Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ponies of Shackleford, Part 2

While on vacation in Beaufort, NC in late July, we ventured over to Shackleford Banks off the Beaufort waterfront to actually see the wild ponies.  We got very close to some of them.  (see my earlier post, the Wild Ponies of Shackleford, Part One for more background information).

The ponies have roamed these shores for many centuries and are now protected.  They have the island to themselves but this was not always the case.  Before the hurricane of 1933, Shackleford and Core Banks were a continuous body of sand.  A channel disconnected the two at high tide.  On Shackleford there were several human settlements, Wade's Shore, Mullet Pond and Bell's Island.  The largest and most legendary was Diamond City, named for its proximity to Cape Lookout lighthouse (which has a diamond pattern on it). 

The late 1890's was known for its period of massive storms that devasted the area around Shackleford.  A category four or even five hurricane in August 1899 ravaged the area for two days.  Most of the island's topsoil vanished, freshwater wells were ruined.  Ponies and other livestock were certainly killed.  Within a few years of this last storm, the island became totally uninhabitable for humans.  Some people continued to graze cattle on the island and some cottages eventually reappeared.

When Colonel Fred Olds visited the area in 1925 he described approximately 3000 horses living on Shackleford Banks and Core Banks.  But again, mother nature hit the area hard.  The huge storm of 1933 (hurricanes were not named back then like they are today) claimed the lives of 21 people and killed many of the wild ponies on Shackleford.  It also created a new inlet just west of Cape Lookout, so that Shackleford Island was no longer connected to the Cape (Bogue Banks). 

No one knows how many of the ponies survived but clearly some did. 
And incredibly on June 14, 1938, the Raleigh newspaper announced that the "final extinction of the Banker Ponies, wild horses that have roamed the Outer Banks for three centuries was begun this morning."    Armed with high powered rifles two hunters continued the work of removal that had begun several years earlier as a result of special North Carolina legislation aimed at removing the animals from the Banks.

Not all the horses were killed.  Many survived on near-by Ocracoke Island.  The National Park Service still takes care of the herd that live there, semi-feral on the island.  In 1957 a special plea by local residents won a reprieve for the horses on Shackleford.  Those that remain today stand as a slender vestige of the thousands that once ranged all along North Carolina's barrier islands.  At least those that are left are now protected and are able to roam freely without worry about being killed by poachers.

Here we are in late July, very close to a few of the Banker ponies.  It is a marvel that they have managed to last as long as they have, given the elements, mother nature, and of course, their biggest danger, man.

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