Black Jack, the Caparisoned horse and Caissons – MEMORIAL DAY.


Even though I want us all to have a great and fun Memorial Day, I still wish to honor our fallen soldiers and their families (via the equine).


When I wrote about Comanche (linked here), there was a line about him being one of only two horses that were buried with full military honors.  This piqued my interest.  Who was the other horse?

Black Jack.


Well, he was probably in our time, depending upon the age of the readers here.  But most of you at least will have seen a photo of JFK’s funeral procession.  In those photos, you always see that marvelous riderless black horse who carried a saddle with boots turned backwards in the stirrups.  This magnificent horse was Black Jack.

Black Jack is the horse following the caisson


The origins of Black Jack seem to be a bit muddled.  They know when he was foaled, January 19th, 1947.  But, they don’t really know his breeding.  Most agree he was probably a mix of Morgan and Quarterhorse.

He was purchased by the US  Army Quartermaster on November 22, 1953.   Black Jack had the honor of being the last of the Quartermaster–issue horses branded with the Army’s U.S. brand (on the left shoulder) and his Army serial number 2V56 (on the left side of his neck).


I asked the same thing.

The Caparisoned horse is the riderless horse who follows the caissons (6 horses pulling the cart which carries the casket of the fallen soldier).  The caparisoned horse represents the soldier who will no longer ride in the brigade.  The caparisoned horse wears the cavalry saddle, the sword and backwards boots in the stirrups, symbolizing the end of his tenure.  If you watch any footage of military funerals, you will see this horse.

Black Jack – with his famous white star

After Black Jack retired, “Sgt.York” carried on this tradition. However, there is a huge time gap between when Black Jack retired and when York came into service.  I couldn’t find which horse was used in the interim.

“Sergeant York” was formerly known as “Allaboard Jules”, a racing standardbred gelding. He was renamed (in honor of famous WWI soldier Alvin C. York) when he was accepted into the military in 1997. He served as the riderless horse in President Reagan’s funeral procession, walking behind the caisson bearing Reagan’s flag-draped casket.

He was foaled in 1991, sired by Royce and out of the mare Amtrak Collins sired by Computer. He is a descendant of the great racing stallions Albatross, Tar Heel and Adios.

Sergeant York in Ronald Reagan’s funeral procession


Well, this is very interesting… Black Jack became the caparisoned horse because he refused to do anything else.  He was not suitable for riding, he wouldn’t pull anything and he refused to parade.  Exasperated, they sent him off to do a funeral procession as the caparisoned horse (riderless horse in the procession).  The only thing Black Jack had going for him at this point was his beauty and the fact that he was black (which is the desired color of  a caparisoned horse).  In his first stint as a caparisoned horse, Black Jack failed again.  He was awfully mannered and failed to behave.   Black Jack absolutely refused to flat walk.  He pranced and danced and threw his head.  He was described as “uncontrollable”.

BLACK JACK sort-of standing still…

The Army made a full apology to the family involved but the family responded that the fire in that horse equaled the fire in the loved one they were burying.  To them, Black Jack was a symbol of the life that had been.

So, his job was secured.  From that day forward, Black Jack , with his famous white star, walked in over 1000 funeral processions and worked for 24 years.


Black Jack got his name, basically, because he was Black.  The reference to Black Jack was for General John J. (Black Jack) Perishing, Supreme Commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I who was called “Blackjack.”  Somewhere I read about Black Jack’s original name but I cannot find it.  Aargh.  I was something silly like Tippy or something.  I’m kinda glad that they changed it.

Handsome photo


As is standard in the military, officers change jobs every 18 months.  So, Black Jack had a new handler every 18 months.  This was somewhat of an issue because Black Jack was not an easy horse to care for, as you could imagine.  Pete Duda was one of Black Jack’s favorites, and the pair walked together in more than 200 funerals. Duda was reluctant to ride Black Jack, but he was completely dedicated to the horse’s care. He wouldn’t let anyone else near him or his equipment.

