Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The winners write history. What happens to the losers?

Having spent the last couple of years focusing on United States colonial and Revolutionary history on our family vacations, I've often wondered about the fates of those on the losing sides of war. When an ARTICLE showed up on my Facebook feed a few months ago about the preservation of Camp Security, a Revolutionary era POW camp located east of the City of York, PA in Springettsbury (then Hellam) Township, I dug around online for more info about those who supported and fought for British colonial interests. 
Camp Security was built in 1781 primarily to detain British troops and their families who were surrendered by General Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York. 

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull

On October 17, 1777 British General John Burgoyne surrendered his army of 5000+ according to the terms of the Convention of Saratoga, which specified that the captured troops would be sent back to Europe following a parole if they pledged not to return to the colonies to continue fighting. But the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington did not trust that these terms would be honored, and therefore stalled the prisoner release, eventually forcibly removing them to remote locales. In addition to distrust about the terms of the Convention being honored, there was perhaps also an element of retaliation for the notoriously poor treatment by the British of Continental POWs. 
Thus it was that in 1779 some 3700 Convention Army prisoners, including many from Brunswick-Lüneburg under the command of Major General Riedesel, were marched 700 miles. This journey took them from Boston, through the York/Lancaster area, to Albemarle Barracks in Charlottesville VA near Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Along the way, lore has it that some Hessians were helped to escape by German residents of the eastern Pennsylvania counties they passed through, who sympathized with countrymen pressed against their will into foreign service by their princes. 
The men proceeded on foot and their wives and children in wagons. This march took over three months, and the last leg was particularly harsh since winter had set in. Upon arrival, the prisoners discovered that only half the huts has been completed, and many of those were roofless. There was no food and no infrastructure in place. The men themselves eventually cleared an area six miles in circumference, building hundreds of huts, two churches (Anglican for the British and Lutheran for the Hessians), a tavern (huzzah!), theater and billiard hall.

Ablemarle Barracks, 1789 sketch.

It was better than nothing, but no posh resort. In his journal,Lieutenant August Wilhelm Du Roi of Brunswick wrote:

Each barrack is 24 feet long, and 14 feet wide, big enough to shelter 18 men. The construction is so miserable that it surpasses all that you can imagine in Germany of a very poorly built log house. It is something like the following: Each side is put up of 8 to 9 round fir trees, which are laid one on top the other, but so far apart that it is almost possible for a man to crawl through ... The roof is made of round trees covered with split fir trees...a great number of our men preferred to camp out in the woods, where they could protect themselves better against the cold than in the barracks.

