By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Sawdust & Spangles - Stories & Secrets of the Circus
Author: Coup, W. C.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Sawdust & Spangles - Stories & Secrets of the Circus" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)




Herbert S. Stone and Company
Eldridge Court, Chicago



FOREWORD                                                         ix

CHAP.                                                          PAGE

   I. BOYHOOD WITH THE OLD-TIME WAGON SHOW                        1

  My First Exciting Experience                                    4
  The Intelligence of Elephants                                   5
  Fights with the Grangers                                        6
  "Doc" Baird and the Bully                                       9
  Teasing Old Romeo                                              10
  The Story of a Stolen Negro                                    12
  Horse Thieves in the Circus                                    15


  Beasts at Wholesale                                            20
  The Professional Animal Hunter                                 21
  Striking into the Interior                                     22
  Hunters' Life in the Jungle.                                   23
  Why Baby Elephants are Hard to Capture                         26
  Across the Desert with Captive Beasts                          29
  The Adventures of Specimen Hunters                             31

 III. FREAKS AND FAKES                                           35

  The Burial and Resurrection of the "Cardiff Giant"             37
  The Rival White Elephants                                      40
  How the "Light of Asia" Embarrassed the Lecturer               41
  The Wild Cave-Dweller of Kentucky                              44
  The Two-Headed Girl's Three-Headed Rival                       46
  Missing Links and Dancing Turkeys                              49
  The Salaries Paid to Freaks                                    50
  The Love-Making and Merrymaking of the Freaks                  51
  The Exposure of the "Aztec Children"                           54
  An Adventure with a Circus Shark                               56

  IV. MOVING THE BIG SHOW                                        59

  The First Attempt to Move a Circus by Rail                     61
  The Spartan Habits of the Old Timers                           63
  Seven Heartbreaking Days on the Long Road                      64
  Performing by Day and Traveling by Night                       67
  On a Runaway Circus Train                                      69
  Panic Among the Animals                                        71
  A Single Track and a Broken Rail                               73
  The Bronchos' Charmed Life                                     75
  Old Romeo to the Rescue                                        77
  An Unexpected Midnight Bath                                    79

   V. THE PRAIRIE FIRE                                           86

  A Chance Meeting with a Great Man                              96

  VI. BOOMING THE BIG SHOW                                      104

  Novel Advertising Features                                    105
  The "Devil's Whistle"                                         106
  "Spotters"                                                    108
  Rivalry in Exploiting Opposition Shows                        112
  Costly Rivalry                                                113
  Idle Bill-Posters                                             116
  The Courtesy of Editors                                       118
  Jumbo's Free Advertising                                      120

 VII. PARADES AND BAND WAGONS                                   124

  The Fifty Cent Rivals of the Ten Thousand Dollar Hippos       124
  A Skillful Appeal to Public Sympathy                          126
  A Silent Parade from Albany to the State Line                 128
  The Fluctuating Level of Circus Values                        130
  What it Costs to Ride with the Band Wagon                     132
  Requirements and Cost of the Circus Horse                     134
  A Page from the Invoice Book of the Big Show                  136

VIII. ANECDOTES OF MEN AND ANIMALS                              139

  Origin of the American Circus                                 139
  The First Elephant Brought to America                         141
  The First Drove of Camels                                     144
  The Fight of the Ostriches                                    145
  The Belligerent Alligators                                    149
  Parrots and Cockatoos                                         153
  Educated Dogs                                                 154
  A Wounded Horse in the Grand March                            156
  Intelligent Bronchos                                          158
  The King of the Herd                                          159
  An Elephant's Humor                                           160
  Zulus in London                                               162

  IX. TRAINING ANIMALS AND PERFORMERS                           169

  The Perils of a Trainer's Life                                170
  Where Steady Nerves are in Demand                             172
  Captured Animals Preferred to Cage-Born                       173
  The Education of a Young Jaguar                               174
  The Leopards at Kindergarten                                  177
  How they Punish Unruly Pupils                                 179
  Punishment of Treacherous Beasts                              180
  A Single-Handed Fight with Five Lions                         182
  Teaching the Horse the Two-Step                               186
  Ring Performers Trained with a Derrick                        187
  Circus People a Long-Lived Class                              189

   X. MOBS, CYCLONES AND ADVENTURES                             192

  Forcible Argument with a City Marshal                         193
  Breaking Camp under a Hot Rifle Fire                          195
  Ambushed and Shot at on the Road                              197
  The Studies of the Apprentice to the Clown                    201
  Devotional Services Upset by a Demon                          204
  The Wild Beasts Loose in the Big Crowd                        205
  The Midnight Stampede of the Elephants                        208
  A Polar Bear Hunt on Fifth Avenue                             209
  An Equine Officer of Artillery                                211

  XI. STORIES OF OLD-TIME SHOWS AND SHOWMEN                     214

  Dan Rice's One-Horse Show                                     215
  Tan-Bark Oratory and Harlequin Pluck                          217
  An Imitation Patriot Shown Up                                 219
  In which Cupid was Master of the Ring                         223
  Barnum's One Unconquerable Superstition                       227
  Gullible Patrons in Early Days                                229
  Expedients of Advance Agents                                  231
  Plantation Shows                                              234
  Exhibiting "Yankees" in the South                             235
  Sleeping in Strange Attitudes                                 236
  A Circus "Crier"                                              238
  Showmen's Names                                               239
  The Escape of a Leopard                                       241
  Hotel Keepers                                                 243
  Early Breakfasts                                              245


  The Quest of the Tree-Tailed Kingio                           249
  Half-Hours with Bashful Whales                                251
  A Slippery Deal in Sea-Lions                                  254
  An Eventful Monday Morning at the Aquarium                    258
  The Ultimate Fate of the Aquarium                             260


The notes from which the following narrative was drawn were dictated by
Mr. W. C. Coup at odd moments in the big show tent, the special car or
the hotel where he chanced to find himself with a half-hour at his
disposal. The manner and the motive of their writing unite to
contribute to their charm and effectiveness. His unbounded enthusiasm
for his peculiar calling and his desire so to state the facts of his
experience as to give the general public a fairer and fuller
understanding of its real conditions inspired him to the labor of
crowding into his busy life the pleasant task of putting upon paper the
main points of his interesting career.

Nothing could have been more fortunate than the fact that he was
compelled to do this in a manner wholly informal,--intending later to
put his haphazard notes into good literary form. His recollections fell
from his lips as they came into his mind, in the forceful and
picturesque phraseology of the typical showman. To preserve this
original quality has been the effort constantly held in view in
grouping these notes for publication. The terse idiom of the offhand
dictation has been consistently retained and gives the true "show"
color and flavor to the stirring scenes, adventures and incidents with
which the book deals.

Of Mr. Coup's prominence in his profession it is scarcely necessary to
speak, and I think none will venture to question the statement that he
was the founder and pioneer in America of the circus business pure and
simple, as distinguished from other lines of show enterprise, and that
the story of his life would incidentally furnish a concise history of
the circus on this continent. His name was a family word in homes of
the people of every part of the United States during the period of his
greatest activity. The main incidents of his career may be tersely
stated as follows:

William Cameron Coup was born in Mount Pleasant, Ind., in 1837. While
he was still a boy, his father bought the local tavern in a small
country village. The business of hotel keeping did not commend itself
to the future showman, who left home and took the position of "devil"
in a country newspaper office. Soon, however, he became dissatisfied
with the opportunities which the printing craft seemed to present, and
started out to find something which better suited his unformed and
perhaps romantic ideas of a profession. After a hard tramp of several
miles he chanced to encounter a show, and immediately determined that
this was the field to which he would devote his energies and in which
he would make for himself a name and a fortune. With this show he
served an apprenticeship, in a humble capacity, and gained a clear idea
of the essentials of the business.

In 1861 he secured the side-show privileges of the E. F. & J. Mabie
Circus, then the largest show in America. He remained with this firm
until 1866, when he secured similar privileges with the Yankee Robinson
Circus, with which he allied himself until 1869. In the latter year he
formed a co-partnership with the celebrated Dan Costello and entered
upon the first of the original ventures marking as many distinct epochs
in the history of the circus in America. This departure was the
organization of a show which traveled by boat and stopped at all the
principal lake ports of the great inland seas. This enterprise was a
decided success.

At that time Mr. P. T. Barnum had never been in the circus business,
and Mr. Coup had not personally met this king of showmen. He keenly
appreciated, however, the prestige which Mr. Barnum's name would give
to a circus enterprise, and went to New York for the purpose of
interesting Mr. Barnum in an enterprise of this character. This object
he had no difficulty in accomplishing, and in the Spring of 1870 they
put an immense show on the road, which toured the eastern States and
was highly successful.

The next year marked a turning point in the career of Mr. Coup and also
in that of the traveling show business. He was the first man who ever
called the railroad into service for the purpose of moving a circus and
menagerie. This significant step was taken in opposition to the
judgment of his partner, P. T. Barnum, and in the face of the doubts
and objections of the leading railroad officials of the country. But
Mr. Coup's faith in the results of this "rapid transportation movement"
was firm, and he astonished Mr. Barnum and the entire public by the
phenomenal success of this venture, which brought a rich harvest of
money and reputation.

The project of building a permanent amusement palace in New York came
to Mr. Coup in 1874. Under his supervision, and while Mr. Barnum was in
Europe, he erected, on the present site of the Madison Square Garden,
the famous New York Hippodrome. His labors in this connection were so
arduous that, when the great enterprise was thoroughly established, he
felt obliged to take a long rest. To this end he severed his
partnership with Mr. Barnum, and in 1875 took his family to Europe.

Immediately following his return to America, in the spring of 1876, Mr.
Coup announced that he had formed a new co-partnership with Mr. Charles
Reiche, for the purpose of starting another mammoth enterprise to be
known as the New York Aquarium. A large building especially designed
for this purpose was erected at the corner of Thirty-fifth Street and
Broadway, and was opened October 11, 1876. Into this enterprise Mr.
Coup threw the energies and ambitions of a lifetime, and so long as he
retained its management the great undertaking was notably successful.

