The Chihuahua x Western Genre Connection

By most accounts, Owen Wister invented the Western. His 1902 book, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, sold over two millions copies, was reprinted fourteen times within a year of publication, and spurred four film and TV adaptations. Wister was also one of the first breeders of Chihuahuas, and some sources suggest he may even have influenced the breed’s name.

Enter James Watson, a founder of the AKC. Watson acquired his first Chihuahua en route by train to San Francisco for a judging assignment in 1888. During a stop in El Paso, he purchased his first Chihuahua, “Manzannita,” for $5 from a Mexican standing around with a tiny dog in his hand (at the time, Chihuahua breeding had become a lucrative business along the border, and peddlers would hold puppies up to the windows of trains begging for money in exchange). Watson’s new dog, “Manzannita,” was smuggled on the train to San Francisco, then back to her new home in Philadelphia, and from there, she went everywhere Watson went. In Germantown, PA, a chap stopped Watson who had “Manzannita” with him, and said he hadn’t seen such a dog since he was in Arizona years before. The chap was Owen Wister whose family had settled in Germantown even before William Penn got to Pennsylvania.

By now, Watson was a lost man, lost to a breed with which he’d become smitten. Though he never had a successful breeding program, he purchased several more dogs on trips to the Southwest. Wister always inquired about Watson’s dogs whenever they met.

Wister, meanwhile, was smitten with the southwest. It’s possible that his way of preserving the culture was by saving the Chihuahua, a dog Watson, the sporting and kennel editor for the Philadelphia Press, had described as, “the only truly North American dog.”

Chihuahuas were AKC recognized a couple of years after Wister’s book was published, and anyone interested in the breed will want to read anything written about them by Amy Fernandez.

“Stella” by Sarah Batalka is available in many formats beyond prints and posters. Find it here.

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