HISTORY OF THE INDIAN FANTAIL IN THE UNITED STATES
October 12, 2009
By Dave Diehl
Work started on this project in 2002 when then IFCA president Ted Golka, asked me to develop a history. We have Ted to thank for having what is herewith accomplished. Without his push I would never have brought it this far. There have been long periods of dormancy which may have effected a smooth progression of my presentation. There are many reprints of previously printed material. I feel it important to include them, they help tell our history. We have tried to make it easy to read, informative and sometimes perhaps even fascinating. Just as in show ring judging, the putting together of historical material can’t help but become subjective! It has been a toil of love specifically for the Indian Fantail and the fancy pigeon hobby in general. Thanks to all those quoted.
Additional chapters will each expand on specific parts of our history. Please refer to the Table of Contents. Harvey Addengast, SD will finalize them and coordinate keeping those open-ended chapters up-to-date. I know he will have your support.
CHAPTER ONE – IN THE BEGINNING
The beginning, what is the real beginning? I mean even before the United States. The name Indian Fantail, as a breed name, did originate in the United States. One can say or write however, “Indian fantail” and refer to pigeons with fantails from India. Where did the blood come from? Genuine history records are wanting. Our breed is not alone in that regard. I have paid more attention to history reporting of other breeds since beginning this work. In the June 2002 Pigeon Debut, Tom Monson in an article on Birmingham Rollers Origins, stated, “the ancient origins of the roller pigeon are shrouded in mystery and conjecture.” The August 2005 issue of the Pigeon Debut, the Dragoon special, reads like another mystery. The May 2005 issue of the Pigeon Debut was a Roller and Tumbler special. In John Valencia’s “origin” article he stated, “There are several theories as to the origin of the Parlor Roller/Parlor Tumbler pigeon…which theory is correct, we really don’t know at this point.” In a Purebred Pigeon article by David Fuller, “Tipplers, Why & How”, he states; “We have no historical records to refer to…as to the origin of the breed, here again, we are at a loss for accurate data.” The Indian Fantail is in good company when we question the “real beginning.”
For some background on Fantails in England, including a reference to fantail imports from India, we can go to the December 2001 issue of the Pigeon Debut, pages 7-10, an article entitled “Motion” by Jeff Barton, Devils Lake, ND. A particular sentence caught my eye. It read: Today an occasional young Fantail is raised with a peak crest or feathered feet – a throw back to the late Indian Fantails. Another paragraph of interest to Indian Fantail breeders reads: There appears to have existed an exceptional line of Indian saddles as the English Fantail breeder and author James C. Lyell owned a 1730’s painting of a good quality yellow saddle. In 1870 he purchased a red saddle cock of same quality in the Tiretta Bazaar of Calcutta, India.
Reading this highlights the fact that the Indian type fantail came long before the “standard” or “English” fantail. Some may be of the assumption that it was the other way around. Today, the two breeds are far apart in about every respect, conformation, carriage and movement.
I refer to the Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds. On page 121 there is a picture of a red ribbontail and a tailmark owned by Harvey Gatlin, Tujunga, CA. On pages 122 and 123 are additional photographs of Indian Fantails, a black self, a white self and a “black mottled” (with eyebrows). These are listed as bred by C. J. Trigg, Hong Kong and owned by T. Y. Tsui, Hong Kong. Turn a couple pages to 127 and you will see an illustration of the Thai Fantail. Doesn’t it have a familiar look? The bird is listed as owned by Dr. Robert W. Prichard, Winston-Salem, NC. Excerpts from the narrative section for this breed include the following:
It may have come from India, as there was commerce between the two countries and the Thai and the Indian Fantail have much in common. Robert W. Prichard, M.D., stationed for several years in Thailand with the United States Public Health Service, sent this breed to the United States in 1957. The breed is being raised in the United States by Dr. Prichard, Don H. Andrews, Encino, CA and others. Stay with me, later I have more about Mr. Andrews.
Back to page 122, the author’s comments, in part, for Indian Fantails, reads; Harvey Gatlin, Tujunga, CA, is producing some rare and beautiful combinations of color. The type of Fantail has been spread widely from India and has numerous admirers. In the United States the Indian Fantail Club of America has been recently organized by its breeders (American Pigeon Journal, June, 1964, page 233) and has over 50 members.
That said, what do we know regarding “our” Indian Fantail? The primary beginnings may well have come from one or more of the large tailed breeds Abul Fazl described in 1590, recorded in Wendell M. Levi’s Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds first published in1965. The name became official in 1963 when Harvey Gatlin and Tony Brancato agreed on that name and established the Indian Fantail Club of America. When and which of these breeds were imported into the United States is difficult to document. This first chapter tries to provide information as to the breed’s origin in the United States. But I can tell you now that I may not answer all your questions. While we have Harvey Gatlin’s report of Indians arriving about 1927 in snake cages at the San Diego Zoo, we also have reports of other fantailed pigeons imported much later from both India and Thailand. Mr. Levi reports on both the Thai Fantail and the Indian Fantail. Both have played a role in the foundation of present day Indian Fantails in this country. As to the development of the breed as we know it today in this country, it is a manufactured breed. Crosses have been made through the years, up to and including the present.