His labors in this connection brought him into relationship with the
most celebrated scientists of the world, and many of them became his
personal friends. Scribner's Magazine devoted many pages to an article
describing the Aquarium, and referred to Mr. Coup as a benefactor of
science and as a valued contributor to a more popular knowledge of
biology. Probably no other recognition ever received by Mr. Coup from
the press gave him the satisfaction which he gained from this magazine

Because of disagreements with his partner, who was determined to open
the Aquarium Sundays, for the patronage of the public, he disposed of
his business at a great sacrifice, and started out on the road with the
"Equescurriculum," an entirely novel and original exhibition consisting
of trained bronchos, performing dogs, goats, giraffes, etc., and
troupes of Japanese acrobats. Each year new attractions were added to
this show, and, in 1879, the New United Monster Shows were organized by
Mr. Coup and developed into one of the largest consolidated circuses in
the United States.

Four year later, he established the Chicago Museum in the building then
known as McCormick Hall and located at the corner of Kinzie and Clark
streets, Chicago. Wild West shows and trained animal exhibitions
engaged his energies from 1884 to 1890.

The "Enchanted Rolling Palaces" were put out in 1891 and created a
profound sensation throughout the entire country. This show was a
popular museum housed in an expensive and elaborate train of cars
especially constructed for the purpose. With this enterprise he toured
the southern and eastern States. This was practically his last
important undertaking, and his latest years were spent in practical
retirement, although he occasionally varied the monotony of life at his
country seat at Delavan, Wis., by engaging in new ventures and making
short tours with trained animal exhibitions. His death occurred at
Jacksonville, Fla., March 4, 1895.




As many a boy has come into the circus business in much the same manner
that I entered it (at the age of fourteen years), this start in show
life may be of some interest because typical of the way in which young
lads drift into this wandering existence. Doing chores about my
father's tavern in a little southern Indiana town brought me in contact
with such travelers as visited our quiet community. Listening to their
talk and stories naturally inspired me with a desire to see something
of the big and wonderful world outside our village. As this was
impossible at the time, I did what seemed the next best thing so far as
getting in touch with the world was concerned. When only twelve years
old I took the position of "devil" in the country newspaper office, and
for years worked at the printer's case, helped "run off" the paper on
the old Franklin press and did almost every disagreeable task that
could be put on the shoulders of a boy.

This seemed quite exciting at the start, but it finally grew
monotonous, and the boyish longing for travel and adventure came back
to me with redoubled force. As my mother had died when I was very
young, and father had married again, surrounding himself with a second
family, my home ties, though pleasant enough, were not what they might
have been had my own mother lived. The printer in the little newspaper
office who was dignified by the title of foreman had seemed to take
quite a fancy to me, and we became rather close companions. One day
when the spirit of restlessness and adventure was strong upon me I
confided to him that I was tired of our slow old town and suggested
that we pack our few belongings in bundles and start out for some place
which would offer us a bigger chance to get on. This proposal, with the
beautiful summer weather, started the slumbering tendency to wander
that lurks in the heart of every true printer.

Placing a few necessaries in two bundles, we quietly left the village
in regulation tramp-printer style. At length we reached Terre Haute,
where I was offered employment in a newspaper office. I realized that I
knew very little of the printing craft, and that it would take many
years of hard, up-hill work to make me a master of the art.
Consequently I determined to find some other line of employment more
exciting than that of "sticking type." The first thing we heard was
that a circus was showing in the town. This caught my fancy, and I told
my companion that I was going to join the circus and see something of
the world. He was disgusted at this proposal, and very plainly warned
me that if I took such a course I would make a worthless loafer of
myself. But my circus blood was up, and I put my resolve into immediate
action, little dreaming that I was taking the first step in a career
that was to become a part of the history of the show business in

The show which I joined was one of the largest then in existence,
having more than a hundred horses, ten fine Ceylon elephants, a
gorgeously carved and painted "Car of Juggernaut," and many other
"attractions" which seemed marvelous in my boyish eyes. Not the least
of these in point of attractiveness and popularity was General "Tom"
Thumb, who was petted and feasted wherever he went. But Nellis, the man
without arms who could paint pictures and shoot pennies from the
fingers of the manager, claimed a large share of my silent admiration.


My first exciting experience came very early in my service. I had
learned that the very best use to which I could put my time when not
actually engaged in work was to throw myself on the nearest bunch of
hay and sleep until awakened by the "boss." Having a boy's natural
affinity for an elephant I chose, on this particular day, the hay near
which the Ceylon drove was staked. In the midst of my dreams I was
suddenly awakened by a strange sensation--a peculiar sense of motion
that had something startling and uncanny about it. Then I realized that
I was being lifted in the coils of an elephant's trunk. So intense was
my horror at awakening to find myself in this position that I had
strength neither to resist nor to cry out. My helplessness was my
greatest protection. From sheer inability to do otherwise I remained
entirely passive, and Old Romeo, the king of the drove, laid me gently
down a little distance from the hay on which I had been sleeping. Then
I understood the intelligence of the elephant and the harmlessness of
his intentions. He had eaten all the hay save that on which I was
stretched, and to get at this he had lifted me with as much care as a
mother takes up a sleeping child whom she does not wish to waken.


Only one other instance of elephant intelligence ever impressed me more
than this awakening in the grasp of Old Romeo. One of the small members
of the drove was trained to walk a rope--or more properly a belt--the
width of his foot. This performance attracted the attention of the baby
elephant, and one day I noticed the little fellow stealthily unhooking
the chain by which he was tethered. Then he boldly attempted to walk
the guard chain which surrounds the drove in every menagerie. The same
baby elephant, one day seeing the men shoveling to throw up a ring
embankment, contrived to get a shovel in his trunk. At once he
attempted to stab the blade into the earth. Failing in this effort to
imitate the men he flew into a passion and threw the tool to the
ground, trampling on it and breaking the handle.

In those first days of my novitiate I found the people almost as
interesting as the elephants--which is saying much from the point of
view of a boy. The crudity of society at that period is vividly
illustrated by an incident which occurred soon after we had crossed
over into Illinois. We were showing at the little town of Oquawka and
"put up" at the only tavern there. The dining-room of this hostelry was
papered with circus bills. Our first meal introduced me to a scene so
outlandish that I shall never forget it. Shortly after we had seated
ourselves at the rough board table, the kitchen door was pushed open by
a tall, lank young countryman of a fierce and forbidding countenance.
He wore a broad-brimmed hat, heavy cowhide boots--in the tops of which
were buried the ends of his trouser legs--and a red flannel shirt. From
his belt protruded a huge bowie knife. In his hand he carried a
sixteen-quart pan heaped with steaming potatoes. As he strode across
the room he shouted: "Who in hell wants pertaters?"


The novelty of all these curious and wonderful sights wore away after
awhile, and then began my circus life in all its stern reality. The
hardships and trials and the rough attachés of that "vast aggregation"
can never be forgotten. If the showmen were rough, so also were our
patrons. The sturdy sons of toil came to the show eager to resent any
imagined insult; and failing to fight with the showmen, would often
fight among themselves; for in the days of Abraham Lincoln's childhood
the people divided themselves into cliques, and county-seats were often
the arenas selected to settle family feuds. In other words, "fighting
was in the air," and, as may be imagined, the showmen received their
full share of it. It was no infrequent occurrence to be set upon by a
party of roughs, who were determined to show their prowess and skill as
marksmen with fists and clubs if required. As a consequence showmen
went armed, prepared to hold their own against any odds. Not once a
month, or even once a week, but almost daily, would these fights occur,
and so desperately were they entered into that they resembled pitched
battles more than anything else. Many years later, when describing this
part of my career and later battles and circus fights to General Grant
and Governor Crittenden at St. Louis, in which city my show was
exhibiting, they admitted that my experience in thrilling and startling
incidents compared favorably with their own, the difference being that
they had perfect discipline and were backed by a powerful government,
whilst for showmen there seemed to be little sympathy.

The roads at that time were in a terrible condition--so bad that slight
rains would convert them into seas of mud, and a continued rainstorm
would make them impassable.

One day one of our men became so immersed in quicksand that he sunk up
to his armpits, and would have been very quickly swallowed up entirely
had not some of his old comrades come to his rescue. Fastening one end
of a long rope around his body, they drew him from his perilous
position with the aid of a team of horses, and with so much force that
a very necessary part of his attire was left completely behind him.
These and other rigorous scenes were occurrences to which I became

In these peaceful days it is almost impossible to realize the rough and
desperate character of the people in the backwoods districts from which
the old-time wagon shows drew their principal patronage. Even the
latter-day circus men have no adequate conception of the improvement
which time has wrought in the general character of the show-going
public in the country communities. There is no denying the fact that
then, as now, the attachés of the big circus were rather poor specimens
of humanity; but in common justice it must be said that some of their
pioneer patrons were more than a match for them. Never shall I forget
the awful impression made upon my boyish mind by the first combat of
this kind which I witnessed. Although I had not been long with the
show, I had caught the prevailing sentiment that we were constantly in
the "land of the Philistines," that the hand of every man was against
us, and that our only safety was in perpetual alertness and the ready
determination to stand together and fight for our rights on the
slightest signal of disturbance.


Connected with the side-show of the circus was a quiet inoffensive
little man known as "Doc" Baird. While we were showing in a
county-seat, the bully of the community, who was evidently bent upon
displaying his courage, singled out the little "doctor" as his victim
and proceeded to pick a quarrel with him. This proved a difficult thing
to do, for Baird was decidedly pacific in his disposition and preferred
to stand abuse rather than fight. I was among the attachés of the show
who witnessed the trouble, and it seemed to me a shame that a big
fellow like the bully should be permitted to terrorize the most
inoffensive of all the showmen. Suddenly the altercation grew warmer,
the bully's arm shot forward and the little doctor was knocked to the
ground. Instantly, however, he was on his feet, and the next moment I
heard the sharp report of a pistol, saw the smoke curl from the muzzle
of the arm and watched the fall of the bully. This was the first time
in my life that I ever looked upon the face of the dead or witnessed
any affray of a fatal character. The shock and shuddering which it
caused me were so great that I actually attempted to leave the show
business, but was soon back again into the "current of destiny" and
became inured to these exciting scenes.


