Brief Description: A beautifully illustrated story of how the Native American Lakota first acquired the horse, and its influence on their way of life.
Historical Era: 16th Century
Date Range: 1500s
Original Publication: 2014
Suitable for Grades: 1-4th
Target Audience: Picture Book
“Tasunka” is the Lakota word for horse. This beautifully rendered story of the Native American’s domestication of the noble animal is a great introduction to the horse’s influence on Plains Indians’ culture. A discouraged, unsuccessful hunter encounters several horses. He is naturally enchanted by their strength, speed and beauty. He sneaks up on the small herd, and is able to domesticate several of its members, eventually bringing them back to his family’s tipi village. He teaches the others to ride, and the technology so increases their hunting range that the group becomes very successful, outcompeting other indigenous nations for limited resources. This so upsets the Great Spirit, who intended the horse for everybody, that He eliminates it altogether.
In the introduction, the author credits this story to Lakota storyteller Alex White Plume, who posits the controversial idea that prehistoric horse fossils are evidence that Native Americans had domesticated horses long before the Europeans introduced them to the continent. It is more commonly thought that modern horses arrived in North America with the Spanish explorers, but there is some new evidence that horses may indeed have already been here! (See this Ph.D. thesis abstract by Yvette Running Horse Collin.) In this story, after the god takes the Lakota’s horses, many centuries pass before horses were seen again in North America.
The book is beautifully and colorfully illustrated by the author in the style of Native American ledger books. My edition is bilingual English and Lakota, translated by Agnes Gay. The non-profit Reading Is Fundamental has some nice educator’s resources: Educator’s Guide, Extension Activities, Guide for Parents, and other activities here.