Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Spurring Memories

Mention of “Spanish Spurs” was made in an essay yesterday that linked to one of the letters where Mark Twain refers to my great-great grandfather, a friend, fellow-Missourian and partner in a short-lived mining venture in the mountains between Nevada and California.

It also brought to mind a story about my father, a third generation Idaho rancher in my native Yellowstone-Teton corner of that state.  My early elementary school teachers were following the custom then of trying to get me to print and write “right-handed.”

I was really a mixed-lefty which make up 7-8% of the population, but I was lefty when it came to handwriting.  As was the custom back then I was “encouraged” to use my right hand.  Even through high school and college, I would rarely find a left-handed desk.

The teacher’s desk, either Mrs. Bratt or Mrs. Spencer, was in the back of the classroom.  One day when we were quietly working on an assignment, I heard the unmistakable sound of my dad’s spurs as they echoed up the hallway.

I didn’t turn around but my friend Arlen did and then whispered to me, “Hey your dad is back there saying something to the teacher, are you in trouble? Did he find out about our Mexican Jumping Beans?”

Soon I heard the door close and next to me was my teacher leaning down to tell me that it was okay for me to use my left hand.

As if sharing a name with a high school legend in four sports wasn’t enough, that day he gave me cachet on the play ground and prompted an invitation to join a fourth-grader’s football game…until I picked up a fumble and ran the wrong direction, that is.

Known first as “Damascus Spurs,” the Spanish brought this style of spur-making with them to North America.  “Damascus” referred to a style of laminated, “one-piece” steel-making that Islamic armies adapted from India to make swords and spurs.

For spurs it meant “one-piece.”  If Twain had been referring to a two-piece version made at the time he would have probably used the term “California” spurs.

It would be another decade before America’s spur industry would emerge.

My great-grandfather probably didn’t give it a thought as he tossed those spurs Twain had sent him after they were worn out.  Nor do I have any my dad wore.

If his predated the Great Depression, they may have been one-piece, but I doubt it.

Today, Spanish or “Damascus” spurs are recreated by artisans for collectors such as those shown in the image in this blog handcrafted by Larry Fuegen using the process shown in this slide show.

The process was used by Persians, and after his death, the commanders of the Prophet Mohammed expanded their Islamic reach by defeating the Byzantines and Persians using cavalry of recently unified Bedouin tribesmen atop Arabian horses incorporating this technology.

We forget that Islam had already reached pinnacles of astronomy, physics, mathematics, literature, technology, governance, architecture and urban development by the time Europe began to emerge from the “Dark Ages.”

Brought back by Crusaders, these advances fueled the “Renaissance.”

We also forget that this golden age in Islam came to an end because of infighting and religious militants, still blinding us today to the fact that Islam’s spread was founded on teachings and practices of Mohammed, now ignored by extremists who dominate the headlines.

The Crusaders from Spain didn’t bring back spurs which had originated with Romans who may have learned their use from “Celts.”

Probably borrowing from the forces of Saladin, they brought back fast Arabian horses and the “Damascus” form of forging them, which on this continent became known as “Spanish Spurs” when imported by Cortés.

Remember, even the famed boots of “Spanish leather” often graced by Damascus spurs are a credit to Muslim Moors.

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