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 Shackleford Horses Timeline



On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and in the small villages and towns on the coastal mainland, the oral histories and traditions handed down generation after generation are woven with stories of the wild horses that have lived on the barrier islands for centuries. From Cape Lookout to Currituck, the elders still say, "They've always been here; they were here when our people came; they swam ashore off sinking ships." They are the Outer Banks wild horses.







1493 When Columbus made his second voyage to the New World, he had with him the numerous items necessary for colonization, including twenty-five horses. When he arrived in Hispaniola, his first act was to establish ranches to be run by the stockmen he had included among his colonists. Part of the royal credula is preserved in the Archive of the Indies. It reads:

"The Twenty-Third of May, 1493. Archive of the Indies. The King and the Queen : Fernando Zarpa, our Secretary. We command that certain vessels be prepared to send to the Islands and to the Mainland which has been newly discovered in the ocean sea in
that part of the Indies, and to prepare these vessels for the Admiral Don Christopher Columbus...and among the other people we are commanding to go in these vessels there will be sent twenty lancers with horses...and five of them shall take two horses each, and these two horses which they take shall be mares."

This is likely our only record of the first Iberian horses to be sent to the New World. Since the Spanish habitually rode stallions, Columbus knew that stallions would arrive with every contingent of soldiers; he also knew it was imperative, in order to begin horse breeding to provide mounts for the soldier/explorers, that mares be brought to the Indies.

1494 Columbus sent a message to the king and queen stressing that "...each time there is sent here any type of boat there should be included some...brood mares."

1495 On April 9, 1495, four caravels were dispatched with six mares on board.

1495 On April 23, 1497, fourteen mares were sent. In addition, records show that a group of merchants were given special permission to ship 106 more mares from Seville, San Lucar, and Heulva.

1498 On his third voyage, Columbus was allowed to carry forty horsemen and their horses to the island of Hispaniola.

1500 In less than ten years from the initial voyage of Columbus, large horse breeding ranches had opened in the Indies. By 1500, the Crown had one Hispaniola ranch that boasted sixty brood mares.

1501 The records say that in 1501, Don Nicolas de Ovando brought over 18 of the best horses available.

(*The island ranchers became an aristocracy of unlimited wealth. With this wealth, they bought the finest horses and cattle of Spain and brought them to their island ranches. Suddenly realizing that the best Spanish horses were being exported to the New World, on March 30, 1520, the Emperor declared an embargo on the export of horses from Spain.)

1520-25 Lucas Vasques de Ayllon, a Hispaniolan civil official originally from Toledo, Spain, "educated as a lawyer, wealthy and virtuous", sent three expeditions to the coast of what is now the Carolinas. These Spaniards explored the land that the native Indians called Chicora. Various accounts place that land between the present-day Cape Fear River and Jamestown Island. Old Spanish maps call a large area of the east coast (containing present day North Carolina and Virginia) "Tierra de Ayllon"...the "Land of Ayllon".

1526 In mid-July, de Ayllon himself came to the river he called the Rio Jordan, with six ships bringing 500 men, women and slaves, three Franciscan friars, and eighty-nine horses. The colony failed within the year, due to inept leadership, disease, and Indian hostilities. De Ayllon died of a fever, and only 150 survivors managed to catch a passing ship back to Hispaniola. Though de Ayllon's wife wanted to return, we have found no record that any further attempts were made by the Spanish to re-settle the area, or to reclaim the horses left behind. References sometimes state that de Ayllon's settlement was in the vicinity of Cape Feare. The Cape Fear River, with which we are familiar today, is south of here near Wilmington. However, historic maps show an old name for Cape Lookout was "Cape Feare".

1570s By this time, Spanish reconnaissance voyages had explored the east coast as far north as Chesapeake Bay.

