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.

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