Always messing with his handler…

Another bit of trivia… Black Jack was always a hot horse, and he didn’t mellow with age. He was fine when he was walking, though he often pranced beside his walker, but when the procession halted he kicked and circled, displaying his impatience. While he eventually got used to the typical noises of a funeral, he never was able to deal with the cannon salute.  I don’t really blame him on the cannon salute part…

“The media coverage of Kennedy’s funeral brought hordes of school children to Fort Myer after their teachers realized that Black Jack was a national treasure. At first they came in small groups, but eventually hundreds of children visited the barns so they could see the horses and pet Black Jack. He seemed to love the children. Visitors often asked for one of Black Jack’s horseshoes as souvenirs.”

Nancy Schado, a nice woman who lived in the area, began visiting Black Jack – and the other horses in the regiment – fairly regularly.  She baked special goodies for the men and the horses.  Upon one visit, she brought butter pecan cake for everyone.  And, to her surprise, Black Jack went crazy for it.  So, she never brought anything else for Black Jack and was dubbed, “Black Jack’s Mother”.

An early photo of Black Jack


This was written so nicely, I cut and pasted it.

Even though Duda was Black Jack’s favorite, it was Arthur Carlson who would lead Black Jack in Kennedy’s funeral.

On Sunday, Nov. 24, he led Black Jack behind the caisson on the three-mile walk through the cemetery, over the Memorial Bridge, and through the city to Pennsylvania Avenue. The only trouble the unit had was pausing every so often for Black Jack to catch up. When the group reached the Treasury Building, the right rear wheel of the caisson became stuck in a gutter grate. The wheel was so stuck that the caisson dragged the grate a number of yards, which unnerved all the horses, including Black Jack.

When the unit finally arrived at the White House, Black Jack was nervous and wouldn’t stand still. He danced and fidgeted all the way to the Capitol. Because of protocol, Arthur wasn’t able to speak to the horse. After escorting Kennedy’s coffin to the Capitol Building, the caisson unit returned to the stables for the night.

On Monday, they headed back to the Capitol Building to escort Kennedy’s casket again. Black Jack was wild during the procession to the White House, and Arthur was afraid he was going to lose hold of him. At one point, Black Jack stomped down on Arthur’s toe so hard he was sure it was broken, but he couldn’t even bend down to rub it, or show any emotion at all due to the television cameras and witnesses.

Despite his antics, the media carried his image all over the world, and the beauty of his role in Kennedy’s funeral, as well as his display of spirit, touched the American people. Jacqueline Kennedy herself was one of many who became admirers of Black Jack.

On Nov. 27, Jacqueline informed the Secretary of the Army that she wanted to buy Black Jack when he was retired. Her request was acknowledged, and she later received Black Jack’s caparison, which included his saddle, bridle, saddle blanket, sword, boots and spurs.


Black Jack being bad during JFK’s funeral. His handler could not reprimand him or use any voice cues during the event.


Black Jack was the first choice in monumental funerals.  Even though he was horribly misbehaved and always a challenge, he was everyone’s first request.  Along with the over 1000 funerals he attended at Arlington, Black Jack had the honor of marched in the funerals of presidents Herbert Hoover and Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as that of General Douglas MacArthur.


As Black Jack grew older, the years of marching on blacktop evolved into arthritis and issues with his front feet.  So, Black Jack was retired on June 1, 1973 at the age of 27.

24 years of service


I found it interesting that Richard Nixon wrote this about Black Jack on the horse’s 29th birthday:

“Black Jack has been a poignant symbol of our nation’s grief on many occasions over the years. Citizens in mourning felt dignity and purpose conveyed, a simpler yet deeper tribute to the memory of those heroic ‘riders’ who have given so much for our nation. Our people are grateful to Black Jack for helping us bear the burden of sorrow during difficult times.”


Black Jack’s health deteriorated badly in his final year. His arthritis worsened and his kidneys and liver began to fail.

Because Black Jack held a prominent position in the Army, the veterinarian, Capt. John Burns, had to go up the chain of command to the Department of the Army to receive official permission for Black Jack’s euthanasia.
He died after 29 years of military service on Feb. 6, 1976, and was laid to rest at Fort Myer. He was buried with full military honors, only the second horse in U.S. history to receive such an honor.