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1584 Sir Walter Raleigh, an Englishman, sent a small expeditionary force to the New World. It was led by 19-year old Philip Amadas of Plymouth, and piloted by a Portuguese sailor named Simon Fernandes. On or about 13 July, they arrived at the coast of present-day North Carolina and found an entrance in the Outer Banks about midway between Cape Hatteras and present day Cape Lookout. In 1584, North Carolina was part of the area called "Virginia" by the Englishmen, in honor of Elizabeth I.

1585 Raleigh's second expedition, led by Sir Richard Grenville, sailed on 9 April 1585. They stopped along the South side of Puerto Rico at Mosquito Bay. One of John White's drawings of Mosquito Bay depicts Grenville on horseback, and two "captured" horses inside the fort. Leaving there, Grenville engaged in successful trade with the Spanish, and the flagship Tiger's shipboard life was enlivened by hogs, cattle and horses purchased for the colonists at Roanoke. On 29 May 1585, the fleet headed for the north coast of Hispaniola, and weighed anchor at Puerto de Plata's Isabela Harbor. Here, they acquired more horses; these with saddles and bridles. Working their way up the coast, they ran into shoals probably at Cape Fear on 23 June. On the 24th they anchored and fished, apparently at Lookout, then sailed north until they reached an opening in the Banks called Wococon probably near the middle of present-day Portsmouth Island. When the pilot attempted to enter the sound with the flagship Tiger, she grounded and lay in the surf for two hours. The crew feared that her back would be broken, because she received some eighty-nine buffets. Finally free, beached and careened for repairs, she sailed on to Roanoke. This was a devastating loss, however, since her load of supplies was soaked in salt water. It is at this point, many historians believe, that the animals on deck were shoved overboard either at her grounding, in order to lighten her load and float her, or when she was careened (rolled on her side) on the beach to have her bottom repaired.

1585 On 3 Sept, Ralph Lane ended a letter to England: "...to conclude, if Virginia [which included North Carolina] had but horses and kine in some reasonable proportion, I dare assure my selfe being inhabited with English, no realme in Christendome were comparable to it."

1620 Another early reference to the horses in the initially explored areas of the still "New World" came in June of 1620, when the Council of Virginia issued a glowing report on the state of the colony which said that "The horses also [are] more beautiful, and fuller of courage than those of the breeds from which they came."

1650-1690In The First Americans, author Wertenbarker wrote about hunting in Virginia "...more interesting was the hunting of wild horses, which in the last decades of the century abounded in the woods. These animals, as they were unmarked, belonged to anyone who could capture them. But to do this was no easy matter, for they were so fleet and so difficult to follow through the woods that one was more apt to ruin an old mount that to than to gain a new."

1701 John Lawson, an Englishman who traveled through North Carolina said the horses are excellent drudges and will travel incredible journeys. He also reported how well the horses taken inland were treated by the Indians. " They fattened them with corn, and never made use of them unless to fetch home a deer".

1856 Edmund Ruffin, famous as an agriculture authority and editor, and also credited as firing the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, in his "Sketches of Lower North Carolina", described "horse-penning" twice a year on Core Banks. Ruffin described the horses as all of a small size with rough and shaggy coats and long manes, "capable of great endurance of labor and hardship". (This would indicate that Ruffin did not see the horses in summer, when they shed to sleek and glossy coats, and their finer features are revealed.) The horses fed, he wrote, "entirely on the coarse salt grass of the marshes. .. There are some hundreds of horses of the dwarfish native breed, on this part of the reef between Portsmouth and Beaufort harbor--ranging at large and wild. ...The race of course, was originally derived from a superior kind of breed stock; but long acclimation and subjection for many generations to this peculiar mode of living, has fixed on the breed the peculiar characteristics of form, size, and qualities which distinguish the 'banks' ponies." Ruffin went on to say, "It would be the reverse of improvement to introduce horses of more noble race and less fitted to endure the great hardship of this locality." Ruffin didn't believe that horses not native to the Outer Banks would likely survive the first year. "Water that is fresh, but badly flavored", he said, "may be found anywhere (even on the sea-beach) by digging from two to six feet deep. The wild horses supply their want of fresh water by pawing away the sand deep enough to reach fresh-water which oozes into the excavation, and which reservoir serves for this use while it remains open."

