November 15, 1873 The Heart of a Dog

When it comes to loyalty, there is nothing to beat the heart of a dog.

The first dog may have approached some campfire, looking for a morsel.  Maybe someone took in a sick or injured pup. A wolf pack could have learned to shadow human hunting parties, and the two groups learned to work together for their mutual benefit. The facts surrounding the domestication of that first dog some fifteen thousand years ago, are lost to history.  But one thing is certain. When it comes to loyalty, there is nothing to beat the heart of a dog.

Miguel Guzmán of Cordoba Argentina, died in 2006. The following day Capitán, the family’s German Shepherd, disappeared. Mrs. Guzmán and the couple’s son launched a day-long search, until the dog arrived at the cemetery, some forty-five minutes, away. No one knows how he got there. The family claims they never brought him. Cemetery director Hector Baccega remembers when he first saw the dog: ‘He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master”.

Capitán was taken home but he was back, the following day. Baccega describes what has since become, routine: “During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o’clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave stays there all night”.

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Capitan. H/T Guardian, for this image

Capitán lived to fifteen or sixteen, old for a large breed, and died this February, in the cemetery in which he had lived. In the end he was crippled and blind, when he went to join his “Dad”.  Who knows, I certainly don’t:  maybe they are together again.

200365253-114256-400“Greyfriar’s Bobby” was a Skye Terrier in 19th-century Edinburgh, who waited 14 years by the grave of his owner, Police nightwatchman, John Gray.  There he died in 1872 and was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from where his master lay.

Artist William Brodie created a life-sized likeness atop the Greyfriars Bobby Fountain in Edinburgh,  paid for by a local aristocrat, Baroness Burdett-Coutts and dedicated on this day, in 1873

Hachikō, an Akita known to Japanese children as chūken Hachikō (“faithful dog Hachikō”), used to tag along with his owner Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor of agriculture at Tokyo University. Ueno would commute to work and every evening, Hachikō would wait at the Shibuya Station, for the professor’s return. Hidesaburō stopped coming home in May 1925, when a cerebral hemorrhage took him away, while delivering a lecture. Every day for nine years, nine months and fifteen days, the golden colored Akita appeared at Shibuya Station, precisely in time for that evening train.

Feeling Ruswarp StatueRuswarp was a fourteen-year old Border Collie who went hiking with Graham Nuttall on January 20, 1990 in the Welsh Mountains, near Llandrindod. On April 7, a hiker discovered Nuttall’s body near a mountain stream, where the dog had been standing guard for eleven weeks.  Ruswarp was so weak he had to be carried off the mountain, and died shortly after.  Today, there is a statue in his memory, on a platform near the Garsdale railway station.

In the early morning hours of August 6, 2011, Thirty American military service personnel including 22 US Navy SEALs were killed along with eight Afghans, SEAL Team 6 handler John “Jet Li” Douangdara and his Military Working Dog (MWD) “Bart”, when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Kunar Province, of Afghanistan.

To anyone around at that time, those images of “Hawkeye”, together for the last time with slain Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson,  are hard to forget.

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“Shep” belonged to an unknown sheep herder near Fort Benton, in Montana. In 1936, the man fell ill, and was taken to a local hospital.

For over a week, Shep waited at the hospital, for his master to return. On the 11th day the man died, his casket taken to the local train station and placed in the cargo hold, to be returned home for burial.

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Shep

Shep was there throughout and watched the train chug away with the body of his “Dad”. He’d return to that hospital door where a kindly nun would feed him a scrap, but every time he heard that train whistle, there was a sheepdog waiting at the station.

In those days, there were four trains a day. For nearly six years, Shep returned to the station, every time he heard that whistle. He even dug a den for himself, near the track.

Passengers took the Havre to Great Falls rail line just to see the dog. Shep received so much fan mail, the Great Northern Railroad assigned a secretary to help pen responses.

In time, the dog wasn’t quite so fast as he used to be, his hearing not so good.  On January 12, 1942, “Forever Faithful” Shep was struck and killed on the tracks, waiting for a man who could never return.

