Nevada, first settled in 1864, is located in the heart of wild
horse country in central Nevada. This town is called the home
of the American Curly Horse as a breed. This remote ranching
and mining town is also named the Loneliest Town on the Loneliest
Road in America, U.S. Highway 50. The surrounding Great Basin
countryside is a high-altitude cold desert dominated by sagebrush
flats and surrounded by steep mountains. Only the strongest
people and animals survive this harsh environment. However,
there has always been a lure of adventure about this remote
region. Perhaps this is what brought Giovanni (later called
John) Damele to Eureka.
John Damele arrived in Eureka
from Genoa, Italy in 1879. He worked as a woodcutter for 11
years, helping provide wood for the charcoal ovens that fueled
smelter furnaces for the local silver and lead mines. John saved
up enough money to bring his wife and three children from Italy
to join him in Eureka.
In 1898, John Damele and his
family made a down payment on the Three Bar Ranch northwest
of Eureka near the Roberts Creek Mountains. The Damele family
began raising cattle and horses. He and his two boys while riding,
checking cattle saw horses with “curly hair” running with the
mustang wild horse herds. The sight of horses with long curly
hair was not easily forgotten. Wild horses in Nevada originated
from several sources, primarily from animals that were released
by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the
U.S. Cavalry, and American Indians. Around 1931, the Dameles
caught a Curly horse out of the mustangs. They took this horse
back to the ranch, broke the horse to ride, and latter sold
it. According to Damele family history, this was their first
experience with handling and training Curly horses.
In 1932 there was a devastating winter in the Three Bar
Ranch country. Deep snow and bitter cold hung on for months.
When spring came and the ranch horses were gathered from where
they had “wintered out,” the only horses the Damele boys could
find alive were the Curly horses. All of the non-Curly horses
had perished in this hard winter. No one needed to tell the
Dameles what they had witnessed. This was a real turning point
in their thinking. True stockman that they were, they realized
that if the “curlies” could be broken to ride and turned into
cow horses, they certainly could be relied upon to stay alive
when other horses perished in the harsh winters of Central Nevada.
In the fall of 1942 Peter L. Damele, John’s son, his
wife and two sons, Peter J. and Benny bought and moved to the
Dry Creek Ranch that lays 25 miles southwest of the Three Bar
Ranch. This ranch is on the Pony Express trail. A Pony Express
horse-changing station was located near the Dry Creek Ranch
headquarters during 1860 and 1861. They also purchased the Ackerman
Ranch, which lays 12 miles north of Dry Creek.
Dameles registered the 3D brand. This brand is placed on the
left thigh on horses and left hip on cattle. This 3D brand is
still used on horses and cattle on the Dry Creek and Ackerman
ranches which the Dameles own today.
The winter of 1951
and 1952 was another brutal, cold winter with deep snow. When
spring came, once again, the only horses left alive were the
Curlies. The Dameles decided to start breeding Curly horses
in earnest that spring. Before that, Curlies had just been around
in the horse herd. They caught their first Curly horse stud
out of a herd of mustangs, named him Copper D, and broke to
him ride as a two-year old.
Dameles bred the Curly horses and raised cattle on the Dry Creek
and Ackerman Ranches. At one time, they had hundreds of brood
mares running out in “stud bands. A single stallion could cover
about thirty mares outside. So there was a need for quite a
few studs in this big open country. To handle these big numbers
of horses on the open range, you needed to have good hands on
horseback. The Damele boys were among the best. Running these
horses and catching them in different ways occupied much of
The Dameles were not as concerned with the
Curly horse as a pure breed. They had specific needs for their
horses and they also had certain ideas about what they wanted
their horses to look like. When the Dameles first began catching
Curly horses out of the Mustang herds, they were big coarse-looking
horses with non-refined heads, bodies, and legs. The country
around the Dry Creek and Ackerman Ranches is steep and rocky
on the East Slope of the Simpson Park Mountain Range. Dameles
wanted their horses be able to handle steep mountains, to be
good in the rocks, stay sound, survive bad winters, take the
“big outside circle” on the flats, drag calves to the fire,
and be gentle. They wanted to breed a ranch horse that could
do it all. They soon found out that the Curly horse could do
all of this and maybe more.