While our earliest U.S. breeders may not have created a large tailed breed, they collectively helped shape it and promote it into what is has become. In deference to breeders in countries outside the U.S. I would admit that there could have been pigeon fanciers working on an “Indian fantail” or fantails from India, prior to or during the same period of development here. This would be similar to what appears to have happened in this country in the very early days, individual fanciers developing an Indian Fantail like pigeon without much or any awareness of others, about the same time, many states apart.
My long time pigeon pen pal in Great Britain, Mal Watts, wrote of remembering, as a single globe trotting man back in the 1960’s, of seeing black self Indians in the Hong Kong markets and that to the best of his recollections, they were equal to the blacks in the U.S. of the 1970’s. He went on to note that the white selfs of Bangkok, which he saw around the same time, were more of the Thai type and not as large as the whites in the U.S. As a side bar to our U.S. history, Mal wrote next to a cover picture on the May 2006 Feathered World magazine (an English publication) showing a Mr. Joe Roper; “He was the first president of the British Indian Fantail Club, and kept Indian Fantails in the 1950’s, all long backed and free flying”. He finished with, “It is also written that Marco Polo saw fantail pigeons of many colors in the courtyard of the Chinese Emperor’s palace in Peking. The place of origin of our Indians must have been Asia.” After getting that information from Mal I asked him about the Garden Fantail that is apparently rather popular in Great Britain and is listed in the show reports in that country today. Mal said he had been trying to trace the origin of the old long backed type of Indians around Britain and Europe. He wrote that a man named Ken Bishop kept Indians back in the 1950’s on the Island of Jersey. He wondered if, since the Channel Islands are closer to France than England, that those type birds had a French connection. My guess is that the Garden Fantails in England are descendents of the big tailed birds from Thailand, imported who knows when, and not crossed or changed to a great degree.
Robert Raymond, Canada, posted a 1900 French painting on the Internet showing a number of different breeds of fancy pigeons. Included were a black bodymark Indian Fantail like bird complete with crest and small muffs and a red saddle with a crest but no muffs.
Here in the U.S. the summer 1982 edition of the IFCA newsletter carried excerpts of a letter from the late Art W. Kehl of Wisconsin. Mr. Kehl was a longtime, nationally known pigeon fancier and active member and director of the National Pigeon Association. Included with his IFCA membership dues was the following –
Twenty five or thirty years ago (in the 1950’s) when Indian Fantails first began appearing in our shows, most of then were either AOC or ribbontail. The ribbontails shown were certainly different than what is called for in our present Standard but I vividly recall some of the unusual colors. I can recall birds more lavender than any Lahore I have ever seen. This must be the ‘Azure’ that Levi alludes to in his writings of birds from India. There were also birds almost orange in color. The present day gold of the Modenas nearest approaches what I remember. Because these beautiful birds were so far from the current Standard I feel they may have been culled and the color dissipated and may be even lost. I sure hope not. Personally, I hope to concentrate on the ribbontail marking and hope I can find those beautiful rare colors once again.
While questions still stand, not many were involved with the very early development of the breed in this country prior to 1963 when the Indian Fantail Club of America was formed and a first Standard was adopted. I believe there is agreement that the father of the breed is the late Harvey Gatlin, Tujunga, CA. There is no doubt that without Harvey’s personality and generosity the breed would not have gotten off the ground and be where it is today.
What did Harvey have to say about the founding of our breed? Many are familiar with Harvey’s article that he wrote in 1968. It has been reproduced many times in numerous publications. This history would not be complete without including it. Thanks to the help of the World of Wings Pigeon Center, Oklahoma City, here is Harvey’s article, for the record, unedited, as it appeared in the December 1968 issue of the American Pigeon Journal. The story includes this photo of Harvey as well as the bookend picture of a ribbontail and tailmark Indian Fantail, facing each other, taken from page 121 of The Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds.
How I Got Started With Indian Fantails
Indian Fantails Held Sacred In India – My
Experience of Thirty Years in Developing
The Present Day Indian Fantail
By Harvey Gatlin
American Pigeon Journal, December 1968
The Indian Fantail as known by American Fanciers is considered by most people as a new breed, but facts prove this assumption as false.
The Indian Fantail is one of the oldest breeds of pigeons known to man. Hieroglyphics in the Egyptian Tombs definitely show drawings of pigeons with peak crests and grouse muffs with a Fantail, even superior to the pictures in “Fulton’s Book,” 1600 to 1700 A.D. (approximately). No doubt these birds are ancestors of the present day Fantails.
Most Fantail breeders will agree that occasionally a peak crest or grouse muffed will still appear. My belief is many of the present day fancy pigeons go back to these Egyptian Fantails.