Stories such as these are enough to fill a book, if not  library.  I see a bumper sticker sometimes, in traffic.  I’m not a big one for those things but, if I were.  This would be my first:  “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am“.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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November 14, 1851 The Real Moby Dick

The eighty-foot bull sperm whale charged in at the great speed of 24 knots according to First Mate Owen Chase, ramming the port bow and driving the stern into the water. Oak planking cracked and splintered as the whale worked his tail up and down, driving the 238-ton vessel backward. Essex had already started to go down when the whale broke off his attack, diving below the surface, never to return.

The whale ship Essex set sail from Nantucket in August of 1819, the month Herman Melville was born. The 21-man crew expected to spend two to three years hunting sperm whales, filling the ship’s hold with oil before returning to split the profits of the voyage.

Essex sailed down the coast of South America, rounding the Horn and entering the Pacific Ocean. The word from other whalers, was that the fishing grounds off the Chilean coast were exhausted, so Essex sailed for the “offshore grounds”, almost 2,000 miles from the nearest land.

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Essex was plying the offshore grounds on November 20, 1820, with two of three boats out hunting whales. The lookout spotted a huge bull sperm whale, much larger than normal, estimated at 85 feet long and 80 tons. The animal was behaving oddly, lying motionless on the surface with his head facing the ship. In moments the whale began to move, slowly at first and then picking up speed as he charged the ship. Never in the history of the whale fishery had a whale been known to attack a ship unprovoked. This one hit the port side so hard, it shook the entire ship.

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The huge animal seemed dazed by the impact, floating to the surface and resting by the ship’s side. He then turned and swam away for several hundred yards, before turning to resume his attack. He charged in at the great speed of 24 knots according to First Mate Owen Chase, ramming the port bow and driving the stern into the water. Oak planking cracked and splintered as the whale worked his tail up and down, driving the 238-ton vessel backward. Essex had already started to go down when the whale broke off his attack, diving below the surface, never to return.

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Captain George Pollard’s boat was the first to make it back, and he stared in disbelief. “My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?” he asked. “We have been stove by a whale” came the reply.

No force on earth could save the stricken whale ship. The crew divided into groups of seven and boarded the three boats. It wasn’t long before Essex sank out of sight and they were alone, stranded in 28-foot open boats, and about as far from land as it was mathematically possible to be.

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The whalers believed that cannibals inhabited the Marquesa islands 1,200 miles to the west, so they headed south, parallel to the coast of South America. Before their ordeal was over, they themselves would become the cannibals.

With good winds, they might reach the coast of Chile in 56 days. They had taken enough rations to last 60, provided they were distributed at starvation levels, but most of it had been ruined by salt water. There was a brief reprieve in December, when the three small boats landed on a small island in the Pitcairn chain. There they were able to get their fill of birds, eggs, crabs, and peppergrass, but within a week the island was stripped clean. They decided to move on, except for three who refused to get back in the boats.

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They never knew that this was Henderson Island, only 104 miles from Pitcairn Island, for eighteen years the refuge of the last survivors from the 1789 Mutiny on HMS Bounty.

After two months at sea, the boats had long since separated. Starving men were beginning to die, and the survivors came to an unthinkable conclusion. The living, would have to eat their own dead.

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When those were gone, survivors drew lots to see who would die, that the others might live. Captain Pollard’s 17-year-old cousin Owen Coffin, whom he had sworn to protect, drew the black spot. Pollard protested, offering to take his place, but the boy declined. “No”, he said, “I like my lot as well as any other.” Again, lots were drawn to see who would be Coffin’s executioner. Owen’s friend, Charles Ramsdell, drew the black spot.

On February 18, the British whale ship Indian spotted a boat containing Owen Chase, Benjamin Lawrence and Thomas Nickerson. It was 90 days after Essex’ sinking. Five days later, the Nantucket whale ship Dauphin pulled alongside another boat, to find Captain Pollard and Charles Ramsdell. The pair was so far gone they didn’t notice at first, gnawing on the bones of their comrades.