The circus grounds appeared to be the favorite arena for the settlement
of the neighborhood feuds that were then characteristic of backwoods
communities. Weapons of every sort, from fists to pistols, were
employed and bloodshed was the rule rather than the exception. But the
belligerent spirit of the pioneer yeomen was sometimes displayed in
ludicrous ways. An instance of this character came near having a tragic
ending. A party of young people halted before the elephant drove and
amused themselves in teasing old Romeo. The ringleader in this reckless
sport was a veritable young Amazon. For a time the patriarch of the
drove, who had more good common sense than all his tormentors, stood
the annoyance with dignified forbearance. But at last the big country
girl succeeded in arousing his ire, and the huge elephant raised his
trunk and gave her as dainty a slap, by way of warning, as was ever
administered by a mother or school mistress to an unruly child. But the
young woman would not take this hint that would have sent the most
reckless animal-keeper of the show to a discreet retreat. Her pride was
wounded before her companions. With her face flaming with anger, she
leaped over the guard chain and made a vicious lunge at the shoulder of
the elephant with the point of her gaudy parasol. Fortunately an
attaché of the show leaped forward in time to save her. This was one of
the most foolhardy displays of animal courage that I ever saw--and it
was thoroughly typical of the circus-going public of the West at an
early day.


The sectional feeling between the North and South was also a constant
menace to the showmen when traveling in the slave States, for the
circus men were universally regarded as "Yankees." The exciting
episodes growing out of this sentiment were numbered by the score, but
the one which gave me the greatest fright was encountered in Missouri
in an initial chapter of my experience.

As the caravan pulled into Booneville, early one morning, after a
wearing night of marching, we found ourselves suddenly surrounded, not
by the usual welcoming party of children of all colors and sizes, but
by a band of lank Missourians, armed to the teeth. By this time I had
developed a very respectable amount of courage for a lad; but the sight
of this posse made me decidedly uncomfortable, and I'm afraid my whole
body shook as badly as the voice of Mr. Butler, the manager, when he
inquired the cause of our hostile reception.

"You've got a stolen nigger in your outfit, and you're our
prisoners--that's what's the matter!" was the rough answer of the
leader of the posse.

The gravity of our situation was at once grasped by every man who heard
this announcement, for the stealing of a slave was then a far greater
crime in the eyes of the community than unprovoked murder would now be.
A desperate and bloody battle in which every follower of the show must
look out for his own life as best he could seemed inevitable. We all
kept our eyes on the manager, who was cool and of impressive manners.
In those moments of breathless waiting for the fight to begin, I wished
myself with the vehemence of despair safely back in the quiet little
Hoosier office.

Then Mr. Butler made a plucky appeal to all reasonable men who might be
in the posse. Was it not fair, he argued, that the man who had brought
this accusation should come forward and make himself and his standing
known? Was he a planter, the owner of slaves and a substantial citizen
of the great commonwealth of Missouri? This kind of ready eloquence
took with the crowd, and it was soon found that the man who had brought
the report was unknown to the people of Booneville. He was unable to
give a satisfactory account of himself or to prove that he ever owned a

Our trouble seemed to be rapidly clearing away when one of the natives,
who had been quietly investigating the caravan, brought the stirring
news that he had discovered the stolen negro. Then all was excitement
again, and the strain was even more intense than before, for, hidden
away in one of the wagons was a black man! This mysterious evidence of
guilt dumbfounded every attaché of the show save the manager, who
continued to maintain his splendid nerve in the presence of a half a
hundred rifles. Every instant I expected the shooting to begin.

Once more, however, Mr. Butler caught the attention of the leader and
fired at the man claiming the negro a question which made the fellow
turn pale. On his answer depended the issues of peace or conflict. To
the surprise of the Missourians, our accuser broke down and confessed
that the affair was a scheme laid by himself and the negro to blackmail
from the circus manager a large sum of money. They planned that the
negro should make his presence known to some citizen while the white
man should circulate the rumor that his slave had been stolen by the
showman. Then the white man was to go to Mr. Butler and threaten him
with the wrath of the people unless a large sum was paid him to quiet
the matter and make his peaceable departure with the slave. But the
would-be blackmailer had started a larger fire than he had counted on
and had become frightened at his own work. The moment his confession
was made the mob turned upon him as fiercely as it had first started
for us. Then our manager once more stepped forward and urged the cooler
members of the posse to hasten the white man and negro inside the
protecting walls of the jail. This they did in a hurry--and just in the
nick of time, too; for the delay of a moment would have resulted in a
lynching. This episode won us the admiration and respect of the rough
men who had met us with loaded rifles, and we were feasted on
yellow-leg chickens, hickory-cured ham, wild honey and all the
delicacies that the southern planters "set out" for their guests.


It was on this trip into Missouri that we met with a very serious loss
which almost crippled us for a time. The baggage train had passed en
route to the city where we were to exhibit, leaving the performers, the
band and ring horses, as is the custom, to follow in the rear. We had
about twenty horses and ponies of great value, and of invaluable use in
the show. One morning, just at daylight, the men who had charge of
these horses were attacked by a gang of horse thieves, and the entire
lot was taken from them. Our men were left wounded and bound with
cords, lying by the wayside. Meanwhile, the tents and other
paraphernalia were already in the village, awaiting the arrival of the
horses. The time for the show to begin came, but still no horses
appeared, and the crowds, assembled to see the performing animals, were
growing impatient.

While we were in this embarrassing predicament, a citizen came riding
up in hot haste, stating that he had seen and released some men who had
said their horses had been stolen and who begged him to come into town
and report the loss to the managers. When this news was received, it
was immediately communicated to the expectant, impatient audience; but
being naturally suspicious of all mankind, and especially of circus
men, they thought it was a "sell" and a "Yankee trick"; but when once
they were made to believe the true facts of the case they rose as one
man and mounted their horses to overtake the marauders and punish them.
But the thieves, having had several hours start, escaped, and after
several days' search the chase was finally abandoned, and we were
obliged to proceed on our way without our horses. Horse thieves in
those days were very common, and were a continual annoyance to the
planters and farmers, and had our thieves been captured, they would
have been summarily dealt with.

Naturally, we were very much crippled with our loss; but soon the
fertile brain of some of our performers secured us a means of
recovering from this calamity, and we were provided with other horses
which we used as substitutes for the beautiful and (for those days)
highly-trained animals which had been stolen.



There are at least two features of the show business which are seldom
exaggerated, no matter how capable the showman may be at blowing his
own horn or how brilliant may be the accomplishments of his advertising
man as a professional prevaricator. These features are the great cost
of stocking a menagerie and the danger attending the capture and
handling of the savage creatures. Few people not in the business have
any idea what it costs to get together and maintain a large collection
of animals.

Perhaps the only reason why these phases of the business have not been
magnified by the eloquent pens and tongues of the advance men is
because they are well-nigh incapable of exaggeration. The plain truth
concerning them is as astonishing and sensational as would be any
addition thereto, and consequently the advertising men have been
tempted to regard this as a field which does not invite a display of
their special talents.

I know of one showman who paid $10,000 for a hippopotamus. This figure
would have been as effective for advertising purposes as twice that
amount--and yet I do not recall that this price was made much of in the
advertising put out by the proprietor. At the time I went into the
great New York Aquarium enterprise I remember having one day figured up
the amount which I had paid Reiche Brothers, then the leading animal
dealers of the world. It reached the neat sum of half a million
dollars. This, however, was but a fraction of the fortune I had been
called upon to invest in wild animals. Besides buying from other
dealers, I had been interested in several independent animal hunting
expeditions to Africa. This was a tremendously expensive experience,
and led me to a willingness to pay the very large profits demanded by
the established animal houses rather than attempt to go into the
forests and jungles with my own expeditions. These houses were able to
employ educated Germans who delighted in the adventure, and they saved
us time, anxiety and money.


In this particular branch of trade Germans take the lead. Charles
Reiche, the New York partner, came to this country a very poor boy, and
began peddling canaries, bullfinches, and other songbirds. He made his
start in 1851 when he went to California by way of the Isthmus of
Panama, and employed natives to carry the living freight on their
backs. He marched with his men and carried a heavier burden than any
servant in the caravan. His only great competitors were the Hagenbacks,
of Hamburg. Since the death of the Reiche Brothers, the Hagenbacks have
almost monopolized the trade, supplying the menageries and zoological
gardens of the world. The Reiche Brothers left an enormous fortune made
from this humble beginning.

There is something thrilling in the thought of the lives that have been
lost, the sufferings and hardships endured, the perils encountered, and
the vast sums of money expended in the capture and transportation of
wild animals for the menageries, museums and zoological gardens.
Indeed, the business has been so exclusively in the hands of two very
quiet gentlemen, whose agencies cover nearly half the globe, that
beyond the managers of gardens and shows, only a very limited number of
persons have any conception of the extent of their operations.


The head of the Reiche firm, and its directing spirit, was Mr. Charles
Reiche, who was well educated and had traveled widely. His New York
establishment was each day passed unnoticed by thousands of
pedestrians, yet from it wild animals were supplied to almost every
traveling show in the United States. The great supply depot for this
country was in Hoboken. Henry Reiche, his brother, lived in Germany,
where they had a large supply farm for all the world, with
accommodations and appliances for keeping almost every bird, beast and
reptile produced by any country or clime of the world. They were ready
at any time to fill an order for anything, from a single canary to a
flock of ostriches, or from a field-mouse to an elephant.

Africa, the home of the most fiercely voracious animals, was their most
extensive field for operations. In it they had many stations, with
sheiks or chiefs in their employ, and standing rewards offered to
natives for choice specimens of rare birds or beasts. During nine
months of every year they had a band of experienced white African
hunters traveling from station to station, overseeing and directing the
work of the natives, and capturing elephants, lions, leopards, tigers
and such other beasts as they might be instructed to obtain. The
company, usually composed of four or six, and never more than eight,
was under the command of Charles Lohse, a veteran hunter and trapper,
and started from Germany about the first of September and generally
returned from Africa early in June. During the remaining three months
of the year, the rainy season, the climate is so unhealthful that it is
almost certain death for a white man to remain in Africa.


