The Long Riders' Guild

Davenport’s Dog

 by Homer Davenport


In 1906 Homer Davenport journeyed to the Ottoman Empire in search of the best Arabian horses. The American’s search had been sanctioned by President Theodore Roosevelt and authorized by the Turkish Sultan. Davenport’s equestrian journey into the Syrian Desert resulted in an extraordinary cultural encounter. Having been befriended by the Sheiks of several nomadic Arab tribes, Davenport was able to obtain 27 Arab stallions and mares whose heritage was legendary. Upon his return to the United States, Davenport rode Muson (above), a famous Arab stallion. Yet during his search for horses, Davenport recounted how he was “adopted” by a loving local puppy.

As to Dogs; and as to one dog in particular

This chapter is going to be a digression. I am going to let horses go by for the moment and talk about something else. So you have fair warning to skip the chapter and catch up further on. But after all, my present text is “dog”; and if you are truly a horse-lover you must almost always necessarily be a dog-lover. The two things somehow go together.

Besides, although the rather involved story I am about to relate, began in Morris Plains, New Jersey, and was continued in Paris, Constantinople and Aleppo, it ended in the desert and on the way to visit the Sheikh Ali, of which O told in the last chapter. That is my excuse to you for telling it at all.  To myself I do not have to make any excuse of any kind – I just simply have to tell the story.  And here it is for what it is worth:

When I left Morris Plains I wanted to take with me two worthy Airedale terriers that were more or less (rather more) members of the family. Instantly there went up from the human part of the household, a wail that the dogs would be in the way. One of the dogs had been on a trip as far as Oregon, and had never been in the way; but as this wail went up from everybody who was not in the least concerned in the matter, and notwithstanding that the dogs wanted to go, I chucked the plan. I hated to leave them, for a dog’s love in a strange place is comforting, and these two dogs I had known from puppies, and they knew me. But they were left behind and not even allowed to say good-bye to me at the station, and after that, they were forgotten for a time at least.

Davenport first saw Arabian horses in1893 when he attended the Chicago Columbian Exposition.  He later said, “I have dreamed of Arabian horses all my life.” With the diplomatic assistance of President Roosevelt, Davenport obtained permission to travel in the Ottoman Empire and search for Arabian horses. This map (courtesy of Aramco) shows his route.

On the voyage to Havre we met a traveller, an Englishman, of course, who had lived and hunted everywhere, and who insisted at every point in the conver­sation “that on the Euphrates River, one always needed a dog.” That was enough; I am not a hunter, but I was pining for an excuse to get a dog. So, at Paris, the first thing I inquired for was a dog shop which had for sale the right kind of dog. Mile after mile I rode in taximeters and borrowed autos, always hunting dogs, and at the last moment I got on the track of a shop and such a dog as I described;  a dog that would be a companion, a hunter, and above all a friend. But we had little time left in which to buy a dog.

We were actually on the way to catch the Orient express for Constantinople before we got a chance to go to this particular dog shop. A woman ran it; a dark-complexioned woman, with black hair which was exquisitely smooth. She showed the dog; it was a large black-and-tan with a bobtail – a restless sort of cur which she declared was a sheep-dog. Anyway, she called it something in French, which Moore said meant “sheep-dog.” We didn’t believe Moore in the least on principle, but we believed the woman. She was so attractive that we hardly saw the dog, and when she made eyes at us we realized only one thing and that was that she would have made a fortune in a New York dog store – or almost any other kind of a store.

So we bought the dog. We didn’t like him, but we bought him just the same on her guarantee that he would be a charming companion. That seemed enough at the time. On the train he was nervous and wanted to get away from me. He seemed to be everybody’s dog but mine. When we arrived at Constantinople he and I were as distant as ever, and at Beyrout it was the same. Wherever we stopped he recognized that I was in the party, but that he was not mine. He was more of a nuisance than a dog. He did not have anything to recommend him, not even manners. About the only comfort any of us could get out of him was that his sight recalled the lady who sold him to us, and in that way we coaxed our­selves into the belief that we had already got the $25 worth out of him. Long before we arrived at Aleppo I began to show the strain, and at Aleppo, after I had carted him over three thousand miles, I left him in a boarding house, while I went to the desert alone.

As I rode out at the head of the caravan in search of the Anezeh tribe, I realized that for weeks (they would seem years of care and patience with a way­ward dog) I was to be without even him, but comforted myself with the fact that, as we evidently did not understand each other’s language, it was best we parted. I had named him (the only French word I had been able to learn) “Dedong” (Dis donc!), which translated means, “Say!”  You ought to have heard the French­woman say it.