The three who were left on Henderson Island were later rescued.  Several years later, the last whaleboat was found beached on a Pacific island, four skeletons on board.

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The Essex was the first ship recorded to have been sunk by a whale.  She would not be the last. The Pusie Hall was attacked in 1835. The Lydia and the Two Generals were both sunk by whales in 1836, and the Pocahontas and the Ann Alexander came under attack in 1850 and ’51.  The clipper ship Herald of the Morning was struck by a sperm whale off Cape Horn in 1859, but not fatally.

On this day in 1851, a sailor-turned novelist published his sixth volume, beginning with the words, “Call me Ishmael”.  Thirty-one years nearly to the day, after the sinking of the whale ship Essex.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

October 13, 1914 Signalman Jack

One day, a train passenger looked down and realized with horror, that a monkey was switching the tracks.

In the early days of the Great War, the formerly separate British colonies of the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange River were united in the Union of South Africa, in support of the Allied war effort.

Public opinion was by no means, unanimous.  “Afrikaners” were bitterly opposed to alliance with the British.  The Jameson Raid and two Boer Wars were hard pills to swallow, and life-long friendships were cast asunder.  As former Generals of the second Boer War, Prime Minister Louis Botha and Defense Minister Jan Smuts had once fought the British.  Now, that was in the past.  Like many, the two men dreamed of a unified South Africa.

Anti-British rebellion broke out on this day in 1914, but was quickly put down by loyalist South Africans.  Before the war was over, some 136,000 of their countrymen would serve in the African, Middle East and Western Fronts of the Great War.

The story of World War 1 is intertwined with the history of rail.  The mobilization of millions in a matter of weeks, would have been impossible without the railroads which moved them.   WW1 could not  have happened the way it did, without rail.

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South African recruits traveled rails begun in 1859, when early construction worked its way inland from deep-water ports and harbors. James Edwin Wide came to work for the South African railroad, about twenty years later.

Co-workers on the Cape Town–Port Elizabeth Railway service called him “Jumper” for his fondness of jumping between railway cars.  It was a regrettable habit, which would one day, cost him his legs.

After the accident, Wide’s railroad days seemed to be over.  Then a signalman’s job opened up. Wide would work the Uitenhage train station twenty-three miles outside of Port Elizabeth, switching the tracks for oncoming trains.

Trains would toot their whistle a specified number of times, telling the signalman which tracks to change.  The job suited him, pulling the levers is easy enough for a man with no legs.  Not so much, the half-mile walk to work.

jack-the-signalman3One day at an open-air market, the peg-legged signalman saw something that changed all that. It was a monkey, a Chacma baboon.

One of the largest of the “Old World” monkeys, a Chacma or “Cape” baboon is an intelligent animal. “Corporal Jackie” proved as much, during the “War to end all Wars”. This one was exceptionally so. This one was driving an oxcart.

Wide bought the animal and called him”Jack”, and taught him to pull his small trolley, up and down the line.  Jack was a help around the house, sweeping the floors and taking out the trash. He figured out the train signal and the switch thing too.  Soon, Jack was pulling on the levers, himself.

William Luff writes in The Railway Signal, that Wide “trained the baboon to such perfection that he was able to sit in his cabin stuffing birds, etc., while the animal, which was chained up outside, pulled all the levers and points.

One day, a train passenger looked down and realized with horror, that a monkey was switching the tracks. (It must have been fun to be in the complaint department, when That one came in).  Railroad managers were furious and could have fired signalman Wide, but decided to test his baboon, instead.

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Railway superintendent George Howe came away, astounded. “Jack knows the signal whistle as well as I do, also every one of the levers…It was very touching to see his fondness for his master. As I drew near they were both sitting on the trolley. The baboon’s arms round his master’s neck, the other stroking Wide’s face.”

