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The P.T. Barnum of the Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton

The Story of "Grizzly Adams"


The famous old American Museum was now the centre of Barnum's interests, and he devoted himself to its development with such energy as never before. His enterprise in securing new curiosities, and his skill in presenting them to the public in the most attractive light, surpassed all previous efforts. To his office, as to their Mecca, flocked all the "freaks" of the land, and all who possessed any objects of rare or marvelous nature. Foremost among these visitors was one veteran frontiersman, who had attained--and well deserved--much fame as a fighter of the most savage wild beasts. His name was James C. Adams, but he was universally known as "Grizzly Adams," from the fact that he had captured a great many grizzly bears at the risk and cost of fearful encounters and perils. He was brave, and with his bravery there was enough of the romantic in his nature to make him a real hero. For many years a hunter and trapper in the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains, he acquired a recklessness, which, added to his natural invincible courage, rendered him one of the most striking men of the age, and he was emphatically a man of pluck. A month after Barnum had re-purchased the Museum, Adams arrived in New York with his famous collection of California animals, captured by himself, consisting of twenty or thirty immense grizzly bears, at the head of which stood "Old Samson," together with several wolves, half a dozen different species of California bears, California lions, tigers, buffalo, elk, and "Old Neptune," the great sea-lion from the Pacific.

Old Adams had trained all these monsters so that with him they were as docile as kittens, though many of the most ferocious among them would attack a stranger without hesitation, if he came within their grasp. In fact, the training of these animals was no fool's play, as Old Adams learned to his cost, for the terrific blows which he received from time to time, while teaching them "docility," finally cost him his life.

Adams called on Barnum immediately on his arrival in New York. He was dressed in his hunter's suit of buckskin, trimmed with the skins and bordered with the hanging tails of small Rocky Mountain animals; his cap consisting of the skin of a wolf's head and shoulders, from which depended several tails, and under which appeared his stiff bushy, gray hair and his long, white, grizzly beard; in fact, Old Adams was quite as much of a show as his beasts. They had come around Cape Horn on the clipper ship "Golden Fleece," and a sea voyage of three and a half months had probably not added much to the beauty or neat appearance of the old bear-hunter. During their conversation Grizzly Adams took off his cap, and showed Barnum the top of his head. His skull was literally broken in. It had, on various occasions, been struck by the fearful paws of his grizzly students; and the last blow, from the bear called "General Fremont," had laid open his brain so that its workings were plainly visible. Barnum remarked that he thought it was a dangerous wound and might possibly prove fatal.

"Yes," replied Adams, "that will fix me out. It had nearly healed; but old Fremont opened it for me, for the third or fourth time, before I left California, and he did his business so thoroughly, I'm a used-up man. However, I reckon I may live six months or a year yet." This was spoken as coolly as if he had been talking about the life of a dog.

This extraordinary man had come to see Barnum about the "California Menagerie," of which he, Adams, was the owner. Barnum had shortly before, however, purchased one-half interest in it from a man who had claimed to be Adams's equal partner. This Adams disputed, declaring that he had merely borrowed from the man some money on the security of the show, that the man was not his partner, and that he had no right to sell one-half or any portion of the menagerie. As a matter of fact, however, the man did have a bill of sale for one-half of the show, and Adams was soon convinced that Barnum's purchase was entirely legitimate. The result was that Barnum and Adams formed a regular partnership, the former to attend to all business affairs, the latter to exhibit the animals. The show was opened in a huge canvas tent on Broadway, at the corner of Thirteenth Street.

