Showcases troopers’ uniforms, gear, saddles and arms.
On the outskirts of Tucson’s Trail Dust Town, the Museum of the Horse Soldier captures the heart of the American West. It was the U.S. Cavalry that strove to keep up with the hard-riding Plains Indians in the 19th century, then won renewed glory in director John Ford’s 20th-century cavalry trilogy —Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. The two-level museum houses one of the nation’s finest collections of U.S. Cavalry equipment and artifacts. A tour through its four themed rooms provides a history lesson in the life of the horse soldier.
The collection covers cavalry history from the antebellum era through the last ride of the mounted horse in World War II. The extensive displays hold uniforms, firearms and equine gear, as well as a comprehensive visual montage of the cavalry era. Among the more interesting exhibits is a Rough Rider uniform that belonged to trooper Wallace Batchelder with Troop K of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. According to museum director Dan Bates, it is the only complete “head-to-toe” Rough Rider uniform in existence. Colonel Leonard Wood’s 1st U.S. Volunteers were a regiment of mounted cowboys turned riflemen from Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Indian territories. The Rough Riders are most often associated with Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s legendary charge up Kettle Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. But the Cavalry faced even greater challenges during World War I in the trenches of Europe, where, as one display shows, even the horses wore gas masks.
In all, the Arizona museum contains more than 10,000 cavalry-related items, including a fantastic collection of military saddles and tack. Particularly eye-catching are an 1859 McClellan officer’s saddle and an 1847 Grimsley saddle with pommel holsters for single-shot horse pistols. Also on display is an 1840 Johnson flintlock pistol, the last of its kind issued to U.S. troops.
Several exhibits relate to Fort Buchanan (1856–61), which sat on the bank of Sonoita Creek, just north of the Mexican border. Named for President James Buchanan, the fort was built to protect southern travel routes from Apaches.
The Indian wars period is well represented with artifacts from the Steve Szabo Collection. Amassed over 30 years, the relics originate from more than 30 military camps and forts across Arizona and New Mexico territories. These bullets, belt buckles, buttons and other personal effects are displayed in the museum’s “Forts of the Southwest” wing, which opened in July 2002.
Admission to the Museum of the Horse Soldier [www.horse soldiermuseum.com], at 6541 E. Tanque Verde Road in Tucson, Ariz., is $2 per person (free for infants). Museum hours are 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and at other times by request. School and group tours can be arranged by calling 520- 296-4551. All proceeds benefit historical preservation.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.