Boxer Ancestor Died In The Battle of Belfort, 1871
Translated by Cal Gruver
Ed. Note: Dr. Peter Störring a member of the German Boxer Club, discovered a long-lost article about this picture in the Munich magazine, Hunde--Sport und Jagd [Dogs--For Sport and Hunting], issue #25 of 1901. It is the source of the following article by Dr. Störring published in Boxer Blœtter, November 1990. It is translated and reprinted here with the author's permission.
The oldest dog publication in Germany is the weekly magazine Hunde--Sport und Jagd. Founded by Ernst von Otto-Kreckwitz (1861-1938), it appeared under the title of Der Hundesport [The Sport of Dogs] for the first seven years. Ernst v. Otto also edited this richly illustrated publication which is an invaluable source today for the history of German dog clubs.
Around the turn of the century almost all of the major German dog clubs began their existences. Not only did v. Otto report on this, but he was an active participant in building at least fifteen of them. He was certainly one of the most significant pathfinders for the purebred dog movement in Germany.
One of his clubs was the [German] Boxer Club, with which he had a very close relationship. His Hunde--Sport und Jagd served as the Boxer Club's official organ between 1902 and 1904, when Boxer Blœtter began. And in 1908, Ernst v. Otto also became editor of Boxer Blœtter.
Unfortunately, only a few copies of Hunde--Sport und Jagd for that early period still survive. All of which makes the discovery of this picture and the article about it even more valuable. The photograph, with the caption "A Boxer of Thirty Years Ago--Owner was 2nd Lt. Burckhardt, Hanover," shows a Prussian officer in a relaxed pose leaning on his saber. At the lieutenant's feet lies a white Boxer ancestor with symmetrical dark patches on its head. If you have paged through any of the Boxer Club's earliest brochures or a copy of the 1990 edition of Unser Hund ein Boxer, then you have probably seen the picture but without any explanation as to its meaning.
Ernst v. Otto, with the publication of the photo of (later) Major Burckhardt and the story about it, did a fine service for Boxer history. Burckhardt was one of the few witnesses of the foundation of our breed in the middle of the 19th century, as well as the founding of the Boxer Club and the creation of the first Boxer breed standard. Burckhardt also witnessed the official decision to name the new breed "The German Boxer," and lived to see its recognition as a purebred German breed.
Von Otto and Burckhardt first met in Vienna in 1884, at an exhibition for Doggen [a group of large breeds, such as Danes] and "Leonhardiner," a cross of Lionbergers and St. Bernards. Otto later referred to Burckhardt as "one of our most experienced [öltesten] exhibitors."
The Boxer Club soon made Burckhardt an honorary member. He often served as a judge for "Luxury Dogs" [a group name for mostly toy breeds] in addition to being a Boxer judge and a breeding consultant.
"Boxer" since 1850s
In Burckhardt's parental home on the Baltic, as reported in the 1901 article, dogs called "Boxers" had been bred and raised since the middle of the 1850s.
According to Burckhardt:
A German Boxer. That's the name I would like for the breed, and it would not be a new breed because I have known it since my childhood long ago.
Since the middle of the 1850s, Boxers had been the sole breed in my parents' home. They were not only companion dogs, but also excellent watchdogs, family dogs, and my play comrades. The features of type and character were exactly the same then as the ones we have now .
There was a union of great strength, high intelligence, wonderful faithfulness, courage and unflappability--and a pronounced love for training.
Because of its short hair the Boxer is easy to keep clean, yet despite its light clothing the Boxer is in no way a sissy. He loves to travel and will go along on a walk or trot alongside the horse, wagon, or bicycle. It's a pity that he has been accused of being a biter, because for the most part he is extremely friendly to women and children and highly valued for that reason. Only his unique face has given the Boxer such a serious appearance, while his true character is actually almost silly."
Already in 1901, Courageous Dogs Often Seen as Dangerous
There is nothing new. Around the turn of the century (1901) when Otto's article was written, there was public discussion about the danger and aggressiveness of large courageous dogs. Burckhardt made a comment on that subject.