Starting from Germany, the hunters used to take a complete outfit of
clothing and firearms, gifts for the chiefs, and from seven to twelve
thousand dollars in drafts and letters of credit. They would go to
Trieste, thence to Corfu, in Greece, thence to Alexandria, and by rail
to Suez. There they would exchange their money for Austrian silver
dollars, the only coin known to the Arabs and sheiks of Africa. A Bank
of England note was valueless to them, and the brightest specimen of an
American gold eagle would not buy the meanest ring-tailed monkey. They
next took the Turkish steamer to Judda and thence to Sarachin, the last
station before they commenced their long, tiresome and dangerous march
across the Nubian Desert. For this undertaking they bought camels,
water and provisions, and hired such of the sheiks and other natives as
they needed, the latter being cheap enough, generally costing five
dollars, and occasionally seven dollars, each for the trip across the
desert. When the caravan arrived at its destination the poor fellows
were left to get back as best they could. In this manner they traveled
to Honiahn, the principal station of the company in Africa, where the
distinctions of caste are strictly maintained.


Every white man had a "mansion," which consisted of a straw house about
twenty feet wide by thirty feet deep, and was divided into two rooms.
In such houses they lived and slept, and in one of them they kept the
money which had been brought across the desert in trunks on the backs
of camels.

No attempt was made to hide it, nor was there any secrecy as to where
it was packed during the long journey. So honest were the native blacks
that not a dollar was lost by carelessness or theft. Frequently there
would be ten thousand of these silver dollars in the hut, with only one
or two white men in camp, surrounded by negroes, Arabs and half-breeds;
yet no attempt at robbery was ever made. The half-civilized natives,
knowing they were not entitled to a dollar until they had earned it,
never tried to get it in any other way. The natives slept where and as
they pleased, and three times a day were given a fair supply of Indian
corn, which they would grind and, after adding a little water, would
cook over their own fires, making a sort of biscuit. The white men had
negro cooks and lived luxuriously. They had eggs, coffee and Indian
corn biscuit for breakfast, with a broiled chicken for a relish
whenever desired. For dinner, maize and beef or mutton made up the
usual bill of fare. A well-conditioned ox cost only four dollars, and a
"good eating-goat" was to be had for fifty cents. No meal was complete
without plenty of onions. After supper, the German hunter's inseparable
evening friend, his long-stemmed china pipe, invariably appeared.


The interior of the huts would have charmed an artist. Elephant tusks,
lion and leopard skins, hunting-hats and coats, tall wading-boots,
rifles and pistols, bright-colored flannel shirts and bits of harness
were scattered about in picturesque confusion. In a safe place, where
it could not possibly be scratched or disfigured, was the choicest
treasure within the four strong walls, a large German accordion. In the
long evenings, after the perils and labors of the hunt, Lohse played
this instrument by the hour to his hunters as they puffed great clouds
of smoke and dreamed of the Fatherland.

The camp was pitched in a clearing on the bank of a little river and
was closed by a high and thick hedge of a native thorn. At night, after
the pack animals had been fed, watered and housed or tethered, great
fires were built at irregular intervals about the grounds to scare off
wild beasts, and the watch was set. Then began the dismal howl of the
hyena, the roar of the lion, and the shriek of the wildcat. About five
o'clock in the morning the camp was again astir and the business of the
day was begun. The native hunters formed in companies of about twenty,
with a white leader, and started off in different directions. Those
left in camp put in the time cleaning it, caring for the beasts, and
making boxes for transportation of the animals, and cages for the
reception of freshly captured beasts.

In capturing wild animals the rule is to kill the old ones and secure
the young; for after any of the beasts have grown old enough to become
accustomed to the free life of the forests, and to hunt their own food,
they are treacherous and worth little for purposes of exhibition.


Paul Tuhe, one of the ablest master-hunters in the service of the
Reiche Brothers, who has brought from Africa hundreds of rare birds and
animals, gives me this account of the methods and perils of the hunt:

"Though the lion is a fierce creature, the lioness, when protecting her
young, is very much more ferocious. From long practice, however, we
know how to go after them. A good rifle, firm hands and steady eyes and
we can soon topple the old king over. The old lady, however, may make a
better fight, but in the end we are sure to kill her. Then it is no
trouble to pick up the cubs. We try to get these little fellows when
they are about three or four weeks old. They are then like young
puppies, easily managed, and soon know their keepers. Leopards, tigers
and all animals of that kind we get in the same way and at about the
same age.

"Baby elephants are hard to capture, and the hunt is very dangerous.
The old ones seem to know instinctively when we are after their young,
and their rage is something terrible. The trumpeting of the parents can
be heard a long distance, and quickly alarms the whole herd. The rifle
is comparatively useless, and trying to approach them is particularly
hazardous; yet it has to be done.

"First, we try to distract the attention of the female from her young.
Then a native creeps cautiously in from behind and with one cut of a
heavy broad-bladed knife severs the tendons of her hind legs. She is
then disabled and falls to the ground. We promptly kill her, secure the
ivory and capture the little one. Of course we sometimes have a native
or two killed in this kind of a hunt; but they don't cost much--only
five to six dollars apiece. The sheiks are paid in advance, and do not
care whether the poor huntsmen get out of the chase alive or not. We
like to capture the baby elephants when they are about one year old.
Younger ones are too tender and older ones know too much. They soon get
acquainted with all the camp and we have lots of fun with them. They
are kindly, docile, and as full of pranks as the little black babies
who play with them.

"Of all fierce, ungovernable, lusty brutes, the hippopotamus with young
is the very worst; and whenever we start off to get a baby 'hip' we
calculate to come back with one or more men missing. In water they will
fight like devils, and will crush the strongest boat to pieces in five
minutes. They are quick as a flash, too, notwithstanding their clumsy
appearance, and the oarsmen have to be wide-awake to keep out of their
way. On shore they are just as ferocious, and the way they hurry their
stumpy little legs over the ground would astonish you. They die hard,
and take 'a heap of killing.' When such a job is over you may be sure
there is great rejoicing among us; but as one little hippopotamus is
worth as much as half a dozen little lions, tigers and such truck, we
are well content to take the risk. We cannot get these babies too young
to suit. One, I remember, was captured the very day it was born, and
the hunters and attendants brought it up on a bottle.

"Ostriches we run down on horseback, and then catch with a lasso. It is
an exciting chase, but not particularly dangerous. On these hunts we
are entitled only to the young ones we capture. The beautiful skins of
the leopards, lions, and other animals we kill, the tusks of the
elephant, the feathers of the ostrich, and all other similar spoils, go
to the native chiefs and sheiks, and these old rascals are as sharp at
a trade as the shrewdest 'old clo' merchant in Chatham Street.

"In the encampments the natives assist in taking care of the animals
and do general work, but the menial duties are performed by Nubian
slaves, who are very cheap and can be bought in numbers to suit. Among
the natives the women are looked upon as inferior. Women never eat with
their husbands. The husband is allowed four wives, and as many slaves
as he can corral."


A sufficient number and variety of animals having been secured, a
caravan is formed to take them across the desert for shipment to
Germany or America. This usually consists of about one hundred camels,
each having its native driver; thirty or forty horses for the white
men, and the Arab hunters and their attendants; a flock of from one
hundred and fifty to two hundred goats, for their milk and also for
food; and black slaves to look out for the goats. The wild animals are
secured in strong boxes and carried on the camels' backs. They are all
young, and fed with goats' milk principally, although occasionally, to
keep them in good spirits, they are given raw goats' meat. Horses are
very cheap there, ranging in price from fifteen to twenty dollars each.
Natives are even cheaper, seven dollars each being thought an
extravagant price for the trip.

The journey ordinarily occupies from thirty to forty days, and all
traveling is done between three and eleven in the morning and five and
eleven in the evening. During mid-day the sun's rays are so fiercely
hot as to make labor or travel hazardous, and none is attempted. The
route home is much the same as that taken out, and in due time the
beasts are landed, usually with very little loss, in Germany. There
they remain until needed to fill orders of showmen in either Europe or
America, while their hardy captors take three months of rest and
recreation before starting on another trip.


Several men of scientific attainments are always to be depended on for
novelties in the way of monsters from the deep. Some of these
"professors," as they are generally termed by showmen, are given
salaries to go out on special expeditions, while others make an
excellent living by pursuing this peculiar craft independently. Often
these men have adventures quite as exciting as those which befall the
hunters in the wilds of the jungles.

While on an expedition to the Bermuda coast one of our professors had a
decidedly interesting experience with a small octopus. He had been
towing about in his little boat in search of the beautiful colored fish
with which this coast abounds, when there was a sudden lurch of the
boat followed by a constant thumping against its bottom. Thinking the
skiff had met with an obstruction of the ordinary kind, the professor
thrust his arm into the water, at the stern of the boat, where he felt
a moving mass which was indistinctly seen, and caught hold of the slimy
thing. He then found that his arm was being encircled by what he
believed to be a sea serpent. Then he felt a sensation that, according
to his description, was like a hundred sucking leeches. This strange
and powerful animal was trying to pull him overboard. With a desperate
effort he separated the tentacled part that encircled his arm from the
body of the devil-fish, and the creature fell back into the water. On
the professor's arm were several sores where the suckers had been
applied, and he was as thoroughly frightened as a man could be and

One of the most pathetic subjects which can be proposed to a
proprietary showman of wide experience is that of "wild goose"
expeditions. Experiences of this kind are so costly that they are not
easily forgotten. I spent thousands of dollars on an expedition sent to
the coast of Alaska for the purpose of capturing a live walrus. The man
in charge of this undertaking had been with my menagerie for several
years, and I knew him to be courageous, capable and determined. He had
plenty of assistance, the best equipment in the way of boats, wire nets
and other paraphernalia that could be devised, and still he returned
empty-handed from a shore that abounded with those ugly monsters. The
failure of the expedition and the loss of the heavy investment which it
represented all hinged on the fact that, unlike the seals we had taken
by nets, the walrus could not be found on the shore. What was still
more tantalizing was that they would permit their pursuers to approach
within a hundred feet of the ice blocks on which they discreetly held

After he had abandoned all hope of capturing them alive, he determined
to have some sport shooting them. As before stated, the walruses would
remain on the ice until the party came within one hundred feet of them,
resting all the time in perfect silence and raising their enormous
heads as if curious to see what manner of men had the temerity to
invade their dominion. In that position they were, of course, perfect
targets for the bullets. When wounded they would collect in a group,
and then, as if by a preconceived signal, they would rush for the
boats, and their retaliation would be furious and the attacking party
was usually wholly unprepared for the onslaught. As a walrus frequently
weighs nearly a ton, and sometimes more, the hunters were in imminent
danger of being tipped over into the cold waves--a catastrophe which
would be almost certain to result fatally; and as the movement of the
walrus is very swift, the only alternative left the party was to empty
their guns on the foremost of the creatures. This would break the force
of the onslaught, the killed and wounded forming a barrier to those
coming on behind. On one of these excursions the hunters killed a baby
walrus, and while using the oars to reach the ice floe whereon the baby
lay dead, they were astonished to see a grown walrus jump to the little
one's side and, taking it in its mouth, disappear with it into the icy

If the countryman who finds undisguised delight in "seeing the animals"
of the big show could only realize the money, the perils and hardships
and the disappointments which a good collection of animals represents
he would marvel the more at the spectacle.