On the morning of opening, a band of music preceded a procession of animal cages down Broadway and up the Bowery, old Adams, dressed in his hunting costume, heading the line, with a platform wagon on which were placed three immense grizzly bears, two of which he held by chains, while he was mounted on the back of the largest grizzly, which stood in the centre and was not secured in any manner whatever. This was the bear known as "General Fremont," and so docile had he become that Adams said he had used him as a pack-bear, to carry his cooking and hunting apparatus through the mountains for six months, and had ridden him hundreds of miles. But apparently docile as were many of these animals, there was not one among them that would not occasionally give Adams a sly blow or a sly bite when a good chance offered; hence old Adams was but a wreck of his former self, and expressed pretty nearly the truth when he said:

"Mr. Barnum, I am not the man I was five years ago. Then I felt able to stand the hug of any grizzly living, and was always glad to encounter, single handed, any sort of an animal that dared present himself. But I have been beaten to a jelly, torn almost limb from limb, and nearly chawed up and spit out by these treacherous grizzly bears. However, I am good for a few months yet, and by that time I hope we shall gain enough to make my old woman comfortable, for I have been absent from her some years."

His wife came from Massachusetts to New York and nursed him. Dr. Johns dressed his wounds every day, and not only told Adams he could never recover, but assured his friends that probably a very few weeks would lay him in his grave. But Adams was as firm as adamant and as resolute as a lion. Among the thousands who saw him dressed in his grotesque hunter's suit, and witnessed the seeming vigor with which he "performed" the savage monsters, beating and whipping them into apparently the most perfect docility, probably not one suspected that this rough, fierce-looking, powerful semi-savage, as he appeared to be, was suffering intense pain from his broken skull and fevered system, and that nothing kept him from stretching himself on his death-bed but his most indomitable and extraordinary will.

Adams was an inveterate story-teller, and often "drew the long bow" with daring hand. He loved to astonish people with extraordinary tales, which were sheer inventions, but which no one could disprove. He pretended, too, to have been everywhere and to have seen everything. This weakness made him good game for Barnum, who determined to expose his foibles to him at the first opportunity. The opportunity soon came. One day, amid the innumerable caravan of cranks that moved to the weird realm of Barnum's wonder-house, there appeared a fat, stolid German, carrying in his hand a small basket, which he guarded with jealous care.

"I have come," he said, "to see if you would not like some golden pigeons to buy?"

"Yes," Barnum replied, "I would like a flock of golden pigeons, if I could buy them for their weight in silver; for there are no 'golden pigeons' in existence, unless they are made from the pure metal."

"You shall some golden pigeons alive see," he replied, at the same time entering the office, and closing the door after him. He then removed the lid from the basket, and sure enough, there were snugly ensconced a pair of beautiful, living ruff-necked pigeons, as yellow as saffron, and as bright as a double-eagle fresh from the Mint.

Barnum was somewhat staggered at this sight, and quickly asked the man where those birds came from. A dull, lazy smile crawled over the sober face of the German visitor, as he replied in a slow, guttural tone of voice:

"What you think yourself?"

Catching his meaning, Barnum quickly replied:

"I think it is a humbug."

"Of course, I know you will so say; because you 'forstha' such things; so I shall not try to humbug you; I have them myself colored."

It then came out that the man was a chemist, and that he had invented a process by which he could dye the feathers of living birds any color he pleased, retaining at the same time all the natural gloss of the plumage. Barnum at once closed a bargain with him for the birds, for ten dollars, and then put them in his "Happy Family" at the Museum. He marked them "Golden Pigeons, from California," and then gleefully awaited Adams' next visit, feeling sure that the old fellow would be completely taken in.

Sure enough, next morning Adams came along, saw the pigeons, looked at them earnestly for a few minutes, and then went straight to the office.

"Mr. Barnum," said he, "you must let me have those California pigeons."

"I can't spare them," said Barnum.

"But you must spare them. All the birds and animals from California ought to be together. You own half of my California menagerie, and you must lend me those pigeons."

"Mr. Adams, they are too rare and valuable a bird to be hawked about in that manner."

"Oh, don't be a fool," replied Adams. "Rare bird, indeed! Why, they are just as common in California as any other pigeon! I could have brought a hundred of them from San Francisco, if I had thought of it."

