Clara Barton, animal-lover

John Hartwell

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Clara Barton was one of the Great Souls of history. Not vainly has she been called “the World’s Greatest Humanitarian.” Her great work began, of course, during the course of the Civil War, bringing help, sustenance and comfort to torn and wounded men in hospitals and on the battlefields -- she was often herself under fire. Yet, she worked tirelessly and fearlessly. Eventually, of course, she would go on to found the American Red Cross, and the National First Aid movement, and into history as one of America’s most famous women.

During a long life of hard work, Clara Barton always kept and loved pets. Her earliest, and most treasured “four-footed memory” actually arrived in the Barton family before she did:

“My first individual ownership was ‘Button.’ In personality, Button represented a sprightly, medium-sized, very white dog, with silky ears, sparkling black eyes and a very short tail. His bark spoke for itself. Button belonged to me. No other claim was instituted, or ever had been. It was said that on my entrance into the family, Button constituted himself my guardian. He watched my first steps and tried to pick me up when I fell down. One was never seen without the other. He proved an apt and obedient pupil, obeying me precept upon precept, if not line upon line. He stood on two feet to ask for his food, and made a bow on receiving it, walked on three legs when old and lame, and so on, after the manner of his crude instruction; went everywhere with me through the day, waited patiently while I said my prayers and continued his guard on the foot of the bed at night. Button shared my board as well as my bed.”

Button would remain with young Clara fully eighteen years, guiding her through the gates of womanhood, and the threshold of great accomplishments to come.

Through most of her working life, though, Clara Barton found the greatest solace in feline companionship. She moved so often from place to place, she didn’t feel it right for her to put a pet through such confusion, so she was often known to borrow cats from local people to keep her company, returning them when she had to move on. Then, for her courageous life-saving work under fire at Antietam, Indiana Congressman Schuyler Colfax sent her the gift of a pure white kitten "with a red bow around its neck." She kept this treasured gift throughout the war, and beyond.

“Her work was the best religion Clara Barton had, her applied religion was in the yard as she cared for the domestic animals; in the garden as she cared for the shrubs, the flowers, the vegetables,” remarked her long-time assistant Dr. Julian Hubbell. “Pets continued throughout her life; she had them wherever she happened to be, — pets of the chickens, pets of the birds, pets of the squirrels, pets of the domestic animals. She saw Divinity in nature; loved as does the believer in pantheism, as does the believer in the ‘transmigration of souls.’ To the science of entomology she was not a stranger. Among her swarms of bees she continued the student of those who work for man and do not 'bruise their Master's flower;' loved even that household ‘pest,’ the wasp.” She once remarked on how unfair it was that the lowly wasp should have so few friends, while his “cousin” the bee, was so often beloved. “The wasp is perfect in its organs, and in its symmetry. The male wasp does not sting at all; and, while the ‘female of the species is deadlier than the male,’ the female does not sting except in defense, in obeying the first law of nature, — the law which is the saving principle in the universe.”

Dr. Hubbell years later remarked, “At the Glen Echo Red Cross house, on the window-ledges, in the slats for window-catches, where the walls and ceilings join, in every nook and corner, the welcomed wasps had their little mud cells.”

A few years after the Civil War, Clara Barton went to Europe. France and Germany were at war. At the request of Grand Duchess Louise of Baden, Clara offered her services to the International Red Cross. The Franco-Prussian War lasted three years. Throughout the war, Clara worked with other volunteers to provide relief in war torn areas, especially the cities of Strasbourg in Germany and later in Paris, France. After the war, Clara was honored by both the French and Germans for her caring and impartial assistance. She returned to America, exhausted, in 1873, and settled in Dansville, New York. It was here, a few years later, that she acquired her most famous pet.

