Indian Riding/Hiding on Galloping Horse

American Cake Board

Signed: "J. Y. Watkins, NY"

Wood Type: mahogany

Age: mid to late-19th century



xxNote: This a most uncommon design for an American cake board. In fact, it is the only example in this design I have ever seen and am quite happy to have added it to the collection. What makes it even more interesting is that this board, along with the "Festive Couple" cake board, were both used in a bakery in the small German village of Mörfelden-Walldorf (near Franfurt). The boards were found amidst firewood stacked in the cellar of the baker's house which is attached to the now defunct bakery.

xxAt first I was puzzled because I have never found American molds in Germany, but after some thought, I solved the mystery.

xx19th century Americans were fascinated with the customs and traditions of the Native Americans, which were quickly disappearing. Tales of how "Indians" lived, fought and hunted traveled back in the letters of settlers as they headed west. Soon, after driving Native Americans from their land, or due to the slaughter of entire tribes, all that was left of these traditions were the stories or paintings which captured those earlier times. Americans back east had an insatiable thirst for all things "wild west", including those involving Native Americans. Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show was created in the late 1800's and through this show and others like it, people could watch once proud Indians perform. Undoubtedly, these performances allowed the Indians to demonstrate their proficiency on horseback and their technique of hunting by clinging to the side of a horse was observed by the crowd. At that time, bakers were very aware of popular trends and events of historical/political importance. This is seen in the multitude of cake board designs, many of which show important political figures and cultural events of the 1800's. Thus, it is no surprise that a saavy baker would have commissioned a carver to create a mold with the design of an Indian riding on the side of a horse. So why then would this cake board end up in the hands of a German baker? Because Europeans were also fascinated by the wild west of the United States. Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show all over Europe, where children and adults witnessed the same Indians performing their traditional ways of hunting. So a baker living outside of the large German city of Frankfurt undoubtedly had customers who after seeing the show, would buy cookies with the design of an American Indian. I say cookies, because German bakers would not be making New Year's Cakes from this mold, but probably springerle or tirggel cookies, both of which are made with a shallow-carved mold like American cake boards. Another clue in this mystery is the mark of "J.Y. Watkins, N.Y." on the front of the board. Watkins operated a large confectionary and baking supply business in New York in the 1800's and would have been in a position to export cake boards overseas if they were ordered.

xxAs for the design itself, please read the following excerpt from the journal of noted 19th century American artist George Catlin (1796-1872) who spent many years observing the customs of many different Native American tribes:

"The Comanches... have many games, and in pleasant weather seem to be continually practicing... The exercises of these chiefly done on horseback; and it stands to reason that such a people, who have been practicing from their childhood, should become exceedingly expert in this wholesome and beautiful exercise. Amongst their feats of riding, there is one that has astonished me more than my life:a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body upon the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectually screened from his enemies; weapons as he lays in horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse's back; by which he has the power of throwing himself up again, and changing to the other side of the horse if necessary. In this wonderful condition, he will hand whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon his enemy as he passes; rising and throwing his arrows over the horse's back, or with equal ease and equal success under the horse's neck."

xxGrandmother Two Bears, a writer, historian and story teller of Native American culture and customs writes:

"While the Indian boy was riding well by the age of six or seven, learning to shoot a gun from beneath the horse's neck, or belly , was learned much later. This required the rider to slip to the horse's side, holding onto its back with his heels, while one hand gripped a rope that was braided into the horse's mane."

xxI hope that helps explain why this image exists on an American cake board.