Upon his death, Black Jack was cremated.  Tne ashes were placed in an urn, then conveyed by the funeral procession and buried buried near the flag pole at Summerall Field.  A monument was erected that is visited often.

His final resting spot

Black Jack’s monument


I found this book about Black Jack on Amazon.  It has 5 stars so it looks to be a good one!  Here is the link.

Click to see the Book on Amazon


I found it lovely that Breyer memorialized him…

Black Jack Breyer horse

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

Click to help the nursemare foals!


HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

44 comments have been posted...

  1. Carroll

    Another one of the ironies of the JFK assassination and subsequent funeral is that Jacqueline Kennedy’s father – John Bouvier – was often referred to by his nickname – “Blackjack” Bouvier. I can remember the commentators mentioning this on the day of JFK’s funeral when they talked about the spirited riderless horse Blackjack and that little bit of trivia always stayed with me.

  2. Michael D. Hewitt

    I was a member of the Caisson Platoon in the early 1980’s, I had the Honor of meeting Mrs Nancy Schado, who came to the “barn” every year for Black Jack’s Birthday, Black Jack had a stall in the barn that was dedicated to him, we cleaned it everyday, just like all the rest of the stalls. I have a photo of Mrs Nancy Schado and the Caisson members from that time. Mr Michael Schado, I offer my sorrow at the loss of your Mother, she was a wonderful Lady, and I enjoyed speaking with her. She brought carrot cake for Black Jacks birthday, we all enjoyed it. If any member of the Caisson Platoon from that time frame would like to contact me, my name is Michael Hewitt (I broke my femur) and my contact information is “”. (rodger, bruce, art, kevin, moose, rizzo)

  3. dawndi Post author

    Thank you so much for your service and for replying. Please review the other comments and see if any of your friends have replied as well.

  4. Arthur E Kreidler

    I served in the Caisson from 1973 to 1976. Black jack then was semi retired and lived a good life. We seldom rode him . I remember a soldier name of Ott was his walker then. Proud pair
    We groomed and cared for him. He was stalled across from Chrissy and Beja he loved apples and carrots and human company.

  5. Pingback: Black Jack – the Riderless Black Horse at JFK’s Funeral | EQUINE Ink

  6. Col. Kenneth R. Crace

    I would love to get in touch with Mr. Carlson to get a signature of his and frame it with a picture of himself with “Blackjack”. It’s one of the things I remember of the funeral…I had just turned 5 on the 7th and it seared into my memories. Enjoyed your site and thanks, Kenny Crace

  7. JustEm

    I was at a western riding competition this weekend, and had to come back to this post. At one point in the day, events were paused, and a riderless horse was led through the arena in honor of a fallen police officer. The blending of cultures was quite beautiful: The horse was a paint, it wore full western tack, and carried a pair of cowboy boots turned backward in the stirrups.
    I don’t think anything could have spoken to that crowd more powerfully. Isn’t it interesting… the things that resonate with us?

  8. Tom Chapman

    I had the honor to be in the cassion platoon from 1975-1977, I was the one that walked Black Jack to his last birthday party. I was also a casket bearer at his funeral..

  9. George W Roysden Jr

    I was at the Caisson when Pete Duda was there. In fact he was The best man at my wedding in 1960.When Pete left the army I started leading Blackjack Until I Re-enlisted in 1961 and left Fort Myer. He was a handful at times but loved all the attention that he got.

  10. Cam

    I know one of black jacks handlers
    The mans name is stanly auzenne
    That picture that says always messing
    With his handler that is Stanley
    I have the original picture I also have another original picture that has never
    Been published great article love it

  11. Robin

    I’ve read about Black Jack and enjoyed and appreciated your article. I’ve also read about Sgt. Reckless, the Koren War Marine hero. I thought she was also buried with full military honors at Camp Pendleton, CA.

  12. Angie Stevens

    Yes horses absolutely have charisma. I totally loved this story. I wish more Americans could appreciate the importance of the horse to our history and the relationships they have had over the years with their humans. Thanks for posting this.

