Monday, February 10, 2014

Wreckers and Wild Ponies

The wreckers, as they were called, made a living salvaging debris that washed in from wrecked ships on the shoals along the barrier islands of North Carolina in the colonial days of early American history.

That bit of geography earned the coast its nickname, Graveyard of the Atlantic, honestly.  Men made a good living gathering the cargo and taking it inland to sell to the merchants of Elizabeth City and Edenton. The merchants never asked the wreckers about their resources for things like sugar, rum, fine silks, and oriental spices. They were only too happy to purchase them at the wrecker’s bargain prices.

Small horses called Banker Ponies were used to haul the goods from the ocean beach to the sound-side, where the salvage was loaded on boats to deliver to the inland cities. The horses were so called because these hardly little horses were native to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They were descended from horses brought to the coast by Spanish explorers in the fifteen hundreds. The men and women who lived by the sea tamed these “wild” horses and used them to pull in fishing nets, transport people and goods across land, and for the sport of horse racing. The ponies played an important role in the hard life of the islanders.

Though sad at the fate of the ships when the crew lost their lives at sea, the colonists were thankful for the bounty that washed ashore. They would make enough money, along with what they made fishing, to care for their families.
Banker ponies have lived on the coast of North Carolina for over four hundred years. By the 1950s they numbered in the thousands. Many were removed to protect the seashore from beach erosion and because there was not enough grass to feed that many horses. There are several bands of the wild horses still living on the islands. Numbering about three hundred in all, they survive by eating tough sea grasses that grow in the marshes and on sand dunes. To find fresh drinking water they often use their hooves to dig holes in the sand until water wells up and fills the holes.

Residents and the National Park Service help protect and care for these little horses. See and to learn more about the wild horses of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.