Jack passed with flying colors.  Managers were so impressed they gave him the job, for real. “Signalman Jack” now had an employee number, and a salary of twenty cents per day, plus a half-bottle of beer, each week.  It isn’t clear what a baboon did with the money, though one suspects it may have purchased more than a few peanuts.

Signalman Jack worked the rail until the day he died of tuberculosis, in 1890.  A keyword search for railroad accidents between 1880 and ’89, the time-frame for this story, reveals a list of sixty-one serious incidents. In the nine years in which he was on the job, Signalman Jack made not one single mistake.

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October 4, 1918 First Division Rags

The Big Red One marched down Broadway in 1928, part of the First Division’s 10th anniversary WW1 reunion.  The French street dog who had lost an eye in their service, in the lead.

Private James Donovan was AWOL. He had overstayed his leave in the French town of Montremere, and the ‘Great War’, awaited.

When the MPs found him, Donovan knew he had to think fast. He reached down and grabbed a stray dog, explaining to the two policemen that he was part of a search party, sent out to find the Division Mascot.

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It was a small dog, possibly a Cairn Terrier mix, about twenty-five pounds. He looked like a pile of rags, and that’s what they called him. The dog had gotten Donovan out of a jam, now he would become the division mascot, for real. Rags was now part of the US 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One.

Instead of “shaking hands”, Donovan taught the dog a sort of doggie “salute”. Rags would appear at the flag pole for Retreat for years after the war, lifting his paw and holding it by his head. Every time the flag was lowered and the bugle played, there was that small terrier, saluting with the assembled troops.

The dog learned to imitate the men around him, who would drop to the ground and hug it tightly during artillery barrages. He would hug the ground with his paws spread out, soon the doughboys noticed him doing it before any of them knew they were under fire. Rags’ acute and sensitive hearing became an early warning system, telling them that shells were incoming, well before anyone heard them.

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Rags was disdainful of doggie tricks, he was more interested in Doing something.  In the hell of life in the trenches, barbed wire was often all that stood between safety and enemy attack.  Wire emplacements were frequent targets for bombardment, and a break in the wire represented a potentially lethal weak point in the lines.  Somehow, Rags could find these breaks in the wire, and often led men into the darkness, to effect repairs.

Thousands of dogs, horses and pigeons were “enlisted” in the first world war, with a number of tasks.  The French trained specialized “chiens sanitaire” to seek out the dead and wounded, and bring back small bits of uniform so that aid could be delivered, or the body recovered.  Somehow, Rags figured this job out, for himself.  Once he found a dead runner, and recovered the note the man had died, trying to deliver.  Not only was his body found, but that note enabled the rescue of an officer, cut off and surrounded by Germans.

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Donovan’s job was hazardous. He was out on the front lines, stringing communications wire between advancing infantry and supporting field artillery. Runners were used to carry messages until the wire was laid, but these were frequently wounded, killed or they couldn’t get through the shell holes and barbed wire.

Donovan trained Rags to carry messages attached to his collar. On this day in 1918, British and French forces were engaged in heavy fighting from St. Quentin to Cambrai. French and Americans in the Champagne region advanced as far as the Arnes, as the American attack ground on, west of the River Meuse. Around this time, Rags was given a message from the 26th Infantry Regiment for the 7th Field Artillery. The small dog completing his mission, resulting in an artillery barrage and leading to the capture of the Very-Epinonville Road.

An important objective had been taken, with minimal loss of life to the American side.

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The terrier’s greatest trial came five days later, during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign. The small dog ran through falling bombs and poison gas to deliver his message. Gassed and partially blinded, shell splinters damaged his right paw, eye and ear. Rags survived and, so far as I know, got his message where it needed to be.

Rags survived the deadliest battle in American military history, with the loss of an eye.  Now-Sergeant James Donovan, wasn’t so lucky.  He was severely gassed and the two were brought to the rear. If anyone asked about expending medical care on a dog, they were told that it was “orders from headquarters”.