No saying attributed to P. T. Barnum has been more widely quoted than
the remark that "the public likes to be humbugged." Certainly this
comment on the credulity of the masses opens up a most curious and
entertaining field, and its mention in a company of old showmen is sure
to provoke a flood of reminiscences on the subject of fakes, freaks and
fakers. There is scarcely another line of experience concerning which
veteran showmen more enjoy comparing notes--possibly because it touches
on the secrets of the craft. Though it is true that Mr. Barnum was a
master in the science of humbugging the public, and did not disclaim
that distinction, it must be said in justice to him that in the course
of his long professional career he gave the people more for their money
than any other showman, living or dead.

A little inside information on this hidden side of the showman's
business may be entertaining to a public which has often experienced
the pleasure of being humbugged. Certainly no fake is entitled to take
precedence over the celebrated "Cardiff Giant." This was the invention
of a certain George Hull. He lived, I think, at Binghamton, New York,
and manufactured the giant in a rude shop on the small farm which he
worked. Hull was shrewd, energetic and very persistent, as may be seen
by the fact that the elaboration of the idea of his fake and its
execution occupied him more than four years. He thought the whole
matter out, even to the most minute details, before beginning work on
it. Without any knowledge of the art of sculpture or the science of
anatomy, he set himself resolutely at work to remedy these defects of
education. He had considerable aptitude with the chisel, and gradually
developed the skill necessary to hew out a figure that was to be put
before the public as a relic of an age so remote that no person would
be likely closely to criticise its proportions. Hull also knew that, no
matter what the age in which his giant was supposed to have lived, the
"remains" must show pores in the skin to pass the scrutiny of even the
unlearned, The making of these pores required more time and labor than
all the other work of making the "Cardiff Giant." The work occupied
many months, and was all performed in the "studio" or shop where it was
at last finished to Hull's satisfaction.


Preparations were then made for the giant's burial in order that when
brought to public view it might show the proper evidence of antiquity.
It was buried in the side of a hill only a few rods from the
outbuilding, where it had been chiseled from a huge block of stone
taken from that very hill. In all this work, huge and heavy as the
uncut stone and the giant hewn out of it were, Hull had only the
assistance of one man, a sled and a yoke of oxen in moving them. This
helper was a green and stolid German immigrant, utterly devoid of
curiosity, and the man who helped to bury the giant was another of the
same description.

The statue was allowed to remain more than two years in the ground
before its maker considered it to be in proper condition for
"accidental" discovery. Hull then promptly "discovered" and dug out the
"petrification," and placed it on public view to amaze and perplex
people generally and to delight the antiquarians, who found it an
argument to uphold some of their most cherished theories. It took its
name from the fact that near the spot where it was buried and
resurrected was a small hamlet called Cardiff. The public career of the
"Cardiff Giant" was not of long continuance, however, but was
sufficiently lengthy to enable Mr. Hull to make considerable money out
of his clever conception. He declared, however, that he might have made
much more money if he had accepted Mr. Barnum's offer made at the time
of the giant's first appearance in public. Mr. Hull knew, too, that
exposure was bound to come in the end, but that mattered not to him.
For many years thereafter the "Cardiff Giant" reposed neglected in the
very shop in which it was made; but its owner and inventor averred that
he was entirely content with the financial result of his ingenuity.

    "Bridgeport, Oct. 8, 1870.

    "My Dear Coup: Yours received. I will join you in a show for next
    spring and will probably have Admiral Dot well trained this winter
    and have him and Harrison in the show. Wood will sell all his
    animals right, and will furnish several tip-top museum curiosities.
    You need to spend several months in New York arranging for
    curiosities, cuts, cages, bills, etc. All things got from Wood I
    will settle for with him and give the concern credit. We can make a
    stunning museum department. If you want to call it _my_ museum and
    use my name it may be used by allowing me the same very small
    percentage that Wood allows for calling himself my successor (3 per
    cent on receipts). You can have a Cardiff Giant that won't crack,
    also a moving figure, Sleeping Beauty or Dying Zouave--a big
    Gymnastic figure like that in Wood's museum, and lots of other good
    things, only you need time to look them up and prepare wagons,
    etc., etc.

    "Yours truly,

    "P. T. BARNUM."

    "I will spare time to cook up the show in New York when you come. I
    think Siamese Twins would pay."

The year 1884 is a memorable one in the annals of circus history, and
circus men remember it as the "White Elephant Year." For many years
persistent attempts had been made by enterprising showmen to secure for
exhibition purposes a sacred white elephant. Schemes by the score had
been discussed in the confidential councils of the showmen in winter
quarters, with a view to faking a black elephant into a white one, but
without satisfactory results. In the winter of 1883, however, it was
given out by Mr. Barnum's manager that he had positively succeeded in
purchasing from the King of Siam a sacred white elephant. The press was
splendidly "worked" in advance, and the sacred white elephant
monopolized the gossip of circus circles.


A great rivalry had for some years existed between Mr. Barnum and a
Philadelphia circus man, and the public was greatly surprised, just
before the opening of the season, to find that, according to newspaper
report, the latter also had quietly and unostentatiously imported a
sacred white elephant known as the "Light of Asia," which, from the
descriptions of the few favored scribes who had seen it, was a marvel
of beauty and color. Rumors also were circulated that Barnum's white
elephant was not genuine, but only a diseased or leprous elephant with
a "blaze" of cream color down its trunk, and discolored or spotted
legs, while the Philadelphia showman's animal was of snowy whiteness,
without spot or blemish. Public sentiment ran high, especially in
Philadelphia, where the shows were to exhibit simultaneously. While
public opinion was divided as to the genuineness of these "sacred"
animals, it may be well to say that the Barnum animal was as good a
specimen of the genuine white elephant as could be procured, while the
Philadelphia elephant, pretty as a picture and superbly snow white in
color, was supposed to be a lively "fake."


While on exhibition, this "Light of Asia" was almost entirely covered
with a black velvet-spangled cloth, and the trunk had been manipulated
in such a way that visitors could touch it, and as no coloring matter
came off on their hands I presume that part of the body had in some way
been "sized" or enameled.


During the performance the white elephant would be introduced and
stripped of its velvet trappings on the elevated stage between the two
rings, while a learned "professor" descanted eloquently on opposition
in general and the genuineness of this white elephant in particular. So
well was this part of the program carried out that popular opinion was
at least equally divided regarding the genuineness of the competing
white elephants. Long afterward the "lecturer" told me that this white
elephant, having learned to recognize and like him, would endeavor to
salute him by rubbing up against him after the manner of elephants. Had
the animal succeeded, the effect would have been to leave white marks
on the black coat of the lecturer, who had all he could do to continue
his lecture and at the same time dodge the friendly advance of the
white elephant. About the middle of the season, after getting all the
benefit they could out of the white elephant war, Barnum and his rival
came to an amicable understanding, and divided territory with each
other, and the "Light of Asia" was withdrawn.

The following winter it was given out that the animal had taken cold
and died in Philadelphia, but there are plenty of showmen who aver that
the animal is as lively and healthy as ever, though wearing black
instead of chalky white. A somewhat significant fact regarding this
fake was that during the previous summer its owners had been annoyed on
arrival in various towns to find an opposition sideshow, with its
canvas already up. It belonged to an Englishman whose sole attraction
was a yellow horse. No one had ever heard of a yellow horse before, and
the farmers for miles around came in and eagerly paid ten cents to see
this wonder. The animal was not particularly beautiful, but was
certainly a bright yellow, as were also the hands of his master. In
fact, there was no doubt but that its owner had rubbed the animal well
with yellow ochre. The proprietor of the "Light of Asia" paid the show
a visit and laughed heartily at the deception. After looking at the
horse a little while, he remarked to its owner: "Well, if you can turn
a gray horse yellow, you should be able to turn an elephant white."
What happened afterward I am unable to say, but, singular to relate,
the following spring, when the "Light of Asia" was "imported," a
special trainer was brought with it from Siam who gave the animal his
exclusive care and attention. This trainer was an Englishman, and many
of the circus attachés thought they had seen the man exhibiting the
yellow horse.

In 1883, while passing down the Bowery in New York, I heard my name
loudly shouted. Turning around I met an English showman who was just
then managing one of the many dime museums then established in that

"Come inside, Mr. Coup," said he, "and I will show you my latest."

"Your latest what?" said I.

"Fake," he answered. "These freaks want too much money, and are nearly
played out, anyway, so I'm making fresh ones now."


The place was packed with people, and an enormous banner on the outside
depicted a savage-looking wild man. He was described as having been
captured in the caves of Kentucky. I followed my acquaintance upstairs,
and in due time, after a preliminary lecture, a door was thrown open,
disclosing what looked like a prison cell, in which, chained to an iron
grating, stood a man closely resembling the one represented in the
picture. His skin was of a tawny yellow, his body was covered with
hair, and he ravenously snapped at and ate the lumps of raw beef which
an attendant threw to him.