The prisoners remained in Charlottesville until October 1780. Security concerns prompted by the defection of the general in charge of their camp and the advancement of British troops through the South led to the prisoners being marched north again, this time over the  Appalachian Trail. They stayed briefly at Winchester, Virginia and at Fort Frederick in Maryland (from which 40 Hessians were paroled to Fort Roberdeau in Sinking Spring Valley on the Bedford County frontier in order to mine and smelt lead for the use of the Continental Army). Congress then ordered the group to move yet again to the security of interior Pennsylvania. This entailed another brutally difficult march over rough terrain in bad weather, and many died along the way. 
They were joined by British captured at Cowpens, South Carolina and eventually British and Hessian prisoners captured at Yorktown, Virginia.  The president of Pennsylvania (there have been seven presidents and 46 governors of Pennsylvania to date) ordered that the prisoners be split. Most Hessian POWs were moved outside of Reading, and the British were housed at what became known as Camp Security. Outside of the stockade in which prisoners were kept (particularly those last captured from Yorktown), a second village called Camp Indulgence was built to house some non-commissioned officers, women and children. 
The prisoners were lucky to be alive at this point. A contemporary account described them thusly:
I never had the least idea that creation produced such a sordid set of creatures in human figure-poor, dirty, emaciated men, great numbers of women who seemed to be but beasts of burden, having a bushel basket on their backs by which they were bent double. The contents seemed to be pots and kettles and various sorts of furniture. Children peeping through the gridirons, some very young infants who must have been born on the road, the women in bare feet, clothed in dirty rags.
At its peak, Camp Security housed 1500 individuals. It was guarded by York County militia and Continental troops until the war ended in 1783. The Camp Security website indicates that the longest-held prisoners and their families engaged in making lace, spoons, and buckles, and were even granted passes to York to sell these items to the local communities. There are also accounts that some prisoners were paroled to local farmers as indentured servants, to help with farming during what was essentially a wartime manpower shortage. A contemporary account of life at Camp Security was provided in the published wartime journal of Sergeant Roger Lamb, an Irishman who served with Burgoyne and who later escaped from Camp Security. His account indicates that with the passage of time, these troops and their families became accustomed to their lives and imprisonment, and did not try to escape:
I was astonished at the spirit of industry, which prevailed among them. Men, women and children were employed making lace, buckles, spoons, and exercising other mechanical trades, which they had learned during their captivity. They had a very great liberty from the Americans and were allowed to go round the country and sell their goods, while the soldiers of Cornwallis' army were closely confined. I perceived that they had lost the animation, which ought to possess the breast of the soldier. I strove by every argument to rouse them to their lethargy. I offered to head any number of them, and make a noble effort to escape into New York and join our comrades in arms; but all my efforts proved ineffectual.
After the struggles and forced marches of their early years of imprisonment, it seems only natural that the prisoners and their families finally felt safe and well-treated enough that they weren't willing to consider venturing forth unprotected to pursue other fates, even if it meant their freedom. They knew the war wouldn't last forever, and were content to wait things out rather than take matters into their own hands whilst living in the midst of enemy territory. Or perhaps they were simply exhausted and only the will to survive was left in them.
Meanwhile the near-by market town of Reading, Pennsylvania had a population of some 300 families of German descent. A section had been set aside there for barracks to house 400-500 men, mostly officers. But by October 1851, the area housed as many as 1050 Hessian soldiers. Laura L. Becker of Clemson University has speculated that the primarily German residents of Reading lost their earlier sympathies and were resentful of their countrymen, noting "One German officer wrote that the German-Americans of Reading "could hardly hide their anger and hostile thoughts.""  Many of these former Hessian captives stayed in the area after the war ended and were referred to as "Brunswickers and Hanauers" in local church records. Becker notes that "....the expression "Du bist ein Hesse" was an insult in Reading well into the nineteenth century." 
What happened to all these folks? From the Convention Army sent to Ablemarle Barracks, General Riedesel and his wife were transferred to New York. He spent a year on parole there before being exchanged for American General Benjamin Lincoln, and returned to Europe in late 1783. British commander William Phillips was also sent to Virginia with the Convention Army, and at one point during his captivity was entertained in the Monticello home of Thomas Jefferson -- quite a civilized POW experience! Jefferson described him as the proudest man of the proudest nation on earth."  Phillips was also included in the exchange for Lincoln. He returned to fighting for the British but contracted typhus and died a few months before the battle at Yorktown. 
As for the surviving soldiers and remaining officers, a camp epidemic raged in the winter of 1782-1783 and many were then buried on site. After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, some former prisoners stayed in the United States, but others returned to their former homes abroad or moved to Canada. As noted above, many of the Hessians who were refused transport back to Germany settled in the Reading area. The land occupied by Camp Security was returned to its owner, and the encampment slowly deteriorated over time and returned to the wild. It's thought that older homes in the York area were probably built in part from harvested lumber from the site.  This York home, for example, is reportedly intact from the Camp Security stockade complex:  

The Camp Security site is one of, if not the last, remaining undisturbed Revolutionary War prisoner-of-war camps. In May 2012, the non-profit group The Conservation Fund announced its purchase of a 47-acre property that was the primary site of Camp Security, assuring preservation for future archeological excavation and documentation. There is much to be explored: the stockade and cemetery sites have yet to be determined on the property. And in another of those neat bits of historical connectivity that I love, a new historical marker was placed just last week in Charlottesville VA to mark the site of the Ablemarle Barracks. 
It is good to know that the struggles of these prisoners will not pass unheeded into history. We may never know their individual stories, but the findings from exploration at Camp Security should yield fascinating information about their daily lives.  That info would have been lost had a housing sub-division been built on the land.
Selected bibliography and further reading:
 Chase, Philander (1983). "Years of Hardships and Revelations: The Convention Army at the Albamarle Barracks, 1779-1781". The Magazine of Albemarle County History (Charlottesville, VA).
 du Roi, August Wilhelm. Journal of Du Roi the Elder: Lieutenant and Adjutant, in the Service of the Duke of Brunswick, 1776-1778.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh Give Me a Home: the case of the unlikely buffalo