  13. michael schado

    My Mother, Nancy Schado, passed away Sunday 23d of Sep 2012. She was considered by some to be Blackjacks Mom. She had birthday parties for him and loved all the members of the Cassion Platoon for over twenty years. When she passed I know that Blackjack came for her and they rode away to heaven. My family will be going to Arlington to spread her ashes around Blackjacks memorial as was her wish. As to her making birthday cakes for him when I came home from Vietnam in 69 Nancy, my Mom, was making a butter pecan cake. I helped her and thought it was for me for coming home, wrong, it was for Blackjacks birthday party. I have Blackjacks horse shoes spanning many years, his blanket and bridle he had on when he died and some of his tail. My family will be presenting this to the Army when we visit Arlington. Nancy was an Arlington Lady for many years and attended thousands of funerals. She and the other Arlington Ladies made sure that no soldier was buried alone. Mother considered all soldiers as her children. Sure will miss her but she sure is happy in heaven with her beloved Blackjack. God Bless the USA!

  14. Ginger

    Having seen pictures of Raven, the riderless horse from President Eisenhower’s funeral, I suspect the picture you have under “Retirement” is of him rather than Black Jack. Raven also had a white star on the forehead, but he had a small white “sock” above his left rear hoof.

    Thank you for your informative article.

  15. Harold Hoskins

    I’m proud to say that I have personally talked with Arthgur A. Carlson and have several autographs from him written in the book” Black Jack “.
    What a great book, great horse, and great soilder Mr. Carlson.

  16. tiffany

    Never been much of a history buff but this story brought me to tears. Thanks for sharing and on this memorial day 2012 I want to thank the servicemen and women for their service and sacrifice for the citizens of this great country. Black Jack is a stern reminder that freedom isn’t free.

  17. Jim Goodson

    I have been fortunate to visit Fort Myers and see Black Jack’s grave. If it’s possible for a horse to have charisma, he tops the list.

    He and Ruffian are my favorite horses. There’s just something about Black Jack.

    I’m from Dallas and was 12 years old when JFK was killed in our city. We were (are) ashamed and two things made me break down watching the funeral: when Caroline touched her dad’s casket – and Black Jack.

    I was a young teen-ager taught not to cry. But I did then.


    Would like to talk with Paul Adams and with Andy Carlson … I’m writing a piece on JFK’s funeral for a major national magazine and they would be great helps.

    Christopher Peake
    Saratoga Springs, NY

  19. SFC Carl Hardy

    I remember Black Jack and work on burials at ANC with Co B 3rd US Infantry. He was a beautiful animal and served his nation well. I watched the burial and it was a sad day.

  20. dawndi Post author

    Perhaps you can contact the others below who wrote about the horse first hand… you might compare notes. Wowee!

  21. Robert Grisham

    As a young teenage boy I had a horse named “Black Jack” who my Dad said was named after General Black Jack Pershing. At the time my family and I lived in Elmore City, Oklahoma. I remeber riding Black Jack every day the summer of 1953. I can tell you that he was a hard horse to ride and control. It seemed to me at the time that Black Jack would suddenly decide he wanted to run and there was nothing I could do to rein him in until he decided to stop running. In August, 1953, my parents separated and I was shipped off to live with relatives in Kansas. I later learned that my Black Jack had been sold to the Army. Is it possible that my Black Jack is the same horse described in this blog. Years later I met a former U.S. Army Veterinarian, who at the time lived in Franktown, Colorado, and who after listening to my story about the Black Jack I had owned said it was probably the same horse.
    Robert Grisham
    littleton, Colorado

  22. Phil (Flip) Godfrey

    I served in the Caisson Section in 1975, 76 & 77. Enjoyed the stories about BJ posted here. I had the honor to walk the cap horse for Blackjack’s funeral on February 9, 1976.

    Don Walters – Yes, Raven was a cap horse but was no fun to work with. He always held his head low so we had to literally hold it up for an entire procession. Midnight was the preffered cap horse of the time. Spirited, very black with a white blaze and held his own head up high.

    Paul Adams – I’d like to meet Andy Carlson. I live within driving distance.

  23. Paulette

    Your writings here have inspired my 15 yr old son to do his horse 4H presentation on this horse!!! He is very excited to learn all he can about this horse and his story!! Thank you!!!!!

