The Common Denominator (Part I)

Copyright by Charles C. Craver

Arabian Horse World March 1984

(used by permission of CC Craver)

A study of the purebred classes at the 1983 U.S.Nationals reveals that Arabians with Davenport imports in their pedigrees received 211 — or 83% — of 255 Championships, Reserves and Top Tens. Every purebred class had a winner who traced to a Davenport import somewhere in its pedigree. These statistics are in spite of waves of recent imports, and in spite of the small number (27) of Arabians imported by Davenport in 1906. The Davenport Arabians are truly a common denominator in the pedigrees of American Arabians today.

Anyone studying Arabian breeding in America quickly becomes familiar with the term, “Davenport Arabian.” This term is applied to 24 horses registered by the Arabian Horse Registry as imported from Arabia to this country in 1906 by a man named Homer Davenport. According to long-standing usage, the term is also extended to horses tracing exclusively to these desert imports. These bloodlines are present in approximately 90% of American pedigrees; a presence so nearly universal that the Davenport Arabians could well be called the common denominator of American breeding. On the average, they contribute a little over 12% of the total genetic material when they are present in a pedigree, an amount equivalent to one great-grandparent. That is certainly enough to make a difference in the kind of animal produced.

The number of Davenport horses has never been great. Since 1906, only about 700 of them have been registered, of which perhaps 350 are living horses. Most Arabian horse people have never seen a living Davenport horse and have to form their opinions of them from what others have written — frequently from an equal state of knowledge — and from photographs which were taken at a time when most photographs were unsatisfactory by present standards.

The Davenport presence in pedigrees is undeniable. Additionally, these horses have been maintained as a breeding group in their own right, tracing to no other bloodlines. Those presently alive are one of the two oldest breeding groups of Arabians to have been maintained anywhere without outcrossing from founding stock. They have maintained a continuity of type with their imported ancestors while still meeting the needs of modern American horsemen. Maybe that is a sign that the “old-fashioned” Arabian that came from the desert is not out-of-date after all.

Homer Davenport (1867-1912) was the foremost political cartoonist at the turn of the century. He was a part of the journalistic movement which worked to correct some of the abuses of power by corrupt machine politicians and the robber-baron type of capitalism. As a boy, he had become fascinated with the idea of Arabian horses, but apparently never saw any until 1893, when the Hamidie Society importation of Arabians came to this country for the Chicago World’s Fair. After the Fair, these horses were sold at public auction in settlement of debt, most of them going to Peter Bradley of Hingham, MA. In 1898, Davenport called on Mr. Bradley and began his career as an Arabian horse owner by the purchase of one of the Hamidie Society horses, Koubishan. (1) As time passed, other Arabians were added to his stable, including the balance of the Hamidie society horses, imports from England, and, of course, individuals from the famous desert importation of 1906. His collection of Arabian horses constituted one of the major breeding establishments in America of his time, and even by today’s standards would be considered to be very significant because of its size and the quality of bloodlines represented in it.

The 1904 U.S. Presidential election was a contest between the Republican incumbent, Theodore Roosevelt, and Judge Alton B. Parker of New York. Previously, Davenport had supported the Democratic party with his cartooning, but before this election he had a personal meeting with the President. Perhaps the two men talked Arabian horses a bit because the President was already familiar with the breed, having ridden some of Randolph Huntington’s horses in 1904. (2) Davenport decided to change the political orientation of his cartoons to support Roosevelt. His great contribution to this end was a cartoon showing the figure of Uncle Sam standing behind Roosevelt with his hand upon Roosevelt’s shoulder and saying, “He’s good enough for me.” This was said to be one of the most effective campaign cartoons in cartooning history. (In fact, according to a member of the Davenport family, the attempt was even made in the election of a later candidate having the Roosevelt name to use the cartoon with a different head substituted for that of Theodore Roosevelt — a bit of plagiarism which was stopped by court action.)

No doubt Roosevelt would have been elected without Davenport’s help, but perhaps the recollection of it favorably disposed the President towards Homer Davenport and projects he might have. Favors beget favors.

Shortly after the re-election, Davenport contacted the President requesting help in importing Arabian horses directly from Arabia. At that time, Arabia was a part of the Ottoman Empire, which prohibited the export of Arabian mares as a matter of policy. Stallions could be exported, but not mares. A special dispensation form the Ottoman Sultan called an “Irade” was therefore necessary in order for mares to be obtained for export to this country. Of course, without mares, no major importation of Arabian horses could be complete.