I recently read Bienville's Dilemma by geographer and researcher Richard Campanella, a wonderful collection of essays about the sublime and complicated city of New Orleans. I am normally a very fast reader but I took my time with this book. I savored each essay and my neurotransmitters frissoned as Campanella established connections that I had been straining toward in my readings about colonial and antebellum NOLA. Truly a wonderful book, and it even provided a delightful tidbit of information that set me off on a tangent: buffalo once roamed the wilds of Louisiana.

Maybe you knew that, but I surely didn't. I am captivated by this new knowledge, and not merely because it evokes tawdry images of bison wandering the Vieux Carré wearing "Who Dat?" caps, carrying go-cups, and baring their breasts for beads. (Although now that I've created that image, I'm having a hard time letting go of it...)

Certainly I knew that buffalo roamed the vast expanse of the Louisiana Purchase, but not that they hung out on the deltaic plains of Louisiana itself. Campanella details their presence in his essay "Forest Primeval Reconsidered."  The first documented sighting of Louisiana bison occurred in 1699 when Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville et d'Ardillières, was charged with finding the mouth of the Mississippi River in order to further French interior trade interests. He described seeing "...three buffaloes lying down on the bank" which quickly disappeared into the bamboo brush near what Campanella posits was present-day Jackson Square. Iberville later saw a herd of some 200 bison upriver.

These animals, like many present-day New Orleanians, came from Somewhere Else. How did they get there? Based on eyewitness explorer accounts, it seems that bison had expanded their migratory range to the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts due to several natural and man-made factors. A long-term drought forced thirsty buffalo from the western plains into the Ohio River Valley, and from there many wandered south. The buffalo were also able to establish themselves further afield due to the massive Native population decimation due to lack of resistance to European-imported diseases; that in turn meant fewer hunters and diminished land cultivation, allowing prime grazing grasses to spread and buffalo to roam.

So it came to pass that there were buffalo in Louisiana. And Iberville, lucky guy, was charged with domesticating those Louisiana buffalo and raising them for their wool.

Yes, really. The French were master traders, and hit upon the notion of cultivating herds of sweet, docile buffalo to free themselves from dependence upon Spanish and English wool imports. But let's face it, herding massive uncooperative wild beasts in the days before electric fences and tranquilizer guns was not an easy task. I'm guessing it's not an easy task even today. Even presuming one could successfully herd bison, the logistics of restraining a buffalo for live shearing are mind-boggling.

Iberville bribed some Native peoples with promises of weaponry, and he got a few head of bison that way. However, French plans for buffalo domestication and wool-gathering were doomed by the temperament and size of the beasts.

From Antoine Simon Le Page Du Pratz, Histoire de la Louisiane (Paris 1758) from "How to Prepare Buffalo, and Other Things the French Taught Indians about Nature" by Christopher Morris in French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World.  Probably a calf but perhaps this illustration is a fantasy depiction of a sheared buffalo?

After not hitting it big with the buffalo wool trade, the ever resourceful colonial-era French established a brisk trade in buffalo hides and meat. Un boeuf savage was still plentiful in Louisiana some thirty years later after Iberville's failed buffalo ranch, as described by Jesuit Father du Poisson's observations of bison roaming in the Baton Rouge area " herds over the prairies, or along the rivers...."

But so prevalent was bison hunting and trade that by the time the French sold their regained Louisiana lands to Les Américains in 1803, free range bison had been eradicated from the lower Mississippi.

And we all know how the story of bison on the rest of the North American continent ends. A species that once roamed these lands in the tens of millions was reduced to an estimated 23 known survivors in the wild by 1902.

From Francisco Lopez de Gomara, Historia General de las Indias (1553) in "How to Prepare Buffalo, and Other Things the French Taught Indians about Nature" by Christopher Morris in French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World.

Prior to reading all this, the extent of my knowledge was that white people nearly hunted bison to extinction in the 19th century, and that the birth of a white buffalo calf is considered a prophetic blessing for many Native American and Canadian First Nation tribes.