Dameles purchased many different studs over the years to be
used on their “outside” brood mares. Some of the better-known
studs were: a registered Morgan Stud, Ruby Red; a registered
Arabian stallion, Nevada Red; and an unregistered Appaloosa
The more famous American Curly Horse studs
were: Peacock D, Grulla D, Dixie D, Dusty D, and the most famous
Damele Curly Horse stud Copper D. Damele horses with the 3D
brand started showing up in several states after people purchased
horses from them. The Curly horse gene is reportedly dominant
in breeding. Many of the Curly horses around the world today
go back to the Curly horse stud Copper D.
In 1971 a big
change took place for the Dameles and other ranchers in the
Great Basin. The Congress of The United States passed the Wild
Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Wild mustang herds on Nevada
rangelands began to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management
and the U.S.
Service. Nevada is home to more than one-half of the nation’s
wild horses. Herd Management areas were drawn up and monitored
by the Bureau of Land Management and U. S Forest Service. The
days of ranchers running their outside mares with studs on Federal
lands was drastically reduced.
may ask yourself after reading this Damele/ Nevada Curly Horse
history, “How did these horses get to Nevada in the beginning?”
So far, to my knowledge, no one has proven where these Eureka
County “Curlies” came from, but there are many theories concerning
this issue, including:
The horses came across
the Bering Straight before the last ice age;
Russian settlers brought
Curly horses to America from Russia.
An Irishman named Tom
Dixon imported curly horses to the Eureka area. Dixon imported
two pregnant Curly mares and a Curly stud from India and
turned them loose with the mustangs in the 1880s.
The horses are native
The horses are remnants
of pre-Spanish horses.
There are still reports by
the ranchers and Bureau of Land Management employees that Curly
horses have been recently observed running with the mustangs
in Eureka County, Nevada.
The coat of a Curly horse is the most distinguishing feature
that sets it aside from other breeds of horses. In the winter,
their coat displays long curls. Often they shed most of the
long curly hair in the summer. The mane and tail hair is curly.
There is also another interesting characteristic of this horse.
The Curly horse is reported to be hypoallergenic. Which means
that people that are allergic to horses can tolerate Curlies
with reduced or non-allergic reactions.
are intelligent, calm natured, and, when handled correctly,
are not flighty and are easily trained. Curly horses share many
physical characteristics with primitive horses, including wide-set
eyes and strong canon bones. Curly horses have particularly
tough hooves that are almost perfectly round in shape. That
makes them very good in rocky country. Some owners compare Curlies
to mules because they think things out rather than panic.
The Damele family is still at the Dry Creek and Ackerman Ranches.
They still use Curly horses for working cattle. Tom and Peter
Damele are raising Curlies and had two “stud bunches” on their
ranch this past summer. For information concerning Damele Curly
horses for sale, contact Tom Damele at 775-964-1253 or Peter
Damele at 775-964-2585. Mailing address: P.O. Box 104, Eureka,
The Damele family is well respected as
stockmen who survived many hard times and carved out a name
in Nevada ranching history. The Dameles and the American Curly
Horse will always be linked together. As they should be!
On October 10-11, 2003, the
International Curly Horse Organization held a convention at
the Opera House in Eureka and made a field trip to the Damele
Dry Creek ranch. Curly Horse owners from several states and
from Norway, Sweden, and Germany were in attendance. This writer
was invited to attend their meeting and found it to be very
For more information
concerning the American Curly Horse as a breed, contact
the International Curly Horse Organization,
- 2690 Carpenter Road, Jamestown, Ohio 45335, telephone
The American Bashkir
Curly Horse Registry is the other major Curly breed registry.
This registry has closed their studbooks in order to contain
their gene pool, and move toward bloodline preservation
and breed status requirements. Their web site is
Books by Dale Wooley for sale
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Dale Wooley's book The Dameles
and The Curly Horse.