Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Famous horses in museums

This next week I will be going back to Washington DC with the Fishweir Elementary School Patrols. For those that don't know, the safety patrols are 5th grade students that apply to work as leaders and crossing guards at the local schools. This is very popular in southern and western schools. Reports actually say that the first school patrols were started in Jacksonville at Fishweir Elementary almost 90 years ago and since at least the 1960's these school patrols make a summer trip to our nations capital. I was a safety patrol and made the trip by train in 1970 and have returned with each of my four children when they did the same....this year it's Mac's turn.
I love the history found in DC and particularly the Smithsonian museums and each time I go I try to find something new to see. Two years ago when I was there with Polly I found "Rienzi" also known as "Winchester" that was Sheridans horse during the Civil War.
Accession No. 69413
Catalogue No. 32870

General Philip H. Sheridan's horse during most of the Civil War, Winchester was mounted and presented to the Smithsonian in 1923 by the Military Service Institution, Governor's Island, New York. The horse's name, originally "Rienzi," was changed to Winchester after carrying Sheridan on his famous ride from Winchester, Virginia to Cedar Creek, Virginia in time to rally his troops and turn almost-certain defeat into victory.

Winchester can be seen in the Armed Forces History Hall at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center.

While searching for other famous horses I came across a list of others on a Smithsonian site, and it seems that a lot were presented for mounting or were exhumed and then the bones mounted. While reading this I was amazed at how old some of these horses were....well into their 30's. When you consider that many of these were 50-100 years ago when we didn't even have antibiotics it simply remarkable. Here are a few of the notable ones.


Traveller, famous as General Robert E. Lee's horse, died in 1872, two years after Lee. Initially the horse was buried, but in response to numerous requests, it was disinterred and the skeleton mounted and displayed at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. After more than 60 years on exhibit, on May 8, 1971, the horse was reburied outside the Lee Chapel at the University close to the Lee family crypt.


Defeat rather than victory brought fame to Comanche. He was known as the sole survivor of General George Custer's command at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876.

Of mustang lineage, he was born about 1862, captured in a wild horse roundup, gelded and sold to the U.S. Army Cavalry on April 3, 1868, for $90. The bay, 925 pounds, standing 15 hands high with a small white star on his forehead, became the favorite mount for Captain Myles Keogh of the 7th Cavalry. He participated in frequent actions of the Regiment and sustained some 12 wounds as a result of these skirmishes.

Two days after the Custer defeat, a burial party investigating the site found the severely wounded horse and transported him by steamer to Fort Lincoln, 950 miles away, where he spent the next year recuperating. Comanche remained here with the 7th Cavalry, never again to be ridden and under orders excusing him from all duties. Most of the time he freely roamed the Post and flower gardens. Only at formal regimental functions was he led, draped in black, stirrups and boots reversed, at the head of the Regiment.

When the Cavalry was ordered to Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1888, Comanche, aging but still in good health, accompanied them and continued to receive full honors as a symbol of the tragedy at Little Bighorn. Finally, on November 7, 1891, about 29 years old, Comanche died of colic.

The officers of the 7th Cavalry, wanting to preserve the horse, asked Lewis Lindsay Dyche of the University of Kansas to mount the remains: skin and major bones. For a fee of $400 and on condition that he be permitted to show the horse in the Chicago Exposition of 1893, Dyche completed the appropriate taxidermy. Although there is no record of the fee being paid, the horse was donated to the university's Museum and property rights are vested in the University through L.L. Dyche.

Comanche is currently on display in a humidity controlled glass case at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, Dyche Hall, Lawrence, Kansas.

Little Sorrel

Little Sorrel, or "Fancy" as he was known, became famous as the mount of General Stonewall Jackson. Captured at Harpers Ferry by the Confederates, he was chosen initially for Mrs. Jackson but eventually commandeered by the General when his own horse, Big Sorrel, proved unreliable in battle.

In 1863, at Chancellorsville, Jackson, while riding the horse, was wounded by his own men and died a few days later. At first Little Sorrel was pastured at Mrs. Jackson's home in North Carolina, later sent as a mascot to the Virginia Military Institute where the General had taught cadets he led to battle, and then in response to requests from many Southern States, was shown at fairs and exhibitions.

In 1885, ancient and infirm at the age of 35, he was retired to the Confederate Soldier's Home. The following year he died when the hoist used to lift him to his feet slipped; he fell breaking his back. Little Sorrel was stuffed and housed in a museum at the Veterans Home until 1949 when he was finally returned to V.M.I. Refurbished twice since 1886, Little Sorrel is presently on display at the Virginia Military Institute's Museum in Lexington, Virginia.


Neither a racehorse nor the mount of a famous general, Trigger, owned by movie star cowboy Roy Rogers, brought pleasure and excitement to countless motion picture patrons.

The golden palomino stallion appeared in all of Rogers' 90 feature films and 101 television shows. According to his owner, "He had great rein and could spin on a dime." Inheriting the best characteristics of his sire, a thoroughbred racehorse, and his dam, a golden palomino, Trigger had stamina, beauty, intelligence, and a remarkably gentle disposition.

On July 3, 1965, at the Rogers ranch in Hidden Valley, California, Trigger, 33, succumbed to old age. Reluctant to "put him in the ground," Rogers had the horse mounted in a rearing position by Bishoff's Taxidermy of California.

Trigger, in full regalia - bridle, saddle, and martingale - is presently on exhibit at the Roy Rogers - Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri, the repository for the Rogers memorabilia.

As I delved further into famous horses I came across a listing of hoses from the Civil War and those that rode them.

Belle Boyd - Fleeter - was ridden by this famous Confederate spy.
Capt. W I. Rasin.- Beauregard - who survived until 1883, was ridden to Appomattox by Rasin.
Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart - Virginia - credited with having prevented the capture of by jumping an enormous ditch. In addition to the mare, Stuart frequently rode Highfly.
"Mother" Bickerdyke - Old Whitey - the usual mount of Bickerdyke, who was among the most famous of female nurses.
Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant - Cincinnati - presented to Grant in 1864 and immediately identified as his favorite horse. When Colonel Grant rode into Springfield, Illinois, in 1861, he was astride a white horse named Methuselah. Grant first rode into battle on the back of Rondy and during the war also used Fox, Jack, Jeff Davis, and Kangaroo.
Col. John McArthur - Boomerang - named for his tendency to move backward, was owned by this Col. of the Twelfth Illinois Regiment.

You hear the names of those that went into battle but seldom hear of those that carried them.


Fran Jurga said...

This is a great post! I just linked to it; I wrote a post about the fact that yesterday was the anniversary of the Little Big Horn battle and wrote a little blurb about Comanche, speculating on his whereabouts. Then I found your post, so I linked to it. This is from my #2 blog, which is for vets and farriers about hoof problems and lameness issues in horses. I hope you'll see some new and interesting visitors finding their way to your excellent blog!
Fran Jurga

T.A. Paxton said...

Wow. I didn't know all those were stuffed. And some I'd never even heard of. I did know most of Roy Rogers Trigger, Buttermilk & I think Bullet (the dog!) were.
One more: Misty of Chincoteague is stuffed and a few years ago was viewable on chincoteague. She still had real living descendants too. She may not be a war horse but she sure boosted the tourist industry on the island!

Anonymous said...

Romance was ridden after he recovered. The young daughter of the post commandant, I think it was. The degree he would no longer he ridden was to keep the children from quarrelling...