General Ulysses S. Grant’s Arabians

by Ben Hur (Western Horseman May/Jun ’47)

General U. S. Grant of Civil War (U.S. 1861-65) fame and twice elected president of the United States, did not live to know that an Arabian stallion presented to him by Sultan of Turkey became many years later, the earliest Arabian stallion to be registered in the stud book of The Arabian Horse Club of America. It was one of those queer quirks of fate by which this stallion was the sire of one pure Arabian son whose blood will be found in many present day Arabians in this country.

As invariably happens after every war, a hero emerges who captures popular acclaim. As a result, Grant was elected and re-elected president. His fame, in fact, was worldwide. He made a trip to Europe and the Orient. He visited Constantinople as the guest of Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of Turkey, and a great admirer of Grant, in March 1878. The Sultan personally escorted the General through his stables, noted for their many fine Arabian and Oriental horses.

Leopard No. 233, Arabian stallion also presented by the Sultan of Turkey to Gen. U. s. Grant. He was the earliest imported (1879) Arabian registered with The Arabian Horse Club of America. Of the Seglawi-Jedran family, he was 14.3 hands high.

Grant had campaigned through the entire Civil War on horseback and was a superb rider and judge of horses. He expressed great admiration for a young dapple-grey Arabian stallion and the Sultan promptly presented the General with this very fine stallion, foaled in 1873, named Leopard. The Sultan, not to be outdone as a judge of horses thereupon selected another which he, (the Sultan) admired and presented it also to the General. This stallion, also a dapple grey, a year younger, was named Linden Tree.

Historians will recall that Turkey was a major power on the Mediterranean whose authority was accepted as supreme throughout most of Asia Minor and most of the Arabian tribes in and around the Arabian desert. These tribes, ever on the move, often at war with one another and often revolting against the Turks, were a constant source of annoyance to the military authorities of Turkey. The shotgun was passing out as a weapon of warfare among civilized nations and the spear and long lance were passing out as weapons among the Arabian tribes.

There was more than admiration and generosity behind the gift of the two Arabian stallions to General Grant by the Sultan, as can be interpreted by the fact they arrived in the United States aboard the steamer Norman Monarch, at New Haven, Conn., May 31, 1879, which was chartered to bring back to Turkey rifles, cartridges and ammunition from the famous Winchester Arms Company of that city. The Sultan was killing two birds with one stone!

The two stallions were taken by boat to New York, then to Philadelphia, where they were shown at Suffolk Park, then at fairs at Dover, Del., Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Va., Cumberland, W. Va., and Doylestown Pa. They were then delivered to Gen. E. F. Beale at his place near Washington, where they were permanently stabled.

General Grant was too busy, it seems, to give any personal attention to his gift horses and it remained for the renowned horseman of his day, Randolph Huntington of Long Island, New York, to become the champion admirer and mentor for the Grant Arabians. Mr. Huntington was a breeder of harness horses of note and specialized in the Clay family, (close up in Arabian breeding) with a theory that a breed of horses should be developed in the United States adapted to the needs of the country. His observations and theory of arriving at a suitable American-made horse included the use of the blood of the Arabian largely and to accomplish this he advocated and followed the old breeders’ rule of “out-cross once and breed back by three closely related sources.”

Huntington lost no time in sending some of his choice virgin Clay mares to the stables of General Beale in the spring of 1880 to be bred to General Grant’s stallions. His breeding program proved sound over the next few years and he was about to realize his ambition to produce an American-made breed of horses patterned somewhat after the horses of Count Orloff of Russia, which had been proven so valuable that they were taken over by the Russian government and sponsored as a national breed.

Mr. Huntington had spent a lifetime and a fortune developing and proving his theory of horse breeding when his trusted secretary absconded with nearly $100,000. As a result he was compelled to hold a public auction and dispose of the major portion of his life’s work. The fact that these horses brought high prices in part vindicated his theories of breeding, but the American-made breed was dissipated to the four winds.

During this time, after the importation of the Grant Arabians, Mr. Huntington made an intense search and study of what had become of earlier importations of Arabians in this country, especially those presented to Secretary Seward of Lincoln’s cabinet, President James K. Polk, A. Keene Richards and others. He found that within 15 years or less this Arabian blood had been so dissipated that little authentic breeding evidence was available. He thereupon determined to import one or more Arabian mares and begin where A. Keene Richards had been compelled to leave off because of the Civil War. He imported from England in 1888 the Arabian mare, Naomi, whose sire Yataghan and dam, Haidee, had both been brought from the desert in 1875 to England by Major Roger D. Upton. Naomi was bred to Leopard (1889) and foaled the chestnut stallion, Anazeh, at Mr. Huntington’s place at Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1890. This lone pure Arabian son of Leopard was the sire of eight pure Arabian foals, four of which — Naarah, Nazlina, Naaman and Narkeesa — went on to produced and are in many pedigrees today.