But we had not ridden far into the desert before I missed something. I kept looking down and behind me to see if something were not following me. I could not quite make out at first what it was I missed, but I knew that something was lacking.

The red and yellow soil of the desert seemed to change into green grass and greener trees and I could see the rich New Jersey landscape stretch away before me. I was in the desert and in Morris Plains at the same time. I grew homesick.  Hark! Was that a familiar bark or just the echo of something I wanted to hear? Then I knew that what I missed most was the companionship of a dog. I thought at first, of course, of the Airedales that wanted to make the journey with me and I felt more homesick than ever. I longed even for a sight of “Dedong.”  I was sorry that he had been left behind and that I had ever regarded him with disfavour.

Davenport knew he would need help speaking and negotiating with the Arab sheiks who traditionally never agreed to sell their prized horses to foreigners. In Beirut the American engaged the services of Amin Zaytoun, an interpreter whose skill with languages and knowledge of Arabic culture proved to be of strategic importance.

Even the excitement of the first night in the desert was of little consolation.  We had been received with great ceremony and all that the Anezeh had was ours, but although I had been tremendously impressed, it was not until the second night that I began to feel really at home. On that second night I saw some dogs. Our tents were pitched in a beautiful spot, and as the Bedouins were walking about gossiping of the new arrivals, I noticed how different the dogs were from the mangy curs we had seen in every village and town from Constantinople to Aleppo. While almost wild, they were large and noble-looking fellows, with big heads, and were accustomed to drive flocks and herds. They didn’t roam promis­cuously like the dogs of the town.

I saw at one tent a litter of pups that were big and husky. This dog family con­sisted of the father and mother and four children – three girls and a boy. The boy walked out to see us. I stopped and patted him, whereupon he fell on his back with his heels up, and was immensely pleased.

He looked back at the tent where his family was and wondered if they were as happy as he. He saw in his home a place where only the fittest or the prettiest survived.  His father was a big powerful fellow in his prime, and he would be able to drive the males from a good many litters before one would eventually whip him. The sisters were pretty, and could stay at home, but for this big over­grown puppy there was not much of a future with his father. He was so big for his age that his father snarled at him, and the neighbors ’dogs made him keep out of their tents. The only kindness he got was from his mother. He was well fed, but he was waiting for an opportunity.  He wanted a home of his own.

I stopped again and he came to me and that time we knew each other a little better.  He was still as bashful as most pups who have not shed their first teeth, but as we finally parted, I saw him look at me long and hopefully. He seemed to tell me that he was a boy with a purpose in life, whose father didn’t understand him; that while it was customary for a boy to stay at home and work till he was twenty-one years old, in his case he would have to begin to do something when he was twelve or fourteen, owing to the determined nature and unkindly ways of his parent.

During the equestrian age, high-quality, pure-blooded Arabian horses were considered national treasures by the Ottoman Emperor and were not normally allowed to be sold or taken abroad.

That evening after the Bedouins had gone, a big white baby head shoved its way through the curtain of my tent. The pup was returning my visit in true Bedouin fashion. He did not walk; he crawled with politeness. After a few moments taken up in patting him, we went to the cook’s tent and got better acquainted with the aid of some chicken bones. I left him for the night, but heard him barking at the camels as they came by about midnight. The next morning he was there; his opportunity had come and he had taken it.

He had filled the only vacancy, perhaps, on the great Arabian Desert from Nejd to Aleppo. There was probably not a tent, except mine, that was not care­fully watched by many dogs. His tail was poised in a different way. He had actually grown during the night, and he had the ways of a full-fledged dog, and wouldn‘t let others come around. He watched the saddle, and lying on the saddle blankets, with his big brown eyes wide open, he was thinking how to manage his empire. All day he went from tent to tent, from saddle to horse, as if the weight of the whole caravan was on his shoulders.

He was no longer a bashful puppy. He growled and barked when his father and mother drove a hundred sheep too close to his pre-empted home. He wouldn’t even let his sisters, who were as dainty as girl puppies could be, sniff around the tent.  They were not afraid of him at first, but after he had really bitten them, they retreated from his territory and watched him with their heads tipped to one side. He sat at our tent pegs, and seeing life seriously was brave enough to tackle it. His hour had arrived and he was there with all his four feet – and those feet were the only things that were holding him back. They looked like a compo­site picture of all the babies’ feet in the world. They were heavy and cumber­some, but he had not lost faith in them. It was strange, but you could actually see him grow. We laughed when we saw, an hour afterwards, that his tail was an inch longer, held higher up and showing more independence. The last thing that night he was walking among the stallions and mares with an important air that nearly threw his shoulder-blades out of socket.  During the night I heard him several times; his growl was coarser and he made several tours to see that every­thing was all right.