This was Tommy, a black and white maltese cat, who would be her constant companion for the next seventeen years. “She accredited her black and white cat at Dansville with human personality, with reasoning powers, with a logical mind.” says her biographer:

“Of Maltese Tommy she tells this story. 'Tommy saw another cat in the mirror. He stared at it; moved his head in rapid succession to one side of the mirror, then to the other side. The other cat did likewise. He dashed like mad to the back of the mirror, but found no cat. Returning to the front of the mirror, he put his left paw on the glass; the right paw of the other cat responded. He put his right paw on the glass; the left paw of the other cat met his. He again put his left paw on the glass, this time being close to the edge of the mirror and, continuing to hold it there he reached around to the back of the mirror with his right paw to grab the insolent intruder. Not seeing the other cat, as he quickly glanced around the edge of the mirror, and not having found it with his right paw, ‘he wiser grew’ and walked away philosophizing; — in this vain world — things are not what they seem — but then, a pleasant illusion is better than a harsh reality.'”
tommy2.jpg

Portrait of Maltese Tommy, c.1885
painted by Antoinette Margot, a Swiss nurse Clara met in Europe,
who returned to America with her, and helped to organize the American Red Cross.
It hangs today in Clara Barton’s Glen Echo home.

Tommy moved with Clara to Glen Echo, Md. (now the Clara Barton National Historic Site), and remained there the rest of his life. Glen Echo House would also serve as the headquarters of the National Red Cross. As such it was a scene of much activity. But, it was also a quiet retreat, a farm, and a home. Chickens and a cow provided food for the household that usually included 8 or 9 staff members, augmented by frequent overnight guests and indigents sheltered by Clara. In the stable were Clara’s horses, Baba and Prince, while the whole was ruled by Tommy.

Tommy was shamelessly indulged; he ate raw steak for breakfast, and “real tea with a little sugar and a good deal of milk, and a small plate of crackers” in the afternoon.

Lloydd Tenney, who visited Glen Echo in 1892, recalled, “I was sitting in the large living room of the home of Clara Barton.... In an easy chair, near the fireplace, sat Clara Barton and her cat had been sleeping in her lap. Dr. Hubbell, her life-long friend and helper was sitting nearby. So the three of us watched the cat jump to the corner of the large table and from there she made an easy leap to the end of the mantle, which was filled with a world of small and priceless things gathered by Miss Barton in her trips over the world or sent to her from her many friends. He walked carefully, the length of the mantle, without so much as touching a single precious treasure, before leaping lightly out the window and into the garden.”

Answering a letter from a little girl, Clara wrote, “I too have a kitty, and he is pretty much master of the house. He doesn't speak German, although I have no doubt he understands it.”

Today Maltese Tommy lies at rest in the garden behind Glen Echo.
 

John Hartwell

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bababarton.jpg

Clara Barton and Baba in 1903
Clara Barton’s father, was a successful farmer, and locally noted horse breeder. One of the many gifts he presented his elder daughter, at the age of 10, was Billy.

Billy was a horse. Clara described him as high stepping; in color, brown; of Morgan ancestry, with glossy coat, slim legs, pointed ears, long black mane and tail, and weighing nearly nine hundred pounds.

“Ownership endowed Billy with wonderful characteristics. He could trot, rack, pace, single-foot, — a Bucephalus worthy of world fame. 'Like beads upon a rosary' she would could and recount the joys of memory, memory of her saddle horse, and she on his back, riding like mad, at ten years of age. He had many characteristics, doubtless, that she didn't recount. As a horse is known to be 'a vain thing for safety' Billy could probably run away, get frightened at a shadow, senselessly 'kick up' and 'smash-up,' as do other horses. But fun is in the danger; the greater the danger to life and limb the greater the fun. Billy would not stand over her to guard her, nor help her up when she fell down, but was useful and gave her pleasure. 'The true, living love is love of soul for soul,' hence mankind loves, in return for love, only what gives love; but mankind also pretends to love what it can force to serve man's purpose. The dog spirit and the horse spirit satisfy the longings of human nature— all the world loves a dog and assumes to love a horse.” (Clara Barton, a Centenary Tribute, p. 40)

She would be an expert horsewoman all her life. Years later, while she was hurrying the wounded into ambulances the afternoon of Second Manassas, an officer dashed up and begged her to leave before the rebels arrived. She refused to go until all the men were safely away. The worried officer asked, "Miss Barton, can “you ride?" "Yes sir." "But you have no saddle— could you ride mine?" "Yes sir, or without it, if you have blanket and surcingle." "Then you can risk an hour, no more." An hour later the officer returned at breakneck speed— and leaping from his horse said: "Now is your time. Miss Barton; the enemy is already breaking over the hills." With the last of the wounded loaded into ambulances, Clara swung onto the back of a let black horse, and dashed for safety.

