Don’t Spare The Horses

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Although the plan had been to reach Warrenton by eleven o’clock, for some time the badly cut-up condition of the roads made it seem hopeless. Nevertheless, by the time they reached Gainesville, the riding party was gaining confidence that despite the difficult going the trip would be a success. Upon arriving at Buckland, less than ten miles from Warrenton, everyone seemed in fine humor as he changed horses for a third time and started on to Warrenton. As the riders became accustomed to their last relay of horses they kept off the side of the furrowed roads wherever possible, galloping whenever they could. Just as the town clock struck eleven, they entered Warrenton—seven hours and twenty minutes after their departure from the White House.

At this hour almost no one in Washington knew that the President had already ridden more than fifty miles and was now in Warrenton. It had been of little interest to anyone that a party of Navy officers apparently was going out on a day’s jaunt, and relays of horses had been ordered for them from Fort Myer. Later the press was told that the chief executive had gone to Admiral Rixey’s Virginia farm for a day’s riding about the country, giving the President a midweek holiday of fresh air and exercise. There seemed to be no special news in that.

About six miles before the Presidential party reached Warrenton, a merchant in New Baltimore had recognized T. R. and after the riders had passed, had telephoned ahead to announce that the President of the United States was on horseback on his way to Warrenton, where he would have lunch. A group of doubters in Warrenton went to the Warren Green Hotel, where they found several Secret Service men present and learned it was true that the President would have lunch there. Soon the cavalcade, headed by the President, appeared. Despite the cold, gray day a sizable crowd had gathered by the time the distinguished guest reached the old hotel. The grapevine news had spread quickly, and even the public schools had closed in honor of the Presidential visit.

At the Warren Green the President dismounted and made a short address to the assembled crowd of several hundred people, who gave him a rousing cheer. In a few moments Dr. John Wise, a retired Navy physician who was a personal friend of the Roosevelts and who now lived in Warrenton, joined Captain Butt in presenting the citizens of Warrenton to the President. A receiving line was formed just as it would have been at the White House, and Dr. Wise and Captain Butt presented each Warrentonian by name. For each, Mr. Roosevelt had some special words, but the result, unfortunately, was that the President had only about ten minutes in which to eat his lunch, as it was already nearly time to start back to Washington. He hurriedly drank two cups of tea and had some thick soup. Despite the chilly day and the hospitality offered them, no one in the riding party accepted anything in the way of alcoholic drink.

At 12:15 the riders were back in their saddles and soon were on their way, accompanied for a few miles by the master of the Warrenton Hunt and several other local riders. The ride back to Buckland, however, proved more difficult than the trip over the same terrain earlier in the day. Captain Butt was on a particularly fractious animal who “fought the bit the entire way. …” Once when his rider dismounted to check the girth on the President’s saddle, the horse reared and kicked, narrowly missing Dr. Grayson and his mount. The horse continued to rear and plunge, and it was fifteen minutes before the captain managed to get back on again. They did not reach Buckland until 1:35 P.M.

Here they changed to the same troop horses from Fort Myer that they had ridden to Buckland in the morning, but these animals seemed even worse than they had on their way out. Admiral Rixey led all the way back to Cub Run, but it was harder for the others who followed him to keep their horses at any kind of even pace. At Cub Run they changed horses for the next to last time, and the President ordered Captain Butt to set a good pace back to Fairfax. For some time they took advantage of the better stretches of road by galloping as long as possible; when they encountered poor road, they walked. On the whole the four men were somewhat exhilarated by their relatively good going and the knowledge that they were about halfway on their return journey to Washington. But just before Centreville the predicted storm struck, and a blizzard of blinding sleet descended from the north. As gale winds whipped and ice lacerated their faces the riders urged their horses at as fast a gait as possible, for it began to look doubtful that with darkness falling and increasingly heavy sleet they would be able to reach Washington.

When they arrived at Fairfax Court House, it was 5:10 P.M. Word by now was about that the President was on a hundred-mile ride, and despite the weather a small crowd had gathered to cheer him on. Here the riders remounted the horses that had begun the ride. Roswell, the President’s trusted mount, was in good condition, and it was just as well, because from Centreville on, ice had begun to cake on Mr. Roosevelt’s glasses so that he could hardly see where he was going. The President had expected to be back at the White House by seven o’clock, but now there was no such possibility, for twenty miles remained and the going was extremely bad.