Program 105: Elder Wisdom

Rusty Houtz

Rusty Houtz

Rusty Houtz

with Barbara Roberts

Arlie Neskahi:

I’m Arlie Neskahi and you’re listening to Wisdom of the Elders. Today we honor the horse in native culture.

We’ll meet a Shoshone-bannock man who understands the horse as only a real wrangler can.

Music:
Theme from Bonanza
Composers: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
Universal/MCA Music Publishing (a division of Universal Studios)

Neskahi:
Do you remember the TV western hit, Bonanza? You may not know that one of Hoss’s stunt doubles was Shoshone Indian, Rusty Houtz. Houtz has known horses ever since he can remember.

In this next segment, Barbara Roberts presents his perspective, with the story of the thrilling integration of the horse into the American scene.

Barbara Roberts:
Prior to European contact, the Shoshone-Bannock people enjoyed a rich and fulfilling culture. It was a lifestyle based around the lush, fertile landscape of the west. Shoshone elder rusty Houtz juxtaposes life before and after the arrival of the horse.

Rusty Houtz, working for the "Flying V" on Old Red.

Rusty Houtz, working for the “Flying V” on Old Red.

Houtz:
The Comanche, them days, was part of the Shoshone nation, the way I understand it. So they brought them, no doubt, brought them up to us. Because we were about the first ones in this country I understand that did have the horse.

Before they had the horse, they had to pack everything afoot or put it on their dogs. And then when they got the horse, by gosh, you could go faster, and go more places and see more things, do more things, get more game, more wood. And even helped out when, like the enemies would come down from Montana and around and steal women, and then, that way, they could fight them off a lot better. So the horse really made a big, big difference in the Shoshone people.

Roberts:
The Shoshone prided themselves on their newly acquired riding skills. The horse represented a living and breathing technological revolution. Within a few generations the horse became deeply imbedded in the cultural and spiritual life of the people.

Music:
Walela
Smoke In The Wind
Unbearable Love
Triloka

Roberts:
The horse became a vital tool in day-to-day living. Once the Shoshone took to horseback, hunting buffalo would never be the same again.

Rusty Houtz in 1940, riding "My first horse (of my own)."

Rusty Houtz in 1940, riding “My first horse (of my own).”

Houtz:
The Indians could ride up on them and chase them and run up alongside of them and shoot them with their bow and arrow. And the way that I understand it, they always shot them back behind the ribs, up so the arrow could go up through the stomach and into the heart.

Cause, you know, the buffalo was really the Indian’s supermarket, you might say. Because they say that they used everything. They always told me they used everything except the beller. I think they even used the beller, because if you was on this side of the hill and you had a bunch of buffalo on the other side. And you made sounds like a buffalo over here. They are going to come over to see what is going on. And so really, they used the beller too.

Roberts:
Before there were horses, Shoshone hunters used a technique called the “buffalo jump” to bring down their prey.

Houtz:
They’d all go out and line up along the deals and they would bring the buffalo and scare them with blankets and hollering and whooping and run them over the top of the cliffs and then they’d go down and butcher them down on the bottom. So it really made a difference.

Roberts:
The horse also revolutionized the Shoshone marketplace. Instead of being confined to travel as far as they could on foot, the horse enabled them to branch out and diversify.

Music:
Walela
The Sequence
Unbearable Love
Triloka

Houtz:
Then in the springtime they would take off and follow the game back into the hills and we’d follow them back to hunt and fish and stay up there all summer. Like my grandmother’s folks, they all went up towards Yellowstone where Targee pass and Targee national forest then they would stay up there until fall and come back and gather down here at the bottoms as they called it.

A young Rusty Houtz on horseback, circa 1930

A young Rusty Houtz on horseback, circa 1930

The ones that would leave here would go to salt lake and down south and they’d bring back the pine nuts, the salt and trade with the southern Indians for the turquoise and silvers. The ones that went west, they would get the camas roots and the roots, and also get the salmon because at the twin falls, the falls wouldn’t let the salmon come up in this area. Then they would trade for the shell beads with the west coast Indians. en the ones that went north, they would get the elk, and the bighorn sheep and mountain goat and trade with the Frenchmen and Dutchmen that was up there.

Then the ones that went east would get the buffalo and antelope and trade with the Americans. They’d get the pots, pans, knives, beads, ammunition. And also whiskey.

Roberts:
Orphaned at ten, Rusty Houtz grew up with his grandparents in the mountains around ft. Hall Idaho.

Houtz:
Oh, yes. I remember when the chokecherries were ripe, we’d hitch up the buggy. And we’d ride horseback. And they’d back the buggy back into the chokecherry bushes and they would sit there and pick them and pick ’em and the whole family done that.

Music:
Burning Sky
Walking Song
Burning Sky: Music For Native American Flute/Guitar/Percussion
Canyon Records

We’d just more or less run the young jack rabbits down or we’d put snares on their trails and go out and kind of run them back through the fence and snare them that way.

Roberts: Houtz is highly skilled at wrangling. But no matter how skilled, one thing every horseman has in common is that first ride.

Buffalo Jump

Buffalo Jump

Houtz:

The first time I can remember being on a horse, I remember my dad plowing, and mother taking me out, and me riding that horse back in, hanging onto the hames of the horse.My granddad had a buckskin pinto. They called him toss a tie which I understand means two spots, because he had one spot on each side just about identical. And my uncle caught him as a wild horse back in the hills, I guess, back in the late teens.And he was a neat horse because we would go back in the hills. White kids would come out of Blackfoot and we’d go back in the hills and play cowboys and Indians. A lot of times we got to be the cowboys and they got to be the Indians, so it was quite a deal.

Roberts:
It was Rusty’s rodeo prowess that made him a hit with television producers. Though he’s an elder now, when it comes to rodeos, he still can’t stay away. He loves to get into it with folks over who are the better horsemen. It gives him a chance to set the record straight.

Houtz:
I was down in Las Vegas last year. And there was a champion bull dogger come up. A big guy and he was from California. He came up and he said “you know, rusty, if there was two more Irishmen at the battle of little big horn, you guys would never have won.” And I look at him, and I said, “Jack, you never had a chance. You was riding them quarter horses and thoroughbreds and we was riding appaloosas and pintos and we was running circles around you.” So really that’s what I think that the horses did for the Indians, is just – he could run circles around their enemy and everything. And get there quicker and better.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah, Lawrence Laughing
Life Giver [Mohawk Women’s Dance] Orenda
Silver Wave Records

Madison Buffalo Jump

Madison Buffalo Jump

Roberts:

We’ve all lived through new discoveries: the automobile, cellular phones, the internet. It doesn’t take long before we wonder how we ever got along without it. For the shoshone, it was the horse.

Houtz:
I never had a bike. And I never had roller skates. We never had skis. Never had ice skates. We never had all the things that the kids had in town, but I had a horse and I had a saddle and I had a rope.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah, Lawrence Laughing
Life Giver [Mohawk Women’s Dance] Orenda
Silver Wave Records

Roberts:
For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Barbara Roberts.