Roosevelt responded to Davenport’s request for help with a strong letter of support for his project and by action through diplomatic channels resulting in the necessary relaxation of export prohibitions by the Ottoman government. The President’s interest in the project proved to be a continuing one. He facilated the shipment to America of the horses obtained and some years later, in 1908, he personally inspected them at Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y. He may even have had some influence in seeing that these horses were bred to each other during their initial years in this country. According to Albert Harris, who knew Davenport personally, there was an understanding between Roosevelt, Davenport, and Peter Bradley, that any horses secured would

“not be disposed of but would be kept intact for the Government, as the President wanted the United States Government to establish a cavalry stud and wanted the Arab horses for that purpose.”

Within a few days of receiving word that the Ottoman goverment had made an exception in his case by issuing an Imperial “Irade,” Homer Davenport was on board “La Louraine” and on his way to Arabia. He was joined in the expedition by two young New Yorkers, Jack Thompson and Charles Arthur Moore, who were along just for fun. Major financial support for the expedition was furnished by Peter Bradley, with whom Davenport appears to have had a partnership of some sort. Davenport planned to raise additional money for the trip by selling articles about it to the Woman’s Home Companion.

A few words about Homer Davenport and Peter Bradley as people are in order. At the time of his trip to Arabia, Davenport was 39 years old. He had been raised in Silverton, Oregon, and like many people of his time, he was more or less self-educated. This was especially obvious in his cartooning, which did not represent “finished” work in an academic sense, but was carried out in considerable detail and was very effective in communicating his intent to his audience. He cultivated a westerner’s informality and was apt to be spoken of as “Homer” rather than “Mr. Davenport.” From his writing, it is obvious that he had a volatile, artistic temperament combined with a cartoonist’s gift for seeing the humor in a situation. Contemporaries spoke of him as a very good “talker,” and he was a successful public lecturer. He had a taste for the exotic in animals, extending from Arabian horses to various kinds of dogs, Sicilian donkeys, angora goats, Persian sheep and a collection of exotic fowl. (4) He was an effective organizer of enterprises, as the success of his expedition to Arabia and his contribution to the establishment of the Arabian Horse Club of America were to prove. He had many friends, but his gift for companionship did not extend to maintaining personal domestic bliss forever. Some time after the importation adventure, his marriage ended in divorce which appears to have caused the circulation of a number of untrue statements about him. Perhaps here, too, he was ahead of his time.

Peter Bradley, who started Davenport with Arabian horses, was an industralist from the Boston area about whom we know little personally. He had an extensive horse operation involving several breeds of horses at Hingham Stock Farm. Among these horses were a number of the Hamidie Society Arabians, which he used for breeding purposes and for polo. When Davenport became interested in Arabians, Bradley’s Hamidie horses were transferred to him in a continuing partnership which was also used to finance the trip to the desert and other horse-related activities. Eventually it became a corporation with Bradley and Davenport as controlling officers. Generally speaking, Peter Bradley was the sort of person who chose to stay in the background of events. It was Davenport’s role to make the public presentations for their joint venture.

Davenport’s trip to Arabia, begun in July of 1906, is described in detail in his own book, My Quest of the Arabian Horse, still one of the best books on buying horses directly from the Bedouins. Davenport, Thompson and Moore arrived in Constantinople, where the Irade was confirmed by the Sultan who also warned that it was too hot in Arabia at that season of the year for an expedition and advised waiting for cooler weather. Nevertheless, the Davenport party went on to the town of Aleppo, which, Davenport comments, was made of stone and mud, was hot, and smelled. Aleppo was an ancient city, noted as a point of entry to the lands of the desert tribes of Arbia, and was sufficiently important to American affairs to have a U.S. consulate.

Once in Aleppo, Davenport was at a loss — he had no idea how to proceed further. His main knowledge of buying Arabian horses in the desert was from Lady Anne Blunt’s books, and there was nothing in these to tell a buyer what to do after getting to Aleppo. Davenport did know from Lady Blunt’s books, however, that he needed to contact the Anazeh tribe, which she described as the source of the best Arabian horses. In a bazaar, he chanced upon two Bedouins who said they were from a sub-tribe of the Anazeh (the Fid’an) which was located about ten hours’ ride from Aleppo. One of them offered to take Davenport to the house of a man named Akmet Haffez, the representative (wakhil) of the Bedouins of the desert to the Ottoman government in Aleppo.

