The White Horse of Black Daisy Canyon survives alone for years in the rugged Lost River Valley

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The White Horse of Black Daisy Canyon survives alone for years in the rugged Lost River Valley


An equine escapee from an elk hunting camp has become a beloved icon of western freedom, grit and solitude in central Idaho’s rugged mountainous Lost River Valley.

Mystery surrounds a cherished sturdy, compact white gelding living alone for 24 years in Black Daisy Canyon north of Mackay.

“You have to admire that he’s survived all these years, especially with our cold winters and predators that are common around here like wolves and mountain lions,” said Will Marcroft, an avid outdoorsman and hunting guide in Mackay.

“He’s become a Mackay icon,” said Marcroft, who saw him in summer. “He still looks healthy after all these years.”

Unanswered questions about his life linger.

Did he wander away slowly at night or run like someone left the gate open — free at last? How has he endured living alone for nearly a quarter-century? Who owned him? How old is he? Why did he settle in the canyon 5 miles north of town?

“He was brought here by some do-it-yourself elk hunters from Washington who camped in Copper Basin,” Marcroft said. “He must have broken his hobbles and wandered away from camp. They looked for him but couldn’t find him and had to get back home.”

The horse walked about 15 miles from Copper Basin to Black Daisy Canyon on the western side of Mackay Reservoir.

When Marcroft first saw him, he still had half of a hobble above a front hoof. A brass bell dangled from a wide leather strap around his neck.

Marcroft noticed a freeze-brand on his neck, indicating he was part of a wild horse herd at one time and had been sold through the Bureau of Land Management’s adoption program.

“He acts like a wild horse — curious but cautious,” Marcroft said. “You can get only so close to him. He likes to keep a certain distance between himself and people.”

Eventually, the horse shed remnants of civilization. The bell and hobble fell off or were rubbed off. Over time, his gray coloration faded away to where he now appears white, which is uncommon among horses.

Marcroft has a theory of why he settled in the canyon.

“There’s plenty of grass there along with a spring that fills a water trough for livestock,” he said. “Sometimes in summer, he’ll come down to the shore of the reservoir to graze.”

During winter, he could have the companionship of wildlife.

“Deer and elk winter in there,” Marcroft said. “They eat snow and whatever vegetation they can find.”

Local insurance agent Jim McKelvey offers another theory about the canyon becoming home.

“There’s a snow drift line in the mountains above the canyon that forms in late spring and resembles a full white horse,” McKelvey said. “As it melts, this white horse signifies the high-water mark for the Big Lost River each year. This horse could have settled anywhere, but chose this location — maybe finding a kindred spirit.”

While boating on the reservoir in 2010, McKelvey and his wife, Donna, photographed the horse casually grazing alone.

Local residents wanting to provide him with shelter and food have tried to catch him, but he has eluded them.

“Right after he escaped in 1997, I was out in the field with a former supervisor when we ran across him on the Mine Hill,” said Melissa Fowler, recently retired U.S. Forest Service recreational officer in Mackay. “We tried to catch him for about an hour, but he wasn’t having it.”

He obviously preferred freedom to the security of daily hay and the companionship of other horses. Fowler could only capture him in a photo. His eyes were half-closed as if he were dozing in the sunshine. The bell was still hanging around his neck.

A dapple gray, he had a distinct black blaze on his forehead, black mane, gray tail, three black legs and a striking white front left sock. As he aged, his coat has turned white.

“He has to be in his late 20s,” Marcroft said. “That’s old — for a horse in the wild and a domestic one, too. It’s always good to see him. We all know there will come a time when we don’t see him anymore, but we hope that won’t be for a while yet.”



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Only one comment so far...

  1. Bunny

    So funny that the newspaper article writer stated that it’s unusual for gray horses to turn white. I am glad he did, however. Mackay, Idaho is hunting and fishing central so if he’s white he’s far less likely to die at the hands of over-enthusiastic/under-experienced hunters. And probably no one is going to get close enough to deck him out in a blaze orange turnout rug.

    The biggest danger for him, as for all other wildlife in the Idaho mountain ranges, is wildfire. Not winter snow or big cats or wolves.

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