Changing of the Guard

by Nancy Cerroni

It has to happen…a time when the older stallions step down from the helm as leaders of the band. This certainly isn’t by choice. And it can be very emotional for those of us who have watched them since their glory days. However, this is one more natural phase in the life of a wild horse.  Lately it seems that we’ve had more than our share of the changing of the guard. In the last two years we watched Cloud first become a lone stallion, then quietly disappear. He wasn’t the only one that year. We’ve lost many including Chino, Coronado/Red Raven, Durango, Sitting Bull, and possibly Bristol, Seattle, and Merlin.

Last year there were four 20 year old band stallions: Duke, Baja, Morning Star, and Custer. Through the winter, we wondered which of these would come into 2017 with their bands. Day by day, the answer to this question is revealed. This post will update what we know so far. Some of the news is good news, some is poignant. Yet all of this should be considered a celebration. These horses have lived the life as wild horses. And now the circle continues as the guard changes. A wild horse friend, Alessandro, recently summed it up nicely, “It’s all natural for these older stallions to lose their bands, giving a chance for their sons and grandsons a chance to carry on their legacy.” This post will focus on the four stallions who were born in 1996 thus turning 21 years old this year. While I am writing the story, it couldn’t be told without the observations and shared communications with others that devote their time and attention on the Pryor horses.

We’ll start with Custer. Custer was the beautiful bay roan, almost purple roan, son of the mighty Shaman and roan mare, Sitka. I will always remember Custer as a shy one. He was not a dominant stallion, but protective and loyal to his band. His last band consisted of old mare, Winnemucca, Fiasco and her daughter, Prospera.

Custer’s coat was like a road map of life. If a roan horse is injured, the coat grows back in the base color. Each dark spot on his coat represents some piece of history….a story of Custer’s life.

Custer June 19


Custer kept his band close close together as shown in this July 2016 photo. Custer grazes close beside his band of Prospera, Fiasco, and Winnemucca. This is one of the last photos of the group as Winnemucca died shortly after at the age of 28.

Custer's Band.jpg

Custer with mare, Winnemucca (right) and Fiasco (middle) with daughter, Prospera.

Right around the first of the year we noticed that Fiasco and Prospera were with Galaxy’s band. They were seen frequently in the newly opened Administrative pasture. However, Custer has not been reported as being seen at all in 2017. It is possible that he is in the remote areas of Sykes Ridge. Time will tell if Custer is still alive.  His legacy will continue on through little Prospera and through his 2013 son, Nodin/Navigator, who became a bachelor in 2016. This young stallion is energetic and is frequently engaged in active stallion behavior which should lead to a solid future as a band stallion. In addition, Navigator’s grandsire is Chino, another fine stallion recently lost.


Nodin/Navigator is a combination of his s his mother’s grulla color and his sire’s roan color pattern.

Duke has had a longtime presence as a strong band stallion. He is eye-catching with his flashy red bay color and muscular conformation.

Duke 7.23.16

In 2017, Duke maintained his majestic appearance.

Duke has gone through a major life change very recently with the loss of his band to other stallions. The details aren’t known, but in the past week we’ve had reports and first hand observations of the changes.  The timeline of events began a week ago on May 7 when Dennis McCollough reported that Helenium and Aurora were with Chief Joseph. Chief Joseph had been very visible and active on Cheyenne Flats as he tried to move from bachelor stallion to band stallion.

Joseph and Helenium

Chief Joseph and Helenium

On that same day, Dennis had taken a distant picture of a lone bay stallion. It was later determined that this was, indeed, Duke. At that time it was unknown to the whereabouts of Helenium’s daughters, Outlaw Lady and yearling Quintasket.


Duke from a distance as a lone stallion on May 7, 2017. He still looks good with no visible “war” wounds.

On Thursday, May 11, Steve Cerroni headed up the mountain on a tour. He had another mission to search for Duke’s young fillies. It wasn’t long until he texted photos with part of the mystery solved. Three-year old, Outlaw Lady, was with Knight and Nimbus/Encore. It seemed somehow fitting that this gallant young stallion now had another young filly with him.

Knight and band

Outlaw Lady with Knight and Nimbus/Encore on May 12.

Outlaw and Nimbus

Outlaw Lady and Encore represent a bit of mountain royalty. Duke’s name and status on the mountain infers royalty. Encore…well, as a daughter of Cloud we needn’t say more. And now they are with Knight!