"But why did you not think of it?" with a suppressed smile.

"Because they are so common there," said Adams. "I did not think they would be any curiosity here."

Barnum was ready to burst with laughter to see how readily Adams swallowed the bait, but, maintaining the most rigid gravity, he replied:

"Oh! well, Mr. Adams, if they are really so common in California, you had probably better take them, and you may write over and have half a dozen pairs sent to me for the Museum."

A few weeks later Barnum, being in the California Menagerie, noticed that something ailed the pigeons. They had a sadly-mottled appearance. Their feathers had grown out, and they were half white. Adams had not yet noticed it, being too busy with his bears. But Barnum called him at once to the pigeon cage.

"Look here, Adams," he said, "I'm afraid you are going to lose your Golden Pigeons. They must be very sick. Just see how pale they look! Good thing they're so common in California, so you can easily get some more, eh?"

Adams looked at them a moment in astonishment, then turning to Barnum, and seeing that he could not suppress a smile, he indignantly exclaimed:

"Blast the Golden Pigeons! You had better take them back to the Museum. You can't humbug me with your painted pigeons!"

This was too much, and Barnum laughed till he cried, to witness the mixed look of astonishment and vexation which marked the grizzly features of old Adams.

After the exhibition on Thirteenth Street and Broadway had been open six weeks, the doctor insisted that Adams should sell out his share in the animals and settle up his worldly affairs, for he assured him that he was growing weaker every day, and his earthly existence must soon terminate. "I shall live a good deal longer than you doctors think for," replied Adams, doggedly; and then, seeming after all to realize the truth of the doctor's assertion, he turned and said: "Well, Mr. Barnum, you must buy me out."

A bargain was soon concluded. Arrangements had been made to exhibit the bears in Connecticut and Massachusetts during the summer, in connection with the Museum, and Adams insisted that Barnum should engage him to travel for the season and manage the bears. He offered to do it for $60 a week and expenses. Barnum replied that he would gladly make such an arrangement, but he feared Adams was not strong enough to stand it.

"You are growing weaker every day," he said; "and would better go to your home and rest."

"What will you give me extra if I will travel and exhibit the bears every day for ten weeks?" added old Adams, eagerly.

"Five hundred dollars."

"Done!" exclaimed Adams, "I will do it, so draw up an agreement to that effect at once. But mind you, draw it payable to my wife, for I may be too weak to attend to business after the ten weeks are up, and if I perform my part of the contract, I want her to get the $500 without any trouble."

Barnum drew up a contract to pay him $60 per week for his services, and if he continued to exhibit the bears for ten consecutive weeks, to hand him, or his wife, $500 extra.

"You have lost your $500!" exclaimed Adams on taking the contract; "for I am bound to live and earn it."

"I hope you may, with all my heart, and a hundred years more if you desire it," replied Barnum.

"Call me a fool if I don't earn the $500!" exclaimed Adams, with a triumphant laugh.

The "show" started off in a few days, and at the end of a fortnight Barnum met it at Hartford, Connecticut.

"Well" said he, "Adams, you seem to stand it pretty well. I hope you and your wife are comfortable?"

"Yes," he replied with a laugh; "and you may as well try to be comfortable, too, for your $500 is a goner."

"All right," Barnum replied, "I hope you will grow better every day."

But the case was hopeless. Adams was dying. When Barnum met him three weeks later at New Bedford his eyes were glassy and his hands trembling, but his courage and will were strong as ever.

"This hot weather tells on me," he said, "but I'll last the ten weeks and more, and get your $500."

Barnum urged him to quit work, to take half of the $500 and go home. But, no. He would not listen to it. And he did actually serve through the whole ten weeks, and got the $500; remarking, as he pocketed the cash,

"Barnum, it's too bad you're a teetotaler, for I'd like to stand treat with you on this."