The hieroglyphic drawings of a plain head clean leg pigeon is I’m sure intended to represent the ancestors of our present day Homing or Racing pigeons. Tomb hieroglyphic records prove that the Egyptians used pigeons as a means of communication.
There are many villages in India along the Ganges River where the Indian Fantails are held as sacred. I have been told some of these villages have flocks of thousands, of course there are always others drifting in, some scoop tails and undesirables, but most all birds carry some of the characteristics of the old stock. No one seems to know where these birds come from, when asked the natives where these beautiful Fantails come from, they shrug their shoulders and reply; “I guess they have always been here”.
The first Indians to arrive in the United States, to my knowledge, came as food in a large crate of snakes, designated for the San Diego Zoo, about 1927, fortunately they were not all eaten. They were placed in a cage and kept for a time, then sold or traded since San Diego Zoo like most Zoos cannot keep too many domestic pigeons or other birds due to space limitations. The now named Fantails changed hands several times and were scattered around.
About 1939 I obtained two pair and kept them and their young until the war in 1941. I had to dispose of all my pigeons in 1943. I started with birds again but couldn’t locate any of the Indians. I continued with Racing Homers and I still have some as well as numerous other fancy breeds.
In my last year of active participation in Racing Homer pigeons I was fortunate in winning seven out of eleven races, including the 400, 500, 600 and the 700 mile races. I elected to retire and devote my full time to breeding and raising fancy pigeons and other Exotic birds. I turned my racing stock over to a good friend, Ralph Card and he is still wining his share of trophies.
I was fascinated by the Indian Fantail pigeon and decided to try and find some and start breeding them again but much to my disappointment they were not to be found. I was persistent and in 1945 I heard of a young man who had a few Indian Fantails and on looking him up he told me that a dog had gotten into his pen and had killed all of the Indians, as well as other breeds, but one. He also told me that he had joined the Navy and said I could have what he had left, a beautiful tail-marked hen. I loved her beauty and just had to find a mate for her. While looking for a mate for her I gave her an English Trumpeter cock to keep her happy. I kept three or four of the best birds from this mating. In time I found a cock from a friend of mine, he had a few very old birds. I took him home and my hen that was then thirteen years old, and the cock who was eight, seemed to think that this was love at first sight. They went to nest in a few days. The hen laid one egg only. The one egg hatched and was a duplicate of the old cock, a red, which died March 5, 1968 at the age of nineteen. The old hen never laid another egg but she was a good foster parent for more than two years and very beautiful until the day she died. The young red cock was mated to one of the English Trumpeter crosses. I kept mating back and forth. One day a friend said he had what I wanted. He was passing a poultry market and had found this bird. It was a very large white cock with large tail feathers and a large body, he also had nice grouse muffs. My friend was so correct. This cock was mated to the granddaughter of the old birds. Out of the 20 birds bred from this mating only five were saved. After many crosses between these birds the ribbon-tail and others were started. The clean legged and plain heads were culled completely, except for three cocks and one hen. These were all ribbon-tails. I can’t come to dispose of them, for visitors say they are the most beautiful birds they have ever seen.
I have developed other colors which to date are Saddles in red, yellow, beige, blue, black, silver and lavender. Body Marks in black, blue, red, yellow and beige, mottle, lavender, silver, dun, chocolate and copper (or bronze). Tail Marks in black, silver, grizzle red and blue. Solid colors in blue, red, bronze, chocolate, dun, yellow, lavender, white, silver, blue and black checked, also one near pink and one orange-beige and maroon splashed. Ribbon-tails in red, through maroon shades with white or blue ribbons running from side to side. The ribbon is about one inch from the end of the tail.
Back to mating. A few years after the first birds, I found a fancier from the Mid-West who had seven Indian Fantails for sale. I bought them but did not get what I needed. About the same time I bought two pair of Thailand Fantails, which contributed greatly to the whites.
A few years later I made the acquaintance of Tony Brancato who was to become my best friend. At that time Tony lived in Connecticut. He visited California and decided to stay. He sent for his birds (56) and set to work. Plain heads and clean legs were culled. He got down to eighteen birds. Tony decided to return to college and finish his teacher’s credentials. So I took over his entire stud. It was easy as they were at my house in a small loft I let him use.
Last year after graduation he decided to concentrate on the whites due to the lack of space. I turned over the whites to him. Tony’s Indian Fantails were a great help in my work. Tony had imported birds from India and many thousands have been bred with only the cream of the crop allowed to exist. Please remember, there is no Standard Fantail blood in any of the Indians. I had tried once but, with bad results, so the entire crosses were killed.
Indian Fantails are very prolific and hardy and need not have their tails clipped to breed. My experience has been 85 percent or more fertility in the eggs. They are excellent feeders and are the best parents of any breed I’ve had. In my time I have had many breeds, many times as many as 30 or more at a time. I like a breed with a lot of challenge and the Indian Fantail has far more than any breed I have ever raised.
This covers almost thirty years of pleasure with the Indian Fantail.