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Rags recovered quickly, but Donovan did not.  He was transferred to the hospital ship in Brest, as Rags was forced to look on, from the docks.  Animals were thought to carry disease and were strictly forbidden from hospital ships.  Those animals who were smuggled on board, were typically chloroformed and thrown overboard.

Nevertheless, Rags was smuggled on board to be with his “Battle Buddy”.  How many entered into the conspiracy of silence in his defense, can never be known.

The pair made it back to United States, and to the Fort Sheridan base hospital near Chicago, where medical staff specialized in gas cases. It was here that Rags was given a collar and tag, identifying him as “1st Division Rags”.  Donovan died of his injuries, in early 1919.  Rags moved into the base fire house becoming “post dog”, until being adopted by Major Raymond W. Hardenbergh, his wife and two daughters, in 1920.

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The Big Red One marched down Broadway in 1928, part of the First Division’s 10th anniversary WW1 reunion.  The French street dog who had lost an eye in their service, in the lead.

Rags lived out the last of his years in Maryland. A long life it was, too, the dog lived until 1934, remaining with the 1st Infantry Division, for all his 20 years.  On March 22, 1934, the 16-paragraph obituary in the New York Times began: “Rags, Dog Veteran of War, Is Dead at 20; Terrier That Lost Eye in Service is Honored.”

Canadian writer Grant Hayter-Menzies has written a book about 1st Division Rags, from which I have drawn some of these details. The book is entitled From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division.  Eleven-minute audio from a fascinating CBC interview, may be found HERE.

Hat tip to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, from whose website I have drawn most of these images.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

October 3, 1944 Angel from a Foxhole

Once, the small dog was able to perform a task in minutes, which would have otherwise taken an entire airstrip out of service for three days, and exposed a construction battalion to enemy fire.

The first dog may have approached some campfire, long before recorded history. It may have been hurt or it maybe it was looking for a morsel. Dogs have been by our side ever since.

Over history, the unique attributes of Canis Familiaris have often served in times of war. Ancient Egyptian artwork depicts dogs at work in multiple capacities. The ancient Greeks used dogs against Persian invaders at the Battle of Marathon.

_73412601_2001-877_smithsonian_stubby_with_robert_pro_photoThe European allies and Imperial Germany had about 20,000 dogs working a variety of jobs in WWI. Though the United States didn’t have an official “War Dog” program in those days, a Staffordshire Terrier mix called “Sgt. Stubby” was smuggled “over there” with an AEF unit training out of New Haven, Connecticut.

Stubby is credited with saving an unknown number of lives, his keen sense of hearing giving his companions early warning of incoming artillery rounds.

Once, Stubby even caught a German spy who had been creeping around, mapping allied trenches. It must have been a very bad day for that particular Bosch, to be discovered spinning in circles, a 50-pound, muscular terrier affixed to his arse.

The US War Dogs program was developed between the World Wars, and dogs have served in every conflict, since.  My own son in law Nate served in Afghanistan with “Zino”, a five-year old German Shepherd and Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD), trained to detect as many as 64 explosive compounds.

The littlest war dog first appeared in the jungles of New Guinea, when an American soldier spotted a “golden head” poking out of an abandoned foxhole. It was all of 4-pounds, a seven-inch tall, Yorkshire Terrier.  At the time, nobody had the foggiest notion of how the tiny dog had gotten there. The soldier brought her back to camp and sold her to a comrade for £2 Australian, about $6.44.  He was Corporal William Wynne, who named her “Smoky”.

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Smoky lived a soldier’s life for the next eighteen months, traveling about in a rucksack and learning to parachute from trees.  At first, soldiers thought she might have belonged to the Japanese side, but they brought her to a POW camp and quickly learned that she understood neither Japanese nor English commands.

The little dog flew 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions, secured in Wynne’s backpack. She survived 150 air raids and a typhoon, often giving soldiers early warning of incoming fire.  Wynne credited Smoky with saving his life one time, on an LST transport ship.  It was around October 3, 1944 off Morotai, when the Japanese submarine RO-41 sank the American destroyer escort, USS Shelton.  The decks around them were shaking from anti-aircraft and machine gun fire, when Smoky guided Wynne to duck at the moment an incoming shell struck, killing 8 men standing next to them. She was his “angel from a foxhole.”