A 'biting' dog is not born that way. Some human being has turned that dog into a beast by incorrect training. Just as there is no reason for a strong, courageous human to be a bully, likewise there is no reason for a powerful dog to become a biter.
The Lieutenant and his "Box" Go To War, 1870/71
Thirty years after the Franco-German War ended, Burckhardt revealed in that 1901 article the history behind the 1870 picture of the young lieutenant and his "Box." Since then Burckhardt had retired as a Major from the Prussian army, but the memory of the dog that had saved him on the battlefield on January 17, 1871, was still very much alive.
As an officer, Burckhardt was able to take his white "Box" with the large dark patches around the eyes along on the campaign in France. Shortly before they left, the lieutenant had the photograph taken of him and his Boxer. In November of 1870, Burckhardt and his regiment laid siege to the fortress at Belfort, which protected the route into Burgundy. Burckhardt's regiment set up their blockade about eight miles southwest of Belfort on the west bank of the Lisaine river. General Bourbaki of France attempted to raise the siege by launching a large attack on the German positions, but it was repelled. Among the victims of the battle was the faithful "Box," who had been hit by shrapnel.
I had the best opportunity to learn of the fidelity and virtues of a Boxer, and that experience led me later to become a spokesman and advocate for this breed.
In the campaign of 1870/71, a Boxer of my parents' breeding, named Box, was my companion. He was at my side through the skirmishes and battles near Metz, lived in our tent, and during the encounters acted as a true watchdog against any danger. The battles never bothered him at all. He was very popular because of his affectionate and intelligent nature, and every letter I sent back to my parents contained a report on the dog. But he was not destined to ever see his home again. Our dangerous days near Metz were not the end of our combat. My regiment was ordered to help in the siege of Belfort--months of misery that my faithful companion had to suffer too.
Already in the first weeks of the siege, while on a patrol of the line, my Box was badly hit in the hindquarters by shrapnel from an artillery shell. I had to place him in the care of some medics.
When I returned after several days he was beside himself with joy. Despite great pain, he leaped up to greet me, almost as though he knew I had been spared death again. Nor would he let anybody else near me without my approval. Anyone coming near was greeted by a low, but serious growl, until I gave a signal that the other person was a friend.
But I was only able to enjoy his companionship and love for a little while longer. Information that General Bourbaki would be trying to lift the siege soon became reality. Three horrible days of battle took place on January 15, 16 and 17. We had to put every last man on the line against an enemy that outnumbered us by tenfold. There was no one to care for my poor little patient.
Although only on three legs, my Box went with me to the front of the battle lines, which became the place of death for many brave German soldiers and my faithful dog.
The third day of battle was even worse than the first two. The enemy fought for his very existence. A hail of artillery and rifle fire poured down upon us, but Box stood firm as stone by my side and stared at the enemy line that was now mounting a direct charge at us.
Suddenly there was a dull thud and out of the corner of my eye I saw my dear dog blown into the air and coming down in the snow. He had been ripped apart by shrapnel from a grenade. The grenade would probably have hit me if Box had not been there, for I would most likely have been standing in that very spot.
Spared from death, I had the feeling that my dearest friend had died in place of me.
We repelled the enemy's attack, then immediately mounted a counter attack against the fleeing enemy--all in the most bitter cold and through ice and snow. I never saw my most faithful comrade-in-arms again.
The only visible memory of that event is this photograph in which he lies at my feet. When I look at it, all of the time that has passed since he died is removed and he lives again."
Today there is a huge monument at the base of the fortress of Belfort for those who died in that battle It is called "The Lion of Belfort," and was sculpted by the French sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi (1843-1904)--the same person who created the Statue of Liberty in 1886. "The Lion of Belfort" is of sandstone, sculpted from 1875-80, and measures about 71 feet long and 36 feet high. Even though the name "Box" is not on the memorial tablet, we now know that the great lion also stands for a little white Boxer who gave up his life in battle on 17 January 1871.