Note: As indicated earlier Harvey’s article has been reprinted many times, with editing. The title we are more familiar with is “Then and Now in Indian Fantails by Harvey Gatlin”. Some versions end with a listing of Indian Fantail classes for showing. Stan Luden, CA, sent me a copy of the May 1971 issue of the National Pigeon Review magazine which carried such information at the end of a reproduction of Harvey’s article, with the footnote, “revised, June 1, 1969 Meeting”. More on that later. Remember, the above words of Harvey Gatlin were put into print “almost thirty years” after he first started with Indian Fantails.
Whether Fantails from India that came out of snake cages in San Diego had much to do with establishing Indian Fantails in the United States is speculative. There is nothing like a little intrigue to get people interested in a new breed! No one has ever questioned the breed promotion ability of Harvey Gatlin.
Born in 1912, Harvey died on January 21, 1989. Bob Nolan, CA, reports that at Harvey’s funeral, in a small chapel, there were two sun rooms toward the back on each side with birds in cages. Bob relates, they were quiet, probably many had not even been aware they were there. Right at the time the pastor said, “They called him the bird man of Tujunga”, all those caged birds began to sing!
At Harvey’s passing, Tony Brancato, CA, wrote the following for the March 1989 American Pigeon Journal: Harvey was my friend. Harvey and his wife Dolores were the most kind and gentle folk I have ever met. I spent many a weekend with them and grew to love these people. Harvey not only is credited with being the father of the modern Indian Fantail but also of many other breeds, most notably the present day English Trumpeter.
Harvey’s generosity knew no bounds, he gave more birds away than most of us will ever breed! Harvey had an innate knowledge of pigeons, for that matter all living creatures. He could get just about any rare creature or not so rare to reproduce!
With great sadness Harvey is not among us, but his work and contribution to our hobby will go on forever. Harvey, whenever we see a beautiful Indian Fantail your memory will live.
What happened to Harvey’s birds upon his passing? Stan Luden wrote that upon Harvey’s death the place was put up for sale and all his animals and birds went to a dealer.
The November 2004 Pigeon Debut was an English Trumpeter special. Harvey’s picture was one of those included on the front cover. Here are excerpts from Bob Nolan’s history article:
Many breeders like Bill Pensom, Bill Hague, John Beckman and George Neuerburg taught me and expanded my pigeon horizons. Yet none was more influential than John “Harvey” Gatlin, then of La Crescenta, CA. Having a pleasant, easy going personality, Gatlin enjoyed helping young people get started in pigeons. Over the years he promoted three major breeds: Frillbacks, English Trumpeters and Indian Fantails. When our paths first crossed ….Harvey’s passion was English Trumpeters.
I wanted to expand on Bob’s association with Harvey. We had a very helpful telephone conversation followed by e-mail correspondence. Bob indicated that he was thirteen or fourteen years old when he first met Harvey, in the early 1950’s. He continued; Soon there were some thirteen teenagers going to his home, interested in English Trumps. Harvey was wonderful with teenagers and kids, communicated with them, bonded with them, gave them his time. His natural gift for gab made everyone feel equal even though he was 40 years our senior. He often provided the transportation to shows for juniors who didn’t have a parent willing to drive them. Harvey’s wife was a nice person but never went to shows with him. Harvey also had a monkey that he kept chained and was in a tree. He was nasty and you had to be careful of him.
Bob went on to note; By the fall of 1957, bringing his genius into play, Harvey proposed they start a club. Then like a papa bear that realized he had done his job and it was time for the cubs to be on their own, he slowly faded into the background and watched us run the Western American Trumpeter Club ourselves. By then the teenagers were in our early 20’s. In 1962 Harvey stepped down as president of the club. About that same time he found another challenge, the Indian Fantail, where he repeated his successes. Here he had older fanciers to work with. Harvey wanted to get Indians from Don Andrews who was in the Los Angeles Pigeon Club and had thousands of pigeons. Mr. Andrews got the Pageant started in the1950’s. He would take a world tour and buy pigeons from all over. Harvey was asked, what can we get for you? The answer was, Thailand Fantails (Indians to be).
Because of the importance Don Andrews played in the pigeon fancy in general, it seems appropriate to include a side bar here, taken from the September/October 2006 issue of the Purebred Pigeon. It comes from an article by Bob Nolan, historian of the Los Angeles Pigeon Club. He tells that as an officer and the major financial backer of the L.A.P.C., he employed a talented writer from his hardware business to help promote the 1946 show, after World War II. This man, a Mr. Campbell, is credited with coming up with the name Pageant of Pigeons. And, although he died in 1948, the name he chose, “Pageant of Pigeons,” lives on. I would add, and is synonymous with a great pigeon show!
Dave Helm, CA, told me that he recalls Tony Brancato referencing a “retired government official back East” who had imported Indian Fantails from Thailand. This would appear to be Robert W. Prichard, M.D. mentioned earlier in this chapter.