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Once, the small dog was able to perform a task in minutes, a job which would have otherwise taken an airstrip out of service for three days, and expose a construction battalion to enemy fire. The air field at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, was crucial to the Allied war effort.  The signal corps needed to run a teletype communication wire across the field.  To do so in the conventional manner would have taken days, and put the airfield out of operation.  Except, there was one possible workaround.

A 70-foot, 8” drain pipe half filled with dirt, already crossed under the air strip

Wynne credits the dog with enabling the airfield to remain open, saving 40 aircraft and 250 ground crew from exposure to Japanese fire.  Let him tell the story:

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“I tied a string to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?’ The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes”.

o-SMOKEY7-570Smoky toured all over the world after the war, appearing in over 42 television programs and licking faces & performing tricks for thousands at veteran’s hospitals.  In June 1945, Smoky toured the 120th General Hospital in Manila, visiting with wounded GIs from the Battle of Luzon. She’s been called “the first published post-traumatic stress canine”, and credited with expanding interest in what had hitherto been an obscure breed.

The Littlest Wardog died in her sleep in February 1957 at the age of fourteen, and buried in a .30 caliber ammunition box.  Years later,a  life-size a bronze sculpture of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet was installed over her final resting place in Rocky River Ohio, setting atop a two-ton blue granite base.

Bill Wynne was 90 years old in 2012, when he was “flabbergasted” to be approached by Australian authorities. They explained that an Australian army nurse had purchased the dog from a Queen Street pet store, and became separated in the jungles of New Guinea. sixty-eight years later, the Australian delegation had come to award his dog, a medal.

f88e3abeaa339b1ed4c15d9adbc1387b71c69549A memorial statue was unveiled on December 12 of that year, at the Australian War Memorial at the Queensland Wacol Animal Care Campus in Brisbane.

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On December 11, 2015, the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) awarded Smoky the Purple Cross.  According to the press release, the award was “established in 1993 to recognize the deeds of animals that have shown outstanding service to humans, particularly where they have demonstrated exceptional courage, by risking their own safety or life, to save a person from injury or death. Since its inception, only nine animals have been awarded the prestigious award”.

“Yorkie Doodle Dandy” by Bill Wynne, tells the story of the dog Animal Planet has called, the first therapy dog. Originally published in 1996 by Wynnesome Press, the book is currently in its 5th edition, by Top Dog Enterprises, LLC.

As a personal aside, Nate and Zino were separated after their tour in Afghanistan. They were reunited in 2014, when the dog came to live with Nate and our daughter Carolyn in their home in Savannah. Last fall, Sheryl and I traveled to Houston with a friend, to celebrate our anniversary at the “Redneck Country Club”.  2,000 miles from home and completely by chance, who do we meet but the trainer who taught Zino to be a TEDD in the first place. Small world.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 21, 1765 The Beast of Gévaudan

Precise identification of the Beast of Gévaudan has baffled cryptozoologists, from that day to this. 

In the summer of 1764, a young woman was tending cattle near the Mercoire forest in the Gévaudan region of south-central France, when a large animal emerged from the forest.    She later described the creature as wolf-like in appearance, but much larger.  The size of a calf, or a donkey.

Twice the animal attacked, only to be driven off by the bulls in the herd.  Twenty-nine days later, Janne Boule was not so lucky. The 14-year-old is officially recorded as the first victim of La Bête du Gévaudan.  The “Beast of Gévaudan”. Over the following three years, there would be many more.

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Contemporary illustration depicts the Beast as a large wolf, or wolf hybrid.

A 1987 study of contemporary sources estimates 210 such attacks over the three-year period, resulting in 113 fatalities and another 49 injuries. Victims were most often killed, by having their throats ripped out. Ninety-eight of those, were partially eaten.

