As the war
against the Axis worsened, drag hunts and polo and other symbols of the past
began to seem grotesque. The hunts still started at eight in the morning
(unless the weather was too cold for the hounds), the riders fully attired in
their pinks, while lines of German prisoners of war passed, marching in
cadence, impressive-looking troops though carrying shovels instead of guns.
disinclination of Congress to appropriate money for horses in a day of
mechanized warfare was understandable. "The horses were washed out,"
says Colonel West, "the cavalry turned into mechanized units, though still
called cavalry. The last horse squadron at Fort Riley was deactivated on Feb.
8, 1945. I was head of the Department of Horsemanship, as my father had been
before me, and I had to decide how many cavalry horses to keep. From many
hundreds I cut down to 141."
An Army directive
put a stop to all overseas horse shows after 1949. Colonel Wofford formed a
civilian United States Equestrian Team to which Army horses were shipped. Among
these was Democrat, a brown horse with a white blaze which General Wing rode in
the Olympic Prix-des-Nations in 1948 and which William Steinkraus showed
successfully thereafter. And in 1950 when President Harry Truman signed the
Army Reorganization Bill, the U.S. Army, for the first time in its history, had
no horse cavalry.
In a curious
reversal of feeling, popular interest in the cavalry began to flourish as soon
as it ceased to exist. There is now a brisk business in collecting spurs and
sabers, GI bridles and halters, officers' metal scabbards. The saddles cut up
at Fort Riley at the end of the war would be worth thousands. A Patton straight
saber, modeled on the one he introduced into the cavalry, sells for $75 to
demonstration of changed feeling was the increasing number of visitors
appearing at Fort Riley to take a look at Chief, the last cavalry horse. They
averaged 300 to 400 a week, almost as many as Man o' War attracted in his old
age at a more accessible farm in Kentucky. Chief's lonely eminence came about
as a result of an Army mix-up. After all horses under 16 years at Fort Riley
had been sold, there remained 27 government-owned horses at the post. In 1954,
16 of these were ordered shipped to the Fourth Field Artillery Battalion (Pack)
to be used for official purposes only. They were to include Dakota, ridden in
the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and Milwood, General Jonathan Wainwright's
mount. Dakota was 26 years old. Most of the others were 20 or more. The
following week the order was rescinded. Dakota and Milwood were sold to Dr.
O'Donnell with the stipulation that they would be cared for and fed the rest of
their lives and would not be ridden, worked or jumped. Another batch of horses
was transferred to Colonel Wofford, acting as agent for the United States
Equestrian Team, under a bailment agreement with the government—that is, the
team agreed to feed and care for the horses at no expense to the government,
but the government retained title to them. Since they were too old to be ridden
or trailered the seven miles to the Wofford farm, they were led single file
from the fort.
Left behind at
the post were Gambler, once a substitute on an Olympic team, Joe Louis, brought
in from New Mexico in 1938, and Chief, who was sold to the government by a
professional buyer for $163. He was one of carloads of horses shipped in from
Nebraska. Joe Louis died in 1957, age 24. Gambler succumbed a few years later.
Chief, kept in a special stall and taken out daily to a corral so visitors
could see him, lived to be 36. He was a good-natured horse and was said to have
been a fair jumper, though he never jumped competitively. He died on the
evening of May 24, 1968 with no other distinction than that of having ended the
history of the U.S. horse cavalry.