Charles Bendire – Major, United States Army

Charles Bendire of Germany

Served as Private and Corporal, Troop D, 1st U. S. Dragoons, 10 June 1854 to 10 June 1859
Private, Corporal and Serveant, Troop D, 1st U. S. Cavalry and Hospital Steward, 4th U. S. Cavalry, 8 June 1860 to 9 September 1864
Second Lieutenant, 2nd U. S. Infantry, 18 May 1864
Transferred to the 1st U. S. Cavalry, 9 September 1864
First Lieutenant, 12 November 1864
Captain, 21 February 1873
Retired 24 April 1886
Breveted First Lieuenant, 11 June 1864, for gallant and meritorious service in the battle of Trevilliani Station, Virginia
Breveted Major, 27February 1890, for gallant service in action against Indians At Canyon Creek, Montana, 13 September 1877
Died 4 February 1897

One of oology’s most memorable stories is that of Major Charles Bendire, egg collector and Indian fighter.

In 1872, while on patrol in central Arizona, he noticed through binoculars a zone-tailed hawk’s nest high in a tree. Leaving his troops to set up camp, he rode to the tree, tethered his horse, and climbed to the nest, keeping a wary eye open for Indians and concealing himself as much as possible.

From the nest, he plucked one of the eggs. Caution escaped his mind as he marveled at this incredible addition to his growing egg collection. An Apache scout quickly spotted him and got off a snap shot with a carbine. As the bullet zipped harmlessly over the Major’s head, he reacted instantaneously. Shoving the egg into his mouth for safekeeping, he hurried down the tree, jumped onto his horse, and galloped wildly back to camp with several Apaches in fervent pursuit. He managed to reach the camp, where a brief, pitched battle drove off the Apaches.

Then the real problem began. As he rode headlong into camp, gasping and gagging, Bendire discovered that he couldn’t spit the egg out. It seems that as he had tried to avoid biting the egg, his jaws had tensed up and swelled. He simply could not open his mouth wide enough to remove the egg. Several men, under threat of court-martial, pried open his jaws and got the egg out intact. Although they did break one of his teeth, Bendire thought it a small price to pay for a perfect, uncracked egg of a zone-tailed hawk.

Charles Bendire later became the first curator of oology at the Smithsonian Institution, where the storied egg survives to this day, along with about 130,000 others.

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  • United States Army
  • DATE OF DEATH: 02/04/1897


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