This is the first in a series.
The horse has been part of North America since, well, forever. San Diego Zoological Society believes the horse originated in North America millions of years ago, then went extinct on this continent. Horses were reintroduced by Spanish visitors and have been a part of Southern California for centuries.
My interest in wild horses began when dreaming of the wild horses in my childhood, and wild horses in my life became a reality when I adopted Cricket. The Mustang is a descendent of the horses long gone by. In my growing passion for wild horses, one of the most exciting things I have found is an effort to save the genetic stock from our area. Yep, horses used to roam right here in and around Ramona.
Coyote Canyon Caballos d’Anza (CCCDA) was established by people interested in preserving the history of the horse in our area, particularly Ramona, Santa Ysabel and Anza Borrego.
According to CCCDA, wild horses had roamed since somewhere around 1769 when the first mission was built in San Diego. As open range was the custom for management of livestock, the mission horses soon spread to the outlying rancherias in the mountain and desert areas.
Through the study of history, they were able to discern that by 1840 the last great horse raid on Southern California ranchos occurred, driving 3,000 horses into Utah. Not until 1974 were remnants of this herd discovered.
Coyote Canyon Heritage Hoof Prints
The story begins in 1769 when the first mission was built in San Diego to bring Catholicism and establish a land trust for the indigenous people. The missions supplied Spanish bloodstock to the outlying rancherias, including present-day Warner Ranch. When Spaniards first visited the hot springs at Warner’s Ranch in 1795, they encountered the Cupeno Indians on a rancheria located there. To the south and west were the Dieguenos, and north were the Cahuillas.
After the Spanish Mexican War and by 1833 the Indians and ranchos possessed great numbers of horses, cattle, sheep and other animals. Newcomers to the area began maneuvers to acquire these properties, and tragically the Indians were displaced from their homeland. A small worn plaque near the tiny Warner Springs Chapel and Cupa cemetery bears their heart-rending words. By 1840 the last great horse raid on Southern California ranchos was led by Pegleg Smith and Chief Welkara. Approximately 3,000 horses of Colonial Spanish bloodstock were driven into Utah along the Old Spanish Trail. The native peoples and their lands were further segregated from the original trust after Mexico ceded its territory to the United States by Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848.
John Turnbull Warner arrived in San Diego about 1846. He applied for, and was granted, a Mexican grant to the Indian Trust. By 1850 Indian resentment culminated in the Gara revolt and massacre at Warner Hot Springs, where the Indians reclaimed cattle and horses and drove them into Coyote Canyon. For 150 years, even after the Indians abandoned their villages in the canyon, the animals ranged freely, as was the custom.
Not until 1974 were remnants of this herd discovered on the Mountain Home Range by the Bureau of Land management. By 1984, however, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park acquired the lands and removed the last remnants of Indian cattle, and in 2003 removal of the Coyote Canyon Wild Horse Herd began. The State Parks Department claimed they were feral and invasive. All wild horses (and burros) have been gathered and removed from Coyote Canyon in the San Diego area, with the final removal in 2007.
Only four known stallions remain from this herd. They are listed by the International Equine Conservation nonprofit Equus Survival Trust as Critically Endangered/Nearly Extinct.
For purposes of genetic recovery, CCCDA worked with the BLM and sent 14 mares from the Southern Utah herd to be bred to the Coyote Canyon stallions. The stallions and mares represent a distinct population segment of species that evolved and survived the harshest desert environs and nature’s challenges.
The Coyote Canyon stallions and mares are held in trust locally by CCCDA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is dedicated to the repatriation of San Diego’s last Heritage Herd to their native ranges and preservation of historic routes.
The stallions of today reside with the Haydens near Warner Springs. The mares are living in Ramona, and foaling season has begun! Check back in the weeks to come for updates and photos.
To support the CCCDA and original horses from our area, contact Robert and Kathleen Hayden at: P.O. Box 236, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070, 760-782-3340; or firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit the Coyote Canyon Heritage Herd Facebook page.