The legendary war-horse of the Nez Perce has a rich history dating as far back as 20,000 years. Detailed images of spotted horses can be found on cave walls in southern France. In Austria, a scabbard dating back to 1000 B.C. was found decorated with horses bearing the Appaloosa characteristics. Ancient art of Asia and China often depicts a horse with a spotted coat, and the Persians were known to worship the Appaloosa as the sacred horse of Nisea. In Europe the spotted horse appeared throughout recorded history, especially in paintings of the famous Lipizzaners, who often exhibit the characteristics of the Appaloosa.
The horse of the Nez Perce of the Palouse Rivere country was revered by many. As its reputation of sure-footedness, speed, durability and courage spread, many people would travel distances to acquire one of these magnificent animals. The neighboring Shoshone, being excellent horsemen, were known to have often traded for Appaloosa. No other breed except the Appaloosa can claim such a close association with a particular Native American group. The horse was an integral part of the Native American's way of life; he was an ally on the battlefield, he represented the wealth of a warrior, and was often what stood between life and death.
The quality of the Appaloosa was noted by Meriwether Lewis, himself a renowned horseman,
in a journal entry dated February 15, 1806: "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable."
Never was a horse tested as severely as the Appaloosa, the Horse of the Iron Heart, as when the Nez Perce wars began. The odds were against the people of the Palouse; in a desperate attempt to save his people, Chief Joseph turned north toward Canada. Across some of the most punishing terrain of the Bitterroot Mountains, a distance of over 1,300 miles, the Appaloosa prevailed. Once again this horse had out distanced his pursuers and nearly brought his people to safety before being stopped at the Bear Paw Mountains.
The spotted horse from the Valley of the Winding Waters gave an unbelievable contribution of heart and endurance in a war fought for freedom. His conduct and the bravery of his people is written in an army ROTC manual as follows: "Joseph and his people, on extremely fine horses, engaged ten separate U.S. Commands in thirteen battles and skirmishes and in nearly every instance either defeated them or fought them to a stand still."
When Chief Washakie defeated the Crow chief Big Robber, at the battle of Crowheart Butte, he was carried into victory on an Appaloosa. This horse was a gift from Chief Joseph. Chief Washakie was known to have said that had it not been for the Appaloosa stallion he was riding, he may
not have emerged victorious.
The actual horse used as the model for this sculpture is world-champion stallion Tom Tucker of Laramie and, like Chief Washakie's horse, is a descendant of the famous Nez Perce war-horse.