Morgan Horses of the Wild West


As emigrants trekked westward in the 19th century, the frontier advanced with them. Vermonters initially emigrated to northern New York, thence to Ohio. by the 1850’s, they could be found in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin in large numbers. In the U.S. Census of 1850 Vermont had the highest number of its native- born population living outside their native state (41%)

To provide transport for their wagons and goods, Vermonters took their Morgan horses with them. Ohio agricultural journals mention Morgan horses frequently in the 1850’s. Two Morgan stallions, Black Hawk and Hale’s Green Mountain 42, were shown at Midwestern state fairs in the early 1850’s. Both attracted much attention and were widely admired.

In what was then the west (but is now the Midwest), Morgans were used to pull stagecoaches, for light farm work, and as buggy horses. The high demand for them created high prices. Some Vermonters became concerned about the possible depletion of their breeding stock. One writer warned Vermont farmers not to be tempted to sell all their best stock as they needed to retain some to be able to continue to supply the market. The high prices were difficult for many Vermonters to resist as their children needed tuition for school or mortgages needed to be paid.

In the 1850’s Morgans could be found throughout Ohio and Michigan and as far west as Wisconsin. They were so popular that many less-than-honest folks were claiming Morgan ancestors for horses that had no Morgan blood in their ancestry. Complaints appeared in the press about the problem to no avail.

At the start of the Civil War the Second and Third Michigan Cavalry were mounted on Morgan horses. Union General Philip Sheridan’s famous mount Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi) was presented to him by Captain Archie Campbell of the Second Michigan Cavalry.

As the Western Frontier continued to expand, the Morgan horse influence continued to spread also. As ranches were established, they proved to be reliable and enduring mounts. Richard Sellman of Texas established his ranch at this time. by the early 20th century he had the largest herd of Morgans in America. He registered over 300 mares and a few stallions, but most of the colts were simply gelded and used as ranch horses.

During the Gold Rush days of 1848 a herd of 125 Morgans was taken west to California. Most survived the trip and were sold for high prices upon arrival. Other Morgans arrived in California as well with the stallions often commanding high stud fees. St. Clair sired over 600 offspring while standing at stud in Sacramento in the mid-19th century.

In the 1880’s Morgan horses were used as part of a government program to educate Native Americans about modern agricultural practices. The program was short lived. Morgans were again used about 1920 to 1940 to upgrade Native American horse herds and provide their schools with experienced breeding purebred horses.

Morgan stallions were used in the Remount program of the army to produce quality cavalry horses. Remount stallion services were available to farmers and ranchers for a nominal fee. The $25.00 fee was waived if the breeders contracted with the government to have the offspring available for consideration as a cavalry mount. A colt resulting from the breeding was inspected at three years old for soundness and conformation. If the young horse was accepted by the army, the breeder received $150.00 for the purchase price. If the breeder chose to retain the fillies, the fee was again waived. Other conditions under which the fee was waived included foals that were injured or born with deformities.

Morgan were used in the U.S. Part Service by park rangers as mounts and for packing. One horse, Red Cloud, was said to have averaged 800 miles a year according to former ranger T.W.Daniels. One year he went 1,200 miles and on some fire calls he went 55 miles without a stop, often after dark. Daniels stated that “The horse never missed putting his feet in the trail and a bad windfalls he knew the detour without a misstep, although it was pitch dark to me….At the end of these trips he never showed any leg weariness.”


“[I have lived in Chicago since 1839] during which time I have been largely engaged in the business of staging — which business affords constant employment for about fifteen hundred horses — and have thus had opportunity for observing and testing the capacity and endurance of horses. I have no hesitation in saying, I consider Morgan horses far superior to any other breed or blood I have ever known for the road or farm.”

“In fact, I would prefer them over all others for any kind of service … They are invariably good feeders, are easily kept, and will not only perform and endure more service in a year, but more years of service, than any other breed of horses I have ever known … a Morgan horse, from New England, will outlast two horses raised in the West.”

-M.O. Walker, Chicago, letter dated April 14, 1856

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