I cannot say that it was a pleasant sight, but from its effect on the
spectators it was undoubtedly a satisfactory one, and as the door
closed on it I said to my acquaintance:

"Where did you get him?"

He replied: "Why, you know the man well. He traveled with you two
seasons. Come inside and talk with him."

I followed him, and no sooner were we in the cage than the terrible
"wild man" held out his hand to me and said, "How do you do, Mr. Coup?"
The voice was strangely familiar. I scrutinized the fellow's features
and recognized in him a Russian who had been exhibited in our sideshow
as a "hairy man." He had allowed his skin to be dyed yellow and his
whiskers and hair black, and, for a consideration of about four times
his usual salary, was now posing as a wild man. He afterward went West
and continued this mode of exhibition for several months, until he was
played out in that capacity, whereupon a few warm baths enabled him to
resume his former employment as "Ivanovitch, the hairy man."

Another celebrated fake which met with success in the East was the
"dog-faced man." The Englishman before spoken of engaged a variety
performer who was an adept at imitating the barking of dogs. The
manager had in his possession an old photograph of "Jo-jo, the
dog-faced boy," and was resolved to place a good imitation of this
freak before the American public. He accordingly had made a very
expensive wig which covered completely the head, face and shoulders.
Dressing the man in the garb of a Russian peasant, he advertised him as
"Nicolai Jacobi, the Russian dog-faced man." So good was the disguise
that they exhibited an entire week at a Jersey City museum, deceiving
even the astute proprietor. Next they went to Boston, where they played
to the most phenomenal business on record. The proprietor of the museum
had a very clever cartoonist in his employ, and as the Englishman and
his dog-faced friend walked from the station to the museum they saw
nothing but pictures of dog-faced men. In front of the museum, in a
large cage, was one of the fiercest wildcats they had even seen,

"The pet of the dog-faced man."

They played, as I have said, to phenomenal business. For two weeks
thousands of persons daily struggled for the privilege of paying ten
cents to see this amusing fake. At the end of that time one of the
employés betrayed the secret to a reporter and the attraction was
rendered valueless. Strange to relate, the success of this "fake" was
the means of bringing from Europe the original dog-faced boy, "Jo-jo,"
who for several years drew a good salary at the various dime museums,
but never created so much excitement by virtue of his genuineness as
the "fake" did.


Millie Christine, the "two-headed nightingale," had been exhibiting in
New York City, and public attention was called, shortly afterward, to
the fact that a lady with three perfect heads would be exhibited on a
certain day. Now, this strange being was really an optical illusion,
built on the same lines as the ghost show invented by Professor Pepper.
Three girls were used, and all portions of their figures not intended
to be shown were covered with a black cloth. The whole illusion is
merely an effect of light and shade.

Still another "fake" that not only "drew" well but positively deceived
the whole New York press, was the "Dahomey Giant." About 1882 a very
tall specimen of the African race walked into an Eastern museum looking
for work. He was actually over seven feet in height, and had never been
on exhibition. Knowing that his value as a negro giant would be but
little, the proprietors resolved to introduce him as a monster wild
African. After consulting Rev. J. G. Woods' Illustrated History of the
Uncivilized Races, it was determined to make a Dahomey of the tall
North Carolinian. A theatrical costumer was set to work to make him a
picturesque garb. A spurious cablegram was issued, purporting to be
from Farini, of London, stating that the Dahomey giant had sailed with
his interpreter from London and would arrive in Boston on or about a
certain date.

The man, with his interpreter, was then taken by train to Boston, from
which city they, in due time, wired the museum proprietor of their
arrival. That telegram was answered by another telling them to take the
first Fall River boat for New York City. The press was then notified,
and the representatives of five New York papers were actually sent to
the pier the following morning to interview the distinguished stranger
from Dahomey. The man had been well schooled, and pretending not to
know a word of the English language, could not, of course, converse
with the reporters. But his interpreter managed to fill them up very
comfortably. At all events, long and interesting accounts of the
"snuff-colored giant from Dahomey" appeared in most of the dailies, and
for several weeks this Dahomey was the stellar attraction at that
particular dime museum. The advent of summer and its consequent circus
season closing the city museums, the Dahomey "joined out" with a side
show in which, for successive seasons, he posed as a Dahomey giant, a
Maori from New Zealand, an Australian aborigine and a Kaffir. This
man's success was the initiative for a score of other negroes, who
posed as representatives of any foreign races the side-show proprietor
wished to exhibit.


Krao, the "missing link," as she was called, was simply a hairy child,
and almost exactly like Annie Jones, who was exhibited by Barnum as the
"Esau Child." A great card for museums at one time was the "human-faced
chicken." The first one placed on exhibition was purchased in good
faith by an acquaintance of mine, and proved a good attraction. A
visiting farmer, however, declared that it was nothing but an ordinary
chicken which had had its bill frozen off, and so it proved.

Dancing turkeys were then introduced and caused great amusement. The
awkward birds would walk onto their exhibition stage and go through a
decidedly grotesque dance, their mode of lifting their feet being
highly laughable. The truth was that the stage on which they danced was
a piece of sheet-iron covered with a cloth. The iron was heated to an
uncomfortable degree by gas jets underneath. What the public accepted
as dancing was really the efforts made by the birds to prevent their
feet from being burned.


The spread of the dime museum craze created a great demand for freaks
and a consequent rise in their salaries. I know I am violating no
confidence when I say that at various times the following freaks have
drawn weekly the sums set opposite their names:

    "La Tocci Twins,"             $1,000.00
    "Millie Christine,"              600.00
    "Wild Man of Borneo,"            300.00
    "Chang, the Chinese Giant,"      400.00
    "Chemah, the Chinese Dwarf,"     300.00
    Ordinary giants and midgets,      30.00 to 100.00
    Bearded ladies,                   30.00 to  75.00
    Living skeletons,                 30.00 to  75.00
    Armless men,                      30.00 to 100.00
    Ossified men,                     30.00 to 200.00

And as an offset to the above figures, I have heard of a tatooed man
who would talk outside, exhibit himself inside, do a turn of magic,
lift barrels of water with his teeth, and, as boss canvasman,
superintend the putting up and pulling down of the show, all for six
dollars a week. He must have been first cousin to the man who traveled
with the circus simply to be able to sit on the fence and hear the band

It will doubtless seem incredible to the person unused to the society
of freaks that these unfortunates should take a seeming pride in their
distinguishing misfortunes and be jealous of their reputations; this,
however, is one of the strongest traits of the typical freak. In our
show at one time we carried two giants, a Captain Benhein, a Frenchman,
and Colonel Goshin, an Arabian. These two fellows were almost insanely
jealous of each other, and it was ludicrous to hear the threats which
they exchanged; many times it seemed that a personal encounter was
imminent, but the Arabian's courage seemed in inverse proportion to his


Referring to Goshin as an Arabian brings to light a curious fact with
regard to freaks of great size. He was not an Arabian, but a negro
picked up by "Yank Robinson" in Kentucky. So confirmed is the habit of
speaking of him as an Arabian that it has become second nature with me,
and I think that this tendency is almost universal with showmen; they
become so accustomed to enlarging on the fictitious characters for
which their freaks are played that I sometimes think they almost get to
believe these stories themselves.

Among the freaks the women were almost universally jealous of their
professional reputations. Hannah Battersbey, who weighed more than four
hundred pounds, recognized Kate Heathley as her particular rival, and
either of these women could be instantly thrown into a jealous passion
at the mention of the other's claim to superiority in the matter of
weight. The strange alliances which sometimes took place in the freak
world are well illustrated by the marriage of the weighty Hannah to a
living skeleton who touched the scales at sixty-five pounds.

Before leaving the subject of freaks I must mention the strangest sight
that it was ever my fortune to look upon in the course of a life spent
in association with human novelties. Early in my career I was fortunate
enough to secure the show rights for a fair in Montgomery, Ala., which
was held just at the end of the northern show season. This circumstance
resulted in bringing to the fair a most unusual number of small shows,
the main attractions of which were freaks of every kind and color. My
royalties were very large, and I was naturally expected to do something
handsome by the people who had contributed to this success;
consequently I gave a dinner to the "freaks," and that banquet table
presented a scene probably unrivaled in history. I only wish I were
able to give anything approaching an adequate description of that
festal board. At the head of the table was the towering figure of an
eight-foot giant, while at the other extremity of the board sat a
thirty-six-inch dwarf. The jests which were bandied between the
banqueters are worthy a place in a history of wit. A single instance,
however, will give an idea of the peculiar terms with which these
people enlivened the occasion. As the "Armless Man" helped himself to
potatoes, the "Bearded Lady" opposite him called out, "Hands off!" and
the whole company shouted with laughter.

The famous "Australian Children," who made several fortunes for their
exhibitors, came from Circleville, Ohio, and were the children of a
mulatto. Occasionally the showman met with distressing but amusing
experiences resulting from the identification of his freaks on the part
of the public.


While I was absent from my show my manager once engaged two boys with
heads little larger than teacups; one of them had a club foot and had
some little claim to intelligence. Our people had painted them to look
like savages, and they were exhibited as the "Aztec Children." One day
when the lecturer was expatiating upon these remarkable children a
burlo countryman shouted:

"Hello, John Evans, I know you; I worked in the harvest field with you
many a day; oh, you can't fool me."

The "Aztec child" had been taught to make no reply to anything said to
him, and the lecturer paid no attention to anything said to the
countryman's interruption, but the countryman was not to be put down,
and once more he shouted:

"Say, Bill Evans, maybe you think I don't know that club foot; just
come off, now."

The audience was greatly amused at this, and the lecturer saw that he
had plenty of trouble on hand; consequently he called the countryman
aside and told him that he was certainly mistaken as to the identity of
the freak. "Oh, no, I ain't," replied the obdurate fellow; "and what is
more, you and your whole shebang are frauds and humbugs." Then the
lecturer took another tack, gave the countryman five dollars, and
thought the incident closed; but it was not, for the fellow proceeded
to spend his money on whisky and tell his friends of his discovery,
with the result that the business at that point was ruined.

