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The cavalry is forever linked to North Dakota history. The most famous cavalry unit to serve in North Dakota was the Seventh Cavalry. Although cavalrymen only earned $12 a month, they considered it a prestigious assignment. When we think of the cavalry on the frontier, we often think of battles with Native Americans. But the cavalry spent most of its time policing the lawless frontier, protecting immigrants, and defending rural settlements from criminals.

The Quartermaster Corps was responsible for purchasing and issuing cavalry horses. They looked for horses that were five years old. They sought dark colored horses with few light markings. They believed these horses would be less visible to an enemy.

By World War II the Army had become motorized and the cavalry no longer depended on the horse, but the Army still utilizes a few horses. The Mounted Color Guard at Fort Riley, Kansas recreates the cavalry of the Civil War era and performs at parades as well as community and official events. Horses are also used for funerals at Arlington Cemetery. But the units choose and purchase the horses these days, the Quartermaster is not involved.

Blackjack was the last horse issued by the Army Quartermaster and the last to wear the official U.S. Army brand. Born in 1947, he was named for General John “Blackjack” Pershing. He served at Arlington Cemetery. For military funerals, it is traditional for the procession to include a riderless horse representing the fallen soldier. The horse is saddled, and boots are turned backwards in the stirrups. The horse is led by a soldier. Blackjack took part in hundreds of funerals. Among the most notable were those of Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Douglas MacArthur.

Blackjack was retired in 1973 at the age of 26. He lived a life of horse luxury in retirement, with a comfortable stall and a paddock all his own. When he died on February 6, 1976, he was laid to rest on the parade ground at Fort Myer. His grave is marked by a green hedge and a stone memorial. He is one of only two horses buried with full military honors. The other was Comanche, the lone Seventh Cavalry survivor of Custer’s Last Stand.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Arlington Cemetery. "http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/blackjack.htm" http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/blackjack.htm Accessed 18 December, 2014.

Fort Riley. "http://www.riley.army.mil/AboutUs/CGsMountedColorGuard.aspx" http://www.riley.army.mil/AboutUs/CGsMountedColorGuard.aspx Accessed 18 December, 2014.

KBR Horse Heroes. "http://www.kbrhorse.net/her/cavalry1.html" http://www.kbrhorse.net/her/cavalry1.html Accessed 18 December, 2014.