James Anderson, TX told me that at the 1959 Fort Worth Livestock Show & Rodeo he and Steve Barnhart, TX were exhibiting Fantails. They observed some entries identified as Indian Fantails and the exhibitor was listed as Harvey Gatlin, California. He was not present but had shipped birds to Fort Worth for the show…promoting the breed.
The June 1979 issue of Pigeon Review carried an interesting article by the late Bill Babb, CA.
He met Harvey Gatlin in 1961 and bought some saddle marked Indian Fantails from him and started breeding and showing at local shows. He noted that at first it was only Harvey and himself showing but later some of the men in central and northern California also began showing Indian Fantails.
We are reminded of how much the Indian Fantail changed in the next decade, from those illustrated in the Encyclopedia, published in 1965. Dennis Briggs, Sugar, ID sent me some photos taken in about 1974 during his visit to Harvey’s. They picture good sized, large tailed birds. Included was a saddle and a recessive red self. Dennis wrote that he had spent several hours with him; “at that time he had some very nice saddles and also some very nice ribbontails.” Dennis got one ribbontail cock and a pair of saddles. He concluded that Harvey was a nice guy and that he had “a black colored bird that would talk to you.”
Doug Boyland, Shadow Hill, CA had an article in the November 2002 Pigeon Debut that told of his experience while delivering papers. He noticed one day (37 years ago – 1965) that a new couple had moved in a few blocks from his house. He continued; I tended to pay attention to new people as prospective new subscribers to the paper. After giving them a week or so to settle in I though I would inquire as to whether they would be interested in a subscription. I had to walk around the side of the house to get to the front door and on the way I noticed three or four lofts containing pigeons. A man came out of the house and introduced himself as Harvey Gatlin. I was so fascinated by the birds I immediately started asking questions. Two hours later I finally left to go home, I was so excited I could hardly wait to come back. Harvey had told me his plans to build many more lofts and had invited me to come and help any time I wanted. As I was peddling my bike home that day I realized I had completely forgotten why I had come – I never asked about the newspaper subscription! But for the next three and a half years my parents didn’t have to look very far to find me. Almost every weekend, holidays and most of the summer, I spent helping Harvey design and build lofts. The hands-on knowledge I gained during those years with Harvey stays with me even now. He shared with me everything he knew about how to breed, house, feed and care for pigeons. Harvey became a very close friend and he often took me to visit pigeon breeder friends of his. We used to go to lawn shows and other events that were fascinating to me. I came to share his love of the birds. Thank you Harvey.
In the January 2003 Pigeon Debut, Harvey Addengast, Valley Springs, SD tells of meeting Harvey Gatlin in 1979. He was a young eighteen-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Pendelton. He would take a bus to Anaheim where Stan Luden would pick him up for the weekend. They would go loft hopping. Addengast writes that when meeting Gatlin he said; You are the youngest Harvey I have met”. Harvey told me he doesn’t remember much about the Gatlin birds except that they were small, with small muffs but with beautiful peak crests. Also, that he still has the loft business card that Harvey Gatlin gave him. He said, “those weekends also included attending pigeon shows and other loft visits like Bill Babb, and Terry and Nickie Loft.
Bill “Doc” Larson, VA, but then living in CA, noted in an Internet message that he had met Harvey once and had traded some Royal Snow Tumblers for some kites.
In early 2008 I acknowledged a request for help in locating Indian Fantails from Steven Farwell of Florida. In the process I discovered that Steven grew up in Anaheim, CA. I said, “Tell me more.” His response – I was a member of both the SCIFC and the IFCA from 1968 to 1973. Now 53 years old, I’m thinking about raising Indian Fantails again. I still need to build a loft and locate some birds. Back in Anaheim I raised only red ribbontails. I can still remember going to the other club members’ homes for meetings, checking out their lofts and seeing their birds. And it was also a good way for me to get some new young birds. My father loved Indian Fantails also. He drove me all over California for shows and meetings. For my16th birthday I came home to another loft my dad built for me. That was my third loft. I was only 14 when I started and the old guys like Bill Babb, Harvey Gatlin and so many others always helped me out. It was the best time of my life! I can’t wait to again get my first pair of Indian Fantails.
My only visit to Harvey’s was in 1977 in connection with a trip to the Pageant of Pigeons with Dave Helm. We saw some good tailmarks and ribbbontails, a large number of each, in separate lofts. He also had many other “feathered things”. When you visited Harvey, his time was yours and he gave it in a friendly manner. In a Happy Holidays note card a few years later Harvey wrote, …have only a few Indians, ribbontails – all kinds of others, from hummers to swans, 45 pens and a lot not penned, bantams and ducks, about 400 in all, keeps me busy.
Ron Ewing will detail in his autobiography in Chapter Two, The Pioneers, that his first Indians came from Harvey’s loft, but that it was not until about 1980 that he visited the Gatlin lofts. In a note in 2008 Ron said that he spent several hours with Harvey; He was a very nice man and had a little bit of everything at his place (other feathered things besides pigeons). He indicated; By then Harvey was working mainly on ribbontails and saddles and that his birds were much better than those pictured years earlier in the encyclopedia.