From the viewpoint of the showmen there are "fakers" and "fakirs."
Under the former head we class the men who conceive and manufacture
fakes of the kind already described. The fakirs are altogether of a
different kind, being the camp-followers who hang on the heels of a
circus for the purpose of swindling the public by every variety of
device known to the "blackleg fraternity."

Frequently a number of illegitimate shows start out, and, before doing
so, announce that faking privileges are to be leased. The leaders of
the various gangs make the arrangements with the circus proprietors,
depositing a sum of money in the ticket wagon with which to "square
squeals," then the tribe of showmen and fakirs start out on their
nefarious pilgrimages, the shows furnishing the transportation for the
fakirs. One of the fakirs in connection with each show is selected as
the "squarer." He is generally a member of various secret societies and
orders, and his particular duty is to bribe the petty officers of the
towns visited, to secure immunity from arrest. Lottery schemes,
gambling games of every sort, pocket-picking and robbing are among the
methods by which these fakirs reap their harvest.


My life has been frequently threatened and twice attempted because of
my persistent determination to drive this thieving fraternity from my
shows. One day in a small western town a man introduced himself to me
as the brother of a very respectable Chicagoan and explained that he
was on his way to Texas to join in certain speculations. I at once
suspected him of being a fakir and gave orders to the manager of the
side-show to get rid of him and all his kind. A little later the
landlord came to me and said: "Mr. Coup, there is a fellow out here who
says he will shoot you on sight; he is one of the men traveling with
you." On investigation I found that he was not the man who had
introduced himself to me, but was one of the gang attempting to work
the show: he bore a desperate reputation, and was popularly credited
with having killed several men; all of my employés stood in fear of
him, and I concluded to appeal to the mayor of the town for necessary
protection and assistance. Before doing so, however, I put on a heavy
ulster, in each side-pocket of which I placed a loaded six-shooter.
With a finger on the trigger of each revolver I started out to find the
mayor. While crossing the public square I met the man who had
threatened to shoot me. Stopping squarely in front of him I said: "I
believe you have threatened and intend to kill me, and I want to say to
you that you will never find a better opportunity to do so than right
now." He proposed to argue the question with me, but I simply insisted
that he should leave town at once. The outlaw began a tirade of abuse,
and remarked that he was a southern man. "Well," I answered, "if you
wish to bring that question into the argument, I am a northern man, and
you may tell this to all of your tribe." That ended the matter, and he
left town that afternoon; but if he had not known that I had two
six-shooters pointed directly at him, I would probably not have been
left to tell the tale.

In my battles against the fakirs I have universally relied upon the
strong arms of my husky "canvasmen," and more than once I have armed
them with clubs concealed under their coats, with the result that the
fakirs were driven from the field with broken arms and noses. It is a
lamentable fact that not a few of the wealthiest showmen in this
country have swelled their fortunes by the "rake-off" from the
despicable gains of these blacklegs and tricksters.



It requires several months of hard labor to prepare any show for the
road, even those already organized, for, as a rule, all shows "lay off"
during the winter. With few exceptions the horses are allowed to "run
out," and all the wagons and paraphernalia are stored in convenient
winter quarters provided for the purpose. The wild animals are taken
from their traveling cages and placed in more commodious ones. The
manager then decides on his route for the coming season. This, in
itself, is an arduous labor, for the cost of transportation becomes,
necessarily, a most important consideration in his calculations.

The manager of a large show, however, can do this with comparative
ease, since he does not fear opposition so much as does the manager of
the small show and, consequently, may choose his own territory, while
his small opponent must skirmish around to get out of the way of the
larger show.

Therefore, the route of the big show is completed on paper not later
than the first of February, and the first agent, usually the railroad
contractor, begins his duties. Such a show as I am describing is
perfectly safe in laying out its route thus early and advertising its
days and dates for months in advance. And, having done this, woe betide
any smaller concern which elects to show in the same neighborhood, for
the larger show will immediately send an advance brigade and literally
flood the country with their bills. Brigades of this kind are called
"skirmishers," and are kept in readiness to jump to any point where
their services are needed to fight any kind of opposition. They thus
uphold a sort of monarchical right in the territory and prevent, if
possible, the success of the lesser attraction. This makes it really
far more difficult to manage a small show than a large one, as the
latter has "the right of might," while the lesser shows are continually
forced in each other's way, to their own detriment and often to their
complete financial disaster. A large concern in a prosperous season
clears an immense amount of money, but, on the other hand, a disastrous
season is bound to result in an enormous loss.


A few weeks before the time for opening the circus season the horses
are taken in, stabled, groomed and fed with grain to get them "hard"
and in good condition for work. The wagons are overhauled, painted and
gilded, and, if necessary, new ones are built. The various agents are
by this time hard at work, each having his particular duties to

Previous to 1872 the "railroad circus" was an unknown quantity. Like
all other circuses of that day, the big show of which I was the manager
traveled by wagon. During our first season our receipts amounted in
round numbers to $400,000, exclusive of side shows, concerts and candy
stands. Of course we showed in towns of all sizes and our daily
receipts ranged from $1,000 to $7,000. Finding that the receipts in the
larger towns were frequently twice and three times as much as in the
smaller ones, I became convinced that we could at least double our
receipts if we could ignore the small places and travel only from one
big town to another, thereby drawing the cream of the trade from the
adjacent small towns instead of trying to give a separate exhibition in
each. This was my reason for determining to move the show by rail the
following season.

To this end, therefore, I at once telegraphed to the superintendents of
the different railroads asking if they could accommodate us and
guarantee to get us to the various towns in time to give the
exhibitions as advertised; and in order for us to do that it was
necessary, I informed them, that we be landed in a town as early as six
A.M. From some of the railroad superintendents came the reply, "Cannot
furnish switch room," and from others, "Give further particulars."
After a great deal of correspondence I went to Philadelphia and
interviewed the officials of the Pennsylvania Company. I urged and
argued and argued and urged, until they said I was the most persistent
man they had ever seen, and even told me they would pay me if I would
leave them in peace. This, however, did not suit my purpose, and I hung
on until I finally made arrangements with them.

After much preparation we eventually fixed upon New Brunswick, N.J.,
as our first loading place. We were new at the work and so commenced
loading at eight P.M. and finished the job at eight A.M., with no
extraordinary incidents except the breaking of one camel's back--the
creature having the misfortune to slip off the "runs." From New
Brunswick we went to Trenton, where I had hired Pullman cars for our
performers and band, and cheaper cars for our laborers and other


Our experience with the vast crowds of the season before had given us
the idea of building two rings and giving a double performance. This,
of course, doubled our company, but it kept the audience in their
seats, since they were precisely as well off in one part of the canvas
as in another, whereas in the old one-ring show we found it impossible
to prevent the people who were farthest from the ring from standing up.
They would rush to the front and thus interfere with many other people.
This two-ring arrangement seemed to obviate this difficulty, and, as it
at once hit the popular fancy, it proved a great drawing card for us
and others, for within a few months smaller showmen all over the
country began to give two-ring performances. Indeed, from that time it
seemed to me that the old one-ring show was entirely forgotten.

It was quite laughable, during the earlier portion of the season, to
watch the expression on the faces of our performers when they came on
to join us and were shown the Pullman cars which were to be their homes
for the next six months. "It is too good to last," remarked one. "The
expense will break the show," said another. To their surprise, however,
it lasted that season and has lasted ever since. Previous to that they
had been in the habit of taking breakfast at any hour from midnight to
four P.M., according to the number of miles they had to travel; but
now all is changed, and an era of luxuriant comfort has become
established for them. For many months, however, at the dawn of this
epoch, the performers viewed their regular meals and sumptuous
surroundings with a comical seriousness most ludicrous to behold.

Small shows had, prior to this time, traveled to a limited extent by
rail; but not with accommodations like ours. Such shows consisted of
seven or eight cars, whereas ours numbered sixty-one. All of these,
with the exception of the sleeping cars, we had hired from the railroad


It has always been a mystery to me why the railroads build themselves
cars scarcely any two of which are of uniform height. Our heavy wagons
would be pushed up on "runs," and, on being pushed from one car to
another, would frequently crash through the rotten boards composing the
bed of the car. This would cause vexatious delays.

The reader cannot possibly form any idea of the amount of labor
involved in teaching our men to become proficient in loading and
unloading. It is a positive fact that I never took the clothes from my
back from the time of first loading until we reached Philadelphia, our
seventh stop! During all that time I was constantly teaching the men
the art of loading and unloading, giving attention to the moving of all
the wagons, chariots, horses, camels, elephants, etc. We reached
Philadelphia tired and exhausted with the seven days' hard work.

I was also mentally fatigued by my partner's opposition and his
requests to abandon the scheme; but at this point I realized more than
ever the benefits that would accrue from this great departure, and I
determined to stick it out to the end. I went to the superintendent of
one of the railroads on which we were to travel to Baltimore and
Washington and told him I must have a lot of cars of uniform
construction at any price. These he succeeded in getting after
considerable trouble. I then made up my mind to try it as far as
Washington, and if I could not by that time get everything to run
smoothly I would abandon it. We reached Wilmington without mishap and
gave our exhibitions--three each day. It must be remembered that we had
advertised three shows daily, and so far had given them; indeed, we did
throughout the season, but that was the first and only year that such a
feat was attempted.

I told the railroad superintendent that if we could manage to load in
Wilmington by two A.M. and reach Baltimore at five A.M. it would be a
success. He ordered the road cleared, and we arrived in Baltimore with
the first section only a little late, and, with a little extra energy,
we had the parade out on time and opened the doors to the morning
performance at ten A.M. The trip from Baltimore was easily made, but
from there we had to run over heavy grades up and down to Frederick,
Md. In order to load we had to remove all the brakes, and this the
yardmaster refused to do. I showed him my contract, wherein the company
had agreed to remove all brakes, but he still refused, so I finally
resorted to strategy.

