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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wild West Georgians History





 Initially, Georgian riders joined the   
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1892, traveling to London that year and to America in 1893. Of all the tales told about the riders, the one most often repeated is the story of their recruitment. Thomas Oliver (1867 – 1943), a commissioner, arrived in Georgia (then part of Russian Empire) to locate riders for Wild West show in the United States.
In Batumi, Oliver stopped at the home of James Chambers, the British Council. An employee of Chambers, a fellow named Kirile Jorbenadze, who was on familiar terms with some of the riders in Guria, offered help. Oliver accepted and soon the two men plus vice-council Harry Briggs, departed to the village of Lanchkhuti. On the way there they stopped at village of Bakhvi, where they visited Ivane Makharadze, a distinguished rider who promised Oliver that he would be responsible for signing up other riders. Thomas Oliver was a remarkable character. Born in Manchester, in a family of circus performers, he spent his childhood on the road with his parents. Perhaps that’s how he ended up spending some time in Tiflis. During the following years, Oliver traveled across the Russian Empire with various circuses and became familiar with the Georgians’ riding skills. This implies that he didn’t come to Georgia “blindfolded.” Later, he interpreted for the Georgian riders (1892-96) presumably in Russian or quite possibly, in Georgian.Georgian riders in London 1892
The British newspaper, The Weekly Dispatch reported its first account of the Cossack riders in Wild West show on May 8, 1892. That was the riders’ first documented trip to England. Similar, but shorter account of that trip appeared in the Georgian newspaper Iveria. It recorded briefly, “Batumi: here’s the list of Georgians, taken to London by a French agent: Ivane Makharadze, Dimitri Mgaloblishvili, Vaso Ckhonia, Levanti Jorbenadze, Luka Chkhartishvili, Mose Gigineishvili, Irakli Ckhonia, Besarion Tsintsadze and Meliton Tsintsadze. Ten persons, all in all.” In an interview granted to The Oracle (May 28, 1892), Nate Salsbury, the Wild West show’s general manager, confirmed, “Yes, they arrived last night. They come from beyond Tiflis (Now Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia), near the extreme of the Caucasus Mountains. They are headed by Prince Ivane Makharadze…”(Group leaders were mostly referred to in the lists as “Prince”. In fact, only some of the riders were of noble origin. The rest were mostly peasants. Apparently, it was a publicity stunt to attract more people) By that time, the British were well aware of Buffalo Bill’s traveling extravaganza. The show had been introduced to the English public at Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887. It was a smash, despite having no so-called, “Cossacks”.
The first group of riders caused great excitement in London because it was the first time that Londoners encountered the so-called, “ Cossacks”. The Georgians’ daggers and swords, and especially eye-catching national outfit decorated with pockets for cartridges was a special topic of conversation, and aficionados took them for miniature sticks of dynamite. According to The Illustrated London News (June 18, 1892), “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West from the North American prairies may be seen here again, positively for the last time in Europe and the Cossacks of the Russian Caucasus, famous military horsemen, under command of their Hetman, Prince Ivan Makharadze, at another of the afternoon, perform equal feats of equestrian prowess.”
Meanwhile, the news about the “Cossack” horsemanship reached the royal family’s ears, and soon Nate Salsbury received a note from Queen Victoria’s stable-man stating that Her Majesty would be pleased if the Wild West show managers would bring their “Cossacks” to Windsor.


Buffalo Bill and Georgian riders in Windsor
On June 25, 1892 the Georgians, lead by Ivane Makharadze, performed in front of the Queen, the royal family and other members of the aristocracy. Charmed by the performance, Her Majesty, Queen Victoria presented the Georgians with a gold engraved album with photos of their performance. (Presumably, the album was kept at Ivane Makharadze’s house in Guria and was destroyed during a fire) and the British society expressed gratitude by issuing a letter of gratitude signed by 20, 000 people.


Prince Ivane Makharadze and his troop of “Cossacks” performing their lively feats
The Wild West show organizers initially paid little attention to the riders’ origin, identifying them Russian Cossacks, Russian Caucasus Cossacks or even Caucasian Jews. It might be worth mentioning that Thomas Oliver and other organizers were responsible for creating this initial mystery in the media by declaring that the riders came from the southern part of the Russian Caucasus, where the Cossack family in Lord Byron’s “Mazepa” came from. Even the riders boasted that they were awarded medals for bravery but it was a con, of course. Other newspapers went even further, such as The Hutchinson Leader that ran an article on July 24, 1908, “The Cossacks were the real thing, right from the Czar’s army. Splendid horsemen and brave fighters, they are also fierce and cruel. They were members of the same regiment that charged upon a throng of men, women and children in the streets of St. Petersburg two years ago and shot and sabered, murdered, a thousand.” No wonder such stories helped make them popular heroes.