When Adams set out on this last tour, Barnum had a fine new hunting-suit made of beaver-skins. He had procured it for Herr Driesbach, the animal tamer, whom he had engaged to take Adams' place whenever the latter should give out. Adams had asked him to loan him the suit, to wear occasionally when he had great audiences, as his own suit was badly worn. Barnum did so; and at the end of the engagement, as he received the $500, Adams said:

"Mr. Barnum, I suppose you are going to give me this new hunting-dress."

"Oh, no," Barnum replied, "I got that for your successor, who will exhibit the bears to-morrow, besides, you have no possible use for it."

"Now, don't be mean, but lend me the dress, if you won't give it to me, for I want to wear it home to my native village."

Barnum could not refuse the poor old man anything, and he therefore replied:

"Well, Adams, I will lend you the dress, but you will send it back to me?"

"Yes, when I have done with it," he replied, with an evident chuckle of triumph.

Barnum thought, "he will soon be done with it," and replied: "That's all right."

A new idea evidently struck Adams, for, with a brightening look of satisfaction, he said:

"Now, Barnum, you have made a good thing out of the California menagerie, and so have I; but you will make a heap more. So if you won't give me this new hunter's dress, just draw a little writing, and sign it, saying that I may wear it until I have done with it."

Barnum knew that in a few days, at longest, he would be "done" with this world altogether, and, to gratify him, he cheerfully drew and signed the paper.

"Come, old Yankee, I've got you this time--see. if I hadn't!" exclaimed Adams, with a broad grin, as he took the paper.

Barnum smiled, and said:

"All right, my dear fellow; the longer you live the better I shall like it,"

They parted, and Adams went to Charlton, Worcester County, Massachusetts, where his wife and daughter lived. He took at once to his bed, and never rose from it again. The excitement had passed away, and his vital energies could accomplish no more, The fifth day after arriving home, the physician told him he could not live until the next morning. He received the announcement in perfect calmness, and with the most apparent indifference; then, turning to his wife, with a smile he requested her to have him buried in the new hunting-suit. "For," said he, "Barnum agreed to let me have it until I have done with it, and I was determined to fix his flint this time. He shall never see that dress again." That dress was indeed the shroud in which he was entombed.

After Adams' death, Barnum incorporated the California Menagerie with the American Museum, for a time, but afterward sold most of the animals. The Museum was now most prosperous, and Barnum was making steady progress toward paying off the debts that burdened him.

In the fall of 1860 the Museum was visited by the Prince of Wales and his suite, in response to an invitation from Barnum. Unfortunately, Barnum himself had gone to Bridgeport that very morning, the invitation not having been accepted until about an hour before the visit. Mr. Greenwood, the manager, when he heard that the Prince was coming, caused the performance in the lecture-room to be commenced half an hour before the usual time, so as to clear the floors of a portion of the crowd, in order that he might have a better opportunity to examine the curiosities. When the Prince arrived, there was a great crowd outside the Museum, and hundreds more were soon added to the numbers assembled within the building. He was received by Mr. Greenwood, and immediately conducted to the second story, where the first object of interest pointed out was the "What Is It?" in which his Royal Highness manifested much curiosity. In compliance with his wish, the keeper went through the regular account of the animal. Here, also, the party were shown the Albino family, concerning whom they made inquiries. The Siamese twins, the sea-lions, and the seal were also pointed out, and some of the animals were fed in the presence of the Prince at his own request. He was conducted through the building, and his attention was called to many objects of special interest. At the close of a short visit, the Prince asked for Mr. Barnum, and regretted that he had not an opportunity of seeing him also. "We have," he said, "missed the most interesting feature of the establishment."

A few days later Barnum called on the Prince in Boston and was cordially received. The Prince was much interested and amused at Barnum's reminiscences of the visits to Buckingham Palace with Tom Thumb. He told Barnum that he had been much pleased with the Museum, and had left his autograph there as a memento of his visit.

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