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By George B. Dawson, D.C.
Published by The Medicine-Eye Ranch, Oakland, California, in 1950
This booklet has been prepared with a twofold purpose:
First, it could bring about the preservation of a highly interesting and demonstrable sidelight of western history.
Second, it supports in a seemingly acceptable way, the contention that a physical approach in dealing with problems of emotional origin is both scientific and practical.
As a final closing thought, we ask ourselves and also project to our readers the same question, “Have we produced anything which will add to human understanding?" Should your answer be “Yes,” we ask your cooperation in preserving it, for it may then be precious; but should your answer be “No,” — please destroy it.
Although the primary interest which has brought about the preparation of this article is the subject of abnormal tension within the human body, the writer here presents "an analysis of an unusual phenomenon of animal psychology, in order to scientifically support the contention that there can be a physical as well as a mental approach in dealing therapeutically with many psychological problems.
The nature of the subject requires the writer to become personal and explain that he was raised as a pioneer boy horseman in a western range district, the district of the last home of the famous Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce; that the information to be given here has grown out from an unusual boyhood experience. However, the old saying, “Nothing under the sun is ever new,” very much applies in this case.
Moll, in his old book, “Psychology," which is very difficult to locate in either public libraries or used book stores, stated that many years ago an Austrian army officer whose name was Balasa, discovered that a wild horse could be quickly gentled by an operator who merely stands before it holding its attention. He said a wild horse would soon advance to and follow the operator and be absolutely gentle.
Moll also wrote that Balasa's, discovery was developed into a system called "Balasiren of Horses," and that although a regulation in the Austrian Cavalry at one time required all horses prior to being shod to be put through the system of Balasiren, the system later became a closely guarded secret on the part of very noted horse tamers and trainers. Moll gave no further information than to say that attention of the animal was the important factor. It appears from the historical yet incomplete nature of his report, Moll received his information entirely from hearsay rather than from personal observation and studied thought.
Indian stories state that in the early days of the West, some Indians, particularly medicine men of certain tribes of the Northwest, captured wild horses by fascinating them and by holding attention directed to a blanket. Although with first thought this would seem to be almost an unbelievable feat, there are many persons living today who can recall having seen the Indian Blanket Act in some manner performed, such that a corralled wild horse was quickly and spectacularly gentled and without force. Fully thirty-five years ago, the occasion being a Northwest Indian celebration, the writer saw the last part of such a performance, but his memory is vivid only from the time of the applause of the observers at the conclusion of the act and as the horse walked out of the corral and into a town street with the Indian performer. They walked with the Indian's shoulder touching the neck of the horse and with one hand extended forward to its nose and guiding it. The blanket was draped over the horse. Of course, no rope or other restraining equipment was used. Since that time, all performers of the act in that district have passed away.
Although it is probable that all of the old performers of the blanket act have carried their secrets and their theories to their graves, the writer believes be has come to an understanding of the act and here conveys his thought. He wishes to explain, however, that he does not consider himself an expert in the procedure but is confident he has made observations of value, which can readily serve as a guide for anyone who wishes to experiment along the line of duplication of the act.
A wild or extremely excitable horse is corralled in a corral approximately one hundred feet in length. The operator steps into the corral either with or without a blanket and the animal becomes excited and moves away. The horse glances back at the operator as it retreats and the operator, catching an eye of horse upon him, instantly moves back and away, arousing the animal'. curiosity. The animal, both curious and surprised at this unusual movement, comes around facing the operator with all senses alerted. The operator continues to do the unusual. He merely stands quietly or he may step forward and back within the range of distance which does not break the animal’s stand at attention. In this way the operator can adjust his position and regulate the distance as he sees fit. He should ordinarily stand quietly excepting that it be necessary to stimulate attention by movement. He should also strive to keep the animal standing at attention without movement. Therein lies the secret of his success. (Medicine-men of the old school probably found their most grotesque regalia to have been highly effective in this unusual procedure of horse taming.)
Should attention of the animal wane to a point that it endeavors to turn away, usually a few quick steps back will bring it sharply back at attention. A few such repetitions seem to fix the reaction and the animal appears to accept an idea that it cannot turn away. However, after a considerable time standing quietly, some horses may quit looking at the operator and may turn away in a very relaxed and sort of unconcerned manner and then turn back and casually walk to the operator, who stands quietly but not necessarily motionless. Probably all horses will do some pawing of the ground, shake or toss the head and also smell intently. Stallions may tend to roll a lip upward when muscular training toward relaxation has advanced to a point that the animal is about to begin walking to the operator. Should the procedure be started but not be completed and the operator walk away, the horse will tend to follow and again maintain a position at attention the same distance away as the last stand.