Arguably stranger than the notion of Louisiana bison are Western Pennsylvania bison. As anyone knows who's ever tried to purchase a level backyard lot in these parts, PA ain't no plains state. Still, we've got bison up in here. In fact, according to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, bison once roamed the mountain slopes and valleys of Pennsylvania at least until 1801, which is when this state's last native free range bison was shot.

I have a vague childhood memory of peering from a distance at a few scraggly buffalo at Allegheny County's South Park in the early 1970s. My breath clouding the closed car windows and my as-yet undiagnosed near-sightedness left me vastly unimpressed by this experience. I couldn't tell if the lumps in the distance were buffalo or dirty rocks, but my father assured me they were buffalo.

He was right. At one time, there were herds in Allegheny County kept on public display at both North and South County Parks.

Thirty-six bison were imported to Pittsburgh in 1927 to bolster visitation to those newly created public parks, with the expectation that Native Americans could be recruited to care for the beasts. The animals were trucked in from a Schnecksville PA preserve founded in 1906 as part of a big game conservation effort, a site known today as the Trexler Nature Preserve and home of the Lehigh Valley Zoo. The starter herd consisted of 4 large bulls, 3 medium-sized bulls, 3 young males, 3 mature cows, 3 medium-sized cows, and 2 yearlings. Allegheny County paid $150 a head, with a half dozen beasts thrown in for free.

A 1927 Pittsburgh Press article described the cross-state buffalo odyssey:
The advertising angle of the caravan as it passes across the state with its burden of buffaloes is not being overlooked and large signs will tell any who stop to inspect the unusual caravan that they are intended for the new county parks in Allegheny county.

Buffalo product placement ops.

Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection,1901-2002. Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections

Three families from the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, Montana were hired to care for the herd from 3 May 1928 to 25 March 1931.

Photo of Chiefs Big Beaver and Eagle Ridge with families posing with Mayor Charles H Kline & Parks Director Riis, May 2, 1928. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

From a 1986 article in Carnegie Magazine:
In those early experimental days it seemed obvious that parks should have wild animals, and that the ideal caretakers or curators of wildlife would be real Indians. And so the county commissioners brought two tribes of Indians from a Montana reservation to live in the parks. Chief Big Beaver and his tribe went to North Park, and Chief Wild Eagle and his tribe went to South Park to tend the animals delivered there in 1927.
This was no small affair. Thirty-six head of buffalo were trucked in by means of a motor caravan, led by a tank. Reporters followed in private cars. Deer and other native wildlife from Pennsylvania were also provided as part of the Indians' herd. But the gesture ended badly. The Plains Indians found the winters here too severe, and left after one season. In North Park, the Indian "curators" of the herd did not so much protect it as use it the way their ancestors would have--for food and clothing. They were asked to leave. The romance of the American Indian could not survive in a county park.

Allegations of poaching and alcohol abuse against the natives were made. However, according to a 1931 Parks report cited in Oliver's Post-Gazette article, the Blackfeet themselves asked to return to their reservation, giving no specific reason other than a mention that Mrs. Big Beaver "....was ailing and enduring considerable physical suffering."  A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from April 1929 makes it clear, however, that there was little compassion involved when it came to dealing with the imported Native caretakers: 
....Big Beaver may be requested to resign this fall to take the frequently recurring Indian problem off the minds of the commissioners.

Commissioner E. V Babcock threw the problem off his shoulders with one terse expression.

"Let's get them the deuce out of here."

