Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

What is a Zouave?

What is a Zouave?

 

This question was inspired by a family member of mine, Fredrick Marvin, who was part of the Aurora Zouaves that toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show around the turn of the nineteenth century. 

 

Apparently zouave (pronounced zoo-ahv) is a general term for a body of soldiers or group of trained men who specialize in unique, complicated infantry drills and wear colorful uniforms usually marked by a “Shriner-esqe” fez hat. 

 

According to Wikipedia, Zouavewas the title given to certain infantry regiments in the French army, normally serving in French North Africa between 1831 and 1962.  They recruited solely from an area known as Zouaoua (Zwawa) and the name stuck.  The French zouaves served with distinction and thus the name was popularized world-wide.

 

Since then, there have been Papal Zouaves, Zouaves of Death, Zouaves of the United States of America and Confederate States, firefighter zouaves and circus zouaves.  That’s a lot of zouaves!

 

Probably one of the most famous of circus zouaves was the Aurora (Illinois) Zouaves drill team, which was formed in 1887.  According to the Aurora Historical Society, “by 1896, wins in successive competitions earned them the title, ‘Champions of the World.’ From 1897 to 1906, the Aurora Zouaves were famous the world over. The team toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and with Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus. The Zouaves also toured Europe on their own in 1901-02, playing before thousands of spectators and the crown heads of Europe.

 

Here is a promotional image of the Aurora Zouaves:

 

       

The world champion Aurora Zouaves in Action. Poster print available for purchase via www.rainfall.com

The world champion Aurora Zouaves in Action. Click on link for larger image. Poster print available for purchase via http://www.rainfall.com

 

 
According to the book, The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill by Don Russell and Donald B. Russell, the Aurora Zouaves would execute their drills in “a double-time half-step with the men in close order, touching elbows, and consisting of intricate wheelings and patterns, usually performed in sequence without orders other than whistle signals.  Its climax was wall-scaling, in which a human pyramid was formed and used as steps by the rest of the men, who were tumbled to the top, the last tow or three being drawn up the wall by their rifles and rifle-slings.
 
So when you see drill teams on the football field or in competitions, remember the zouaves! 

 

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

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