short story about a sketch, a bale of hay, and
Importation of 1906
from Arabians (September 1985) by Suzi Morris
enhanced with photos from various sources.
1906, the renowned newspaper cartoonist Homer Davenport secured passage to
the Middle East to further his search for purebred Arabian horses.
Davenport had dreamed for years of traveling to the desert to personally
During this period, to export Arabians from the Middle East, a permit
from Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey was required. However, for nearly
three decades, the exportation of Arabian horses from the Ottoman Empire
had been almost completely forbidden.
Nevertheless, with the help of President Theodore Roosevelt, Davenport
managed to get a permit from the Sultan, via the Turkish Ambassador to
the United States, Chikeb Bey.
No sooner was this permission granted, than Davenport and two
companions, John H. Thompson and C.A. Moore, boarded a liner bound for
France, where they then took a train to Constantinople. They reached
Turkey in July 1906.
While in Constantinople, Davenport and his colleagues had the rare
opportunity to see the sultan during a special royal ceremony.
Davenport, who kept an illustrated journal of his travels, was overcome
by the desire to sketch the aging sultan. But he had been forewarned ~
no photo had ever been taken of His Highness, nor had any likeness ever
After the ceremony, Davenport and his friends quickly made their way
from the palace so that Davenport could make a drawing of the sultan,
away from the presence of guards and spies, while his memory was still
fresh. The sketch proved to be a remarkable likeness and Davenport was persuaded
to show it to an intimate friend of the sultan in Constantinople.
Upon seeing the drawing, the man paled and whispered, "It is the
only picture of him ever made. If it is ever known that you have it with
you, your visit to the Ottoman Empire will be a sad one."
He asked Davenport to promise not to write to America about it and to
keep it always in an inside pocket, tightly buttoned.
Davenport's mission to the Middle East was fulfilled a few months later,
after he had acquired 10 mares and 17 stallions. During the entire trip,
he showed the picture to only three more men: Akmut Hafez and Hashem Bey
in the desert and to one friend in Aleppo. He felt certain that none of
the sultan's spies would hear about it.
Yet on the way back, as the three men and 27 horses approached Alexandretta, to make passage back to America,
an American met them in
the mountains. He informed Davenport that the Turkish spies in
Alexandretta knew, or thought they knew, that he had a picture of the
sultan. He said that if the picture was discovered, Davenport's horses
would be confiscated and he would never be allowed to return to the
Middle East. Davenport put the picture in the middle of a bale of hay,
which he secretly marked.
When they arrived in Alexandretta, spies searched all their belongings
but failed to find the drawing. They reluctantly allowed Davenport, his
horses and the bale of hay go aboard the steamer in the Mediterranean,
bound for home.
The entourage arrived in America on October 8, 1906. Once again,
providence helped to shape the history of the Arabian breed in the
United States, for had a Turkish spy thought to search an
innocent-looking bale of hay, there would be no Davenport-bred horses in