Story of the Nokota Horses

An approximate timeline of the wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and how they came to the Kuntz ranch.


Sitting Bull and his followers defeat George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Victory was short-lived, as the federal government sent thousands of additional soldiers to the area.


Sitting Bull and some of his followers flee (on horseback) to Canada under pressure of the federal troops.  They find it difficult to find enough food to feed their people.


Sitting Bull and his men, driven by hunger and desperation, return to the U.S. and surrender at Fort Buford (North Dakota).  They are disarmed and demobilized.

1882 – 1884

Horses confiscated from Sitting Bull are sold to the public, changing hands several times, until a group of 250 was purchased by the Marquis de Mores and moved to Medora, ND, a town he established.

Early 1900s

Horses from the Medora area escaped or were turned loose by their owners (who couldn’t afford to keep them or no longer needed them due to the advent of machinery).  Some migrated to an area known as the Little Missouri Badlands.

Mid 1900s

Wild horses were considered pests by local ranchers, because they competed with their livestock for food and water.  Many were rounded up and sold for slaughter or shot on the spot, with the cooperation of state and federal agencies.


Theodore Roosevelt National Park is established by President Truman, taking in and protecting some of the badlands, along with the Medora horses living there.

Early 1970s

After returning from the Vietnam War, Leo Kuntz discovers the horses in TRNP and starts spending time there to settle his mind.


NPS decides to replace the native horses of TRNP with those of other breeds, believing that animals descended from other bloodlines would sell better at future herd-management auctions.  The horses are rounded up and offered for sale.  Leo, seeing an end to the Medora line, buys some of the horses to preserve them.  He moves them to his ranch near Linton, ND, where they are bred to maintain and improve their Spanish characteristics.  He calls them ‘Nokotas.’


The Nokota herd grows in size, at one time reaching 600 head.  Leo and brother Frank dedicate all of their resources to caring for the horses.  They were named state horse of North Dakota in 1993.


The non-profit Nokota Horse Conservancy is created.


The remaining Nokota horses are removed from TRNP.  Those observed today are only an exhibit, no longer related to the original Medora horses.


Leo Kuntz dies, leaving the Nokota herd to family, friends and supporters.  Refer to the Nokota Horse Preservation Ranch web site and FB page for more info.

See also the documentary at this post and the videos at this page.

Rural Water Systems – Parts

You’ll want to keep some parts on hand to keep your system running smoothly.

  • Filter elements
  • O-rings for filters
  • Wrench for filters
  • Bulb for UV unit
  • Quartz tube for UV unit
  • Pump for well

These items can be stored in the pump house.  Filter elements should be replaced when water pressure gets low (takes longer to fill water buckets for your horses).  The UV bulb should be replaced annually.


Don’t forget salt pellets for the softener.  Not really a spare part but a consumable.  Put at least five 50-pound bags in storage.  Check the brine tank once a month and add salt as needed.

Leo Kuntz, Guardian of the Nokota Horses, Passes On

He was a Vietnam vet with a couple of medals and a disenchantment with life.  Then he discovered horses.  He followed them in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, buying a few here and there after roundups.  He bought 54 horses after a large gather in 1986 and the herd grew to over 200 head at the time of his death.

He called them ‘Nokotas.’

Mr. Kuntz died August 12, at the age of 69, from injuries suffered a few days earlier in a crash of his ATV, according to a report by WDAZ, the ABC affiliate in Grand Forks, ND.

“He took care of them.  They were his life.  It’s all he had.”

Family and friends are now scrambling to care for the herd.

The horses are traceable in part to ponies confiscated from Sitting Bull and his followers when they surrendered at Fort Buford in 1881.

WHB Coming to Swanzey, NH

Wild horses and a few burros will be offered for adoption at the Cheshire Fairgrounds August 24 – 25, according to a BLM news release posted today.  They have been checked by a veterinarian, vaccinated, de-wormed, and blood-tested.

“With kindness and patience, these animals can be trained for many uses.”

A trainer experienced in gentling mustangs will provide demonstrations both days.

WHB posters may be available at the event.