Horses have captured the imagination and emotion of mankind for centuries – like perhaps no other species of animal. Whether it be because of their beautiful exploits on the race track, their tendency toward stoic heroism on battlefields the world over, or their brave service as guides and carriers to many generations of explorers and pioneers, horses have, for centuries, earned the kind of respect that assures many of them will be memorialized for the ages in ways that will place them even higher on history's pedestal than multitudes of humans. The death of a great horse is often a truly heart rendering event for entire communities (or even nations), and the memorials that result can often be staggeringly ornate. America's famous museum, the Smithsonian Institute maintains careful records of the country's most celebrated horses and the memorials that have arisen around their remains. Here is a brief summary of some of the more intriguing horses in the Smithsonian's records.
The legendary World War I general John J. Pershing appears in multitudes of historic photographs riding victoriously in end of war parades on his legendary horse Kidron who was his faithful companion and guide in countless episodes of combat across Europe during the war. Kidron lived to an unusually old age after his time in Pershing's service and finally died peacefully on a farm in Front Royal, Virginia in 1942. Because of his advanced age, taxidermist were unable to preserve most of Kidron's legendary body, and the horse's caretakers had no choice but to simply allow it to decompose naturally (which, owing to the humid climate of the Virginia coast occurred remarkably fast). The famous horse's skull, however, was able to be preserved and remains intact and in good condition today on display as a permanent memorial to one of the most famous animals in American military history, at the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian's system of museums.
A similar tale can be told of the remains of the legendary Arabian race horse Haleb who made history in 1907 by out running 19 horses from the famously fast Morgan Breed to win that year's prestigious “Justin Morgan Cup.” While Haleb did not live to be as old as Kidron, his remains in 1909 proved difficult to preserve, but his skull and a portion of his skeleton remain on display as a permanent memorial to his great racing feat at the National Museum of Natural History. Two famous horses from the American Civil War enjoy lasting fame as part of memorials devoted to the men they served. The first is Traveler, the faithful combat companion of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. After surviving months of dangerous service to the legendary general, Traveler outlived Lee by more than 2 years before finally passing away of natural causes in 1872. His body was originally buried, remarkably unceremoniously, on a farm near his place of death in rural Kentucky. But some 60 years later – at the request of many who wanted to preserve the history of the Civil War – Traveler was disinterred and his bones moved to a chapel named in honor of Lee at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Lee's own remains are buried near that chapel in his family's crypt, which features many tributes to the general's bravery in battle, and, today, the special horse that was Lee's trusted companion through it all remains eternally nearby.
The other famous Civil War horse was Little Sorrell, the legendary horse of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Little Sorrell spent a good part of his long life in the service to Union soldiers before being captured by the Confederate army in the Battle of Harper's Ferry. Noting his strong physique, Confederate leaders quickly determined that Little Sorrell would be best suited as the personal horse of their legendary General Jackson, and the great horse proved them right on many fields of battle. Like Traveler, Little Sorrell outlived his famous master by a few years and became a visitor attraction in his later years at the Confederate Soldier's Home in Virginia. Despite his very advanced age, taxidermist was able to preserve Little Sorrell's body for several decades until, finally, in the 1950's his body was cremated and his ashes scattered at a famous memorial to General Jackson on the grounds of the Virginia Military Institute. This is just a small list of America's many legendary horses that are permanently memorialized in a huge variety of ways in locations in every state. And this list is only just a beginning to the thousands of special horses whose lives have sufficiently touched humanity in such a way that the animal is deserving of a special, honorable place in history. Memorials to horses abound across America, and mankind will be eternally indebted to these great beings.
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