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U.S. Forest Service
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United States Department of Agriculture

Murderer's Creek Wild Horse Territory

The Murderer’s Creek Wild Horse Territory is cooperatively managed by the Malheur National Forest, Blue Mountain Ranger District and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Prineville District.

Five horses at the edge of a pine forest opening.

Location and Habitat

The Murderer’s Creek Wild Horse Territory is located southwest of John Day, Oregon, and includes 73,609 acres of Forest Service land, 34,879 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, 23,773 acres of private land, and 10,479 of state land.

The topography inhabited by these “timber horses” is mountainous terrain. They often stay at high elevations year-round ranging from 4,500 to 6,500 feet. They live in heavily timbered areas of ponderosa pine and mixed conifer. Climate is represented by hot, dry summers and cold winters with temperatures that vary from either below zero in the winter to 90+F in the summer. The average annual precipitation ranges from 11.5 inches in lower elevations to about 30 inches along the Aldrich Ridge. Primarily precipitation occurs as snowfall between November and April.

With snow depths of 2-4 feet in these timbered areas, these horses have adapted to the climate by using the timber thickets for shelter. When snow melts off in early spring, these horses tend to stay near springs and utilize the south slopes of ridges which tend to melt off first providing forage.

Coniferous vegetation dominates vegetation. These include white fir, Douglas-fir, grand-fir, and ponderosa pine. Principal plant species include; Sandberg’s bluegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, needlegrass, juniper, big sagebrush, low sagebrush, rabbitbrush, elk sedge, pine grass, and mountain snowberry.

Wildlife commonly viewed coexisting on this territory include elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, bear, cougar, and smaller terrestrial forest animals.

Livestock grazing is permitted within the Territory.


The history of the Murderer’s Creek wild horses is debatable. However, it is believed that the horses found in the area are those left behind by early explorers. The Murderer’s Creek horses are descendants from Native American herds and those lost or released by settlers and ranchers. Prior to the passage of the The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act Of 1971 (Public Law 92-195) (PDF) early ranchers managed the wild herds by turning out their own stallions and then gathered the young horses in the spring.

Dr. Gus Cothran performed a genetic analysis of this herd in 2000-2001 and found that the herd bears the least similarity to the other herds found in Oregon that have also been studied. His studies conclude that this herd bears closest genetic resemblance to the American light racing, saddle breeds and also the New World Iberian breeds.

One of the first horses to be captured from Murderer’s Creek under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was adopted by the Blue Mountain Ranger District. “Clyde” was proven to be a very sturdy pack horse and a gentle saddle horse. He is no longer on duty with the Blue Mountain Ranger District.


The timber horses tend to be quite small and relatively uniform in color and conformation. These horses range from 13.5 to 15 hands in size. In respect to color, they tend to be black, brown, and bay. Horses on the western portion of the territory tend to be gray, dun, or sorrel.

The proposed appropriate management level for the Murderer’s Creek herd is between 50-140.

For More Information

Contact Blue Mountain Ranger District (541) 575-3000.