On a gorgeous spring day there isn’t much better than moving across country at a gallop following the fast moving voices of fox hounds. As Churchill once said “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” For our family, like many army horse families in Kansas for over a hundred years, weekends revolve around fox hunting. The Fort Leavenworth Hunt (FLH) is the only remaining active military fox hunt in the world. Soldiers began hunting withhounds in eastern Kansas soon after Fort Leavenworthwas established in 1827. The organized hunt at Leavenworth was formally established 1926 and continued to 1941. It shut down during World War II and was restarted in 1964 and today is a certified hunt of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA). Before World War II almost every major post in the army operated its own hunt. Some of the major hunts were the Infantry Hunt (Fort Benning, GA), the Cavalry Hunt (Fort Riley, KS), the Artillery Hunt (Fort Sill, OK), and the 1st Cavalry Divisiion Hunt (Fort Bliss, TX).
Many of the famous officers of World War II were members of the Fort Leavenworth Hunt during their time at the fort as students in the Command and General Staff College in the 1920s and 1930s. General Jonathan Wainright was one of the first Masters of Fox Hounds. General Lucian Truscott was a particularly active member of the staff in the 1930s, and was joined in the hunt by his entire family. Just before World War II, one of the Masters was Colonel Charles Reed who later led the famous raid to save the Lipizzan mares in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war. The hunt staff before World War II was provided by the troopers of the famed 10thCavalry Regiment, “Buffalo Soldiers,” a squadron of whom garrisoned at Fort Leavenworth.
Today, over 80 years since it began, the hunt it continues to combine the strong traditions of military horsemanship and fox hunting on Fort Leavenworthand the surrounding countryside. The hunt includes over 100 active duty, retired military, and civilian families and individual members. The membership includes veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq, Desert Storm and Vietnam. Numerous hunt members are currently deployed, have family deployed, or are preparing to deploy. The hunt is a welcome interaction with nature, animals, and friends, and a great diversion from the pressure of the Army’s operational tempo.
The Hunt meets least twice a week in season from early October until early April using a pack of American Fox Hounds maintained on Fort Leavenworth with the assistance of the Army Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) division. The game in the Fort Leavenworth area includes coyote and red fox and the hunt rarely returns without a viewing and run (seeing the game and giving chase). The purpose of the hunt is not to kill the game, but rather the sport of hunting and the chase. The hunting area is huge and rugged and the game rarely have any trouble eluding the hounds and hunt field. However, if the game is cornered the huntsman calls off the hounds. During the off-season the Hunt sponsors trail rides and horse shows.
The Fort Leavenworth Hunt is a small vestigeof the brown shoe horse powered army of the first half of the twentieth century that is surviving and thriving into the twenty-first century. It is a strong and functioning, not just ceremonial, link between today’s soldiers and their history. Interestingly, as an active MWR activity, it operates completely in the black and consistently returns a small profit to the Army to use to support other MWRactivities. The hunt is a great example of how with a little nurturing, military history and tradition can thrive in the army despite all the pressures on our forces today.