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Don Hoglund, a veterinarian involved in the rescue of the wild horse herd on White Sands Missile...

Alamogordo, White Sands Missile Range and the people who call this area home have been forever immortalized in a new book that, quite frankly, makes folks around here look like pretty good people.

On the surface, "Nobody's Horses," by Dr. Don Hoglund, is a tale about rescuing endangered wild horses eking out a sparse and sometimes unsuccessful living on White Sands Missile Range.

It's also much more than that. It's a tale about the old West as played out in the Tularosa Basin. It's a tale about how the military cared enough about a national treasure to save some 2,000 wild horses when they could have just shot them. And it's a tale about the high quality of the people in the area.

Wild horses that once belonged to local ranchers have ranged in the area for more than a hundred years and maybe even as far back as 1598, when the Spanish first came through New Mexico. Among them, horses that once belonged to Native Americans roamed with the abandoned horses belonging to Old West legends such as Pat Garrett.

Those animals, along with free roaming stock belonging to area ranchers, were penned up in the giant corral at White Sands Missile Range in 1942 when the government created the area for weapons testing.

The horse

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herds continued living in some of the most desolate land anywhere. There's very little water and next to no forage at all within the confines of WSMR. Yet those horses continued to survive, even with bombs literally going off all around them. They prospered to some degree, reaching a total herd level of some 2,000.

That is, they survived until 1994. In that year, drought conditions in the area became so bad that a large portion of the herd died.

"We probably lost 200 to 300 animals in the course of a couple of weeks," said Patrick Morrow, wildlife biologist for WSMR.

Morrow, along with range rider and area native Les Gililland, is a primary character in Hoglund's book. He was and still is the chief biologist at the missile range, and is responsible for managing, monitoring and protecting the wildlife at the range.

"That die-off was probably the saddest thing I've ever seen," said Gililland in a phone interview with the Daily News.

When those animals started dying, it fell in Morrow's lap to do something about it. And the problem reached a degree of urgency once the media was notified.

"When it first started and the news got out, we started taking phone calls from all over the world," said Jim Eckles, who has worked with the public relations department at WSMR since before the die-off. "It was the most emotional event we've ever been involved in working at White Sands here for several decades.

"It's amazing how many buttons that pushed," Eckles said, adding that his staff fielded phone calls about the horses non-stop after the die-off.

The situation put the military in a bad light because so many animals had died.

"People just didn't understand. They thought we were just starving them to death on purpose," Eckles said.

The die-off led to the military's decision to remove the animals from the missile range, and that led to Morrow to hire Hoglund to oversee the project.

Even at that time, Hoglund, a veterinarian, had years of experience working with wild horses. He helped establish the National Wild Horse Prison Inmate program in New Mexico prisons, where inmates would gentle wild horses for adoption. He oversaw the program for two years.

"I have a lot of respect for the military," said Hoglund in a phone interview. "They got those animals out of there when, in fact, they could have solved the problem with a bullet."

Hoglund, who oversaw the removal and adoption of some 1,500 horses taken from WSMR, also has nothing but respect for the individuals he worked with on the project.

"Les Gililland is the hero of that story," Hoglund said. "He's just a cowboy's cowboy."

Of course, Gililland downplays his own role. "We all worked on this project. It was a joint effort and it was something that just had to be done," Gililland said.

The staff at WSMR continued the roundups until 2005. Today there are only a few remaining animals left on the range. According to Morrow, there are about seven horses (all studs) left on the range.

Hoglund points out, however, that although the wild horse population at WSMR has been rescued, there still remains a threat to the wild horse populations around the country.

According to the veterinarian, recent changes in the law have weakened the Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1971 "that allow for the slaughter of our wild herds."

"Irrespective of their name, wild or feral, the free-roaming horse has been a very important part of our Western heritage," Hoglund said, adding that it's a part that needs to be preserved.