Column: Stop horsin' around and read this columnWORTHINGTON — There was a television special on horses lately. Part of it focused on men and horses together in wars, from the steppes of Asia to the Great Plains of North America. Men of all races rode horses into battle — Ghengis Khan, Julius Caesar, George Custer, Crazy Horse.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — There was a television special on horses lately. Part of it focused on men and horses together in wars, from the steppes of Asia to the Great Plains of North America. Men of all races rode horses into battle — Ghengis Khan, Julius Caesar, George Custer, Crazy Horse.
There must be a statue of every American Civil War general, Union and Confederate. Most of these generals are mounted on horses. If horses could talk, I believe they would protest. Few of the horses are identified. It is just Gen. Grant on a horse, Gen. Lee on a horse. Every one of those horses had a name, and every general had special feelings for his horse.
Gen. Lee’s horse was Traveler. Gen. Grant’s favorite horse was Cincinnatis, offspring of Lexington, the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in America. Napoleon had 150 horses in his lifetime. He was partial to Marengo, a gray Arab horse whose skeleton is preserved. Alexander the Great’s horse was Bucephalus. Comanche was the only U.S. horse (or soldier) to survive Gen. Custer’s battle at the Little Big Horn.
I saw the movie “War Horse” last year. War horse was named Joey. The movie begins in 1914, at the onset of World War I. Every nation went into battle with proud cavalry regiments. It soon became clear — horribly clear — that horses could not be brought onto battlefields against machine guns, mortars and artillery shells.
This brought to mind a conversation I once had with George, Iowa’s, longtime dentist Henry DeJong. When would you guess the United States stopped using war horses? 1914? 1918? 1920?
Dr. DeJong, newly enlisted in the U.S. Army, was sent to Fort Mead, S.D., in the winter of 1941-42. He was assigned a horse — he became a cavalryman. “I was small and light so I went into the horse outfit,” DeJong recalled. He remembered some of the new, young soldiers had never been near a horse. They were given saddles, but they were no allowed to use stirrups. When they became proficient with their mounts they charged at a full gallop with pistols drawn — the tactic of Reno and Custer at the Little Big Horn.
DeJong noted, “You know, there hadn’t been a pistol charge in actual combat since 1912. That was the British army in the Sudan; Churchill was one of their officers. And it was a disaster. Still, we mounted horses and practiced cavalry charges. The whole thing was crazy.” The U.S. retired the last of its war horses months later in 1942.
The U.S. was training thousands of men and horses in World War I. Cecil Johnson of Round Lake once told me of the rides he and his brother, Earl, made delivering war horses to Worthington. Each of the boys would ride a pony across the prairie between Round Lake and Worthington with a string of three or four horses tied tail to tail behind them. Their father, Andrew, was “a farmer and a livestock trader — sort of a horse trader. He sold a lot of young horses to the Army during World War I.”
“My brother and I had to deliver them to Bill Hay’s livery barn at Worthington.
“The land was nearly all wild hay prairie. We came in along the northeast side of Ocheda lake. I doubt if there is a road through there any more.
“We would get along fine until we got on the main road a mile south of the Worthington cemetery. Then, once in a while, we would meet a car. Then there was trouble. Those colts had never seen a car so they didn’t like them real well.
“We would put the horses in the stalls at the livery stable and then the Army men would take over. They were shipped out of Worthington by rail. A lot of them went to Saint Paul …’”
Bill Hay’s livery barn was near the site of the emerging Center for Active Living on 11th Street. The barn was a 19th-century frame building stocked with hay bales. One hot summer afternoon in 1940, the barn burned completely in a sensational blaze. Worthington no longer had a rent-a-horse service, nor a place to leave a horse for the night.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.