Periods of relaxation are accompanied simultaneously with absence of fear, obviously manifested by instantaneous and smooth movement toward the operator. These periods of relaxation will be momentary or sporadic with most horses and the closer the operator stands, the more intense is the sense activity and the more likelihood of this type of reaction.
The sense of smell seems usually to be brought into action with great intensity by wild horses. This fact is probably responsible for certain erroneous or greatly exaggerated ideas relative to alleged special qualities of odors of various substances in their effects upon wild horses.
At the time of his first complete observance of this phenomenon, the writer, when a boy, had corralled an absolutely wild and unbranded range stallion about three years of age. His only purpose at the time was to gradually accustom the animal to his presence and to eventually rope him in an enclosure from which he could readily have escaped. His first stand was, of necessity, a full one hundred feet from the animal. The distance was gradually reduced to a last stand at approximately twenty-five feet. The animal stood practically fixated at attention for a period somewhat over an hour. The finale was that this animal advanced steadily to the writer, put its head over his shoulder, advanced to a point that its neck was tightly against his shoulder and it was absolutely submissive and gentle.
During the past fall of 1948, the writer secured the cooperation of residents of the Colville Indian reservation of the State of Washington, who rode the range and brought in unbroken horses for further observation and experiments. It was decided at that time that the secret of the famous old Indian blanket act, which had become more of a tradition than a memory, had been discovered.
This article would not be at all complete without mention of the fact that the Indian blanket act continues to live in the language of the West. All Westerners are familiar with the expression, "You've got the Indian sign on him." It implies a psychological control. The Indian blanket of the old days, woven to depict historical events, to represent the mythology of the Indian people or to otherwise portray definite meaning, could well have been and was in slang called an Indian sign. The expression grew out from pioneer recognition of the unusual control an Indian performer could seemingly exercise with his blanket in the Indian blanket act. The expression, like many others of distinctive meaning, crept into the language of the West and remained; whereas, the physical factors of the blanket act, not being understood, have lived almost entirely in the early stories of a comparative few who have seen something of the showmanship of the native culture of the Old West.
A. summary of conclusions drawn from a study of the phenomena of the Indian Blanket Act are given as follows:
1. Fear is not present excepting that fear patterns of muscular tension are manifested.
2. Fear can be quickly eliminated and simultaneously with effecting relaxation.·
3. Whatever eliminates muscular tension associated with emotion, eliminates the emotion.
4. This phenomenon is definitely not hypnosis but a matter of quick and spectacular training away of fear patterns of muscular tension and the conditioning of desirable muscular responses of relaxation.
5. Although results in the therapeutic fields, through training away abnormal tension by whatever means it may be accomplished, speak more eloquently, this phenomenon of animal psychology well serves as an answer to the claim of eminent psychologists, whose theories are projected daily by the press throughout the world, and who claim that fear is a basic cause of much physical as well as mental illness.
During a period of experimentation, searching for historical records and preparation of this essay, Dr. Dawson received communications from several persons who expressed interest, including Dr. F. M. Setzler, Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institution, who reviewed the original manuscript.
Dr. Setzler has expressed the opinion that the Indian Blanket Act may have been employed primarily by the Indian tribes of the Northwest, west of the Rocky Mountains, and that it may have been an invention of Indians of that region. He has also stated that the data supplied the Smithsonian Institution by Dr. Dawson, seemingly indicated that the known skill of these Indians in handling and breeding horses during the early part of the nineteenth century, as first reported by Lewis and Clark in 1806, also extended to the employment of effective techniques in taming wild horses.
Mr. Cyrus L. Thomas of San Francisco has sent us a sworn statement to the effect that about 1906 an Indian chief in Wyoming gentled a wild pony for him, holding the attention of the animal directed to his own mackinaw jacket, which, he said, the Indian maneuvered in front of him until the pony advanced to him. Thomas further stated, "I might add that I rode the range in Wyoming for several years and participated in several western shows, winning the bucking contest of the then called 'Wild West Show' at Cody, Wyoming, in 1912. During all the years that have followed, I never again saw this procedure practiced."
Wally Moomaw of the Colville said, "All the old timers still talk of the blanket act; but no one knows how to do it anymore." His neighbor, Steve Raymond, named an Indian, now deceased, whom he said had a wide-winged corral during the early days and always gentled all the best of his wild catch with a blanket.
The producer and director of a great motion picture, "Northwest Stampede", and many others, has written to Dr. Dawson in part as follows:
"Your observations and theory of breaking wild horses was of extreme interest to me. I have worked with and owned horses a greater part of my life and every experience I have had merely verifies your very intelligent analysis.
Wishing you success in your future experiments.
I remain, Sincerely, Albert S. Rogell."