TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KGET) — If you’ve lived in Kern County long enough you are likely adept at extolling our beautiful sights and rich history for newcomers and outsiders. But even if you’ve lived here most of your life, like I have, there’s a piece of our history hiding in the hills in Tehachapi, you’ve likely never heard of.
They’re called the Oak Creek wild horses and their origin is still somewhat of a mystery.
At the sound of Diana Palmer’s truck, they come galloping. Out of a cloud of dust, and beneath the shadows of the wind turbines, you can see a small herd of about 80 horses taking shape. They know she’s bringing food, something that isn’t easy to find without her help in these drought-stricken hills.
“The food is meant to be a supplement we want them to keep foraging to find their own food,” Palmer said.
The horses were present when the current landowners bought the property in the 1950’s. Articles and essays have been written about the herd and its mysterious origins.
Western artist Jack Swanson wrote about seeing them in the 1940’s when he rode with vaqueros in the mountains of Tehachapi. At that time they were considered by many to be the thing of legends, talked about but rarely seen.
Before that it’s surmised they could have gotten loose from a herd belonging to one of the cattle ranchers in the area. In the early 1900’s there were several ranchers in Kern County using what are known as Morgan horses, that bear a striking resemblance to those of the Oak Creek herd.
The horses lived mostly undisturbed until the early 2000’s. That’s when Palmer noticed the herd was getting too big for the amount of food in the area. She took on the unofficial role of caretaker, adopting out foals, providing veterinary care and supplementing their food and water.
“My husband and I are property caretakers up here for the primary land owners since 1986. It’s not part of my job but when you drive by every day and see the herd growing and there’s no graze,” Palmer said.
Her love for the horses has turned into a passion for digging up their roots through old records and even DNA testing. But so far no one can break the mystery.
Right now Diana is able to supplement the feeding of the horses through donations from visitors, but due to the drought, another winter could come soon when regular feeding may be necessary.