These saddles were not cheap, an ordinary Cossack saddle cost $75, and the one custom made forAlexis Georgian cost $275.These saddles were not cheap, an ordinary Cossack saddle cost $75, and the one custom made forAlexis Georgian cost $275.

Georgian riders were known to do the most unbelievable stunts while galloping. Sarah J. Blackstone wrote that the horses needed some time to get used to the tricks performed by the “Cossacks”. Some Georgian sources claim, rather unconvincingly, that they rode the Georgian breeds. According to The London Start (May 31, 1892), “Their riding consists mainly of tricks on horseback, and I’m very anxious to see what they can do in that line. We cannot try them yet, as their wiry little horses need rest after their long journey.” But these comments don’t correspond to reality. First, it was very expensive (around $320) to transport a horse across the Atlantic and second, it was prohibited by quarantine regulations. Normally all the horses were sold after the shows were over in Europe. This indicates that either it was costly for the organizers or prohibited by existing regulations to ship them across the Atlantic.
When asked about it, one Georgian horseman said, “Our horses? They couldn’t have borne the journey. We ourselves had difficulties in crossing the Black Sea let alone our horses. But we brought our saddles, our whips and the rest of the stuff.” Here’s an interesting bit from another American newspaper, “The Cossack saddle is another thing that attracts much attention. Its chief peculiarity, seen from the sides, is two thin pads, fore and after, resembling loaves of bread. A closer examination shows there are four of these pads. The Cossacks stand up in their stirrups with two or three pads on, before and behind his legs. They are stuffed with horsehair. “Why does the Cossack use this saddle?” Prince Luka, a Georgian Cossack, could only shrug his shoulders when the question was asked him. All he could state positively was that style of saddle had been used in his native section of the Caucasus as long as human memory could extend.”



The act usually began with Georgian native dances and songs, and then was followed by stunt riding. It represented the perfection of man and horse and the Georgians did some unimaginable things.
There are some quotes from American newspapers testify to their unique riding skill, “They stood in the saddle, on their feet and on their hands and kicked their legs as the horses flew madly around. They rode standing in their saddles with their faces facing their horses tails and chased each other to capture a handkerchief carried in their mouth…” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1893).
“Standing up in the saddle is child’s play to them. They all rode like mad yesterday standing on their heads on the horses backs.”(The Philadelphia Press, May 23, 1904).
“If the audience will watch Prince Lucca, the Cossack, with his sword, while standing on his saddle, they will be amazed, for so expert is he that as Remington, the famous artist, expressed it, that “No Cossack could commit suicide unless on the ground.”(Nashville American, October 7, 1897).
“Our cowboys are universally the best exponents of expert horsemanship, but the famous Cossacks are their close rival” (Billboard, July 28, 1906).Even William Cody himself said in one of his interviews, “Ride? They can ride anything, and if they get thrown they are up again in a flash. You can’t tie’em down.” (New York Daily Tribune, April 20, 1902).
Dee Brown, the noted western historian wrote, “Trick riding came to the rodeo by way of a troupe of imported Cossack daredevils. Intrigued by the Cossack’s stunts on their galloping horses, Western cowboys soon introduced variations to American rodeo”. 
Georgian riders, circa 1900
The First World War and the Bolsheviks ended the Georgians’ voyages abroad. Those Georgians who found themselves stuck in the States, mostly in Chicago, continued performing in Miller and Ringling Brothers’ circuses and returned to their homeland only when the war was over. Many Georgians settled down to create typical American families and lost ties with their homeland.
As the century progressed, many Wild West shows had to compete with new entertainments, including motion pictures. Some of the shows’ organizers, including Buffalo Bill, started to make film versions of the shows but despite these most of the shows were in deep financial trouble due to declined attendance.
The occasional feeble attempt by some to reanimate the previous glory of the shows led to tasteless endeavors in which some of the Georgian original participants were enlisted. But by that time they had lost the luster of stardom along with their energy and endurance. Fatally, the media had lost interest in them. The organizers even stopped mentioning their names in the programs.
Hard times were ahead for those who returned to Georgia as well. On the grounds that they all were American spies, most of the riders were imprisoned and exiled by the Bolsheviks. Many riders had to destroy all evidence and photographs of their trips abroad in order to survive the new regime’s iron hands. There were cases when riders were forced to sign a document in which they promised never to mention America or Europe again. The Bolsheviks confiscated all the precious gifts and present they had been given. Usually, these things surfaced in the houses of the party nomenclature. Nervous stress was too much for many, – some committed suicide, others died in oblivion…


 Source  georgians.ge





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