Davenports: A Unique Breeding Group

copyright 1991 by Carol Lyons
May 1991 Arabian Visions
Used by permission of Carol Lyons
All rights reserved

The term, Davenport Arabian, is used to identify the desert-bred Arabian registered as imported by Homer Davenport in 1906. It also applies to any horse which is totally descended from horses in that importation. Several years ago, a study of a random sample from the current AHR Stud Book indicated that as many as 85% of the foals bred in the United States had one or more lines to Davenport horses. The story of the Davenport importation thus affects most American breeding. In addition to these part-Davenport horses, there are about 700 living Arabians which are “straight Davenport.” In many ways these straight Davenports represent a truly unique breeding group. There is no other breeding group like it, anywhere in the world.

Flourishes CFWebster (1989) defines the word “unique” as” 1. existing as the only one, or the sole example; 2. having no like or equal; 3. impossible to duplicate within a stated or implied scope. The Arabian horses known as “Davenport Arabians” are truly unique, meeting the definitions above on all counts. Historically, no other single importation of desert-breds to any country has descendants which survive into modern times without admixture of blood from other importations made to that country.

Homer Davenport was born in Silverton, Oregon in 1867. At an early age he displayed unusual artistic ability, which was encouraged by his family. He was to develop his talent to the extent that he became the foremost political cartoonist of his era. In 1906, this remarkable talent also helped him to fulfill his dream of importing genuine Arabian horses directly from the desert. Growing up at a time when the horse was, for practical purposes, the only means of transportation, he had early in life developed an interest in Arabian horses. It was not until 1893 that he first saw real Arabian horses. In that year, the Hamidie society of Syria, imported authentic Arabian horses for display at the Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair). Davenport was employed as a cartoonist for the Chicago Herald Newspaper at that time. However, he became so interested in the Arabian horses at the Fair that he spent all his time there, learning what he could about these fascinating creatures. In fact, he spent so much time at the Fair that he lost his job! Talent such as his was not to be denied, and he was shortly thereafter hired by Randolph Hearst. In 1895, he was transferred to the New York Evening Journal, and immediately started trying to locate the remnants of the Hamidie importation which had been sold at auction in 1894. He found most of them in the possession of millionaire industrialist, Peter Bradley of Massachusetts.

By 1906, Davenport had acquired a number of Arabians from both Bradley and others, but he had a dream of personally going to the source. He had read the informative books about the desert travel and Arabian horses in their homeland which had been written by English travelers and Arabian importers. Major R. Upton, Lady Anne and Wilfrid Blunt, and others. He had owned Arabians for eight years. In other words, he had done his homework. He also had the financial assistance from Peter Bradley lined up.

There remained one major problem. At that time, the settled parts of the Arabian peninsula including modern day Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc., and even Egypt were all part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid (after whom the Hamidie Society was named), had placed an embargo on the exportation of Arabian mares from the countries under his rule. Therefore, it was necessary to get an Irade, or export permit, form the Sultan in order to obtain any mares. The prospect of an ordinary American citizen like Davenport being able to obtain an Irade would have been bleak indeed, were it not for the assistance of the President of the United States. Back in 1904, during the Presidential campaign, Davenport had met Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt, and had been so impressed with him that he had changed his own political orientation. Davenport’s 1904 political cartoon showing “Uncle Sam” and Roosevelt with the caption “He’s good enough for me,” is largely credited with swinging the vote in favor of Roosevelt, who was subsequently elected. When Davenport asked Roosevelt to obtain an export permit from the Sultan, it was quickly done. Later on, Roosevelt also facilitated the shipping of the horses back to the States, and he came to see them in 1908.

The Blunts, Upton, etc, had indicated in their writings that the Anezeh confederation of Bedouin tribes and the Shammar tribes had the best Arabian horses. These tribes traditionally migrated to the area which is now northern Syria, during the hottest season of the year. Davenport and his two companions left the States in July, thus being able to take advantage of the Bedouins’ annual proximity to the town of Aleppo. Once there, Davenport had the extreme good fortune of calling on Sheikh Akmet Hafiz, a member of the Anezeh tribe who served as diplomatic liaison between the Bedouins and the Ottoman governmental officials in Aleppo. Sheikh Akmet Hafiz felt deeply honored that Davenport had contacted him before contacting the local governor. This was an error in protocol which served Davenport’s purpose beyond any expectations. A firm friendship developed between the two men, and Akmet Hafiz took on personal responsibility in assuring that Davenport acquired only the best of available breeding stock.

During the past hundred and fifty years or more, many people of diverse nationalities have acquired Arabian horses in, or from the desert countries. Many, if not most of these acquisitions were made for the purpose of obtaining horses to improve local Calvary stock, or other partbred studs. Many were acquired by people temporarily in the area who simply appreciated good riding horses. Some exporters relied totally or in part, on government agents temporarily assigned to the area, or bought stock from ageyls (Arab camel and horse dealers). The Davenport importation was unusually large, numbering 27, with ten females. Most important, they were selected with the specific stipulation, and the Bedouins’ oath, sworn to Allah, that they were “asil” (purebred). These were horses valued by the Bedouins themselves as suitable for purebred breeding. The importation included representatives of all the major authentic strains of Arabian horses.