1866 The Banks horses had been "claimed" by various people living along the coast, and were often listed as property of value to be handed-down at their deaths. In a will dated Sept 22, 1866, Josiah Daniels willed to his sons Randolph and Eason "all my horses on Core Banks...to son Eason Daniels my rite to the nets, and my rite to the horses at North Bay..; to grandson Valentine Daniels - a mare at the Beach Marsh".

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1926 In an article in the May issue of "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC" magazine, writer Melville Chater, who had traveled the Outer Banks northward from Beaufort Inlet, (Barden's inlet not being in existence then) wrote as a photograph caption:

"SUPPOSED DESCENDANTS OF THE BARBARY PONIES BROUGHT TO AMERICA BY SIR WALTER RALEIGH'S COLONISTS. Between 5,000 and 6,000 of these wild horses roam the sand banks of the North Carolina coast....." The article continues:


..For centuries they have been roaming on the Banks, and current tradition has it that they are descended from Barbary ponies which were brought over by Sir Walter Raleigh's colonists.
Our quest landed us on a naked sun baked spit, where men were driving the so-called Banker ponies along the beach into a coral made of timbers from old wrecks. Perched on the pen's top rail, we took lens shots at the enclosed jam of 200 horses. The sun blazed, the sand blazed. The men were shouting in their broad dialect, so like that of the rural England of their ancestors. The United States seemed worlds away. The heat drove some of them to a waterhole on the beach, where they lay prone and drank the brackish fluid. It was a wild animals drinking place, for the banker ponies slake their thirst by scooping holes in the sand with their forefeet. The gates were flung wide, and the herd trotted forth to liberty, snorting disapproval of man and his strange ways.
Then a chosen dozen were auctioned off at about $6.00 a head. A few years ago, these putative descendants of Raleigh's 'little Barbary ponies' were bringing from $50 to $125 apiece. The auctioneer in explanation complained, "Tew much gasoline about naowaday!"

1957 Raleigh, NC - 40 YEARS AGO: Five Harkers Island residents, owners of ponies on Shackleford Banks appeared before the Conservation and Development Committee. They made a plea for allowing the ponies to remain on the Banks. Dan Yeomans, 79 years of age, was the spokesman. Mr. Yeomans said that he has owned ponies for 60 years stock passed on to him by his forefathers. He told the committee, "You know, we have pennings ever summer and sell lemonade, and our friends from upstate come to see us. We have a good time..."

1980 (MAY) The magazine, WILDLIFE IN NORTH CAROLINA covered a pony penning on Shackleford Banks. It stated: "Because of public interest in the ponies from both a cultural and scientific viewpoint, removal of the ponies is locally a sensitive issue...The Outer Banks Ponies are believed to be descendants from horses that survived the European shipwrecks...The ritual of pony-pennin'... is deeply rooted in tradition, and the practice continues without economic interests. To be successful, pony-pennin' requires the community participation and cooperation. The event is a communal function uniting people for a time in both work and pleasure. Skills for roping and branding are handed down to younger horsemen, and the tradition is passed on. ... The cultural significance of the ponies is difficult to measure and quantify. To the local people, they are no longer a source of income. To them, they are more than that--they are a reminder of a way of life which is rapidly vanishing".

1980 In November, Governor Jim Hunt forwarded recommendations from NC Department of Natural Resources & Community Development to The National Park Service, Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, concerning the Draft EIS for Cape Lookout National Seashore. It read: "The National Park Service should not act to remove any species from the seashore until a detailed management plan for wildlife has been developed and approved ...Further, the department questions whether the banks ponies should be considered exotic since there are accounts of their presence before permanent settlement of the area."

