Did you ever hear a song and have it run around in your head until you couldn’t get rid of it no matter what? That’s what happened to me with The Heart of the Appaloosa.
About twenty years ago (yup, things hang around my brain far too long) I went to see an outdoor performance by the famous Lipizzaner stallions. During half time a woman in full Native American dress put a gorgeous Appaloosa stallion through his paces. It was, as they say, a wondrous thing to see. The stallion was huge yet completely graceful and very responsive to the rider’s commands. The music she used was The Heart of the Appaloosa.
Well, the song tucked itself away in a corner of my brain for a while but a couple of years ago it popped up again and wouldn’t go away. I downloaded it from iTunes and printed out the lyrics. Now it was even worse because I kept listening to it on my iPod and driving myself and everyone else crazy. So I decided to do some research.
The song tells the story of the 1877 Nez Perce war in Idaho. The Nez perch led by the great Chief Joseph, camped peacefully along the Wallawa River, minding their own business and raising their magnificent Appaloosa horses (the name comes from the fact they bred them along the Palous River). But the settlers were moving further westward and began encroaching on the lands the tribe claimed as theirs. When gold was discovered in the streams it was all over but the shouting. Washington ordered the tribe removed so they could claim the land and the minerals.
But the Nez Perce had a secret weapon-the Appaloosa. The horse could, as the song says, “Toe dance on a ridge or gallop up a mountainside” and was extremely fast.
The Chief Joseph stood before his people and said, I am now called Rolling thunder and we will fight to find a new home for ourselves.”
They fled into the Bitterroot Mountains with the cavalry on their heels. Their horses were their best weapon. When the colonel in charge of the cavalry figured that out, he order all the horses slaughtered. “Kill the Appaloosa, wherever he be found.”
Most of the horses and the tribe were slain and the remnants of the tribe left were shipped off to a reservation in Oklahoma. There were very few Appaloosa horses left.
But in 1938 five owners managed to contact each other and chartered the Appaloosa Horse Club. Today the strain is still highly values and is often used in rodeo competition because of its speed and skill.
In 1975 Governor Cecil Andrus signed a bill making the Appaloosa the state horse of Idaho.
For me that was just the beginning of the story. And in my crazy brain it inspired the outline of a love story, between a man and a woman both dealing with tragedy. He is a descendant of Chief Joseph trying to rebuild his Appaloosa breeding ranch and keep it out of the hands of the evil villain (a descendant of the colonel who ordered the horses killed) who wants the land for the mineral rights and she is a woman who thinks her life has been badly changed forever. While simultaneously fighting their attraction to each other and giving not it, they embark on a treacherous journey to save both the ranch and the hero’s prized Appaloosa stallion.
I’d tell you more but I don’t want to spoil the story. It won’t be out until next year so I have plenty of time to tease about it. But I will give you the last verse of the song that always makes me cry:
“But sometimes without warning from a dull domestic herd
A spotted horse with spirit wondrous will emerge
Strong it is and fearless and nimble on the hill
Listening for thunder
The appaloosa’s living still.”
Stay tuned for “Thunder in the Blood.”
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