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Amazing Montana Animals

Gayle Shirley has written and published include:

The Fang Gang, 2008, Dickeylake Press.

Amazing Animals of Montana, 2005, Globe Pequot. (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Montana)

Amazing Animals of Oregon, 2005, Globe Pequot. (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Oregon)

Amazing Animals of Colorado, 2005, Globe Pequot. (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Colorado)

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Colorado Women, 2002, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women, 1998, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

Charlie's Trail: The Life and Art of C.M. Russell, 1996, C.M. Russell Museum/Falcon Press.

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women, 1995, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

Four-Legged Legends of Oregon, 1995, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

Four-Legged Legends of Colorado, 1994, Falcon Press.

Four-Legged Legends of Montana, 1993, Falcon Press.

Where Dinosaurs Still Rule (co-author with Debbie Tewell), 1993, Falcon Press.

Montana Wildlife: A Beginner's Field Guide, 1993, Falcon Press.

A is for Animals, 1991, Falcon Press. (Out-of-print, but the author has a few for sale.)

C is for Colorado, 1989, ABC Press. (Out-of-print)

M is for Montana, 1988, ABC Press.

To order a copy of The FANG GANG

Or other Gayle Shirley books
send a note to
4150 Bobcat Dr.
Helena, MT 59602
or call: 406.457.1918

or email:

You can also order Gayle's books from Globe Pequot, Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other book stores or online web sites.

Gayle has written several books on remarkable animals of the West. The following is a chapter from Amazing Animals of Montana (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Montana).

                      Spokane: Conquering Spirit

      "One day, the spirit horse will return with the speed, the endurance, and the pluck of all the horses dead on the battlefield. He will enter into the body of a colt, and that colt will be called Spokane, and will go forth to conquer all the horses of the earth.''
  -- Spokane Indian tradition as told in the Virginia City, Montana, Madisonian on June 1, 1889

   The arid plain above the Spokane River reeked of blood and rang with the squeals of terrified horses. The troops of Col. George Wright pumped bullets into the older horses, slaughtering them just as the Army had slaughtered many of their Indian owners only a few days before. The soldiers separated colts from their mothers and clubbed them to death. After two days of carnage, 690 ponies lay dead or dying.

