A Short History of the Banks For generations, people have been telling
stories about the wild horses that roam
between the dunes on Shackleford Banks.
Romantic legend tells us the horses arrived
sometime in the 16th century, swim-ming
ashore from ships wrecked on Cape
Lookout’s hazardous shoals.
We do know that people used barrier islands for graz-ing
lands from the mid- to late-1600s, and most ships
passing the island carried horses similar to those raised
on the mainland. Few historical records exist, however,
and the horses have been there for so long that many
generations grew up believing that they were native to the
Edmund Ruffin, an agriculture authority who visited
the area around 1858, noted that the horses were geneti-cally
unique and that outside animals, as far as he could
tell, had not added to the gene pool. Decades of scientific
studies confirmed that the horses do indeed have distinc-tive
genetic characteristics shared with Spanish colonial
breeds such as the Pryor Mountain Mustang and Paso
“My mother is from Beaufort, and I spent summers
there visiting my grandparents. My grandfather, Charles
Hassell, often took me to Shackleford as a child and told
me about the wild horses,” says Margaret Poindexter,
an attorney in Carteret County and president of the
Foundation for Shackleford Horses. “We always went
over in my grandfather’s boat from Beaufort. There were
no ferries to the island back then. My grandfather always
said about the horses, ‘The island belongs to them.’ I
remember one visit in particular, I was probably 5 or 6.
We had built a fire on the beach to cook hot dogs.