New US coin marks importance of horse trade

January 2, 2012

The United States Mint's 2012 Native American $1 coin will feature the image of a horse and Native American in profile.


The 2012 Native American $1 coin
The mint said the new design for the reverse (tails side) is themed on "Trade Routes in the 17th Century", with the horse perhaps the most significant of all the goods traded throughout the continent during that period.

In keeping with the coin's theme, the image shows a Native American and horse in profile, with horses running in the background, representing the historical spread of the horse.

The reverse was designed by US Mint artistic infusion program master designer Thomas Cleveland and was sculpted by US Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill.

The obverse (heads side) design of the coin will continue to feature the familiar "Sacagawea" design by sculptor Glenna Goodacre that has appeared on the coin since 2000.

American Indians maintained widespread trans-continental, inter-tribal trade for more than a millennium. The Native American trade infrastructure became the channel by which exploration, settlement and economic development in the colonial period - and later of the young republic - ultimately thrived.

When early European traders ventured from eastern city centers into the interior lands, they followed trading routes still in use, often in the company of Native American guides and traders who had used them for generations.

In addition, they encountered an ecosystem and Native American culture already being transformed by European goods that had moved along these trading routes long before Europeans themselves arrived in the interior regions.

These routes showed the way to European explorers and traders and marked the corridors for future east-west travel.

Of all the goods traded throughout the continent, the horse, spread by Indian tribes through Native American trade routes, is perhaps the most significant.

Thanks to inter-tribal trade, horses had crossed the Rio Grande by 1600.

This trade received a massive infusion in 1680, when the Pueblo Revolt released thousands of horses from the mission herds into Native American hands.

The horse became perhaps the most sought-after commodity in inter-tribal trade.

The horse's spread in Native American hands was so prodigious that it became the primary means of transportation and the nucleus of the ranching economy already under way in the western territories.

In the south, the Caddo trade center became a major entry point for the horse. Trade up the Old Snake Route brought horses as far north as the Mandan in North Dakota, who supplied them to the Lakota and Blackfeet.

A parallel inter-mountain route brought horses to the northwest.

By the time Lewis and Clark wintered with the Mandan in 1803, they encountered a well-established horse culture.

These long-established Native American trade routes also provided the path for this primary means of transportation - a significant contribution to opening up the continental interior to the developing Nation.