Who can you trust when movie producers masquerade fiction as truth? I recently remembered having read a story somewhere about US soldiers who had rebelled against orders to “dispose” of their horses as the US army became mechanized, driving them instead North towards Canada.
For the life of me I could not remember where I had read this, but I found the subject intriguing as well as disturbing, being a horseman myself, so I started searching the Internet. I eventually stumbled upon references to a movie made for TV by HBO back in 1995, In Pursuit of Honor, which I was able to order from Amazon.
The movie stars Craig Sheffer as a young lieutenant in the 12th Cavalry Regiment who buckles at orders from the War Department to have 500 remounts (extra horses) “disposed of” (i.e. machined-gunned in a pit somewhere in Mexico) as a cost-saving measure as the army is being mechanized. After witnessing the massacre of the first 100 horses, the young lieutenant decides to save the remaining 400 or so. Enlisting the help of three old-time sergeants, including the lead played by Don Johnson, he embarks on a 2000-mile journey North to eventually lead the surviving horses across the Canadian border, all the while being pursued by a mechanized and mounted force trying to stop them.
The movie starts with a claim that it is “based upon a true story”. It does open on a true event with actual footage of a 1932 rally held in Washington by World War I veterans claiming overdue war bonuses, an event known as the “Bonus March”[i]. But contrary to what viewers are thus led to believe, pretty much everything else is pure fiction from that point on, although it took me some additional research to find that out.
The evidence is actually scarce, but I did find a very enlightening post published in 2008 on Military History Online[ii]. Written by Bob Seals, a retired Army Special Forces Officer, this piece contains multiple references to back up its claims that this movie is entirely fictitious, aside from the opening sequence about the “Bonus March”, and the fact that the U.S. Cavalry did turn in their sabers in 1934.
However, Seals contends that the historical evidence supporting the main events portrayed in this movie consists of: “one, the total lack of any documenting records from numerous organizations; two, the regulations, policies and procedures dealing with public animals, to include horses and mules, strictly regulating use; three, the intrinsic value of horses at the time; and finally, the Army Officers code of conduct itself. Weighed in their entirety it seems rather obvious that such a disgraceful episode did not take place.”
Seals also notes that he found no orders or facts in the U.S. Army Center of Military Records regarding “a 1934 incident involving the Chief of Staff ordering cavalry remounts being destroyed or a herd driven from Mexico to Canada in order to prevent their destruction.” He also indicates that the 12th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have no record of such an incident ever having taken place.
Seals further adds that “The Quartermaster Corps Army Regulations[iii] of the prewar era were very specific about the inspection, registration, branding, disposition, destruction and sale of any public animal, to include horses or mules. Registration cards had to be maintained for each animal, with the original sent to an animal register maintained by the Quartermaster General. Officers had to witness the destruction or sale of animals and certify the same with appropriate reports filed.”[iv]
An earlier post published in 2002 by Pat Holscher on the Society of the Military Horse website further indicates that the US Army was not in the process of dismounting its cavalry in the period covered by this film. “The Army actually continued to operate a Remount service, and acquire mounts, well into World War II, and it continued to train cavalrymen at least up in to 1944,” says Holscher. “Horse cavalry is typically regarded as having been dismounted in 1943, but the actual paper end came after WWII, not before.”[v]
Holscher further adds that the army never did machine-gun surplus mounts: “When the end finally came, the Remount operations were turned over to the Department of Agriculture, and horses transferred accordingly, many into private hands.”
I recommend reading this post in its entirety for it contains additional and very interesting information regarding events portrayed in this movie, such as the concept of a mounted race across a western unpopulated wilderness in the 1930’s.
As Holscher notes, “nothing in this film is factual, but the appealing visual quality it possesses continues to draw new viewers” – which is why I am publishing this post in the hope that it will help some of them sift truth from fiction…
Henri Thibodeau Henri’s Web Space
Update, August 28, 2016
For some reason which escapes me, this article I posted almost 3 years ago and which was among my earliest posts remains among the most popular on Henri’s Web Space. It has generated numerous comments, not all of which were fit to publish, but no one so far has been able to provide me with any credible evidence that the events portrayed in this movie did actually take place – however, doubts linger, and I am still in pursuit of truth… If you are aware of any verifiable evidence that these events did actually take place, please let me know and I will update this article accordingly.
In the meantime, I guess we should all beware of anything that comes out of the Hollywood movie factories. More and more evidence is surfacing indicating that the CIA and other branches of the U.S. Federal apparatus, such as the U.S. Army, play an important role in “massaging the messages” indented for public consumption.
In her book The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television, author Tricia Jenkins offers a full-scale investigation of the relationship between the Agency and the film and television industries. We can read on Amazon that “her research reveals the significant influence that the CIA now wields in Hollywood and raises important and troubling questions about the ethics and legality of a government agency using popular media to manipulate its public image.” – HT
[iv] As quoted by Seals: Army Regulations 30-455 and 880-5. As per the Quartermaster Corps Museum both regulations, with few changes, were in effect throughout the 1930’s.