Davenport accepted the invitation immediately and shortly found himself on the outskirts of Aleppo in the large and richly furnished reception room of a two-story mud and brick horse. Here he met Akmet Haffez, an obviously distinguished Bedouin sheikh who had lived away from his tribal people for thirty years, serving his tribe as the intermediary between it and the Ottoman government. Akmet Haffez had already heard of the newly arrrived traveler with the letter of endorsement from “the one Great Sheikh of all the Americ tribes” (5) (none other than Theodore Roosevelt) and the extraordinary Irade of the Sultan authorizing the export of mares from Arabia. He was extremely touched that, having these, Davenport had called on him before calling on the primary government official of the area, Nazim Pasha, the Governor of Aleppo and Syria.

You have called on me,” Akmet Heffez told Davenport, “before calling on the Governor of Aleppo and Syria. No such honor was ever paid to a Bedouin before, and if I should live to be one hundred years old, my smallest slave would honor me more for this visit.”

To Davenport’s amazement, Akmet Haffez expressed a great desire for a continuing friendship, volunteered to personally conduct his horse-buying expedition directly to the Bedouin tribes, and presented to him the noted war mare, *Wadduda 30. In addition, a young grey stallion was given to Davenport’s travelling companion, Jack Thompson. The gift horses and the offer to guide the expedition were accepted without hesitation. With that business out of the way, Akmet Haffez took Davenport to make the call on the Governor, Nazim Pasha, which should have been made in the first place.

The Governor was very cordial in spite of the breach of protocol which had made such an impression of Akmet Haffez. He offered Davenport a guard of twelve soldiers. this was declined on the grounds that there was no need for a guard when Akmet Haffez was present, a point which enhanced Davenport’s position in the eyes of Akmet Haffez. The governor also presented to Davenport the stallion *Haleb 25 as a gift. This horse, according to Davenport, had been sought after by the Italian government. It had come into the possession of Nazim Pasha as a presentation horse from the combined Bedouin tribes of the area. Later, the Governor’s son presented an additional stallion, *Gomusa 31, to Davenport. *Gomusa had been a gift horse from the Gomusa clan of the Saba-Anazeh. Perhaps the generosity of the governor and his son towards Davenport had something to do with the Sultan’s Irade, which could well have been taken as an expression of the Sultan’s intent that the Davenport mission be treated well by Turkish officialdom. One of the noted Arabian travelers of the era, Gertrude Bell, had visited with Nazim Pasha in 1904, only two years before Davenport’s expedition, and she had observed that the Governor’s position was of insecure tenure and that the Governor was very anxious to retain it. (7)

With diplomatic protocol taken care of, Davenport and his two friends set out for the desert under the auspices of Akmet Heffez. Although they had come equipped with arms, these were left behind except for a rifle which was taken along to be used as a gift. (There was also at least one pistol left to their party.) Although Arabia was known as a wild and lawless place, Davenport and his two friends had truly placed themselves in the hands of Akmet Heffez, whom they had just met.

From what has been written of him, is should be obvious that Homer Davenport was not an ordinary kind of fellow. It took an unusual person to develop the idea of going directly to Arabia for Arabian horses at a time when that country was a remote and notoriously dangerous place for the novice traveler. And, it took a person with some kind of unprecedented combination of nerve, luck, intuition, and charm to place himself and his two companions in a situation of complete dependency on a person they had never met before and of whom they really knew almost nothing. The Bedouins who were to be visited were considered to be near-savages, the townspeople, liars and cheats; and all of these were known to have a religious bias against non-Moslems. In addition, the Davenport party was carrying a substantial amount of actual gold currency. Even assuming Akmet Haffez’ good intent, as Davenport did, it was perhaps a geater matter to assume that he could guarantee safety in desert conditions to such an easy and worthwhile prize. The law, the police force, and the army of the Ottoman Sultan did not reach into desert areas to protect the traveler.

