Jefferson Davis and His Dog, Traveler
Mr. Davis was very fond of animals and birds. He always gathered the scraps from the breakfast table to feed his peafowls, and his dressing gown pockets were heavy with grain for his beautiful pets. He had a large flock of peafowls, of which he was very proud and fond. Every morning Mr. Davis would take his exercise on a short pavement leading from the back steps at Beauvoir.
“It is just the length of my exercise path in prison,” he would tell his friends.
Up and down, up and down this pavement he would walk, at his heels and all around him his flock of peafowls. One old cock especially would spread his gorgeous tail, droop his wings, and strut after Mr. Davis in the most comical fashion. Evidently, the bond of friendship between the two was a close one.
Fond as Mr. Davis was of his peafowls, his especial pet was his dog, Traveler, the same name as Robert E. Lee’s famous horse. This dog had a very wonderful history. Mr. (Samuel W.) Dorsey, husband of Mrs. Sarah Dorsey, from whom Mr. Davis purchased Beauvoir, had traveled all over the world. On the Bernise Alps, Mr. and Mrs. Dorsey purchased the young puppy, whose father was a Russian bulldog. The puppy was named Traveler. They carried the young dog everywhere with them, and he was trained to be Mrs. Dorsey’s bodyguard.
Once, while camping on the Arabian Desert, Mr. Dorsey had one of his Arabian servants punished severely for theft. The next day, Mr. Dorsey and some of the Arabians went on a two days’ journey, leaving Mrs. Dorsey and the camp in the charge of an old Arab sheik. That night, while asleep under the tent, Mrs. Dorsey was awakened by a spring and growl from Traveler, then the shriek of a man. She sprang from her cot, quickly got a light, and found the Arab who had been beaten by Mr. Dorsey’s orders pinned down to the ground by Traveler, a huge knife lying beside him, where it had fallen from his hand. He had cut his way into the tent and crept in, evidently determined to wreak his vengeance upon her for the stripes he received.
Mrs. Dorsey had magnificent diamonds, which she wore at night to a reception at the Tulleries. On her return to the hotel, she went at once to her room, while her husband and some friends walked out to smoke. She quickly went to sleep, but was aroused by a sound of a desperate struggle on the floor, where Traveler had succeeded in throwing the thief who had followed her, attracted by the glitter of her diamonds. This man was one of the worst characters in Paris, and the gallows were cheated when he died of the wound in his throat torn by Traveler’s teeth.
After Mr. Dorsey died, Traveler was given to Mr. Davis and became his constant companion and guard. He allowed no one to come on the place whose good intent he had any reason to suspect. The entire place was under his care; not a window or door was locked or barred, for everything was safe while Traveler kept his sentry march on the wide porches that surrounded the house on every side.
If Mr. Davis wished to safeguard their coming and going of anyone and give him the freedom of the place, day or night, he would put one hand on the person’s shoulder and the other on the dog’s head and say: “Traveler, this is my friend.”
The dog would accept the introduction very gravely, would smell his clothes and hands, and “size him up” generally; but he never forgot, and, henceforth, Mr. Davis’ “friend” was safe to come and go unmolested.
As fierce as the dog was, and as bloody as was his record, he was as gentle as a lamb with little children. Mrs. Davis’ small niece, a child about two years old, make the dog her chosen playmate, and the baby and the dog would roll together on the grass in highest glee. She would pull his hair, pound on his head, or ride around the place on his back, the dog trotting as sedately as a Shetland pony. This child lived some distance down the beach; but she went home day after day in perfect safety, guarded and guided by Traveler.
Traveler would rush around in hot pursuit of fiddler crabs, which was a pet diversion of his, and would bark and throw up the sand with his paws in wild glee when he had succeeded in driving a number of the ungainly objects into the sea. But even fiddler crabs had no attraction for Traveler when he went to walk with Mr. Davis. He was then a bodyguard, pure and simple, and had all the dignity and watchfulness of a squad of soldiers detailed as escorts. Mr. Davis would become buried in thought, almost oblivious to surroundings. Traveler had his own ideas of what was right and proper; so if in absorption Mr. Davis would walk very close to the water Traveler would gently take his trousers leg in his teeth, or, by bounding between him and the sea, he would manage to call attention to the big waves coming in.
One day, Traveler seemed very droopy and in pain. As ordinary measures did not relieve him, Mr. Davis wrote a note to a friend who was the most celebrated physician in that part of the country. The doctor came, but nothing seemed to relieve the dog’s suffering. All night he moaned and cried, looking up into Mr. Davis’s face with big, pathetic eyes, as if begging for help from the hand that had never before failed him. All those long hours, Mrs. Dorsey, Mr. Davis, and the doctor kept their hopeless watch, for the work of the vile poisoner had been too well done for remedy. Just at daylight he died, his head on Mr. Davis’ knee and his master’s tears falling like rain upon the faithful beast.
As Mr. Davis gently laid the dead dog upon the rug, he said softly: “I have indeed lost a friend.”
Traveler was put in a coffin-like box, and all the family were present at the funeral. Mr. Davis softly patted the box with his hand, then turned away before it was lowered into the ground. The dog was buried in the front yard of Beauvoir, and a small stone, beautifully engraved, marked the place, (but at some time during the intervening years, that stone has unfortunately disappeared)
By: L. H. L.
Excerpted from the Confederate Veteran Vol. XVII, No. 4, April, 1909
Thanks to: Sunny South News, Lowry Rifles Camp #1740 – Rankin County, Mississippi – Bill Hinson, Editor