Clara had many wartime adventures on horseback. Near Petersburg in 1864, she received word of the Mine explosion. She learned that a friend, Amos Gardner, had been among the casualties.

“I was asked if I wanted to go to the mine and I said, ‘Yes.’ The troop of horsemen offered to accompany me there, but I said one would be enough. It was terribly dark. We had no way of keeping one another in sight except for our horses. My horse was black, the other was white. It was a long twenty mile ride. The lightning was terrific; the thunder fearful. When the lightning came we were able to distinguish one another and see where we were going. The rain commenced almost immediately.

“The horses became frightened. They did not run, but they stopped stock still and would not budge an inch. They stayed in one spot for three or four hours, shivering. When the rain subsided and the light came we resumed our way.

“At the mine we found everything in confusion.”
She immediately set to work organizing help for the wounded.

She often spoke of her favorite horses, throughout her life, and she always enjoyed clinging to the back of a racing steed, almost recklessly. Her last favorite was Baba, an intelligent saddle horse, half Arabian and half English, presented at Santiago, Cuba during the Spanish American war by the correspondent of the New York World. “Baba” was later sent to Glen Echo and finally to Worcester and Oxford, in all of which homes Miss Barton, never tired of riding him.

In 1902, Clara wrote: “Romance enters into ownership of pet animals. Probably Button was just a dog and Billy only a horse. But one has said that the right of ownership is the cornerstone of civilization. Ownership of what is worthy of love at least enriches character-contributes to the happiness of human existence. If the Father of his Country was right, that the object of all government IS the happiness of the people, then the love of animals serves a very high purpose.”
 
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John Hartwell

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In 1907, Clara Barton wrote a little book entitled: The Story of my Childhood, in response to the many requests she received from school children, asking about her life as a child. It's full of the stories of a large, warm family, and of an adventurous girlhood spent largely out of doors. At one point she describes how she learned to ride:

Of my brother, David, to say that he was fond of horses describes nothing; one could almost add that he was fond of nothing else. He was the Buffalo Bill of the surrounding country, and here commences his part of my education. It was his delight to take me, a little girl five years old, to the field, seize a couple of those beautiful young creatures, broken only to the halter and bit, and gathering the reins of both bridles firmly in hand, throw me upon the back of one colt, spring upon the other himself, and catching me by one foot, and bidding me "cling fast to the mane," gallop away over field and fen, in and out among the other colts in wild glee like ourselves. They were merry rides we took. This was my riding school. I never had any other, but it served me well. To this day my seat on a saddle or on the back of a horse is as secure and tireless as in a rocking chair, and far more pleasurable. Sometimes, in later years, when I found myself suddenly on a strange horse in a trooper's saddle, flying for life or liberty in front of pursuit, I blessed the baby lessons of the wild gallops among the beautiful colts.

David had told her "To learn to ride is really to become part of the horse -- or, rather, the horse becomes part of you."
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Central Pennsylvania
Probably Button was just a dog and Billy only a horse.


And I don't know. This sounds like her disclaimer to me, in case her relationship with animals be dismissed as an eccentricity or maybe she'd had to defend it once to often anyway. I'm increasingly convinced we have the whole thing set up in our heads all wrong. Who and what is ' smart ', which bit of creation is a step up the ladder, you know? Humans supposedly being the ' top '. Have a feeling we live parallel lives, possibly animals crossing the graph above us in quite a view areas and I mean that. Most of the pets and horses I've been around, swear they've considered me a well-meaning idiot.

Finding it unsurprising Clara insisted animals be part of her life.If anyone deserved to be allowed to hang out with one it'd be her.
 
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