Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations


On this date in 1914 war raged in Europe. America was not yet directly involved, but the conflict provided an economic opportunity. European imports would fall during the course of the war, which opened the door for American business as Americans had to buy American. The Washburn Leader predicted that American shoppers would continue that habit after the war.

But there was another opportunity. This one was for American farmers and ranchers. The British Army needed horses and mules. Armies at that time ran primarily on real horsepower, and Europe was not able to provide all the horsepower needed.

Horses and mules were crucial in World War I. They carried troops into battle. They pulled artillery and supplies to the front. They pulled the ambulances that evacuated the wounded. Nearly everything pulled or carried was attached to a horse or mule.

British buyers were headquartered in Canada, but Canada did not have enough animals. So, the buyers ventured south to the United States. Being right on the Canadian border, North Dakota was well positioned to welcome them. Most of the more than one million American horses and mules in the war served before the United States officially joined the fight. North Dakota farmers and ranchers could demand high prices from the Europeans.

The desperate buyers did not require animals to be well-trained. Many, in fact were what was called “green broke,” barely trained to lead with a halter. Physical ability was more important. Any sign of illness or physical deformities like swollen knees, breathing problems, or deformed hooves would be enough to disqualify an animal. Since it was apparent early on that cavalry would play a small role in the fighting, most of the animals were to be used as draft animals, so size was important.

American cities had started to shift to motorized vehicles, but farmers still relied largely on real horsepower, so horses remained commonplace. Most of the buyers went to the Great Plains to look for animals, and while there is no breakdown on how many horses and mules came from each state, the need of the European armies had become an unexpected business opportunity for North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Washburn Leader. “Alfalfa Hay for Horses and Mules.” Washburn ND. 12/11/1914. Page 2.

Washburn Leader. “A Golden Opportunity.” Washburn ND. 12/11/1914. Page 1.

United States World War One Centennial Commission. “Horse Heroes.”  Accessed 10/28/2019.

Prairie Public Broadcasting provides quality radio, television, and public media services that educate, involve, and inspire the people of the prairie region.
Related Content