Robert E. Brislawn, Sr.: Preservation of the Colonial Spanish Mustang

Gretchen L. Patterson Ms., Stephen F. Austin State University


The Preservation of the Colonial Spanish Horse and

Robert E. Brislawn, Sr.

In 1493, the Spanish horse importation to the Caribbean islands provided an important stimulus to American exploration as an agent of transportation. In the late nineteenth century, the necessity of horses declined with the advent of railroads and motorized vehicles. Reduction of Native American populations through wars, disease, and forfeiture of territory also contributed to less reliance on horses. Born in 1890, Robert E. Brislawn, Sr., a dedicated horseman, decided to collect and preserve the best Spanish-type horses that he could locate as links to western heritage. From 1924 until his death in 1979, Brislawn’s diligent quest introduced him to like-minded individuals with similar goals. His story places these horses into the larger frames of western, Borderlands, and Spanish Colonial history and their role in the evolving environmental management of the mid-west and western plains and concludes with their development as a heritage breed.

Brislawn’s narrative, as told to family and friends, combined the traditional Irish immigrant and nineteenth-century western expansion stories that provided him the opportunity to become familiar with the Spanish-type horses. This background history enabled him to identify horses as a cultural touchstone in a rapidly changing world of international wars and western development. The preservation of Spanish horses provides a small, interesting side story to American western and Borderlands history as well as the national preservation and conservation movements.