"We keep these Indians all winter while they loaf," Commissioner Charles C. McGovern declared. "Now when we want them in the summer they want to leave."
Not surprisingly, an obituary for "Chief Big Beaver" doesn't mention anything about boozing or alleged bison poaching:
Aug 7, 1958
Eddie Big Beaver Services Set for Saturday Morning
Funeral services have been set for Saturday, August 9, at 10Am in Little Flower Catholic Church for Eddie James Big Beaver, Sr., 79, whose body was found in an irrigation ditch between Yakima and Toppenish, WA, early this week. Authorities believe his body had been in the ditch about six days before discovery. Big Beaver was a full-blood Blackfeet Indian who spoke excellent English and was regarded as a competent game-keeper, experienced in the handling of all kinds of animals and an experienced show man, having done this type of work in different sections of the US. In 1931, during his employment with South Park, a director for the Bureau of Parks described him as a “picturesque full-blood Blackfeet.” During his lifetime his activities were many and varied. In 1935 he and four other Blackfeet Indians were employed by Ringling Bros. Circus. He was also a one-time game warden at Pittsburg. In 1936 Big Beaver was requested to participate in the Natioinal (sic) Folk Festival at the Texas Centennial, an educational and cultural organization that brought together different Indian groups from many regions of the US In 1939 he was employed by the Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in the motion picture “Susannah of the Mounties.” Survivors include sons, Sam Wolverine, Eddie Big Beaver Jr. & Lynus; Daughters, Joyce Boy and Margaret Boy and 11 grandchildren. [Death was due to a fractured skull from a blow on the head.].
                     Obituary reproduced from

Big Beaver was a larger-than-life character, which was exactly what the newly created Allegheny County Department of Parks was looking for. Just as the colonial French had recruited Native peoples for their Louisiana bison farming plan, the County Commissioners wanted to promote their new "People's Country Clubs" and weren't above using the Blackfeet families as de facto sideshow attractions. That neither attempt at Native exploitation worked is poetic justice, I think, especially given the sustained prejudicial attitudes towards Natives.

Following the departure of the Blackfeet tribe, a 1931 Parks report opined:
 ....the money....was well spent...As was hoped, they drew to the parks and entertained thousands of delighted children and adults...It is, of course, to be expected that the red man sooner or later falls into the irresponsible ways of his people.

North Allegheny History Museum photo of Blackfeet tipi on Flagstaff Hill near buffalo paddock, circa 1931. Source: University of Pittsburgh's Digital Research Library Historical Pittsburgh Image Collections, Northland Historical Image Collection of the Northland Public Library

The County was clearly not sentimental about anything associated with its buffalo management. Blaming fecund bison, by 1933 the Pittsburgh Press was writing articles like the charmingly entitled County Finds Buffaloes Are Now White Elephants: This Unnatural Brand of Too Rapid Evolution Leads Commissioners to Believe the Only Place Poor Bison Are Wanted Is on Wooden Nickels (the article is a wee bit longer than its title). In it, the County Parks Director claimed that due to the complexities of caring and keeping of 39 buffalo when a herd of 20 would be sufficient, consultation with a game conservationist was in order. And so it came to pass that in December 1937, the next County Parks Director announced plans to shoot six of 18 bison to cull the South Park herd, donate the meat to the County Jail, and transfer one lucky live cow to North Park.

In North Park, the bison were confined to an area around Parish Hill bounded by Lakeshore Drive and Pearce Mill Road. This herd ultimately did not flourish and "conflict among the older buffalo" was cited in a 1930 Parks report, which was soon dealt with by castrating the most aggressive bulls. A year later, a Parks report stated that having "unsexed" a few bulls "....the bachelors and, hence, the herd life is much more peaceful."  No word from the "unsexed" bulls about how they felt about this development but it was likely cold comfort when a 1937 County Parks report stated that "Expert authorities....assured the Department that Allegheny County has the finest specimens of buffalo and deer east of the Rockies."

Given regular culling of herds and "unsexing" the bison no doubt appreciated the later development of reliable and non-invasive ungulate birth control.

Visibility problems hampered visitors from spotting the North Park buffalo, and in the 1940s the entire herd was trucked off to South Park. The newspapers of the day regularly reported on their  escapades. Things didn't end well for a bull named Hitler and one has to believe that names are linked to destiny.  From the Pittsburgh Press, January 21 1940:

Pittsburgh Press, 21 January 1940

Today a herd of buffalo remains at South Park (presumably not bearing the names of notorious European rulers). They were apparently on their break when we first visited, but my kids did claim to sighting 427 avian waterfowl, a dead frog, a groundhog, and a flock of turkey vultures that day. Oh, and this sign on the paddock (which was frankly a relief because I'd forgotten to bring any buffalo treats).

A second visit in July 2012 yielded an impressive view of the herd. If we counted correctly, there were 8 adults, 2 juveniles, 2 calves, and a lot of flies.