  24. Paul J. Adams

    I served with Arthur Carlson in the caisson section, now platoon, in 1963. His middle name is Anders and he preferred to be called “Andy”. The only Alabama (Mobile) native I ever met with such an absence of a Southern accent. He took impeccable care of Black Jack. There’s no mention of Andy receiving the Army Commendation Medal for his valiant “walk” with battered feet. “Jack” shared duties with a horse named Shorty. Black Jack was feisty but Shorty was an equine version of a pit bull, especially with his back feet! After President Kennedy’s funeral, and seeing Black Jack’s fan mail pouring in, we knew he was part of military history. When I left the caisson section in 1965, I curried Black Jack’s tail with a clean curry comb, and took the hair with me. Still have it! Andy’s alive and well; dry humor and all. Good soldier, good friend.

  25. Pingback: A True Honor… — The Green Barn, Franklin TN

  26. Pingback: UK leading flag maker, buy flags, flag maker

  27. Don Walters

    Regarding Black Jack’s replacement when he retired, I’ve read somewhere that a horse named Raven succeeded him in the Caisson Platoon of The Old Guard. I haven’t Googled Raven as yet.

  28. Carol O'Connor

    I knew Black Jack. He was the caparisoned horse for my father’s funeral at Arlington in 1969. I knew he had escorted President Kennedy to his burial site.

    After my father’s funeral, on my way to visit his grave, I would occasionally stop by the stable at Ft. Myer and look in on Black Jack. Various people there would give me tidbits and stories on him. He was quite a personality — and he was certainly a legend in his own time.

    I have seen him and talked to him. Black Jack even allowed me on occasion to stroke him. He was magnificent! and fully deserving of his own military funeral when his time came.

  29. Don Herrmann

    I was a member of the Caisson Platoon in 1974 and 75. I recall caring for Black Jack (we called him BJ). He loved kids and while he was hurting with arthritis would always stand proud for them. Mostly he sat with his hindquarters on the rail of his stall in the riding barn. I still have an invitation to BJs birthday party for January 75. Mrs Schado loved him and took good care of us. She personally made BJs birthday carrot cake.

  30. Hatchery

    I’ll never forget watching Blackjack during President Kennedy’s funeral. It was an incredibly sad time for all of us who lived through it. Watching the solemn procession with Blackjack, the riderless horse, is seared in my memory forever. He was a beautiful horse, Blackjack, thank you for honoring President Kennedy. We’ll never forget you.

  31. Janie

    Givin’ away my age here..I remember Black Jack for JFK’s funeral…and the story..thanks for posting.

  32. Nikki

    Thanks for the story. I’m not even sure how I found it, but I’m glad I did. Black Jack was a magnificent horse and so much a part of America’s history. His fiery personality is symbolic of country I think. I remember Black Jack, but I had never seen anything written on his personal history, so this was an emotional and extremely interesting read.

  33. Tracie

    Wow…what a story. I had heard of Black Jack, but didn’t know the whole story. Seems that he was quite a character! I will have to ask my mom if she remembers the horse during JFK’s funeral; as a horse person herself she may well have noticed him. (She was lying in a hospital bed glued to the TV all during the funeral coverage, as I was born the day before JFK was shot)

    The photo of the horse with Ronald Reagan’s REAL boots in the stirrups brought a tear to my eye. I have requested that I have a riderless horse attend my funeral, with my boots backwards in the stirrups. That probably won’t happen, alas, but I at least want a model horse and some of my gear with me. It’s such a huge part of who I am.

  34. fran

    Thanks so much for publishing this, and for the work that went into researching it. I had never seen the photos of his memorial. Great job!

  35. Michael

    This was an excellent story. Most of the work that I have done for many years (and still do) has been “behind the scenes”…even though I can still be seen. But just like the drummer or dj for a band, without Blackjack the show won’t go on.

    Usually in such media related events as the passing of JFK, the immediate family and high officials are more of the focus, but I would have never thought about the horse. So now I learned an extra history lesson and that Blackjack wasn’t just a horse, but a riderless horse called The Caparisoned horse.

    Thank You!!

  36. buckinhard

    totally loved this story !!! I do remember as a child seeing Blackjack !!!!!!!! Love everything you write !!!

Post a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *