by Michael Bowling
from Arabian Horse World July 1979
copyright by MICHAEL BOWLING
used by permission of Michael Bowling
first published in the Arabian Horse World July 1979
The story of the Arabian breed in North America is a long and complicated one, and could be approached from any number of perspectives. We are centering on the arrival of the Grant stallions simply because 1979 marks the centennial of their setting foot here—and one of them, *Leopard 233, became the first imported and registered Arabian to leave descent in our studbooks.
*Leopard was by no means the most important stallion ever imported to this part of the world, but he does hold chronological pride of place, and he is not without strategic importance. With the passage of time it is no longer entirely clear just who got whom started in breeding Arabian horses in America, but certainly, just as *Leopard arrived first, Randolph Huntington’s program was the first of the American historical groups to produce horses that bred on into modern pedigrees. It is quite certain that it was *Leopard that started Huntington on his career with purebred Arabians, so any influence Huntington has had, on breeding stock or on ideas of the breed, is owed in fact to *Leopard as first cause. It may well be that, Huntington or no, American Arabian breeding would have had a start in 1893 with the Hamidie Society horses from the Chicago’s World’s Fair—but how do we know that Huntington’s beginnings with the breed did not prepare the way for that group and its barbaric showmanship to make an impression?
In another intriguing sense, which has come clear to me gradually over the course of the pedigree research into *Leopard’s descent, this line of horses is a marker for the “American” breeding groups. Whether they were key individuals of a given line or not, *Leopard’s descendants turn out to have been owned, and bred from, by almost all of the important early-day American breeders—and thus in all but a few of the pedigree-defined “breeding groups” of today, lines to *Leopard will be encountered.
My search for photos of, and references to, the Grant stallions and their get and immediate descendants, has made another indelible impression on me: I now understand, in a way I never had before, that a hundred years ago the horse was a fact of life, a given, so basic and so commonplace to daily existence that next to no notice of it was taken by most people. Witnesses of the time are maddeningly casual in their accounts of the doings and activities of horsemen as related to the horses. Photography was an infant technology and was seldom applied to recording images of horses. A great deal of frustration has been the result, for from a 1979 perspective it seems impossible that horse ownership and the pursuit of a breeding program could be taken so much for granted. (I suppose from the perspective of 1879 the fact that most people today own and drive automobiles and give them little or no thought would seem just as outlandish—and the way things seem headed, our successors of 2079 may find today’s automobile-oriented society just as farfetched.)
At any rate, in the days of the practical horse, history at large is recorded on a basis of horsepower. It seems not to have been thought necessary to record the details of how that power was generated and applied, and the details of individual power units were recorded very seldom. Much of what we do know of the careers of the Grant stallions, we owe to Randolph Huntington’s passion for detail and documentation of horse breeding information. Huntington had a feeling for the existence of a gene pool (a concept no one in 1879 could have defined, but which Huntington understood intuitively) in which individual animals are merely temporary combinations of elements which may be eternal if man allows them to breed on—but which are lost forever without man’s cooperation. Huntington devoted a lifetime to the cause of breeding better horses, and it is most fitting that he be remembered in connection with the centennial of the Arabian in America. An excellent article on his career appeared in the June 1978 issue of this magazine, originating with the Arabian Horse Owner’s Foundation; this is recent enough that is should be pretty widely available, so I will not go into too much detail except as he relates to the Grant stallions.
Our story properly begins with the world tour taken by General Ulysses S. Grant after he served as president of this country. In the late 70’s of the last century it was not a casual project to travel around the world, and the details of the trip would be most instructive. What matters to us in this context is that in March of 1878 the general and his son Jesse arrived in Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
The published accounts of what actually took place on the day the Grants toured the private stables of Sultan Abdul Hamid II are distinctly contradictory. This is the first instance we encounter in the course of our narrative, of the misty insubstantiality of “fact” given the passage of sufficient time. This is especially true in a case like this, where the subject, a tour of a stable of horses, is of interest to specialists today but was scarcely a major event at the time.
In his memoirs published in 1925, Jesse Grant does not make it clear whether the Sultan was even present when the horses were displayed. He presents his father as asked to pick his favorites of the stallions paraded and naming a pair of bays; when asked his second choice, the general indicated a pair of greys. In his narrative Grant is shown as embarrassed on being told that the grey horses were his as a gift from the Sultan.
Thorton Chard, in a 1937 Western Horseman article drawing on Randolph Huntington’s private papers, quotes Grant’s friend and comrade in arms, General G.E. Bryant, as remembering a rather different story told him by Grant himself. Bryant’s version has the general told, by the Sultan speaking through an interpretor, that he was to be given his choice of the stallions, Grant naming *Leopard. Abdul Hamid II then presented *Linden Tree to make a pair.
- 1873 – *Leopard foaled in the desert
- 1874 – *Linden Tree foaled in Abdul Hamid II’s stables, Constantinople
- Before 1878 – *Leopard presented by Jedaan Ibn Mheyd to Turkish governor of Syria
- March 1878 – General U.S.Grant visits stables of Abdul Hamid II and is presented with *Leopard and *Linden Tree.
- May 31, 1879 – Stallions arrive New Haven, Connecticut
- Summer and Fall 1879 – Stallions exhibited at fairs
- Late Fall 1879 – Stallions stabled at Gen. E.F. Beale’s Ash Hill Farm, Washington DC.
- 1889-1883 – Randolph Huntington breeds Clay mares to stallions.
- 1883 – *Leopard registered to J.B.Houston, New York, NY
- *Linden Tree registered to U.S. Grant, Jr., New York, NY
- Stallions shown at New York Horse Show, *Leopard placing first
- 1884 – Stallions again shown at New York Show, *Leopard again first.
- 1888 *Naomi imported by Huntington
- *Linden Tree sold to General L.W. Colby and taken to Beatrice, Nebraska
- 1890 – ANAZEH foaled
- Linden Tree Park founded in Beatrice
- 1893 or 1894 – *Leopard ridden in militia parade by General Colby, probably in or around Diller, Nebraska
An addition to this version of the story has the original “Linden Tree,” chosen by the Sultan, injured before he could be shipped, and replaced without the Sultan’s knowledge with our registered *Linden Tree.
In any event, Chard published a facsimile of a letter from Grant to Huntington documenting that he was given two stallions from the Sultan’s stables, and Huntington himself eventually tracked down their origin in more detail. In his 1885 book on the subject of the Grant horses, Huntington says that “I believed, as will any American, that they must be of the highest possible type. No empire or nation would insult herself by presenting to so great a man, also the one representative man of so great a nation as ours, an inferior gift from its native animal life. General Grant’s Arabs had to be the purest and best.” According to Chard, “breeding the two horses to the same mares produced offspring with such different characteristics that Mr. Huntington was convinced that there was a blood difference, so he began a deliberate search, which after eight years, resulted in information that confirmed him in his convictions and established the facts that Leopard was a purebred Arabian and Linden Tree a purebred Barb.”
*Leopard was a Seglawi Jedran, desertbred by the Anazeh, foaled in 1873 and presented by Jedaan Ibn Mheyd of the Fedaan Anazeh to the Turkish governor of Syria. (Some accounts list Ibn Mheyd as the breeder, but Carol Mulder, with typical caution, makes the distinction that we only know he presented the horse.) This governor then presented the horse to Abdul Hamid II, who in turn gave him to General Grant.
Recall that in the same year of 1878, the Blunts were traveling within the Ottoman Empire, and found that they could not gain access to the best horses of the desert Bedouin while in company with Turkish officials, as the Bedouin feared confiscation of their stock in the name of the Sultan. Presenting that potentate with an inferior specimen would have been a most risky course of action—he owned his subjects’ lives as well as their horses—so we may safely assume that *Leopard was accounted a high-class example of Anazeh breeding.
Other Seglawis of the Fedaan Anazeh figure in modern pedigrees; surely the most distinguished of them is the great ZOBEYNI, the most important breeding horse in the fabulous collection of Abbas Pasha I (another potentate with an eye, and a yen, for the best and rarest, so his possession of Seglawis from the Fedaan is high recommendation). The Blunts’ desertbred KARS, a high-quality individual and the original head sire at the Crabbet Stud, was a Seglawi bred by Jedaan Ibn Mheyd and foaled just a year after *Leopard.
A hundred years ago in the desert, strains were not just name tags—the horses of a tribe were by and large interrelated, and those of the same strain and tribe almost certainly so. *Leopard’s origin is thus in common with that of some of the breed’s most unimpeachable breeding animals. It is most unfortunate that a widely-read 1965 Western Horseman article made a sidelong reference to *Leopard and *Linden Tree and lumped them together as “not, however, purebreds.” In the nature of things, people who would never be tempted to do any pedigree research remember statements like this one, without realizing they have no documentation, and an astonishing number still recall this “fact.” People, it ain’t so!
*Linden Tree was apparently bred by Sultan Abdul Hamid II and foaled in Constantinople in 1874. His Barb ancestors were associated with Abdul Hamid’s family for generations. It seems quite likely—and would support the Bryant version of the presentation story—that the Sultan would like to see a horse of his family’s breeding ranked at least as highly as one he had been given. Thus his singling out of *Linden Tree and sending him along.
These names, incidentally, are purportedly translations of the original Arabic names of the horses, not bestowed by General Grant. *Leopard seems to have been named with reference to his dappling; the origin of the other title has puzzled me since I first heard it.