There have also been bison at the Pittsburgh Zoo as far back as the turn of the last century.  Judging by the frequency of their press coverage over the years, the Zoo bison captured the public imagination in ways that the more anonymous bison herds at the County parks did not (exceptions made for Hitler and Napoleon).  The Zoo buffalo were apparently prone to wandering.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, 17 October 1915

Life for Zoo bison wasn't all fun and games and merry chases. In 1906, two Zoo bison who had been separated from the herd due to mutual aggression apparently agreed to meet behind the parking lot to sort things out later:
In the dead of night, several days ago, the animals tore down the barriers and, with roars of rage, fought in the darkness. When they were finally separated both were bleeding from many wounds and the flesh along their flanks was ripped and town. The dead buffalo will be mounted and preserved at the Carnegie Museum. from The Pittsburgh Press, October 1906
Perhaps in revenge for that bison stuffing and mounting, in 1920 an irate mother bison attacked a 60 year old man who tried to pet her newborn calf: "He was trampled before employees of the Zoo could reach him. Keeper Ernest Tretow and several laborers dragged him from under the hoofs of the angry mother and out of the pen." When another baby was born in 1934 and twin buffalo babies in spring 1936, there were no newspaper reports of goring.

Lesson learned: leave the newborn baby bison alone.

Deer and buffalo paddocks (buffalo apparently on break), Pittsburgh Zoo, July 1930. Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection

Then there was the threat of the bison Anthrax epidemic of 1947 which killed two or three buffalo and resulted in the temporary closure of the Zoo. According to a Pittsburgh Press article from November 24 1947, officials were quick to reassure the public then quarantine and sanitize the animals: "The buffaloes...will be thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected." Public safety assured by a herd of sparkling clean buffaloes, the Zoo re-opened a month later.

My favorite documented Pittsburgh Zoo bison story concerns the consequences of a labor dispute and sit-down strike by zoo attendants in July 1951. Due to the strike the animals didn't get fed for a day, because apparently it's really hard to get scabs to cross a picket line to toss raw steak to the lions. A Pittsburgh Press report noted that the next day the buffalo scored:  
"Only a few of the animals had been fed by noon today. These were the buffalo and deer whose attendants, although officially on strike, came around to the zoo early this morning to feed their charges." 

The last public mention I can find of the Zoo herd is of a 75 pound bull calf born on 25 April 1991, bringing that herd count to seven. The bison herd had been evicted by 2003 when the Zoo closed its North American animals exhibit for expansion in keeping with its strategic plan. My inquiries of Zoo personnel as to where the bison went came up empty.

One might even say that I was buffaloed in my attempts to determine their fates.

I later learned that the Zoo's bison were humanely dispatched, having contracted a contagious disease that would not allow them to be integrated with other bison herds.

Today there are plenty of bison residing in Pennsylvania on privately owned ranches, but those herds are bred for their meat rather than maintained on exhibit for the public. The Allegheny County Parks and Pittsburgh Zoo bison were unique exhibits that tried to balance enclosure with encounter and education, albeit with mixed results.

ADDENDUM:  Rick Sebak did a feature on the two big Allegheny County parks that includes a nice bit on the South Park bison herd. Check that out here: WQED Multimedia: TV: It's Pittsburgh and A Lot of Other Stuff

Fun bison facts:
  • In the seventeenth century, French explorers in North America referred to the new species they encountered as "les boeufs", meaning oxen or beeves. The English, arriving later, changed the pronunciation to "la buff". The name grew distorted as "buffle", "buffler", "buffillo", and, eventually, "buffalo".
  • The bison were all but extinguished in the United States by the end of the 19th century. Before 1600, an estimated 30 million to 70 million bison thrived in North America, according to the National Bison Association. 
  • Bison can run at speeds up to 40 MPH.
  • The average bison life span is 20-25 years.
  • Numbers vary according to sources consulted, but today there are upwards of 500,000 bison in the United States.
Selected bibliography and further reading:

Agricultural Alternatives: Bison Production 
Allegheny County Parks, Carnegie Magazine, July/August 1986
As bison return to Montana prairie some rejoice and others worry  
Latodami Nature Center, North Park  
Nurturing a historic herd of bison: Trexler Nature Preserve 
Rare White Buffalo Killed on Texas Ranch 
Settlement at Pine Creek: Part III by Larry and Susan Miller Pearce 
South Park's bison herd is an unusual and cherished attraction  