This left one small horse to account for. Duke’s 2017 daughter, Quintasket, was the second of a lovely pair of chestnut beauties. Noble was born in 2013 and is with Garay’s band’s. But where was the yearling? Kristen Collett felt the need to go out and search for her on early Friday morning, May 12. She put in a full day of driving and hiking in search of a small Pryor horse in a big Pryor land. Kristen was able to confirm that Outlaw Lady was with Knight and Encore. But there was still no sign of the youngest member of Duke’s band. At that same time, Jack Sterling had been on the mountain for an overnight camping trip. He found that the dynamic of change was still happening with Duke’s band. Chief Joseph was now alone. And Helenium was with Horizon. He sent a photo confirmation and the photo showed that the dun mare was definitely with Horizon. However, lo and behold, there lying in the spring grass was a little chestnut with a white hind stocking. It was Quintasket!

Horizon's new band

This magnificent photo taken by Jack Sterling shows Horizon’s large band. From left-to-right: Horizon, Galena, Petra, Demure, Juniper (sleeping behind a tree)….and the two newest additions…Helenium and Quintasket.

The only mystery yet to solve is where Aurora is. Aurora is one of those mares that never foaled. She has been a steady presence with her half-brother, Duke, for many years. They are both offspring of the late sorrel mare, Flicka. Aurora served as Duke’s lead mare and also a caretaker of the young that were born into the band.

Joseph and Aurora 2

This photo, by Dennis McCollough, shows Aurora walking stride-for-stride with Chief Joseph. She was no longer with him by Friday, May 12. We will keep you informed of her status.

Duke’s legacy is secure on the mountain with his many offspring.  In addition to those mentioned, he is represented by his look-alike son, Gringo and daughter, Galadrial. Duke’s 2013 son, Naolin, is showing a strong presence in the bachelor world. Though Duke’s dominance as a band stallion may have come to an end, these others will carry on.

Naolin and Inali

Even as a 4-year old, Duke’s dun son, Naolin, didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge of strong bachelors such as Inali.

Morning Star came into 2017 with his large band intact for the most part. His band consists of mares Felina, Gaelic Princess, Hataalii, Hailstorm, and Isadora. The only band change is that Morning Star’s young son, Oracle, ventured out into the bachelor world. Morning Star has been a stallion of cunning. His is a close-knit band that often stays on the edges of the crowd. Morning Star has been a successful model for a stallion that may not be as physically strong as some, but uses other strategies to maintain his band.

Morning Star's band

Morning Star and his band on April 30, 2017

Morning Star

Morning Star

Morning Star is starting to show his age. He is very much on the thin side and it may just be a matter of time when he loses his band. Last week, Steve Cerroni witnessed young Mica/MatoSka challenging the older stallion.

Morning Star and Mica

Morning Star and his young challenger, Mica/MatoSka

It is very symbolic that at a time when his son, Horizon, is emerging as a strong band stallion, Morning Star is on the decline…perhaps, poetically, it can be said that the Morning Star is now setting on the opposite side of the Horizon.

Horizon on Horizon

Horizon is now the leader of a larger band than ever before with: Juniper, Demure, Galena, Petra and the newest additions, Helenium and Quintasket. Morning Star’s legacy continues.

That brings the story to Baja. Baja is a powerhouse! He got his looks and strength from his sire, Looking Glass. In 2017, Baja was with his long time companions Washakie and Bacardi. He and mare, Washakie, had a sturdy little filly named, Quahneah. Baja led his band with strength and cunning. He would keep his band close together and sometimes on the periphery of the action.

Baja's Band June 2016

Baja leads his mares Washakie and Bacardi across  a meadow. Later in the summer, Washakie gave birth to Quahneah.

Baja has been seen as recently as May 12, 2017 with his band intact. He is keeping himself and his band remote from more populated areas. This is another example that wisdom is a factor for Baja’s longevity as a band stallion. It sure doesn’t hurt that his mare, Washakie, is a lead mare with ample wisdom of her own.

Baja’s future is secure with his offspring and their offspring. In addition to Quahneah, he has two other daughters, Inocentes and Graciana. Graciana is the mother of Duke’s son, Naolin. This young stallion will carry on for both father and grandsire.  For now,Baja continues to hold his own as a leader of his band.


Baja, at the age of 20, maintained his great looks and solid conformation in 2016.

The stories of these horses will continue into the upcoming months. Despite the emotion caused by these twilight years, there is also cause for continued hope. These stallions were born in the Pryors and will die in the Pryors. In between those two events, they have lived full lives and have achieved the goal…to leave a living legacy that will perservere through time as Pryor Mountain Wild Horses.

The leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old.

But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul.