At six in the morning he came to me, as much as to say: “These donkeys and sheep and camels think that, because they have known me all my life, they can walk right over our tent ropes, but I won’t have it.”

He kept up this attitude, getting more and more confidence in himself, until we were ready to start on our visit to Sheikh Ali. I had wanted to take him along, especially when he was mouthing over my hands with his sharp baby teeth, but his big soft feet and legs looked too young to stand such a march, and I gave up the notion altogether. But the pup had other ideas. We were half a mile or more on our way when Ameene called to me to look in the shadow of my horse, and there almost under my stirrup was the pup, lumbering along. His tail was rolled up more importantly than ever. At last he had a mission. He had seen that we were without a guard, so he had cast his lot with ours. He recognized that we needed protection and he was giving it at the cost of leaving home and a good mother, and a father who was compelled to remain behind by the laws of home, to be what he was. I could not keep my eyes from him, he was so brave. He was now out of sight of the environment that he knew and was going to the big desert. At intervals he sniffed at my stirrup as if traveling was new to him.  He was a pioneer without practice, and he did not propose to get lost. He proposed to stick by me.

Ten spirited war mares and seventeen stallions, including Seglawie Jedran, were brought to the United States, where Davenport established the Desert Arabian Stud in Morris Plains, New Jersey.

I thought of Senator Vest’s remarks when he appeared in court at St. Louis for a tramp whose dog was killed by a neighbor. Vest spoke of one’s children and how, no matter with what tender kindness and care they were reared, they would leave home and parents, often without a farewell.

But there was one friend of man, said the Senator, who never deserted him; a friend who would lick the hand that had no food to offer; a friend who, when death came, when the master had finished his life, when all others had returned from the graveyard, would mourn at the grave itself – his last, his best friend, his dog! I thought of that and then of this puppy, a little fellow offering his devotion for my friendship and at that moment giving me a friendly glance from his eyes. He was like Jefferson C. James, who once ran for Mayor in San Francisco, and who said in a somewhat famous speech: “I seen my duty and I done it.” James was not elected, but that has nothing to do with this pup.

We followed Sheikh Ali and Achmet Hafez across the plains for miles. We saw a rabbit; it was the dog’s first, and he fell over a clod in his initial race. He came back to the shadow of the horse, and there ambled along in a dignified way. Astride the best horse in the desert, and protected by the best puppy in the world, I was much elated. We flushed some francolins, beautiful birds, but he was too important to be a bird dog. He was marching among horses and men and camels. He was the only dog in the caravan and at every mile he seemed to realize the fact more.

He was avoiding the camel thistles as best he could, but while more francolins went up and his attention was on them for a moment he got a nasty burr in his big soft foot. He went on three legs a while and then showed of what stuff he was made. He rolled on his back and deliberately gnawed the burr out with his teeth without a whimper. He had left mother and father for me, and he was to meet emergencies as they came.

He was going out where there was a future, and no such little thing as a thorn, not even a camel thistle, could stop him. I wondered if he would be happier if he knew of the glittering collar I was going to get for him when we reached New York, and how proud I knew my own dogs would be to meet him. With the knowledge he would acquire on a trip to the Anezeh, everything seemed to be before him.

Sheikh Ali had galloped his bay mare a mile ahead to the tents of his own tribe, and the horsemen came galloping to meet us, carrying spears that looked thirty feet long.  It was all excitement and the puppy ran ahead to join it. We saw the Sheikh’s tent, a big tent with lots of men near it. They were killing a lamb and wolf-like dogs were jumping around it. Before I could dismount, or a man come to the rescue with a spear, my volunteer baby guard, my puppy, my boy that was leaving home at ten and going out into the world to make a living, was torn and dead.

He didn’t whine.  He had fought as well as he could with his puppy teeth, the teeth that had scratched my hand in play a few hours before, but they had failed him. He had started out for himself to be as much of a man as a dog can ever be. He had left home that his father might rule alone. But he was gone and it was all over! The opportunity we thought so bright was a blank. The career that had started so well had ended quickly. The first real fight he had ever made was the only one he ever was to make. He died a real hero.

I felt as if I could have destroyed the dogs of the desert for this wanton murder. The affection of this puppy was spontaneous and it was mine. There was no glittering collar on him as he died, but he died as he had traveled -–in the shadow of the horse, before his master’s eyes and without turning tail.

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