Horses were a significant part of life in the United States Army in the early part of the twentieth century. Hubs located near forts, called remount stations, were stocked with fresh horses, allowing an officer to exchange a travel-weary mount for a fresh ride.
In 1921, a ten-year-old chestnut-colored gelding that came to be known as “Whiskey” was sent to Fort Snelling with a group of outlaw horses from a remount station near Fort Reno, Oklahoma. He was scheduled to be quartered with the Third Infantry. However, Whiskey was rebellious and wild—a vicious horse immediately labeled a renegade. His erratic disposition made him a poor fit for a life of discipline in the Army.
At nearly the same time, Lt. William Hazelrigg began a five-year station at the fort. An experienced rider, he saw something special in the horse no one wanted and chose Whiskey to be his personal mount. The lieutenant soon realized the horse’s incredible intelligence and began training him. In little time, horse and rider were mainstays on the local polo and exhibition circuits.
The horse was named Whiskey because of the way he moved. His back legs were longer than his front, and that unique physical trait caused an awkward gait. Whiskey walked like he’d been drinking. However, he was not limited by his differences. Whiskey was a fantastic jumper—award-winning. In a short time, he had won more blue ribbons and prizes than any other horse in the US Army.
Hazelrigg and horse clicked in a way no one expected.
Horse and rider were inseparable, and Whiskey was willing to do anything Hazelrigg asked. During exhibitions, he jumped a hurdle of flame six feet high, did a running jump over a team of mules, walked down the steps of the mess hall at Fort Snelling, jumped over a table on which eight people were eating without disturbing them, and more.
Whiskey dipped his head and bowed at the end of each exhibition of his incredible skill while the crowd applauded and cheered.
In April 1926, the US Army sent Lt. Hazelrigg and his family to the Philippines to serve for two years. The lieutenant asked to take Whiskey with him, but Army officials denied the request. Quarantine regulations meant that if the horse were to go to the Philippines, he wouldn’t be able to return to the United States.
Hazelrigg left for Manila, and Whiskey remained at Fort Snelling.
The prevailing belief was that the horse would only respond to Hazelrigg as its trainer, so its “career” as an exhibition circuit headliner would likely end. However, this wasn’t the case. While Whiskey initially sulked after Hazelrigg left the country, he eventually partnered with a new rider, Mrs. Walter O’Brien. She was the wife of a captain at Fort Snelling.
After a short break, the horse returned to performing.
In December 1927, it was reported that Lt. Hazelrigg would soon return to the United States. The prevailing belief was that horse and rider would be reunited. The lieutenant had left the country believing that, per Army regulations, he could buy Whiskey for $160 when he returned. However, those regulations changed while Hazelrigg was away, and he could no longer purchase him.
The Army deemed Whiskey too valuable to be sold.
Hazelrigg visited Whiskey at Fort Snelling in October 1928. The two performed a series of tricks in front of a teary-eyed audience. Horse and trainer were separated a second time.
Captain O’Brien received orders to transfer to Honolulu. HI, in August 1929. Mrs. O’Brien would travel along with her husband. Once again, Whiskey was separated from someone close to him. Captain Raymond T. Seymour became Whiskey’s primary rider.
Hazelrigg, now a captain in the US Army, was never entirely out of Whiskey’s life. Over the years, his travels would occasionally find him back at Fort Snelling — if only for a short visit. As soon as he was able, he’d seek out Whiskey to say hello. No matter the length of time apart, the horse always perked up when he heard his first trainer’s low whistle.
The two old friends never forgot each other.
On August 10, 1936, at the age of twenty-five, Whiskey was retired to the fort’s old cavalry stables. The Army, recognizing the horse’s positive impact on soldier morale, ordered that Whiskey remained at the post. He enjoyed his days frolicking in the fields and playing with the other horses and mules.
Over the next seven years, Whiskey performed a handful of times, but for the most part, he enjoyed his retirement.
Hazelrigg, now a colonel, and Whiskey saw each other one final time in September 1943. The extended absence between the two old friends didn’t dampen their affections for each other. Whiskey nuzzled his former trainer, and the two had what Hazelrigg later described as a “confidential talk.”
It was their final visit together.
On December 30, 1943, at the age of thirty-two, Whiskey passed away. At 11:30 AM on New Year’s Day, he was buried with full military honors near the pasture he grazed in for many years. The death of the award-winning horse marked the end of an era in which horse riding was still a significant part of the US Army.
However, this was not the end of Whiskey’s story.
In the 1960s, when Highway 55 was built in the area, Whiskey’s grave was moved to a spot near the Bishop Whipple Federal Building on the fort grounds. This was not the last time that Whiskey had to be moved.
The Hiawatha light rail line was being built in the area in 2002, and Whiskey’s burial grounds were within yards of the line. Progress once again necessitated moving the remains of Whiskey the horse. On June 14, 2002, with onlookers and descendants of his former trainer in attendance, Whiskey was reburied near the picnic grounds of Fort Snelling.
His gravestone, surrounded by a white picket fence, reads:
“Whiskey, a great horse; a stout heart.”
The horse that no one wanted had become the horse no one could forget.
- Meier, Peg. "Fort Snelling's Famous Horse to be Reburied." Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 29, 2002, B3.
- The Minneapolis Journal. "Famed Horse to Rejoin Master." December 18, 1927, 19.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Q&A on the News." August 13, 2003, A2.
- The Minneapolis Star. "Whiskey, Famous Snelling Horse, Has Reunion With Old Trainer." September 6, 1943, 13.
- Paulu, Nancy. "Whiskey -- a horse to remember." The Minneapolis Star, December 11, 1973, 31.
- Slovak, Marilyn L. "Smartest Horse in the U.S. Army: Whiskey of Fort Snelling." Minnesota History 61, no. 8 (Winter 2009), 336 - 345.
- "Whiskey of Fort Snelling." Globetrotting. Last modified October 31, 2018. https://www.globetrotting.com.au/whiskey-of-fort-snelling/.
- "Whiskey the Military Horse." Boat Shoes And Button Downs. Last modified August 11, 2014. https://prepwithtwist.blogspot.com/2014/08/whiskey-military-horse-on-bluff.html.