I am a living legacy of the leader of the band.

Lyrics by Dan Fogelberg
Thanks to the following people for their contributions to the post: Steve Cerroni, Dennis McCollough, Jack Sterling, Kristen Collett, and Alessandro.
Published in: on May 13, 2017 at 8:27 am  Comments (15)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. These horses and their stories make me cry. How I love them from from a distance. Sitting Bull was my all time favorite. I mourned him more than Cloud. Winnemucca’s death was like losing a friend. Custer was another I always waited anxiously to hear about. Most of all, I feel terrible for those of you who visit these wild souls and document their lives for us. Each horse is clearly precious to you. I am ever grateful to your love and devotion to them.

    Thank you!

    • Oh man, do I understand about Sitting Bull. He was one of my “firsts.” He had domain at Crooked Creek Bay so I was able to go out daily to visit them when Seneca was pregnant with Exhilaration. Sitting Bull taught me so much about wild horses and stallion behavior. Please don’t feel terrible for us. As I said in the post, I celebrate their wild lives. They are born wild, spend their whole life wild, and eventually die wild. That is success!

  2. Reblogged this on Wild in the Pryors and commented:
    A brief update on some of our older stallions. Even though he is not an older stallion, the beautiful stallion Fiesta (who would be 12 this year) has not been seen since last September.

    • I debated adding him into this post….decided I may be holding a glimmer of hope for him. But also, I wanted to keep the focus on the older generation who are passing the torch onto the future.

      • Oh, I didn’t say that because I thought you should have included him, I just wanted people to know that he has not been seen yet, with hopes that someone may…

  3. Magnificent post about magnificent horses! Thanks so much for the update and all the information it contained. These 4 stallions have led their bands for an amazing length of time. Sad for Custer and Duke, and sorry that Morning Star and Baja will probably be alone soon. But what longevity and legacies!! These older stallions are teaching the young challengers what it takes to be a band stallion – they are not giving up without a fight! “Thank you” to all those contributors who made this post and the beautiful pictures possible!

    • What a nice response!! You are so right about the lessons passed on from the old to the young. Thanks!

  4. Great post. Very informative, even tho somewhat sad. The only thing I can say is that whoever of the older stallions deposed from their positions of band stallion are still alive and on the Range, will make one beautiful group of mature stallions. I hope they all adapt to their new situations as well as Jackson apparently has. There is a need for mentors for the newly separated youngsters and the up and coming young stallions. And those old guys can spend time together as well; kind of like the old cowboys sharing coffee and conversation at The Brandin’ Iron. (I know you don’t see a lot of that, tho.) I recall how Nodin and Mandan spent time with Jackson last summer, and with other bachelors of various ages as well. I’m sure those relationships served them well for the years and challenges ahead. I’m quietly very happy that Baja is still “in charge” of Washakie, cause I’m not sure how well she would do in a more frenzied environment with a much younger stallion. I hope when I come out the next time, I will have enough time to really look for Seattle, Sitting Bull and Merlin. I just don’t want to give up on them yet… Don’t know if it’s my computer, or your settings, but I can’t see the pics. 😦 TY again for a great post.

  5. …you don’t see a lot of that camaraderie with the horses… 😉

  6. With so many horses and so much information, it can be confusing. Do you think you could do a chart of pedigrees, starting with Cloud and following all the generations right to the present?

    It would be very much appreciated by everyone! Thank you for all the pictures & the great descriptions of each horse. Do you have a black stallion like Chief Joseph & Galena I could sponsor & can I still get 2017 calendars?

    You need to get a spot on an East Coast network channel like NBC’s Today Show,so everyone could donate & enjoy seeing a life they may have wanted to live, had we grown up out West.

  7. This post means so much to those of us who don’t live nearby. Thanks to you and Steve, and to Dennis and Jack for their faithful and close observations of each horse.

  8. Thanks, Chris! It sure was a team effort to put this story together. We’ll sure keep you updated on anything new with these special ones.

  9. A beautiful tribute Nancy, your knowledge of the mustangs and their history is invaluable. I so enjoy hearing your stories, thank you for sharing them with us.

  10. How are things with Baja now? Haven’t seen any recent photos of him and his band. Wondering if he still has his band and how Washakie is doing.. does she seem pregnant this year? Hoping she gets a break this year:)

  11. Ahh, and we can’t forget that Duke’s (and the great Madonna) legacy is also carried on by daughter Lariat! and her son Oklahoma (the grandson). Thank you for this. wonderful informative post! Also, I heard that Aurora is with MatoSka; is that true and does she remain there now?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: