Sheridan County Horses Go To War

From 1899 through 1902, the Second Boer War was being fought between the British Empire and the two Boer republics. The discovery of diamond and gold deposits in South Africa may have been the driving force behind the wars, and the Boers wanted the British Empire to have less control.

What would a war over 9,000 miles away have to do with Sheridan, Wyoming? A lot. In the early 1900s, horses were the main transportation for men, wagons and artillery in war. The British Army needed horses, and Wyoming had horses.

Big Horn Wyoming horse breeder Oliver Wallop, along with his neighbors, fellow British imports William and Malcolm Moncreiffe, jumped on the band wagon. They had connections in England, and they had access to horses.

In 1884, at the age of twenty-eight, Oliver Henry Wallop, 8th Earl of Portsmouth, immigrated to the United States. He purchased land near Big Horn, Wyoming and began to raise and train polo ponies. In 1899, he partnered with the Moncreiffe brothers and they expanded the horse business.

Driving the horses, like this drive by the Eaton’s Dude Ranch, was a way to get the horses to the railheads

This small article in the Feb. 1, 1902, Wyoming Industrial Journal from Cheyenne describes the business. The Moncreiffe Brothers of Big Horn. Wyoming, are holding band of 500 unbroken Oregon horses at Bovino, near Grand Junction. The band is being broken by some cowboys and after the and after obsequies are over the stuff will be sent east to fill an army contract with the British government.

Horses were cheap, and an ad in a Sheridan Enterprise paper on July 1, 1902 shows some horse prices during that time. A.B. Clark was promoting an upcoming horse sale. During the week beginning Aug. 4th and ending Aug. 9th. I propose to hold the largest and most successful horse sale ever made in the range country. Prices at Clark’s sale in Miles City earlier in the year ranged from $32.00 to $100.00.

Wallop and the Moncreiffes began buying horses at relatively inexpensive prices, $20 to $40 per head, trained them, and sold them across the pond to the British cavalry for as much as ninety-seven dollars or more per head.

Artillery horses could be sold gentle and halter broke. The cavalry horses had to be broke to ride. But, cowhand’s wages were low, and it was fairly easy to find a ‘bronc stomper’ who would ride for so much per horse. The army horse market made sense and helped many ranchers pay off loans and increase their beef herds.

An article in the Sheridan Post, Nov. 27, 1914, describes the inspection of the horses for sale at the Polo Ranch.

INSPECTING WAR HORSES FOUR HUNDRED PURCHASED AT POLO RANCH. GOVERNMENT STAMP Placed on the animals that pass muster and are bought for service The center of the horse-loving population of Northern Wyoming, the first two days of this week, was the Polo ranch near Big Horn where Messers McNeal and Boze. official horse inspectors and buyers for the British government, were purchasing mounts for the army operating in Europe. Not only were many horse owners and horse sellers present, but several score interested spectators watched proceedings from start to finish.

The Inspection opened early Monday morning, and was completed late Tuesday afternoon. During that time, approximately 400 head of horses were purchased from probably twice and many presented to the Inspectors. The requirements of the British government are strict, and it was the cream of the equine population of the Sheridan country which there involuntarily enlisted for service with the allies The first requirement of the purchase was that the animal be sound in every particular; the second that he be of the correct height, that is. fifteen hands or better, the third, that he be between the ages of five and nine, that is a mature animal but with several years of usefulness before him. The fourth, that he be of a dark color, not easily distinguishable by the enemy, and a good, free, square-gaited traveler. Horses meeting these requirements passed readily. They were led at once to an improvised branding chute where they received the stamp of the British government. Those, which failed to meet the requirements were turned in the opposite direction galloped away with as many manifestations of joy as if they realized what they had escaped.

The horses which were accepted and purchased were shod before being taken away from the Polo ranch, a large force of expert horsemen from Sheridan going to the ranch Wednesday morning for the job no small one, as anyone will realize who has even attempted to fasten on a horseshoe. As soon as ready the horses will be loaded into cars at Sheridan and shipped to Canada where they will be thrown in with other bunches, larger and smaller purchased elsewhere, and prepared for shipment across the water. They will go immediately into the service of the army.