No doubt, with further research I could find more people with first hand experiences with Harvey. Early southern California Indian Fantail breeders interfaced with him regularly, Stan and Monty Luden, Nicki and Terry Loft, for examples. I decided however, that at some point I must close this opening chapter with what I had .
The Summer 1983 IFCA Bulletin carried a report entitled “The Harvey Gatlin Perpetual Trophy”. Following are excerpts from that article:
Thanks to Werner Schmidt, the California Indian Fantail Club’s annual meet at the Great Western Pigeon Show was an unqualified success. Werner donated a beautiful wall clock to be used as a perpetual trophy until it has been won three times by the same exhibitor. This trophy has been named the Harvey Gatlin Memorial Trophy in honor of the founding father of our present day Indian Fantail. The second reason the show was special this year was that Harvey himself came up from Southern California to judge the birds. It was interesting to hear Harvey’s comments as to how much the birds have progressed over the years. To my knowledge that is the last major Indian Fantail show that Harvey judged.
I once wrote an article about Harvey and Tony Brancato and the beginning of the Indian Fantail Club of America. I’m not sure which gave me the information and I cannot locate the article, it probably went to the APJ and I gave all my back copies to Eric Kooker when we moved from PA back to TX. It told of a “little blue book” that they used when the club was initially established. We have a separate chapter of history dedicated to Indian Fantail organizations. Most of that material also appeared in my article in the July/August 2008 Purebred Pigeon Indian Fantail feature. Chapter Three of the history will cover the organizations that have supported the breed through the years.
From Harvey Gatlin, the next historical step is to hear more from and tell more about Tony Brancato. He currently lives in Cherry Valley, CA. Apparently Harvey wrote that single major article reprinted earlier. He is remembered more for talking than writing. On the other hand, Tony Brancato has written volumes about Indian Fantails, having at various times provided regular columns in both the American Pigeon Journal and the IFCA newsletter. It could be said that Tony has been the voice in print for the Indian Fantail over the decades…he has helped greatly to lengthen the shadow of our breed.
Back in the Summer 1985 issue of the IFCA Bulletin, Tony was included in the spotlight on members section and wrote as follows:
I was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Connecticut. Our family consists of my wife, Barbara, and our Pomeranian dogs. My career changed in 1972 when I became a teacher, in 1978 I became an elementary principal. Prior to 1972 I was a cosmetologist for 19 years. We consider California our home, having lived in the L.A. area from 1963 to 1972 and then moving to the beautiful Central Coast of California.
I have always been interested in animals. From early age I had pigeons, my dad raised Kings and Homers. My first Indian Fantail “type” pigeons were in 1955! I’ve had them ever since. At the present I breed white Indian Fantails, Schmalkalkeners in black and lavender, which I created; Bernburg Trumpeters in all colors plus spangles and laces which I also created. Besides pigeons we raise white Silkie bantams, rare fruit trees, I oil paint wildlife and garden the year round.
We have won numerous awards in all three breeds of pigeons. I’ve been active with Indian Fantails and German Toys for decades. I’ve held many offices and have been a promoter of our hobby. As stated earlier, we are involved in many other hobbies and our church. Indian Fans have come a long way due to dedicated fanciers. No one person can be credited for all this success. The IFCA does a fine job and had a hand in the breed’s development and popularity.
This from the Spring 1990 issue of the IFCA Newsletter: Results of the ballot that appeared in the winter newsletter has made Tony Brancato the first (at that time) Lifetime IFCA Member.” That announcement continued, “With his many years of dedication to the breed and the club this honor is the least the club can do to show its appreciation.
As you might expect, once I embarked on this history project for Indian Fantails, one of the first persons I contacted was Tony. I visited his lofts only once, back in the late 1970’s before we moved to Texas. The Brancatos then lived in Santa Maria, CA and I still remember the huge open field they had next door. It was his quality white selfs that I recall the most. In June of 2002, he responded with helpful information and we agreed that while the origin of the Indian Fantail was interesting, perhaps a more important path would be to concentrate on the breeders here in the United States that have had a part in developing the Indian Fantail. That 2002 correspondence did perhaps stir him to write the following article.
Indian Fantail History by Tony Brancato
Pigeon Debut, October 2002
From time to time this writer gets inquires on just where did the Indian Fantail originate from. The history of the breed has been published many times over the course of time, but since it is indeed an interesting story, I will once again write the research I did nearly 20 years ago.
The Indian Fantail undoubtedly is of Indian origin and of very ancient descent, it shows every evidence of being of a distinct pure race.” (Fulton) *Moore (John Moore, 1735) says, “This pigeon is reckoned by some as a distinct species and certainly the progenitor of the modern Fantail.”
