Although he led the country for only 16 months before dying in office, our 12th president, Zachary Taylor, had a reputation as a war hero.
Nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready,” Taylor was known to sit calmly astride his beloved horse, Old Whitey, while bullets whizzed by his head in battle. The horse is prominently featured in several portraits with Taylor.
And Old Whitey? He is revered in horse circles, according to historian Barry Landau, author of The President’s Inauguration — 200 Years of an American Pageant. “When he would hear parade music, he would start prancing and would want to get into the action.”
A Common Sight at the White House
According to several sources, Taylor purchased Old Whitey from Capt. George McCall at Fort Smith, Arkansas.
President Jackson brought Whitey with him to Washington, D.C. in 1849, where the former war horse became a common site grazing on the White House lawn. By that time, Old Whitey really was old (and described as “shaggy”) — so grazing lazily on the lawn was just about his only activity.
Maybe the horse was a little too famous for his own good, though. In the days before the Secret Service, visitors to the president’s mansion frequently pulled a hair or two from the horse’s tail for a souvenir.
President Taylor, 65, died in 1850 of what doctors called “acute indigestion” not long after eating a bowl of cherries. Four days later, Old Whitey marched in a funeral procession, directly behind the wagon carrying Taylor’s casket.
What Happened to Old Whitey After That?
Old Whitey, the presidential horse who loved parade music, died at an old age. That’s what we know. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
Pat Granstra of the website Civil War Primer did some digging around to try to separate fact from fiction about what exactly happened to Old Whitey after the president’s death. She says she found a January 1897 article apparently quoting Taylor’s youngest daughter, who said:
“You ask about Old Whitey; he was a great pet to us all, and was never ridden after my father’s return from Mexico, and when he went to Washington the horse was sent to his plantation. During his term as President there was so much interest and curiosity expressed to see the old charger that he had him brought to Washington, and after my father’s death, he was sent back to the plantation, then the home of my brother Richard, where Whitey lived to a good old age.”
Old Whitey wasn’t the only horse in President Taylor’s stables. The Presidential Pet Museum has discovered details about a pony named Apollo with an interesting back story.