The horses purchased by the inspectors were divided into four classes and the price paid depends upon the class. The order. Determined by the size and build of the animals was: Artillery, light gun. Cavalry and cobs. Purchase in the two latter classes greatly outnumbered the other classes Local horsemen are of the opinion that, should the war continue for any length of time. the requirements of the army buyer will be cut appreciably and that many horses now rejected will then be accepted at prices as good as are now being paid Proceedings at the Polo ranch Monday and Tuesday were relieved of tedium at frequent intervals by the efforts of none-too-well broken horses to disqualify themselves for army services by throwing their riders. Such occasions greatly delighted the spectators and interfered with the business at hand not at all. When the horse was properly subdued, he went the way of his brethren, to be accepted or rejected as the case might be. All horses were suppose to be broken but there were some that barely came within that definition Practically all the horses offered belonged to Moncreiffe Bros., Wallop and Walsh and had been purchased by them or their agents in all parts of Northern Wyoming.

In the Wyoming Industrial Journal, Cheyenne Oct. 1901, there was worry that the horse buying spree might be over.

Britishers Stop Buying Cavalry Horses. Moncrieffe Bros, and other stockmen in northern-Wyoming, who have been furnishing cavalry horses for the British Government, have been notified that until further notice no more horses will be purchased. It is intimated, however, that the work of gathering horses for the English will be resumed shortly. Wyoming has furnished thousands of head of horses that have been sent to South Africa. The animals have given satisfaction in every way.

Hon. N. R. Davis of Cheyenne states that he is not buying horses for the United States cavalry just now. He is deeply interested, however, in establishing horse market here, as such an institution would be of vast benefit to Wyoming horsemen.

Since putting the above in type, we have learned that Lord Kitchener has requested 30,000 additional mounted troops for service in South Africa, to put an end to the Boer war. Mounted soldiers are an absolute necessity and if Lord Kitchener’s request is complied with the British Government will need 30,000 cavalry horses at once. Already the supply of horses has been drawn upon heavily by Tommy Atkins and agents of the English war office will doubtless be sent to this country at once to fill the orders, and horses that will meet the requirements are bound to bring fancy prices.

In 1908, the US Army activated the Remount Service starting at the Fort Reno, Oklahoma, Quartermaster Depot as a “processing and distribution center for military horses and mules”

Horse breeders were engaged in the Remount Service, with the combined the efforts of the Remount Service with the Bureau of Animal Industry, to start a breeding plan for cavalry horses. A 1921 Cavalry Journal had an update from the “American Remount Association” calling for owners of “high-class registered Thoroughbreds” to add their stallions to the program.

Horse were still being used from 1914-1918 in World War I. Wallop and Moncreiffs supplied horses to the British, French, and Italian armies. Horsemen in the United Kingdom found that Wyoming horses possessed exceptional strength, stamina and wind. For three years, during the Second Boer War, they shipped more than twenty thousand horses overseas. Horses purchased within 100 miles of Sheridan were usually trailed overland, and the rest were freighted in by the Burlington railroad.

By 1920, prices had not risen by much. The Lusk Standard February 20, 1920, listed the average prices on horses and cattle. Horses: average was $63, compared with $77 last year. (If the army paid around $100, that was better than the average and much better than the cattle prices at that time) Other Cattle: (this excluded milch cows) Average price per head $62 compared with $61.80 last year.

Fort Robinson

In The Pinedale Roundup, November 18, 1920 this article came out.

Government remount Service for I921 to Be Tripled—Prominent Breeders Volunteer services. Washington.— Such great progress has been made in the United States Army’s new project for encouraging breeding of horses among the farmers the stockmen of the country that plans are now under way to triple the government’s breeding service for 1921. Congress has appropriated $250.000 for the work.