Of the 27 horses which Davenport imported, 25 were eventually registered, and 20 are still represented in modern American breeding programs. Fifteen have straight Davenport descendants living today.

Davenport’s untimely death in 1912, probably had little effect on the basic breeding program established with his importation. Peter Bradley, who had helped to finance the trip, already owned some of the imports, and the balance passed to his ownership upon Davenport’s death. Bradley continued to breed almost exclusively with this closed herd at his Hingham Stock Farm until the mid-1920s, when he was in his seventies. A strong base of Davenport breeding had thus been established. When any breeding program is disbursed, the stock tends to become so scattered that the continuity of the program is soon lost. During the 1930’s and 1940s, the Davenports were extremely popular as outcrosses for other programs, especially for the new imports from England, including the Skowronek bred horses. Fortunately, two rather large groups of straight Davenports went to the Kellogg Ranch in California, where they were bred together at least enough times to keep the program going. Other breeders in various parts of the country also continued to recognize the value of straight Davenports and bred them together, at least occasionally. However, by the early 1950’s, the straight Davenports were close to extinction.

Fortunately, during the early 1950s, Charles Craver was studying the Arabian horses with the idea of setting up a worthwhile breeding program. He quickly came to realize that the most consistent breeding horses of that era, and most of the best show horses had, as a common denominator, a high percentage of Davenport breeding in their pedigrees. He set about acquiring as many of the surviving Davenports as he could get. It was not an easy task, as the owners were reluctant to part with them.

The horses of the 1950s to which current Davenports trace, are generally referred to as Second Foundation horses, since they were the start of a new basis in Davenport breeding. Craver was eventually able to purchase eight mares and one stallion. (Six of the mares were of the Kuhaylan Hayfi strain, one was Kuhaylan Kurush, and one was Saglawi Jedran. The stallion Tripoli, was a Saglawi Jedran). He also preserved the lines to two additional Kuhaylah Haifi stallions and one more Saglawi Jedran stallion, by means of various lease arrangements. Dr. Fred Mimmack did his part by acquiring a Second Foundation mare and stallion, both of the Seglawi Jedran strain. He worked closely with Craver to expand these bloodlines. Elizabeth Paynter obtained a Second Foundation mare (Hadban Enzahi) and bred her to Craver’s stallion to preserve this line.

Altogether there were only 15 Second Foundation horses. They in turn traced to only 15 of the original imports, and the majority (the Kuhaylah Haifis) trace to only ten of the 1906 desert-breds. Today there are about 700 living Davenport Arabians, with about 150 still owned by the Cravers. Although there were 15 Second Foundation horses, as yet there are no Davenports which trace to all 15. Craver made a particular effort to diversify the bloodline options, without mixing them all in together. He has used an unusually large number of homegrown stallions (probably a uniquely large number), and most of the Craver mares produce foals by three, four or five different stallions. This means that no one or two stallions dominate the genetic makeup of these horses. There are still “outcross” options available within the closed herd of Davenport Arabians, but neither internal or external outcrosses have become necessary, even after 85 years.

CONCLUSIONS. Some importations into European countries have been larger in numbers that the Davenport importation, yet these famous studs continually found it necessary to rejuvenate their herds with fresh bloodlines every few generations. The Blunts acquired 46 desert-breds over a period of many years. It is possible that a closed breeding herd could have been maintained from this foundation, but the Blunt introduced horses with several generations of Egyptian breeding after only a few generations of breeding strictly from their desert-breds, so the opportunity was lost. Breeders in Egypt, with their relatively easy access to the Arabian peninsula, have continuously added fresh infusions of desert breeding, some as recently as the 1940s. The Egyptians also incorporated many of the Blunt desert-breds into their programs, starting back in 1918. Today there are no Arabians which trace exclusively to the famous horses of Abbas Pasha or Ali Pasha Sherif.

Because the Bedouins have long since ceased to use the horse in their daily life, it is impossible today to duplicate Davenport’s importation. There are no other breeding groups in existence today which descend entirely from horses bred in the desert and acquired by a single individual.

Davenport’s insistence on acquiring only those horses which were considered by the Bedouins to be worthy breeding stock, perhaps explains why it has been possible to successfully maintain these horses in a closed breeding herd, without outcross for 85 years. They have not lost their desert character. Thanks to the foresight of Charles Craver, the diversity of breeding options within the Davenport group is wide enough today so that it is not necessary to do close inbreeding, unless one chooses to do so.

Those of us fortunate enough to have Davenports are truly blessed, and not merely because these animals are historically unique on paper. We also have true Arabian horses which have retained the qualities which were important to the Bedouins who created this wonderful breed: lovely heads with large, expressive eyes; fine skin and hair coat; the symmetry and balanced conformation of truly athletic horses; superb, kindly dispositions and responsiveness to humane methods of handling. Can a lover of Arabian horses ask for anything more?