Rancher George Hatley led the Appaloosa Horse Club for many years, until his retirement.
How did the Appaloosa horse get its name?
The Palouse area is drained by the Palouse river, and it became known as the Palouse country. And there were quite a few free roaming spotted horses in the area that had got away either from the Palouse or Nez Perce Indians.
When the first settlers came to this area, they had never seen a spotted horse before, so it made sense for them to call these spotted horses Palouse horses, because the Palouse country was the first place they had ever seen this horse. And if a newcomer would come and see a spotted horse for the first time and say, what kind of a horse is this? The answer would be, this is a Palouse horse. Well that "a" in Palouse got slurred together to be Apaloosie and eventually Appaloosa as we know it today. So the horse was named right here in the Palouse country.
The Appaloosa was also used by ranchers, wasn't it?
Well, yes. Of course the Palouse country was a grassland prairie so it’s very first use was as a cow pasture; and fortunately for the cattlemen who came to the area, there were already horses here that were available to be cow horses. So the Appaloosa was widely used initially as a cow horse. But they did everything for these settlers that they used horses for. Like they carried the children to the country school, and they pulled a buggy if you went to church on Sunday, and eventually when the homesteaders discovered it was not only a good pasture, but it would also grow grain, they were even used as a farm horse. They initially pulled the pillage equipment and three of them would pull the braking plow that would convert this natural grassland from a grassland to farming land. So they were used for everything.
What do you personally like about this breed of horse?
One thing I like about them is their disposition, that is, they are nice to get along with. When I went to high school, I had initially six head of cows for an agricultural project, so I eventually got in the cattle business, and the horse was a super good cow horse, so I appreciated their cow horse abilities.
They’re attractive and eye catching. They’re easy to like. And then you might have noticed this belt buckle that says, "100 Miles - One Day." Well, they have a lot of endurance, and that’s confirmed by this belt buckle. That’s for the Tevis ride in California and they do have a lot of endurance. They can work hard all day and still be in good shape.
One of the characteristics of Appaloosas is they have spots. And their markings, like their dispositions, are inherited. Some people call Appaloosas with spots all over them leopard-patterned Appaloosas, because leopards have spots all over them. And the horses with the spots on the hips are quite often called blanket Appaloosas, because the hips look like somebody put a spotted blanket over the hips. But some Appaloosas are a mottled roan color or a dark with small white spots, so there are many patterns of Appaloosa.
He said the grass was stirrup high and waved in the wind like waves of the ocean. So it was a beautiful grass country.
When did you become interested in these horses?
I was interested in Appaloosas probably from the time I was ten or twelve years old. I had a great uncle who was involved in one of the scrimmages in the Nez Perce war, the Misery Hill fight. And when his son asked him what kind of horses did the Indians ride, he said, they used a number of Appaloosies. So I was interested in that type of history.
And then when my grandfather and his two brothers first came to this country, they wanted to acquire free roaming horses. Since the Palouse country didn’t have good fence building material, they would drive these free roaming horses into deep snow drifts in the winter time and rope them. That’s how they acquired their horses. You don’t see that any place in the literature. That is just sort of a family method of acquiring free roaming horses.
What role did you play in the Appaloosa Horse Club?
On account of being interested in the horse, I felt that the breed association should have a news letter of some kind, so I was discharged from the navy in the San Francisco area; and I hitchhiked home so I could come up Highway 97 and come through Morrow, Oregon. The man who incorporated the Appaloosa Horse Club lived in Morrow, Oregon, and I thought I could stop there and visit with him. So I told him that the organization should have a news letter.
The following year I went to visit him, and I took along Dr. Francis Haines, who was one of the founders of the Appaloosa Horse Club. We talked things over, and they decided if I wanted to produce the news letter, I was sure free to do that. They gave me the mailing list of people to send it to, so in 1946 I started producing a little one page mimeographed sheet called Appaloosa News, and that eventually grew into what is now Appaloosa Journal, which is a full-size slick magazine. And I feel that having a news letter did the Appaloosa industry a lot of good.
You have some pretty strong ties to this area, don't you?
Right. My grandfather came to the Palouse country by wagon train in 1877. They went to Walla Walla and then branched off at Walla Walla from the Oregon trail and came to the Palouse country. He had a brother who had come in 74, so that helped a lot. He made a statement about how the Palouse country looked to him when he first arrived. He said, the grass was stirrup high and waved in the wind like waves of the ocean. So it was a beautiful grass country.
That's poetic. How would you describe it today?
Today most of the Palouse country has been changed from a natural grass land to a farming area. Today most of the Palouse country is raising wheat, peas and lentils; and as you can see today, it’s very green and lush. It’s a very fertile country and grows super good wheat, peas and lentils.
What role did the big flood play in creating the Palouse?
There was an ice dam in the Clark Fork river, making a huge lake in the Missoula country. When that ice dam went out, it caused a huge flood of water across northern Idaho and central Washington. And that big flood of water brought quite a lot of silt to the tri-cities area of Washington. This flood dissipated in that area, leaving a lot of silt there. And the prevailing wind is from the west, and the wind blew that silt over here and deposited here, and that’s why the Palouse country is very hilly and has somewhat the configuration of sand dunes, because it was deposited by wind.
What do you think the big challenge facing the Palouse might be?
Well, of course the biggest challenge is one of soil erosion. That is, the soil is erodeable and it needs to be farmed with a lot of care and a lot of soil conserving methods, so that the very minimum amount of soil is lost.
One of the most exciting days of the year was the first day of harvest when they would hitch up 33 horses to a combine.
As farms have gotten larger, there are less people living on the land. That is, initially the farms were 160 acres, and then there got to be two homesteads together, and then it doubled again, and it has continually doubled until now many of the farms are 5,000 acres, and that means that there are a lot less people living on the land then there was when the farms were only 160 acres.
How have farming techniques changed?
When I was young, they were still farming with horses. They had already graduated from the stationary harvester where the grain was brought to the harvester in bundles, and they had started using pull-type combines; but it took 33 horses to pull a pull-type combine. So one of the most exciting days of the year was the first day of harvest when they would hitch up 33 horses to a combine and get them all started and all moving at the same time. And there were always a few half-broke horses that wanted to buck the harness off, and it was just an exciting day.
By the late 40s and the early 50s they were completely switched to tractors. Now you see tractors all over the Palouse country, where when I was a boy, all you saw was horses.