and an organization called North Dakota Badlands Horse convening an informational meeting.


The informational meeting was perhaps not as informative as it might have been; I expected to learn more about the horse herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the presenters seemed to know little about its origins and history; but the meeting certainly did serve to bring together the wild horse advocacy people, who were much in evidence in town, and local citizens, who were invested in event hospitality. This was good, and afterward, Merrill Piepkorn’s band, the Radio Stars, played a show and dance.


From what we heard of the DNA work done on park horses, their profile fits historical origins not as Indian horses or even as ranch horses, but rather as farm horses. I think if you examine the history of herd law, fence law, and threshing law—whereby counties allowed farmers to turn their stock loose to rummage through strawstacks in the open fields following threshing in the fall—you will get a pretty clear idea where the wild horses, or feral horses, pick your term, came from.


I can think of many reasons why the park service decided to send the horses to, and run the sale out of, Wishek, among them the bad experience in Dickinson in 2009 when a stallion jumped the rails and landed in the audience. The stallion in question, named Bashful and owned by a man named Dan Sparling, was on exhibit in Wishek as a success story of wild horse adoption.


Sparling and Bashful are celebrities, which points up an obvious fact about the sale in Wishek: it was potentially controversial. Lots of people fretted about animals perhaps being sold for slaughter, but that did not happen. Both local buyers and an organization called Legacy Mustang were on hand to buy any animal that seemed fated for slaughter.


As it turned out, their work was already done before they arrived. Clyde Meidinger, local manager of the sale, told the meat buyers to stay away. So the 103 horses in the sale program, all of them with names and numbers, sold in orderly fashion, without dissension in the crowd.


The event turned out a success in two ways: first, because Wishek Livestock handled it so well and humanely, and second, because the town of Wishek hosted it so graciously. You got the feeling this was an event that might be repeated.


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