According to an announcement made by MaJ. Gen. P. C. Harris, the adjutant general of the army, there have been bred this season about one thousand mares belonging to civilians and to the government from different sections of the United States. These mares nay generally be divided into two classes: First, a well-bred type of riding animal ranging from1,000 to 1,100 pounds in weight. Second, a rather drafty type of active mare showing a lot of quality with good neck and shoulders, weighing from 1,100 to 1,200 pounds….. From 100 to 150 stallions can be placed to great advantage for next year. For this the army is very anxious to gain the cooperation of farmers and stockmen generally, and to this end will establish governmental breeding centers In such localities as conditions warrant.

In a Casper Weekly Press newspaper, July 1915, and in the Douglas Enterprise, 1917, these ads appeared.

A similar ad appeared in the The Sheridan Enterprise, June 11, 1916

WAR HORSES: A French inspection will be held at the Polo ranch I four miles south of Big Horn, Friday, next, August 11. In Sheridan, Saturday next, August 12. We will pay on approval $145.00 for heavy artillery (aa); $120.00 for light artillery (a); $90.00 for cavalry;

Specifications: aa) 15 hands 2 ½ inches high, weight 1275 pounds and up. a) 15 hands 1 inch high, weight 1100 pounds and up. Ages 5 to 9 years old. Dry mares or geldings any color. Gentle halter broken for the above two classes. Cavalry- 15 hands and up. Dry mares or geldings, no grays. Cavalry horses broken to ride. Bring your horses either to the Polo ranch Friday, August II or to the Burlington stock yards, Sheridan, Saturday August 12. MALCOLM MONCREIFFE & WALLOP

Later, area horse breeders supplied horses to the U.S. Army Remount project, which Congress began funding in 1921. The closest remount depot of any size to Sheridan in 1919 was Fort Robinson, Neb. By 1943 there were 12,000 horses at Fort Robinson, though the herd was gradually reduced.

The number of horses involved in the program remained high even into the final years of the Remount Service. As late as 1945, between 450 and 500 stallions owned by the government and over 11,000 civilian-owned mares produced 7,293 foals. Thoroughbreds predominated in the stallion rolls, although a few Morgans and Arabians were also used. Of the foals born in 1941, 11,028 of the 11,409 reported were Thoroughbreds.

One Thoroughbred used as a remount stallion was the first triple crown winner, Sir Barton in 1919. In 1932, Sir Barton became part of the U.S. Army Remount Service, first at Front Royal, Virginia and later that year, at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Thoroughbred breeder and rancher J.R. Hylton received Sir Barton from the Remount Service and brought him to his ranch outside of Douglas, Wyoming.

Sir Barton died on October 30, 1937 and was buried on Hylton’s ranch near Douglas. Today Sir Barton’s remains rest in Washington Park in Douglas, Wyoming, where a memorial stands today to honor America’s first Triple Crown winner, and remount stallion.

Sir Barton

It is hard to imagine today, with our planes and tanks and mechanization, but at one time a horse was a valuable part of the army. Men depended on their mounts to carry them into battle, and hopefully, bring them back safely. Sheridan horses made a difference on the battlefield.



3 Comments

  1. Interesting article, but needs a lot of editing. Starts with the Boer War, jumps to WWI, then back to Boer War, then to WWI again.

  2. Westerners International, Powder River Corral host an old Cavalry man, Ed Begansky back in 1973 or4. H gave our group a talk about Fort Robinson. He said during WWII the place was turned into a dog training facility because “They had plenty of dog food” Pretty sad. He described the horse breaking procedures that were still going on at the beginning of the war, but the Army discovered mules worked better for hardware transport in the Burma jungles. Horses were to susceptible to the diseases there. So he was moved to Fort Worth and then to the Asian theater. He had a lot of interesting photos. When the war ended the Army gifted the mules to the Chinese. Ed said the GIs thought that was great since the mules were broke and could now work for the Chinese. They were dismayed to see the Chinese just ate the mules instead.

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