General Pershing’s War Horse- The heroic deeds and sacrifices of many American soldiers who served in World War I have been widely reported on this blog. Men such as Alvin York, Daniel Daly, and Henry Johnson. Interestingly, horses also became heroes during WWI too. One of them was “Kidron,” the war horse ridden by General John J. Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Forces.
Kidron, a striking dark bay horse (pictured in the portrait above) with two white hind socks, captured the imagination of the American people. He was ridden by General Pershing in some of his early military campaigns but became famous during World War I when used mainly as a ceremonial animal.
Kidron was seen by millions of Americans in newsreel films and newspaper photos as General Pershing rode him in the WWI victory parade on the Champs in Paris. Later Kidron was Pershing’s mount during the U.S. military’s triumphal parade through the Victory Arch in New York City and the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Why did Pershing, who served as a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, name his horse Kidron? I’m not sure. In biblical times Kidron was the name of a turbulent brook that flowed between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Perhaps this bible verse explains Pershing’s reason’s for the name of his beloved horse:
Jeremiah 31:40 – “And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, [shall be] holy unto the LORD; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more forever.”
Unfortunately, most of the horses who served on either side of the fighting in WWI didn’t survive the war. Exact figures are hard to come by, but an estimated 8 million horses died during the four years of war. Horses and mules, powerful and agile, served primarily as transportation for infantry soldiers and for hauling men, supplies, ammunition, and artillery. They were killed by artillery fire, injured by poison gas, exposed to extreme weather, and suffered from skin disorders and disease. In short, their lives were brutal. In 1915, the Aberdeen Daily News estimated the war horse’s average life expectancy on the Western Front was a mere 20 days.
According to author Michelle Harper, “Between 1914 and 1918, the United States sent almost one million horses to the European forces, particularly the British. When America entered the war, another 182,000 horses were taken overseas by the American Expeditionary Forces. Only 200 horses returned to the U.S., and 60,000 were killed outright.”
After the war, the American Humane Association established a welfare service called the “American Red Star Relief.” It helped bring home and cared for the U.S. Army’s surviving war horses and mules. On October 15, 1921, a plaque commissioned by the American Red Star was unveiled in the War Department. It reads:
“This tablet commemorates the service and sufferings of the 243,135 mules and horses employed by the American Expeditionary Forces overseas during the Great World War, which terminated November 11, 1918, and which resulted in the death of 68,682 of those animals. What they suffered is beyond words to describe.”
Click on the video below to learn more about the American Humane Association’s Red Star Team.
What became of General Pershing’s horse “Kidron?” He died at the relatively ripe age of 36 in 1942 at the Front Royal Horse Cemetery in Front Royal, Virginia. His skeletal remains are now part of the research collection of the Division of Mammals in the National Museum of Natural History.
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Correction: After this story was published I was contacted by William C. Parke who wrote “Pershing did not ride Kidron in either the NY nor the Washington, DC victory parades. To the disappointment of Pershing, Kidron was in quarantine in Newport News, Virginia, for five months after return from France. Your photo of the horse Gen. Pershing rode in NYC parade is evidently not Kidron. Note that Kidron had distinctive high white hair on his rear legs. (Your painting of Pershing just above the parade one shows the white on Kidron’s back legs.)”
Parke should know. Much to my delight, he is the grandson of the WWI officer who gifted Kidron to General Pershing. Click here to read Parke’s fascinating story of his grandfather’s generous gesture to General Pershing of a horse who became a part of World War I history.