    Wright undoubtedly was proud of his recent victory over the allied tribes of what is now eastern Washington and northern Idaho. These were the Spokanes, Couer d'Alenes, Palouses, and Pend 'Orielles. Armed with new long-range rifles, Wright's men had routed the Indians in only four hours. But on this September day in 1858, the soldiers delivered the coup de grace.
    Wright knew how important horses were to the Indians. He knew they were not only a means of transportation but a sign of wealth and prestige. Without them, the Indians were powerless. And so he ordered his men to kill the captured horses, an order they reluctantly--even tearfully--obeyed.
    The loss to the Spokanes, already defeated and disheartened, was devastating. They had no choice but to accept the "peace" treaty drafted by the U.S. government. They had no choice but to give up their homeland to the encroaching whites.
    It is easy to see why someone so humiliated might dream of future glory. Perhaps that is what inspired the legend of the Spirit Horse. Among the Spokane Indians, it was said that the Great Spirit spoke to a warrior wounded in the battle against Wright. The Great Spirit promised that the souls of the murdered horses had blended into one and that one day a spirit horse named Spokane would return to "conquer all the horses of the earth."'
   The Spokanes could never have envisioned the way the prophecy would be fulfilled.
    In 1886, three decades after Wright's men slaughtered the horses, a Montana mining speculator visited the wide Spokane Valley of eastern Washington. Noah Armstrong, a native of Canada, was a shrewd and prosperous man who ran a silver smelter near present-day Butte in southwestern Montana. Armstrong also was a breeder of fine thoroughbreds at his nearby Doncaster Ranch in the Jefferson River Valley.
     When Armstrong visited the Spokane Valley, it had changed a lot in the 30 years since Wright's troops had charged through. Trains clattered across the vast country between the Rockies and Cascades. And at the valley's heart sat Spokane Falls, a burgeoning center for agriculture, mining, and timber harvesting with more than 2,000 residents. During his visit, Armstrong learned that a promising chestnut colt had been foaled by one of his favorite mares back home. He decided to name the horse Spokane, in honor of the town in which he had been so graciously received.
   The wobbly little animal soon began the rigorous training required of a future race horse--at first on the indoor track in Armstrong's unique round, three-story barn. Built in tiers like a wedding cake, the stable still stands just a few miles north of Twin Bridges, Montana.
    For a year, Spokane thrived on the nutritious bunchgrass and clean, dry mountain air of the Big Sky State. His legs grew strong and his lungs powerful. In the shadow of the Tobacco Root Mountains, he raced the wind.
     Amstrong sent Spokane off to Tennesse for a year of formal training, and then decided that the horse was ready to run. He entered Spokane in the Hyde Park Stakes at Chicago on July 5, 1888. It was an inauspicious beginning. Spokane finished fourth in a field of five.
     Armstrong was disappointed, but he still had confidence in his colt. He ran Spokane in four more races that year. The copper-toned stallion won only two of the five races, but he showed promise, and he had gained valuable experience. Here was an animal that might yet prove the worthiness of the western stables. Here was an animal worth the wager.
    In 1889--the same year Montana was admitted as the country's 41st state--Armstrong was ready to gamble for bigger stakes. He entered Spokane in the prestigious Kentucky Derby.
 Spokane was a David pitted against Goliath. Proctor Knott, once described as "the greatest horse that ever looked through a bridle," was among the field of eight. Already, he'd won the 1888 Futurity and other important contests.
    Some horse experts called him invincible. Not only that, but he was a Kentucky horse, and he bore the name of one of the state's favorite governors. He was a two-to-one favorite to win. The odds on Spokane were 10-to-one.
    On May 9, 25,000 people gathered at Churchill Downs in Louisville to watch the 15th running of the 1 1//2-mile-long Kentucky Derby. The day was hot; the track was dusty. Women hid beneath parasols and fluttered palm-leaf fans. Straw-hatted men mopped sweat and dust from their brows.
    The people of the South backed their favorite, "betting their shirts and beaver hats" on Proctor Knott, according to one account. Most every derby fan agreed that Proctor Knott would finish first; the most heated debates revolved on the question of which horse would have the honor of being runner-up. The bookmakers had a hard time keeping up with the thousands of bettors who were lured, in part, by the prospect of being able to make a two-dollar wager for the first time ever. Among the bettors was Frank James, the brother of Jesse James. He put down $5,000 on Spokane.
     As the first horses trotted onto the turf, the crowd responded with feeble applause. Journalists reported that there were titters in the stands when jockey Tom Kiley rode Spokane into view. One reporter derisively described Spokane as "Lilliputian" in size, although he was slightly more than 16 hands high. Most of the race fans also doubted that 118-pound Kiley could do much with Spokane. It was the Tennessee jockey's first--and it would also be his last--ride at the derby.
     When Proctor Knott pranced out of the paddock, the spectators thundered their welcome. The roar startled birds and rabbits for a mile around.
     Proctor Knott, which had won more money and acclaim than any other two-year-old horse in history, joined Spokane and the six other horses at the starting line. With the flash of a red flag, the horses were off. Proctor Knott shot into a five-length lead. The gelding had won most of his races by breaking out early and putting an unconquerable distance between him and the rest of the field. His jockey was counting on the same tactic again. Spokane trailed in fifth place.
      But Proctor Knott had run too hard and he began to fade. The other horses closed the gap between themselves and Proctor Knott. Spokane sped from fifth to third as Kiley made his play. While Proctor Knott seemed spent, the Montana horse "still seemed as fresh and strong as a Big Sky Country wind," according to one sportswriter. At the mile and quarter marker, Proctor Knott veered to the outside rail, apparently from exhaustion. Spokane continued to move up on the inside.
     The San Francisco Examiner reported the stirring finish this way:

  Slowly but surely the fleet-footed Spokane closed in upon [Proctor Knott] like a nemesis. Only a length of daylight separated them, then a half, then as the head of the stretch was reached a mighty roar went up from the field and the grandstand. The two horses were blended into one....
     Then began a lull the like of which was never probably witnessed on a race track before....There was the silence of death in the grandstand. Every eye was watching the desperate battle and breathlessly awaiting the end....
      On they came, stride for stride, head for head. The, with a last mighty effort Spokane lunged ahead and passed under the wire, winner by a head.

   The spectators were shocked. Most of them would rather have seen Spokane break his neck than the record, and least of all to win the derby from Proctor Knott. Spokane finished the 1 1//2-mile long race in 2:34.5--a record that won't be broken because the race was shortened to 1 1//4 miles in 1896.
     In the words of one chronicler, "Never on that historic spot has there even been so great a Derby, never has that classic race been run with greater credit to the winner."
     Some irate easterners argued that Spokane--still the only Montana horse to ever win the derby--was a "fluke" or just plain lucky. But the horse went on that year to beat Proctor Knott in the Clark Stakes in Louisville and the high-stakes American Derby in Chicago.
     Spokane had won the Triple Crown of his day. Even his critics had to admit that his luck lay in his swift legs and strong spirit--a spirit, perhaps, that first stirred on a Washington battlefield almost a century and a half ago.



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