Precise identification of the Beast of Gévaudan has baffled cryptozoologists, from that day to this.  Eyewitness accounts describe a large animal with a long tail, about the size of a calf, or a donkey. With reddish fur and a flat head, the Beast was said to be exceptionally powerful, able to leap distances of 30-feet and more, and capable of carrying off a grown adult, in its jaws.

gevaudan-660x357Terror gripped the region in the later months of 1764, as the Beast attacked women, men and children.  Usually while alone, and often while tending livestock.

Suspicion centered on an unusually large wolf, dog, or some hybrid combination of the two.   Stories went to the supernatural, laying bare our most primordial fear, that of a shape shifter. A Werewolf.

The Epic of Gilgamesh comes to us from the second millennium BC, telling the tale of such creatures. The 1st-century BC Roman poet Ovid, was the first to write of shape-shifting as a conscious act of will.

Beast of Gevaudan, 1700s

In January 1765, the Beast came to the attention of King Louis XV, who decreed that the French state would help to find and destroy the Beast. First captain Duhamel of the Clermont-Ferrand dragoons was brought out with his troops, and sent to Le Gévaudan. The professional wolf-hunters Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d’Enneval and his son Jean-François, arrived with eight bloodhounds, trained in wolf-hunting.

“Officer of the Royal Bedchamber” Antoine De Beauterne Marques Argents, Knight Equerry of the Royal Military Order of Saint Louis and Gun-Bearer to Louis XV of France (now, there’s a title) announced on this day in 1765 that he had killed the Beast of Gévaudan, to great rejoicing.

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The animal was a large grey wolf measuring 5-feet, 7-inches and weighing 130-pounds. Eyewitnesses claimed to have recognized scars on the animal’s body and Beauterne himself swore that this was the Beast. “We declare by the present report signed from our hand”, he said, “we never saw a big wolf that could be compared to this one. Hence, we believe this could be the fearsome beast that caused so much damage.”

The animal was stuffed and brought to Versailles, but the joy was short-lived.

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Two boys were attacked on December 2 but managed to fight off the Beast.  A dozen more fatal attacks were reported to have followed, near La Besseyre-Saint-Mary.

The animal disappeared around the middle of 1767.  It is believed to have been shot a dozen or more times by this time, and poison baits were widespread.  A local farmer and inn-keeper named Jean Chastel is credited with killing the Beast of Gévaudan on June 19, 1767, with a bullet which he himself had cast, in silver.

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Jean Chastel

The silver bullet meme did much to feed into werewolf mythology. Chastel himself is depicted as a werewolf in Patricia Briggs’ novel, Hunting Ground.  Here, the hunter and the hunted are one and the same, and some random wolf was shot, to throw everyone off the scent.

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National Geographic posits that the Beast of Gévaudan was in fact, a subadult male lion. African lions were by no means unknown at this place and time, though images of the era were usually quite stylized, depicting the full mane of the adult male.

Exotic animal menageries were common among the upper classes. It is quite possible that such an animal could’ve been on the loose.  Physical descriptions of the Beast including it’s reddish hair, flat head and furry ridge-line, match up with those of such an animal.  This combined with descriptions of the hunting and killing methods of the animal, make the lion theory quite plausible.

The Beast of Gévaudan may have been a wolf, or maybe a lion.  Perhaps it was several animals.  Or maybe Jean Chastel is a werewolf, after all.  A clever one who threw half a nation off his scent, and now only does his killing, in the dark.  Just another thing that goes BUMP, in the night.

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A monument was erected in the village of Auvers to honour those who fought against the beast.

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September 19, 1862 Douglas the Confederate Camel

In the 1850s, then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was convinced that camels were the military super weapon of the future.

Due west of the Mississippi capital of Jackson and across the river from New Orleans lies the city of Vicksburg, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. In 1863, Vicksburg was the last major stronghold of the Confederacy, along the Mississippi River.  Surrounded and vastly outnumbered, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy” held out for forty days against a far larger Union army, surrendering on July 4, 1863. The city would not celebrate another Independence Day, for 81 years.

The Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg contains some 5,000 stone markers in ‘the soldier’s rest‘, each placed in memory of one who died in defense of the city.  Even the one with the camel on it.

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This story begins with Jefferson Davis, in the 1840s. Today, we remember Davis as the one President of the Confederate States of America. Then, he was a United States Senator from Mississippi, with a pet project of introducing camels into the United States.

Re-introducing them might be more like it. Today, the distribution of these animals is almost the inverse of their area of origin. According to the fossil record, the earliest camelids first appeared on the North American continent, these even-toed ungulates ancestor to the Alpaca, Llama, Guanaco and Vicuña of today.

fdgfcxedgym2d7vkiryqJefferson Davis’ experiment was to be the first large-scale re-introduction of these animals on the North American continent, in geologic history.

Davis envisioned the day when every southern planter would have a stable full of camels. In the kind of pork barrel tit-for-tat spending deal beloved of Congressmen to this day, the Senator slid $30,000 into a highway appropriations bill, to get the support of a colleague from Illinois.

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The measure failed but, in the 1850s, then-Secretary of War Davis persuaded President Franklin Pierce that camels were the military super weapons of the future. Able to carry greater loads over longer distances than any other pack animal, Davis saw camels as the high tech weapon of the age. Hundreds of horses and mules were dying in the hot, dry conditions of Southwestern Cavalry outposts, when the government purchased 75 camels from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Several camel handlers came along in the bargain, one of them a Syrian named Haji Ali, who successfully implemented a camel breeding program. Haji Ali became quite the celebrity within the West Texas outpost. The soldiers called him “Hi Jolly”.

When Civil War broke out, Camp Verde Texas had about 60 camels. The King of Siam, (now Thailand), saw the military advantage to the Confederacy, and wrote to President Abraham Lincoln. “Here”, he wrote, “we use elephants”. The King went on to propose bringing elephants into the Northwest, to help the Union war effort. This “animal arms race” appears to have gotten no further than the King’s letter to the President, but the imagination runs wild at the idea of War Elephants at Gettysburg.

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The horse lobby did a lot to kill the camel project, and the animal’s unpleasant personality traits didn’t help. A camel will not passively accept a riding crop or a whip. They are vengeful, and can spit stinking wads of phlegm with great accuracy over considerable distances. If they’re close enough, they will rake the skin off your face with their front teeth. Camels have been known to trample people to death.

Cut loose, one of those Texas camels somehow made its way to Mississippi, where he was taken into service with the 43rd Infantry Regiment, who named him “Douglas”.

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“Two Civil War re-enactors discuss the use of camels by the U.S. Army and recall the story of ” Old Douglas,” the camel that was killed during the Siege of Vicksburg, during a visit by the Texas Camel Corps to the Vicksburg National Military Park in 2016″ H/T Vicksburg Post

Douglas wouldn’t permit himself to be tethered, but he always stuck around so he was allowed to graze on his own. Southern soldiers became accustomed to the sight of “Old Douglas”. The 43rd Mississippi became known as the “Camel Regiment,” but the horses never did get used to their new companion. On this day in 1862, Major General Sterling Price was preparing to face two Union armies at Iuka, when the sight of Old Douglas spooked the regimental horses. One horse’s panic turned into a stampede, injuring several of them and possibly killing one or two.

The 43rd Infantry was ordered to Vicksburg during General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of the city, when Douglas was shot and killed by a Union sharpshooter. Enraged by the murder of their prized camel, the 5th Missouri’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers, who stalked the killer until one of them had his revenge. Bevier later said of Douglas’ killer, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”

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So it is that there is a camel at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He is not forgotten. Douglas and other camels of the era are remembered by the Texas Camel Corps, a cross between a zoo and a living history exhibit.

The organization’s website begins with: “Texas Camel Corps was established to educate the public about the historic use of camels in America in the 19th century”. I just might have to check that out.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.