1982 In June, members of the Spanish Mustang Registry came to the Outer Banks to observe the last known remaining bands of Banker Horses still existing in the natural state as they have been for the last 400 years. At Harkers Island, fisherman Weldon Willis, in white clam boots, ferried Wyoming mustangers wearing cowboy boots, to Shackleford Banks in his fishing boat. "People don't know how rare this little horse is and how hard it is to come by", said one of the cowboys, "They don't know what a prize they're getting." Standing on a dune, looking out over Shackleford Banks, Emmett Brislawn, son of the founder of the Registry, admitted it was a little hard at first to picture such a Western horse in such an Eastern setting. "But that's why we're here", said Cody Holbrook, also of Oshoto, Wyoming. Two of the men, [stationed at Fort Bragg], became interested in the horses in 1981, bought a few and registered a few. Realizing that the isolated Outer Banks were an ideal place to find horses pure enough to qualify, they convinced the SMR to meet here. The SPANISH MUSTANG REGISTRY, INC. STUD BOOK, 1996 contains two Shackleford horses: #600 - "Mr. Shackleford Banks, a sorrel stallion; and #704 - "Scotch Bonnet", a sorrel mare.

1986 In April, the Carteret County News-Times reported: 110 cows, 320 sheep, and seven goats were removed from Shackleford; about 100 "ornery" goats and 12 sheep got away, and were to be rounded up within the next year. "The estimated 104 ponies on Shackleford will be allowed to remain, because they are considered part of the island's history. Some historians believe the animals are descendants of ponies that survived 16th century shipwrecks off the NC coast."

1993 In the Yukon Territory, a freeze-dried horse was found by miners. This 26,000 year-old horse was intact from stomach contents to hair, mane and tail. He resembles modern day horse, which eliminates hypotheses that evolution of the horse completed itself on the Asian Continent.

1994 In his book, INTO THE WIND: WILD HORSES OF NORTH AMERICA, Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick writes, "As early as 1565, shipwrecked horses found their way onto the shores of the Shackleford Banks (otherwise known as Shackleford Island)."

1995 (Oct) Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PHD, in his NORTH AMERICAN COLONIAL SPANISH HORSE UPDATE writes: "One type of southeast horse is the Banker pony from the Outer Banks of Virginia and the Carolinas. These descend from Spanish horses, but in some islands have been subjected to a variety of stallions of other breeds. A good example of this are the Chincoteague ponies. ...The history of some of the other island populations is more vague (Hatteras, Shackleford and Ocracoke). Some of these horses are included in the Spanish Mustang Registry, but these are not numerous. .... Some of the Shackleford and Ocracoke horses seem to be especially unique, others may less so."

1995 The University of Oklahoma Press published INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORSE BREEDS, by Bonnie Hendrix. This lists as a breed, Banker Horse - population status...RARE.

1996, 4 Aug In a letter, Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, Director of Science and Conservation Biology, ZOOMONTANA writes - "The Shackleford wild horses are the oldest documented population in North America and they should be managed with the utmost care. By that I mean, they should be managed to insure their continuation, and certainly the people who manage them should be sensitive to the immense historic and cultural resource that they represent. Dr. Kirkpatrick explained that the NPS' "exotic" designation is based on written policy, but not on scientific veracity. "The wild horse", he says, "is one of America's most valuable wildlife species...and the Shackleford horses are one of our oldest legacies."

1996, 25 Nov NC Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources (DEHNR) letter states: "As you know, the State of North Carolina considers the horses at Shackleford as native to the area, because they are an important part of the area's heritage."

1997, 3 FEB NC Secretary of Cultural Resources, Betty Ray McCain wrote: "To Whom It May concern: I am writing this letter because of my great interest in the Shackleford Wild Ponies. They are truly a cultural resource for North Carolina and a source of much interest and visitation by tourists. It is my sincere and earnest hope that everything will be done, that can be done, to save this herd of interesting characters who draw so many to our state. They are part of what makes North Carolina one of the most interesting and best places to live, and we are most hopeful that all agencies will cooperate to save them. Thank you for your consideration of this letter. I would appreciate any help that you can give to the Shackleford Wild Ponies, and the great excitement and enjoyment that they create for the tourists and residents of North Carolina."

