Georgian Riders in the Wild West
06 November, 2014
Georgian Riders in the Wild West
Luka Chkhartishvili, a horseman who returned to his native Lanchkhuti in the 1920s, revealed to his friends and relatives: “I was a famous figure in the United States and when I die, my name will not be forgotten there.” These are the words which Irakli Makharadze, a famous director and expert on Georgian horsemen in the Wild West, begins telling this story with. He has studied the life of Georgian riders, who held public performances both in Europe and the
United States, in detail. In his private collection he keeps the unique photos of Georgian riders, who moved from Guria to the “Wild West, stretching over a huge territory” displaying their professionalism and skills.


Nobody knows exactly how believable the story of Luka Chkhartishvili and his fellows who returned from America to their motherland, Guria, was to the local inhabitants, yet one thing is clear: Europe and the United States have indeed recognized them. However, their real origins were unclear, they were simply called “Russian Cossacks.” Thanks to Iraki Makharadze’s substantial effort, this term has been amended in many places. Today in the descriptions of many museums the riders from Guria are mentioned as “Georgians.”
Ivane Makharadze, Veliko Kvitaishvili, Alexi Gogokhia, Dimitri Mgaloblishvili, Data Qajaia, Dimitri Tsintsadze, Luka Chkhartishvili and dozens of other Georgian riders left their country for England in 1892.
Irakli Makharadze says, “By that time an international Horticulture Exhibition was held in Earl’s Court, where among various types of events, famous Wild West shows by Buffalo Bill Cody were also presented.”
On May 28, 1892, the chief manager of Buffalo Bill Cody’s “Wild West” show, Nate Salsbury, reported in The Oracle newspaper: “Yes, they arrived yesterday at night from Tbilisi, that is located near the Caucasian mountains… We assured the Russian government that these people will return – our ambassador in St. Petersburg guarantees this.”
And so it began.
In 1893, the horsemen from Guria were already in the United States of America, and both Europe and America were quite excited by their presence.
Many reports were written, photos were taken of them and posters were exhibited in the big cities. The Iveria newspaper published the French Petit Journal’s article that stated:
“Fifteen Caucasian horsemen visited our editorial office. All of them are master riders. These gentlemen are going to Chicago, guided by Mr. Ercol. A horse race will be held at the exhibition in Chicago, where French Cavalry, German Uhlans, the British and Native Americans will participate alongside the Caucasians. The leader of Caucasian riders, Mr. Ercol, is quite experienced and convinced that his group will definitely win. The leader of the group does not stand out from his fellows: clad in a red costume and heavily armed with pistols and a sword, he wears a black leather hat and a suit.
“It was a fascinating picture: these riders had strict and simultaneously calm facial expressions. Deep black eyes and long beards added a strange note to their faces… They sang their song, which had a strange melody.
“While listening to this song, it was enough to close one’s eyes and immediately envision the dry plains, the burning sun and the crowds praying for their gods, ready to spill blood.
“These Asian Barbarians are distinct from our intelligent nation. They are proud of their graceful bodies, beautiful guns and yet at the same time they are happy like children whenever they see bottles of sparkling wine…”
Many people could not understand why riders from Guria were so eager to stay together and avoid communicating with the other participants of the show. That is why sometimes they were considered too proud. But outsiders had no idea how much Georgians cared and cherished each other. To them, every single of their comrades was a link to their homeland in this alien country.
Women also took part in the horse races alongside their male compatriots… Frida Mgaloblishvili was one of the pioneers.
One of the articles said that Frida spoke French, Italian, English and German perfectly. “It can be said that we are born riders. Horseback has been my chair for as long as I remember. No one taught me how to ride… All the tricks that I used in the shows had been performed just for fun while participating in races held in my hometown.”
Irakli Makharadze says the following: “I carry on with my research because for some reason, foreigners are interested in this topic. Even my book, which will soon be published in the USA, is proof of that.”
Information about the book has already spread in the US. In 1893, Georgian horsemen from the Caucasus immigrated to the United States, where for more than 30 years they performed in circuses and Wild West shows under the title of “Russian Cossacks.” The connection between Buffalo Bill Cody and the Georgian trick riders represents one of the earliest relationships between Georgia and the United States.
Western historian Dee Brown wrote, “Trick riding came to rodeo by way of a troupe of Cossack daredevils imported by the 101 Ranch. Intrigued by the Cossacks’ stunts on their galloping horses, western cowboys soon introduced variations to American rodeo.” This is the story of the men who came in search of financial support for their families in Georgia and, without knowing it, influenced an essential fixture of American culture.


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