The question has to be asked as to why Akmet Haffez chose to bother with Homer Davenport. Several answers suggest themselves. The Bedouins were a people to whom personal honor and prestige were of controlling importance in life. At that time, the Bedouins were a subject people, controlled in major things by the administrative apparatus of the Ottoman Empire. They were governed by Ottoman officials who were almost entirely Turks or Europeans from the Caucasus or the Balkans. they were not even permitted to use their own Arabic language in offical matters. The Bedouins were deeply resentful of their position of inferiority and this resentment, in fact, played an important part in the overthrow of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, an event which was put in motion not long after Davenport’s trip. Akmet Heffez, furthermore, as the illiterate representative of an essentially “uncivilized” tribal culture, was no doubt very aware of being constantly looked down upon by the Ottoman ruling group, represented by the Governor. Akmet Haffez was overwhelmed by the honor Davenport had paid him by calling on him before the Governor, especially since the honor was more than a matter of strictly personal prestige.

The manner in which Davenport contacted Akmet Haffez was of equal importance. Among the Bedouin Arabs, the tradition of hospitality was considered a sacred obligation. Even bitter enemies who gained access to a tent or house could claim a period of complete sanctuary in which they were treated as honored guests. The way in which Davenport approached Akmet Haffez’ reception area and then placed himself at the complete disposal of the old Bedouin was in effect the same thing as if he had approached a Bedouin tent in the desert, taken hold of a tent pole, and claimed hospitality.

In addition, there was some professional advantage for Akmet Haffez in helping Davenport. Akmet Haffez was known as the “diplomat” of the desert tribes, their representative to the Ottoman government, and he served them well. Davenport comments that

“he has the absolute respect from all the Bedouin tribes from the Ruala in the west to the Shammar in the far east, as he has brought the price of their camels up from $20 to $45 apiece within the last few years. In times of war, hardships and drought, it is this distinguished old gentleman that borrows money to heal their wants. On the other hand, he has pleaded with the Sultan’s troops not to collect the camel tax by force, but to allow the Bedouins of the various tribes to pay their camel tax on their own estimate.” (8)

The sultan intended Davenport to succeed in the export of horses, and by contributing to the achievement of this intention, Akmet Haffez reflected credit upon himself as a diplomat and upon the tribes he represented. Putting it another way, if Davenport, who had come to Arabia under the auspices of the President, had returned to America having had a bad experience, how pleased would the Sultan have been? Abdul Hamid II, the Sultan, was famous for keeping track of little details, and he would have known if Davenport’s trip had gone badly. Davenport’s book about the importation shows a picture of Akmet Haffez wearing a medal from the Sultan, which Davenport said was taken in 1908, two years after his expedition. Perhaps Akmet Haffez’ help to Davenort might have had something to do with that medal.

Perhaps the most important reason for the unqualified character of Akmet Haffez’ help to Davenport was simply that the two men liked each other. In Davenport’s book on the importation, in his catalogs of imported horses, and in his testimony at the Durland hearing, the very great personal respect which he had for Akmet Haffez is evident. Akmet Haffez’ own regard for Davenport was apparent when he suggested that they go through the blood-brother ceremony, which they did. This may seem a little like a college initiation rite in our society, but in Arabia, 1906, it was a serious mater imposing obligations upon both parties. Many years after the Davenport trip, Carl Raswan writes of being mistaken for Davenport’s son by the son of Akmet Haffez, whom he met at the same house in Aleppo where Davenport had met the father. Even at that distance in time, the family remembrance of Davenport was of intense affection. Raswan writes:

Whence cometh thou?” the big fellow questioned without any form of introduction and with scant courtesy. I reached into my breast pocket and drew from it the letter of recommendation, much crumpled and stained, and with it, inadvertently, a photographic reproduction of Homer Davenport’s well-known drawing, “Haleb’s Farewell to the Desert.” The picture shows Sheykh Achmed Hafiz and his Bedouin friends witnessing the departure of that celebrated Arab stallion, Haleb, which the Turkish governor of Syria had given Davenport as a present. My tall friend grabbed both letter and picture from my hand and fingered them clumsily. Suddenly he discovered on the photograph familiar faces and figures. A thunderbolt could not have produced greater consternation in the tranquil courtyard than did the giant’s frantic exclamations at this sudden recognition. His surprise was comical. Stuttering with emotion, he tried to communicate not only to me, but to all and surdry, the startling fact that he had discovered his father in the picure. He behaved like a lunatic. He flung his arms about and danced round like a howling dervish…When peace was at last restored, I found myself in the arms of my new friend. Like the protecting wings of the Cherubim, the loose sleeves of his herder’s cloak flapped round me, as he hugged me to his chest and kissed me on both cheeks.