Authorities of the 18th and 19th century agree that the Indian Fantails were the founders of the modern Fantails. Then one might speculate that fanciers of that era decided to eliminate their characteristics such as crested heads and feathered feet. Hardly a breed of horse, dog, pigeon, or fowl resembles its kind of 50 years ago let alone several hundred years ago. In 1956 this writer had the privilege of corresponding with a schoolteacher from India. One of the interesting antidotes that this gentleman related to me was the White Sacred Indian Fantails of the temple. Since all life in India is sacred, the Indian Fantails found solitude among the canalled rooftops and temples. A photograph sent to me depicting Indians along the Ganges River and published in the APJ several years ago proves that the Indian is also at home in the wilds.
The Indian Fantails of India are not in anyway comparable to our modern American birds, simply because ours are bred for exhibition and not for flying. Indian birds show small scoop tails and are rather smaller than their American cousins. Just how they got into the U.S. is fairly clouded; some arrived at the San Diego Zoo with a shipment of Reptiles as food for the snakes, lucky the reptiles were not eating at that time!
I imported four pairs from Asia, Whites and AOC’s back in the 50’s. How the Indian Fantail evolved in the American Pigeon Fancy, how the promotion of the breed developed and where the Indian Fantail is headed will be saved for another article. Now at least we have a more precise knowledge of these events compared to early accounts of this magnificent breed.
Stan Luden has indicated that in addition to imports made by Werner Schmidt, Navato, CA, he knew of a man out in the San Fernando Valley who brought in some from Thailand. They were small ribbontails. He went on to write that Warner’s were a pair of black selfs bought in1970 but that the hen was so old she did not lay.
I was curious about the article in the June 1964 American Pigeon Journal that is referenced in the Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds. 1964 is a decade before I got my first Indian Fantails. Thanks again to the World of Wings Pigeon Center in Oklahoma City; I got a copy of that article. Could this be the first article printed in a pigeon magazine in the U.S. specifically about Indian Fantails?
Short History of the Indian Fantail Pigeon
By Tony Brancato, Secretary-Treasurer
American Pigeon Journal, June 1964
Nothing makes me more happy than to sit at the old typewriter and write about my favorite subject, “Indian Fantails”. The Indian Fantail story indeed is a remarkable one, as many fanciers have thought that this breed is relatively new, bred from different crosses. Indian Fantails are not by far a new breed. They were as a matter of fact “the first” of all our popular modern Fantails today. In the past bygone years Indian Fans were first brought from the city of Calcutta, India, to various cities in the United Kingdom. Many of the local fanciers of that era began changing the breed in various ways, as the crested head, the booted feet were gradually lost. According to Fulton (his book was published in England in the 1890’s) the present day Fantail was born, of course judging now has improved the modern Fantail greatly.
Getting back to the Indian Fantail, this breed unlike its smaller kin, is larger in body, better in flight, has a well peaked crest and well covered feathered legs and feet. What makes the Indian Fan so different than any other breed is the fact that there is so very much to be yet desired! Let’s take color for an example. First the wild Indian Fans in and around the Ganges River are white and somehow a little splashed.
Our members are breeding now solids, bodymarks and saddles. If I may add, our President, Harvey Gatlin, started a new line of beautiful ribbon-tailed birds, which are very rare. When I lived in New England I was working with some off-shaded yellows. Well three years later, it paid off, as we developed a beautiful shade of creamy yellows! There my good fancier are a few samples of success. One of our most ambitious members in Colorado, a young lady by the name of Kathy Howard by chance developed a rare orange colored Indian Fantail, but I regret to say it didn’t live.
The Indian Fantail story is a long one and we hope from time to time to present it the best way we can, in giving detailed information on America’s fastest growing rare breed.
For further information, please feel free to write to yours truly, the Sec. and Treas. Of the Indian Fantail Club of America at 5244 Southall Lane, Bell, Calif.
Following is the Standard for the Indian Fantail Pigeon:
Standard for the Indian Fantail pigeon
Size – They are quite large; the larger the better.
Stance – They stand normally and do not rear back (on show), as in other Fantails.
Head – Large and full, with as little or no movement or shake as possible.
Neck – Short and full.
Body – Large and round.
Back – Short and wide.
Tail – Large and upright. The longer and more upright the better.
Feet and Legs – Legs, medium length; feet, stand solid; with no tip toe.
Muffs – They are grouse muffed but can be larger, all toes should be well covered.
Crest – The crest is a peak as in Archangels, Turbits, etc., it can be a small shell, the size of a thumb nail.
Color – In most cases varieties run in splashes and mixed unusual colors, self colors to be judged accordingly as in other varieties.
Eye – As above splashes breed large variations in eye color. Colors other than pearl preferred.
Points – Size 10. Stance 10. Head 10. Neck 5. Body 5. Back 5. Tail 30. Feet 10. Muffs 10. Crest 5. Total 100.
Note: While the history contains Chapter Four, The Evolution of the Standard for the Indian Fantail, it seems appropriate to include the above 1964 version at this point so as to be complete in quoting Tony’s article. From what I can determine, it is the first Standard for Indian Fantails in the U.S.
Another good look into Tony’s early involvement can be found in the following 1994 article.