Campanella, Richard. ""Forest. Primeval”. Reconsidered"" in Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans.  University of Louisiana.  November 4, 2008. Print.
Morris, Christopher. "How to Prepare Buffalo, and Other Things the French Taught Indians about Nature" in French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World.  Ed. Bradley G. Bond. Louisiana State Univ Pr. June 30, 2005. 22-42. Print.
Oliver, Judith. “Buffalo once had a home to roam in North Park.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 9 March, 1997: VN

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Marly Horses and Pittsburgh Horses

That's me, somewhere down there, wandering the Louvre Museum and thrilling at the sight of the Marly Horses. 

Cour Marly, by John Phillips

My visit in 2011 was as part of a group examining the medieval collection. But we also paid obligatory homage to the iconic exhibits, and passed through Cour Marly. I was so enthralled with the horses that I've visited them again on subsequent visits. My first glimpse of the horses was from the hall several floors above. They look like chess figures from this distance.

Photo by Malcolm Craig

So, whither, horses (as opposed to horse withers)?

Over the course of four extended building campaigns, France's Sun King Louis XIV had converted a royal hunting lodge into the Palace of Versailles. Due to this transformation, he was in need of a new location for the Royal Hunt. In 1679 architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart obliged by beginning work on Château de Marly du Roi on adjacent land.

Marly was to Louis what Hameau de la Reine would later be to Marie Antoinette: a place to kick back and relax in a less formal environment away from constant court scrutiny and protocol. Marly was equipped with a dozen individual pavilions surrounded by an exquisitely landscaped setting.

Château de Marly, by Pierre-Denis Martin, 1724. Wikipedia Commons.

Château de Marly du Roi: better than your average hunting lodge. 

As can be seen in the above painting, even the horse trough was superior. The Grand Abreuvoir à Chevaux at Marly was basically an in-ground equine swimming pool.

French sculptor Charles Antoine Coysevox was commissioned to create a grouping of two equestrian subjects to decorate Château de Marly, which he quickly and beautifully sculpted of marble and installed by 1701 on either side of the horse pond. Coysevox's Renommée (aka Fame of the King) and companion Mercure, both astride Pegasus, represented Louis XIV's personal dominance in times of both peace and war.

 Renommée, from Wikipedia Commons
When Louis died in 1718, his five year old heir and namesake had little need for a hunting lodge. However, the court did find it prudent to refurbish the decrepit public Tuileries Garden. The new space needed embellishment in the way of marble statuary, so Renommée and Mercure were moved to the western entrance of the Tuilleries Garden park in 1719.

Eventually Louis XV developed an interest in his grandfather's estate at Marly. In 1739, he had a second group of horses created by Coysevox's nephew and former student Nicolas Coustou to replace the original pair. After all, what's an in-ground equine swimming pool without massive Carrara marble horse sculptures guarding its entrance?

When creating his sculptures, Coustou was likely inspired by the marble Dioscuri or Horse Tamers from the Quirinal Palace in Rome, themselves 4th century copies of Greek originals. Coustou's pieces represent what the Louvre's website describes as:
 ...the struggle between two wild forces: an untamed horse and a naked man.... The powerful, thick-necked horse shows every sign of panic and anger: rearing up, tossing its head and whinnying, with dilated eyes and nostrils, and a tousled mane. The almost invincible force of nature seems about to break free again. Wherever the spectator stands, the impression of movement, strength, and violent struggle is perceptible. A moment in time has been captured, heralding something of the Romantic works of Géricault. Indeed, Victor Hugo admired "those neighing marbles [...] prancing in a cloud of gold". Coustou claimed to have sculpted (American) Indian slaves, which explains the quiver and feathered headdress that have fallen to the ground in the struggle. The reference is approximate (one groom appears to be from the West, the other African), but the sculpture prefigures Rousseau's idea of the "noble savage" - an idea already propagated by the accounts of travelers and missionaries. ~ from Louvre: Marly Horses

Photos from Wikipedia Commons
Nicolas Coustou's Horse Tamers were completed by his younger brother Guillaume.