“Thou are Davenport’s son?” he cried, but it was more a statement than a question. I tried to explain, but in vain! He insisted that I must be Davenprt’s son, and would hear nothing to the contrary.

Gradually the man grew calmer and mutual understanding became possible. Ali was his name — Ali ibn Achmed Haffez! And he was the eldest son of the sheyk ….

With Akmet Haffez as guide and sponsor, Davenport made a trip into the Arabian desert, lasting only about thirteen days. The trip was certainly not sufficient to qualify Homer Davenport as one of the notable travelers on the Arabian peninsular, but he had come not to travel, but to obtain Arabian breeding stock at its point of origin. Other desert travelors, such as the Blunts, had been in Arabia during the late winter and early spring, when the weather was cold or mild and the pasture was lush. The Bedouin tribes were scattered at such times, and it was difficult for the traveler to see horses without spending a geat deal of time going between encampments. Davenport, on the other hand, made his trip in the late summer and early fall, when the temperature was very hot and the desert country relatively barren. At the time of his trip, the primary horse-breeding tribes were within a relatively short ride of Aleppo. Thus, with little travel he was able to see many horses and to make contact with the same tribes and even with the same families of Bedouin breeders who had previously furnished Arabian horses to other well-known western importers, including Abbas Pasha, Ali Pasha Sherif, Upton, and the Blunts. The family of Hashem Bey Ibn Mheyd — former owner of *Wadduda — was even proud that in years past it had furnished the Darley Arabian to England.(10)

Among westerners who have exported Arabians from Arabia, Davenport had a special advantage in that he had previously owned Arabian horses, obtaining his first Arabian from Peter Bradley in 1898. Furthermore, the horses with which he was the most familiar were Hamidie Society imports from Arabia. Like birds, Arabian horses have phases of expression, according to their bloodlines and how they are raised. Desertbred horses and bloodlines of close derivation from the desert often tend to be different than horses which have been raised and shaped by the essentially European standards of western society. Davenport’s best knowledge of the Arabian horse was in its desertbred phase, and he was not hampered by pre-conceived notions about Arabian horses which were not apt to be fulfilled in desert conditions.

The greatest problem in importing Arabian horses directly from Arabia to the West has been to obtain horses which are the real thing. the Middle East is notorious for having many horses of various sorts, most of them for sale. Only a few of these were what the Sherif horse-breeding tribes of the desert would consider to be purebred and fit for their stern life of intertribal warfare. Western buyers, of course, did not want a horse for that purpose at all, but experience has proven that the successful importations of Arabian breeding stock to the West have been of horses which the Sherif Bedouin tribes valued for their own purposes. Importations such as those of Abbas Pasha (which set the tone for subsequent Egyptian breeding), the better horses of the Blunts (from which the best of Crabbet breeding derives), and more recently, the 1931 Zietarski-Raswan importation to Poland for Prince Sanguszko (which redirected modern Polish breeding) are among the most influential importations in our stud books, and they are notable in the authenticity of the horses which they procured. That kind of quality has never been easily obtained.



(1) Huot, Leland and Powers, Alfred: Homer Davenport of Silverton, West Shore Press, Bingen, Washington, 1973, p. 141.

(2) Russell, Walter to Helen MacLachlan, Curator, Theodore Roosevelt Association, January 17, 1962.

(3) Harris, A.W.: The Blood of the Arab, The Arabian Horse Club of America, Chicago, 1941, p. 114.

(4) Davis, Robert H.: “Davenport and His Farm,” in the Woman’s Home Companion, November, 1906.

(5) Davenport, Homer: My Quest of the Arab Horse, B.W. Dodge & Co., New York, 1909, pp. 80-81.

(6) Ibid., p. 81.

(7) Bell, Gertrude: The Desert and The Sown, William Heinemann, London, 1907.

(8) Davenport, Homer: “Davenport Desert Arabian Stud,” catalog privately published, 1909-1910, p. 16.

(9) Raswan, Carl: Black Tents of Arabia, Creative Age Press, New York, 1947, pp. 149-150.

(10) Raswan, Carl: The Raswan Index, I-Tex Publishing Co., Inc., Ames, Iowa, 1969, entry #10829.