Memories of Indian Fantails, People and Places by Tony Brancato
Winter 1994 issue, IFCA Newsletter
Looking back, say to the late fifties. I was a boy bitten by the pigeon bug, making a weekly pilgrimage to one of the largest pigeon dealers in our city. His name was John and I believe his last name was “Koches”. Anyway, John married into a family that operated a large retail nursery. How or when I got to know John is fuzzy but every week, rain or shine, I walked the eight or nine miles on my way to John’s nursery and pigeon lofts.
At one of these many visits I noticed a most beautiful bird, a crested fantail, still in the nest. John said, “That’s an Indian Fantail”. The parents of this bird were plain fantails. This mutation although nothing like our present day Indian, was to me the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.
John raised several of these crested fantails and no one seemed to be enthusiastic about them except this crazy kid that walked the eight or nine miles each way to see them.
John, although a businessman, rough on the edges, sold the three birds for ten dollars to me. I mated these birds, first to each other, then to other fantails with dismal results. None of the young had crests.
At the Danbury Connecticut Pigeon Show I entered one of the birds, fantail fanciers made remarks that aren’t printable about my entry. However, one old man had a grouse legged fantail at the show and since it was disqualified, he gave me the bird (a cock). I had seen pictures of Indian Fantails that a pen pal had sent me of Indians, grouse legged and crested and now I had just the right bird to begin the project! Months went by, breeding the crested hen to a grouse legged cock (both recessive) resulted in plain young. Terribly disappointed I wondered if I’d ever be able to have crested/grouse legged features on one bird! Remember, I was a kid at the time in my early teens, not knowing anything, zip about genetics, etc. By sheer luck, breeding brother and sister together a few birds had both crest and feathered feet, tails were scooped and the birds were long backed, others were very standard fantail and those I gave away. Over the next few years I had managed to breed quite a few of these birds, I called them Indian Fantails, still had many that had muffs but no crest and vice a versa.
How I heard about Harvey Gatlin is a mystery, nevertheless, we corresponded and compared notes on Indians, he had developed mostly ribbontails and solids. In 1962 I came out to California to visit my sister, just out of my teens, I met Harvey. Harvey, a non-stop talker, and one of the most likeable, generous men I have ever met, we became life long friends. In 1963 I moved to California from Connecticut and I shipped Harvey all of my Indians, a total of seventy plus birds. Harvey took the very best of my stock, he was a knowledgeable, experienced breeder. He developed, through the years, the modern Indian Fantail. In 1967 I picked up breeding Indian Fantails again as I had moved to a place where I could keep pigeons. The whites, saddles and tailmarks were all out of my birds. Harvey contributed the ribbontails, selfs and dilutes.
I remember talking to Harvey, who became a father figure to me about a club he wanted to call the American Indian Fantail Club. I told him it sounded like the birds were native American, so he settled for my suggestion of Indian Fantail Club of America, thus the club was born. Dues were $2.00. Harvey served for years as president, me as vice president and publicity. We never had more than a handful of members. Anytime some one got Indians from Harvey, they became a member! Harvey generously gave hundreds of Indians away (other breeds too), he had a heart of gold.
In the early days Indian Fantails were the brunt of all the pigeon jokes. As time went on, we garnered respect and praises and attention.
For many many years I championed the Indian Fantail in monthly columns and articles, however, no one or two people can take credit of making the Indian Fantail one of the most popular and beautiful of all pigeon breeds. I look back at the early years, the friendships and Indians and I’m in awe…we’ve come a long way baby!!
Tony Brancato and I continue to stay in touch. In 2007, when helping us develop copy for the organization section in the IFCA Website, here is some of the information he passed on:
I lived in Connecticut until 1962 but had corresponded with Harvey Gatlin in 1961. He had received some Indian Fantails from a man in Oklahoma but never told me his name. They were not bad for the time. I had Indians in 1959 from mutations from standard fantails that I had bought from a pigeon dealer in CT. They were grouse legged with lots of shaking in the neck. When I moved to California I sent all my Indians to Harvey. I had saddles and some solids and whites. Harvey had ribbontails etc. He took the best I had, probably less than 12 birds, and used them with some of the best he had. I remember distinctively he named a favorite saddle hen “Connie” for Connecticut. In the very early years Harvey was the only exhibitor of Indians. I lived in an apartment and was going to college. Bill Babb and lots of the early breeders used what Harvey had and improved the breed.
Tony and Barbara now (2009) now live in Cherry Hill, CA. Like their address, they have some cherry trees on their property. Tony continues to enjoy working with pigeons but currently does not have any Indian Fantails. He also has several breeds of bantams. I asked Tony for a photo and he kindly forwarded the one below. The note included read; This past October (2008) we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. This photo of Barbara and me was taken near Mt. Etna (volcano) on the Italian island of Sicily.
So that’s “the beginning” as I have found it. Additional chapters will help paint a detailed picture of how things progressed up to and including the present. Stay tuned!