Lucky for the Horse Tamers that they were so magnificently done. During the French Révolution anything that was connected with monarchy or theology was usually destroyed or vandalized.

In 1795, on the orders of the painter David, the Coustou statues were moved to Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde) at the bottom of the Champs-Elysées. The superior artistry of the Coysevox set eclipsed any monarchical associations with a once-glorious godlike king. That's what allowed these sculptures to survive during a time when France destroyed so much that was beautiful due to monarchist or religious associations.

Place de la Révolution from "Paris pittoresque" circa 1842. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Château de Marly du Roi itself did not fare as well. Left to deteriorate, much damage was done during the Révolution. The property was sold, and the château leveled and sold off in bits and pieces. Napoleon later bought the estate. It has since been preserved as gracious and expansive park grounds.

Both sets of Marly Horses were moved to the Richelieu wing at the Louvre in 1984 to be conserved. They were replaced by cement copies at the Place de la Concorde and at Marly.

And thus we have the Marly Horses to admire at the Louvre:

Photo by Tee McNeill

Horse-taming sculptures have been replicated in many places. The theme of man's native intelligence dominating the strength of noble and wild beasts has resonated over time. I was thrilled to realize that I'd passed my own regional versions of the Horse Tamer sculptures outside the Stanton Avenue entrance to Pittsburgh's Highland Park many times, back when I walked my dog there. Small wonder that the Louvre's Marly horses seemed so familiar, since I'd lived within a mile of their (admittedly smaller) Western Pennsylvania cousins!

According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which inventories and records such things, the Pittsburgh Horses are bronze statues finished in a green antique patina set upon granite piers. They are scaled-down replicas of the Coustou group of Marly Horses. Pittsburgh's Horse Tamers were created and installed at Highland Park in 1900 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti.

Moretti was an Italian sculptor who migrated to Pittsburgh by way of Croatia and Austria. He came to public attention in the States after being retained by renowned Gilded Age architect Richard Morris Hunt. Architect of the Vanderbilt family, Hunt commissioned Moretti to work on the interiors of William K. Vanderbilt Sr's Marble House. Moretti's work there was a hit and led to an invitation by the director of Pittsburgh's parks and public works, Edward M. Bigelow, to come here to create and adorn Pittsburgh's boulevards and parks with sculpture.

We Pittsburghers know Moretti's work as part of our everyday experience: the four panthers that adorn the Panther Hollow Bridge; the controversial Stephen Foster Memorial statue in Oakland at Schenley Plaza near the Carnegie Museums; and the imposing entrance to Highland Park itself.

An artistic critique of Moretti's Pittsburgh Horses reveals that the proportions of the men to horses are, well, somewhat off.  The green patina of these bronze sculptures is not quite as lively and vivid as is Carrerra marble.  And, as our architectural witnesses to our history, the Pittsburgh Horses have watched dog-walkers, tennis players, and park-goers for only a century, so not history on quite the same scale as that witnessed by the Marly Horses.
"....Consider these restive horses opposite careering on the self-same pedestals, from the day that Marly yielded them in 1790.  They must have been the last object to catch the eye of the unfortunate king on the fatal scaffold, and the first to catch the eye of the emperor, when, after Austerlitz, he made his entry into Paris at the head of the grand armée by the Champs Elysées. In presence of the cynicism of those statues, my country has proclaimed the supreme wisdom of no less than sixteen political constitutions, each the product of her passion, and each an unconscious exposition of her impotence. The horses of Marly! As one muses on their past, what acts, what words, what shades rise up in judgment! A hundred years of Montespan, Pompadours, Du Barrys, at Marly and two years of the avenging Reign of Terror on the Place de la Révolution! Here, for half an age, has a Babel of nations paraded, now in victory, now in idle curiosity; still those Marly horses stand where it found them. They are marble, we are animated flesh. Yet see their stern sentinelate; and do they not seem the substance, and we but a fleeting shadow?"

~ John Estagel, Mon Ami Perot in Bentley's Miscellany, Vol 62 by Charles Dickens, Albert Smith and William Harrison Ainsworth. 
They are nonetheless Pittsburgh's own Horse Tamers, born of skewed Perspective and verdigris, the Guardians of Tennis Courts and Highland Park. 

Further reading: