The Wild Horses of Assateague
There seems to be some secret That everybody’s onto But I just don’t seem to get it man Not even if I want to… Graham Parker
Someone get me Robert Redford because I’ve got to do some horse whispering.
Perhaps the nicest if not the most interesting beach in the country is just a few miles south of Ocean City, Maryland. On Assateague Island there are no houses, no hotels and but for state and national campgrounds, a ranger station, and a seasonal snack bar there are no amenities. As nice as the splendid beach is, what makes the place so mind boggling wonderful is the feral horses that are left to roam free. There are signs, often ignored, warning people to stay ten feet away because the horses might charge or bite. What you see are beautiful docile creatures, sometimes running playfully in the tide, but usually hanging around the campsites looking for forbidden treats.
How did they get there? There is folklore that centuries ago Spanish ships ran aground nearby and the horses made a swim for it. Not true, said the Park Ranger I asked. But his version was more troubling, not because he told me a dark truth, but because his story also did not have the ring of truth. He could not have known that he was talking to a cynic of the stories of American History. I have told college professors that their version of American history is just one big lie; this Park Ranger was not even worth busting. “Really” I said and just moved on.
His story, which was backed up by official literature he handed me, was that at some point the British levied a tax against livestock so the landowners chose to hide their horses on Assateague Island to avoid the tax. When the landowners eventually rounded up their horses, a few of them got away and these feral horses are their progeny. If you went to the Island and looked around you would know that was unlikely. There was no mention of Native Americans who clearly named the island. No mention of slaves, despite the fact that the Plantation House sits proudly nearby. Were the slaves, who were likely taxed as livestock, also shipped to the island, Mr. Park Ranger? Blaming the British? Really! Americans blame them for everything we did wrong. My guess is that if there is any truth to the story, it is at best a half truth, and the other half is probably quite dark.
I have not explored the secrets of Assateague Island in any depth. Perhaps I don’t yet want to know the truth because it may ruin one of my favorite places. One visit to google, after you wade through the bullshit, indicates that the story of the Assateague does include Native Americans and slaves. This did not surprise me since I find that America is pathological in its desire to lie about its past. I thought of asking the white guys who sold me wood for my campfire for the real story since it looks like their families have been there forever. Maybe I should have asked someone in the huge funeral procession I saw at the local African American cemetery; the truth may be buried there. Really I needed to ask the horses, they seem to know something. Of course, they were busy when I thought to ask…eating my neighbor’s Snickers bars, wrappers and all.