The Arabian Horse Club of America was founded in 1908. Other Arabians were registered earlier, but to Randolph Huntington belongs the credit and honor of sponsoring Leopard, for proving him up for registration and for having imported the earliest Arabian mare to find her way into the stud book.

So great was the admiration of Mr. Huntington for General Grant’s Arabians and so certain was he of their historical importance that he commissioned the young artist, H. S. Kittredge, to make drawings of the two stallions during 1880. He had him make pictures of various others of his Henry Clay family of horses. This was before the day of the modern camera and present day methods of reproduction on paper. The pictures made by Mr. Kittredge, while very definite in detail, lack animation and are impersonal, reminding one of the large wooden horses formerly found in every harness shop on which to display their harness and saddles.

Linden Tree No. 234, a stallion presented by Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of Turkey, to Gen. U. S. Grant. Registered as an Arabian of “unknown” family, he was declared by Randolph Huntington and Maj. C. A. Benton “to be a Barb.” He left no registered foals.

Nevertheless, Mr. Huntington was so enthusiastic about the General Grant Arabians and their pictures that he wrote a book entitled General Grant’s Arabian Horses, published in 1885, in which he expounded at length his theories of breeding and pedigrees of his American made horses. One of these rare books is in possession of the writer, inscribed “Presented by the Author, Randolph Huntington.” Under the picture of Leopard in Mr. Huntington’s handwriting is written: “Proved a Seglawi-Jedran.” Under the picture of Linden Tree is written “Proved a pure Barb.” Fortunately for the future of Arabians in the United States, Linden Tree, registered in the Arabian stud book was never bred to a pure Arabian mare in this country.

How Linden Tree could have been a Barb and yet presented by the Sultan to General Grant as a pure Arabian was related to us prior to 1930 by the late Major C. A. Benton, Civil War veteran, who devoted his life to horses related to military action. Major Benton was personally familiar with each and every Arabian in this country in the formative period of the stud book and club. A few years after the Grant importation he was sent on a military mission which took him to Constantinople, among other foreign ports. The Major related to us on several occasions how he sought out the keeper of the Sultan’s stables and questioned him about the Grant stallions. It developed that on the day before the horses were to be loaded on shipboard the stallion selected by the Sultan as a gift to General Grant had sprained a leg and was lame. Rather than report the accident to the Sultan and possibly lose his position, he selected another horse in the stable as near like him as possible. The horse was a Barb. We have, then, from two early authorities that Linden Tree was a Barb. It is significant that in all the early editions of the stud book when family names were given to all registered, the word “Unknown” is given after the word “Family” in Linden Tree’s registration.

It is a singular coincidence that at the time General Grant was in Turkey receiving the gift of the two stallions from the Sultan, the Blunts, Sir Wilfrid and Lady Ann, from England, were making their first journey among the northern Arabian tribes and acquiring their first Arabian horses. Events were transpiring to transplant the breeding of pure Arabian horses on two continents at the same time. Arabian horses had been brought from the desert to England and America for more than a hundred years by way of India, Turkey and Egypt, but almost invariably stallions, always with the thought of crossing them on native stock; in England to make and improve the Thoroughbred, in America to make the Quarter horse, American Saddle-bred and improve the Thoroughbred.

When Grant’s stallions arrived in America the Blunts were on their second journey to the desert, this time by the southern route. They were seeing Arabian horses on these journeys with the eyes of Englishmen trained to Thoroughbreds, but they were being fast won over to the idea of breeding Arabians in their purity.

England already had the Major Upton Arabians. With the Blunt importations, Arabians were now available in England for a real start. In America events for a real start were not so propitious. Randolph Huntington’s imagination and ambition were fired anew when he saw the Grant stallions, but he saw them through the eyes of one trained to Clay fast harness horses. He was so enthused he wrote a book about them and his theories of making a new breed. Lady Anne’s books of their journeys — Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates and Pilgrimage to Nejd, published 1879-80 — came to the attention of Mr. Huntington. He too, became a convert to the idea of breeding pure Arabian horses in America. He imported from England the filly, Naomi, from the original Major Upton desert-bred pair imported to England in 1875 to mate with Leopard.

Thus, English and American-bred pure Arabians had almost the same start at almost the same time. Many other importations from England since have strengthened the tie of almost common, if not identical, parentage of an ever increasing large number of Arabians on both continents.