Simon Bolivar Man vs Myth

Simon Bolivar Man vs Myth  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of High Noon.

South American military leader Simon Bolivar liberated Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Panama from Spain’s vice-like grip in the early-19th century.  The ultimate romantic hero, he is called the George Washington of South America. 

Liberty is the only object worth the sacrifice of a man’s life.
— Simon Bolivar

Bolivar marched his armies thousands of miles across mountains, rainforests, outbacks and swamps exceeding the accomplishments of the early conquistadors.  His grand dream was a united South America much like the United States. 

Unlike the United States Bolivar was against slavery.  Even though he admired America’s independence he wasn’t sure its political system could work in Latin America either. 

As with most political heroes it’s difficult to separate the man from the myth. 

Born in Caracas (now Venezuela) in 1783 to an aristocratic family, the imperious, inquisitive little boy questioned everybody and everything.  An excellent swimmer and horseman, he learned early to look after himself in the wild and in life.  

Bolivar’s schoolboy optimism came crashing down at age 12 when he witnessed the beheading and mutilation of Jose Chirino as a result of his revolt against Spanish rule. 

The young man witnessed firsthand the cruelty of the Spanish empire and the experience haunted him.  He watched as the Spanish army brutalized his countrymen and shipped its wealth off to Europe. 

As a teenager Bolivar became a cadet to the elite Whites of Aragua corps founded by his grandfather.  The cocky, ill-mannered cadet stood out as a leader even then.  Within a year he was promoted to Second Lieutenant.

As a young man he traveled to Europe.  He attended Napoleon’s coronation as emperor in Paris on Dec. 2, 1804 and realized firsthand the possibility of one man’s potential influence on history. 

“The crown Napoleon placed on his head I regarded as a miserable thing and a gothic fancy: what seemed great to me was the universal acclaim and interest that his person inspired,”   Bolivar said.

Bolivar returned to Caracas from Europe in 1807 and joined the resistance movement, declaring Venezuela’s independence four years later.  He traveled to Great Britain hoping the country would help.  It remained neutral.  Bolivar returned to Venezuela, taking command of a patriot army and recaptured Caracas in 1813 from the Spaniards.

He ultimately gave up politics in search of military answers.  In July of 1813 Bolivar devised a “Decree of War until Death” claiming the title El Liberador. He witnessed the liberation of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and the succeeding conquest of Peru.  In 1825 the new country of Bolivia also came into being.

Bolivar made himself a dictator in 1828 and served as president until 1830.  After repeated death threats and attempts on his life he was driven out of office and died on Dec. 17, 1830 while waiting to go into exile in Europe.

In the end Bolivar’s life was about South America’s revolution, independence and finally its state building.  “Liberty is the only object worth the sacrifice of a man’s life," he said.   

On Jan. 26, High Noon’s Western Americana Antique Show and Auction took place in Mesa, Ariz.  Featured in the auction were several Simon Bolivar items.

A mixed media on board artwork of Simon Bolivar sitting on his presentation saddle atop his horse sold in the auction for $1,210.   The artist, Dave Powell, was selected for the Cowboy Artists of America in 2004.

Bolivar’s remarkable silver-mounted, black leather saddle and bridle presented to him in 1825 sold in the auction for $51,425.  The saddle bears not only Bolivar’s name in silver but also the date and town in which it was presented to him.  Included in the lot was the trunk accompanying the saddle and bridle.   


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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