Thursday, April 12, 2007

Native American Draft Animals

A few weeks ago, I was sent this pic via email. So I did some research. As seen here,

the photo was unfortunately faked, at least partially. So I read the post, and followed to where I saw several actual real moose in harness.
Why was I intrigued?

Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is an excellent book I recommend but a single portion of his thesis raised some doubts in my mind: his observation that no significant draft animals were usable in the pre-Columbian Americas except for South American llamas, which are not very large and strong, and were certainly limited to the relatively small area where they were domesticated in Peru.

I am no expert in the temperament of bison or Innuit sled dogs but I postulated their use might have spread, further in the case of dogs, and of course harnessing bison was never done by native Americans at all, at least that we know. But was it possible? I have done some cursory internet research, and I can't tell. I maintain it is possible to harness an American bison, and train it to plow and haul loads.

(Along the way, I discovered a wonderfully free ebook from Project Gutenberg: The Extermination of the American Bison, by William T. Hornaday available at )

Not only that, but I suspect the dogsled business could have been vastly expanded if its use had been adopted by more of the southern societies in the Americas. Some modified ski-type runners could traverse many other types of terrain than snow. Perhaps the wheel would have been perfected rather than the travois.

Anyway, my surprise and fascination with the moose in harness added another species to my dreams of what might have been. Imagine if a few thousand years ago, native people in the Americas had domesticated the bison (or moose) to pull plows and heavy loads, perfected dog team transportation, developed more productive agriculture. What sort of people might have met the Spanish then?

I will hope my idea will be explored one day in an alternate-history novel I can read.


Anonymous said...

how about making your links active?
Big Bro

Jumper said...

I got interrupted mid-post, and could not return immediately. Will fix!

bailey said...

the moose in the harness is real someone photoshoped it
the man in the photo is my grandfather

Jumper said...

I hope you contact and tell them the story. Interesting!

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