1997, 13 Feb Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. introduced H.R. 765, "Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act".

1997, 8 Apr Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. wrote to Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr.:
"I have heard from numerous citizens across the State and even outside North Carolina who are concerned about the preservation of the wild horses on Shackleford Banks in the Cape Lookout National Seashore. These horses are truly a treasure for our state's citizens, as well as, tourists visiting the coast of North Carolina and I feel it is important that this cultural resource be maintained for the future. Your legislation will certainly be helpful to assure that these wild horses are indeed preserved in the Cape Lookout National Seashore for us to continue to enjoy."

1997, 22 Jul 8:26 p.m.: "Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act" passed the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 416 to 6; 12 members absent. Two of those, Mr. Kennedy of Rhode Island, and Ms Cubin of Wyoming, stated for the record that had they been present, they would have voted "Aye".

1997, 25 Jul Governor Hunt wrote President Clinton, pointing out the importance of the horses to North Carolina, the messages of concern that he has received from people in NC and other states, and the history of the horses. The governor ended by saying, "Again I urge you to sign this legislation and ensure that Americans will be able to enjoy the wild horses of the Cape Lookout National Seashore for generations to come."

1997, 19 Aug Dr. Gus Cothran, Director, Equine Genetics Lab, Gluck Equine Center, University of Kentucky, presented his blood evaluation findings in, "Genetic Analysis of the Cape Lookout National Seashore Feral Horse Herd". Dr. Cothran established the Spanish link in the Shackleford Banks horses through identification of several gene variants associated with Spanish horses. In discussing his findings, Dr. Cothran explained that one variant (Q-ac) is a very old genetic marker he has found in only three equine populations: The Puerto Rican Paso Finos, the Pryor Mountain mustangs of the Montana high country, and the Shackleford Banks wild horses. He said this variant is one that is easily lost through "genetic drift", and he was pleased to have been able to identify it and document it in these horses.

1997, 1 Oct "Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act" went before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, Historic Preservation and Recreation.

1998, 25 June The U. S. Senate passed the Shackleford Banks Wild Horse Protection Act.

1998, 9 July The President of the United States signed legislation protecting the wild horses of Shackleford Banks. On 16 July, the legislation became Public Law 105-202.

1998, 9 July H.R. 765 was brought back to Congress by it sponsor. The intent of the legislation was established. Then, it passed the House and Senate, and was signed but the President it as stand-alone legislation. On 13 August, it became Public Law 105-229.

1999, 23 January In the Raleigh New and Observer, Jerry Allegood reported:

"The wild horses of Shackleford Banks are once again free to roam their island range after a roundup and tests last week found no signs of an incurable horse disease. The Island herd ... tested negative for equine infectious anemia..."

The Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Inc., will continue to research and document the history of the Shackleford wild horses. We hope to explore more of the Spanish histories in future, and will update this Timeline as heretofore unseen books, articles and documents come to light. Carteret County has for centuries been the home of a unique and wonderful population of wild horses. These fascinating animals are a source of fondness and pride to the local residents, of delight and interest among visitors to Shackleford Banks, and a national treasure and living history of the United States. This Foundation is dedicated to protecting and preserving the wild horses of Shackleford. It is our fervent hope that "History on Hooves", in the form of these living legends, will remain a permanent part of the old and colorful history of the great State of North Carolina and of Carteret County.

Carolyn Mason 11/17/97

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Copyright 2004-2005

A North Carolina Non-profit Corporation
Mailing Address: FSH, Inc., 306 Golden Farm Road, Beaufort, NC 28516
Telephone (252) 728-6308 Fax (252) 728-639
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