I invited him to a restaurant, and while we were absent, by a
prearranged movement, Baker, the boss canvas-man, wrenched the brakes
off, and by the time the yardmaster and I returned the train was almost
loaded. Of course I pretended to be very angry at such conduct, but our
point was gained. As the brakes were easily replaced we made the next
stop all right.


I determined to have a train of cars built for our special purpose, and
accordingly visited all the shops in the east; but I could find no one
willing to undertake the job on such short notice. Finally, at
Columbus, Ohio, I made the acquaintance of a thorough man of business.
He was conducting the car shops there and was prepared to execute any
order I might give him. In a short time I had made a contract with him,
and in thirty days a train of cars was built. They were of uniform
height, with iron extensions reaching from one car to another. These
improvements made the loading and unloading mere play. I then heard of
some palace horse cars at Cleveland. These I bought. I had them freshly
painted and lettered, "P. T. Barnum's World's Fair."

When our men, as they came into Columbus to exhibit, saw that train
awaiting them, they sent up such a shout as has seldom been heard. Now
we had Pullman cars for the artists, sleeping cars for the laborers,
box cars for the extra stuff, palace cars for the horses and other
large animals, such as were required for teaming, parades, etc., and
platform cars for wagons, chariots, cages and carriages. Thus the
Herculean task of putting the first railroad show of any magnitude on
its own cars was successfully accomplished.

Little, indeed, do the managers of the present day know of the untiring
energy and indomitable perseverance necessary to accomplish that feat.
The railroad people themselves were utterly ignorant of our wants, as
we ourselves were in the beginning. Frequently, as at Washington, the
yardmaster would order us to load one car at a time, then switch it
away and commence on another. To load a train in this way would have
taken us twenty-four hours! Finally, however, system and good order
came out of chaos. Once properly launched on our season, we were able
to give three performances daily, and quite often made jumps of one
hundred miles in one night. The scheme, as I had predicted, completely
revolutionized the show business, and has been adopted since, not only
in this country, but by the French and English circus proprietors in
their travels in Germany. It also greatly advertised us, vast crowds
assembling at the depots to see us load and unload.


I once had a very thrilling experience while riding in the cab of the
locomotive pulling our train from Indiana, Pa. This station is on one
of the branches of the Pennsylvania Railroad, high up on the mountain,
the grade there being exceedingly heavy. It is, I believe, conceded to
be one of the steepest grades on that system. There is also a
horse-shoe bend, or curve, similar to the well-known one on the main
line. While standing on the platform, about the time the last car was
being loaded, I was accosted by the engineer, who inquired if I had
ever traveled on a locomotive and if I would like to take such a trip.
I replied that I would like to do so, and boarded the engine with him.
A few moments later the signal bell was rung and we pulled out into the
darkness. I placed myself so as not to be in the way of the engineer
and fireman and was soon lost in meditation.

The sensation was indescribably weird and thrilling. The scene was
shrouded in darkness, and, as we flew along the road, the only
discernible objects were the trees, which seemed to me like giant
sentinels saluting as we flew past. Now and then we caught glimpses of
lights in the mountain valleys, but they passed by like a streak of
lightning, so rapidly were we going.

"How far can your practiced eye discern objects on a night like this?"
I asked the engineer.

"Only a rod or two," he answered.

"In that case," said I, "you could never stop the train to prevent a
collision should an obstruction present itself?"

"No--not with these brakes," he replied.

As he said this his face blanched and he whistled hard for down brakes.
Finally I heard him exclaim: "God help us! We're running away!"

On, on we sped down the decline at a speed that was something
frightful. The engine rattled and shook, and several times appeared to
be almost toppling over. It was impossible to stand, and I held on by
the window ledge for dear life. Down the mountain we sped altogether
helpless! We had no control over the train, loaded down, as it was,
with toppling chariots, with horses, animals, elephants, camels and
human freight.


Evidently the animals instinctively knew the danger, for above the
rattle and roar of the train could occasionally be heard some of those
strange trumpetings which proceed from an animal only in moments of
danger--often just before a storm or cyclone. Momentarily I expected
the whole train to be thrown from the tracks and down the mountain
side. By the occasional streaks of light that flew past us I could see
the blanched faces of both the engineer and fireman, and knew that they
fully realized our awful danger. Both of them, however, kept perfectly
cool, and I tried to imitate their example. How far I succeeded I do
not know, but I do know that my nerves were strung to a higher pitch
than they ever were before.

A blinding rainstorm added to the horror of the situation, and, with
the speed at which we were traveling, each drop seemed to have the
penetrating power of a shot. Quick as a flash the thought passed
through my head: What if we meet a train? Just at that moment we sped
past Blairsville at the junction of the branch road and the main line.
The station lights seemed mere specks. As we struck the switch the
engine jumped and almost left the track. Looking back we could see the
rear lights of our train swaying in the path like a ship tempest-tossed
at sea. Our speed seemed to increase as we flew along the main line.

We had gone twenty miles when a whistle was heard ahead.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Another train," replied the engineer; "it will pass us now," and as he
was speaking the reflecting lights of its engine appeared, apparently
not six rods from us. With lightning rapidity the trains passed each
other and the "windage," to use a nautical term, nearly took my breath.

During all this time, which positively seemed hours, my thoughts were
not of the pleasantest. On, on we dashed, the engine frequently jumping
as it struck something on the track. It seemed to me a miracle that the
train did not lurch sheer over some one of the terrible embankments.
The fireman was not engaged in tending the fire. It was unnecessary. We
were all mute spectators of the scene being enacted by this silent
machine--the marvelous and lifelike invention of man. Gradually, at
last, our speed began to slacken. We had reached a grade. The danger
was past and our lives were saved!


We were still moving ahead at the rate of thirty miles an hour
when--crash! through the window came some object. Once more the whistle
sounded "down brakes," and in less than a mile the train came to a
stop. Shortly afterward we heard shouts in our rear, and the man who
had flung the missile through the cab window came running breathlessly,
and said that less than a mile ahead of us was a broken rail that would
undoubtedly have wrecked our train. Knowing that the express train was
due in about an hour he had been running back to the station to detain
it, when he had met our "wild" train and, realizing the danger, had
done all he could to prevent a catastrophe.

Back sped the man to the station to warn the express, leaving us
between what were undoubtedly two horrors. The station was fully a mile
away. Suppose he could not reach there in time! There we were on a
single track, a broken rail ahead of us, an express train due at any
moment behind us. Slowly we pulled up to the broken rail and at once
replaced it with a new one, for we always carried extra rails on our
train for cases of emergency. The track walker succeeded in getting to
the station in time to stop the express, though luckily it was not
quite due. We ran back to Blairsville and switched on to a side track.

There we found that the second section of our circus train was due at
nearly the same, time as the express train, and it was an anxious
quarter of an hour that we spent in righting things. When, however, the
second section did come in, I found they had been more fortunate than
the first section. They had taken the precaution to add to their train
several cars belonging to the railroad company, which were fitted up
with better brakes than ours, some of them being supplied with both new
air and common brakes. Then as a consequence of these precautions the
train had descended the mountain under perfect control. I learned a
lesson from that experience, and lost no time in fitting all our cars
with air-brakes. I wish I could remember the name of the engineer. A
braver man never handled an engine or went into a battle.

It may not be generally known that all well-regulated roads employ a
certain number of men as track walkers, whose constant duty it is to
patrol every inch of the road and report the slightest irregularity of
rails, road-bed, etc. On this particular night the track-walker's
lantern had gone out, and the only expedient he could think of was to
throw a stone through the cab window. I have often shuddered to think
of what the consequences might have been had not his aim been a true


On another occasion, while going into Clinton, Iowa, with the biggest
show I ever owned, we were running about twenty miles an hour, when the
locomotive jumped the track and struck a tree. The shock threw all the
cars of that section on their ends. The Mississippi River was on one
side of us and a springy hill on the other. Here in this narrow place
stood the cars, laden with animals of all kinds. It was truly an awful
situation. We began to break up the cars in order to extricate the poor
dumb brutes. We were compelled to hitch ropes about the horses' necks
and pull them out, only to find perhaps that their legs were broken or
that they were otherwise hopelessly injured. No fewer than thirty-five
of my best horses were thus lost. The reader must remember that, as the
cars had been thrown on their ends, in each horse car twenty horses
were thrown into a struggling heap. Strange to say, the bronchos seemed
to have charmed lives, for not one of them was hurt, and I was enabled
to give a performance that day in spite of the accident.

The elephants were piled up in much the same way as the horses, and in
order to extricate them it was necessary to strip the cars
completely--a labor in which those huge animals assisted us. The camels
were unhurt. The loss, in crippled animals and destruction of cars,
amounted to several thousand dollars.

I cannot leave the subject of moving the big show without going back to
some of my earliest pioneer experiences.

No other human being can realize like the showman the volume of dread
hardship and disaster held by those two small words, "bad roads." At
the time of my breaking-in we were passing through a section of the
country in the southwest, over such wretchedly constructed highways
that the slightest fall of rain was sufficient to convert them into
rivers of mud. The heavy wagons would sink to their hubs in the mire
and the whole train would be stopped.

Then followed a scene too picturesque to escape the attention of even
the poor fellows who were half dead from lack of sleep. By the light of
flaring torches a dozen big draft horses would be hitched to the
refractory wagon. Inspired by the shouts, curses and sometimes the
blows of the teamsters, the animals would join in a concerted pull that
made their muscles stand out like knotted ropes. But often a battalion
of six teams would fail to start a wagon.


Then the shout would go down the line for Romeo. In a few minutes the
wise old elephant would come splashing through the mud with an air that
seemed to say, "I thought you'd have to call on me!" He knew his place
and would instantly take his stand behind the mired wagon. After he had
carefully adjusted his huge frontal against the rear end of the vehicle
the driver would give the command, "Mile up!" Gently, but with a
tremendous power, Romeo would push forward, the wagon would start, and
lo! the pasty mud would close in behind the wheels like the Red Sea.

So vividly did this oft-repeated picture impress me that it is as
clearly before me now as it was forty years ago. Sometimes, when an
elephant was not available, the wagons would be literally pulled apart,
and when the break came the horses would fall sprawling into the mire,
only their heads visible above the surface of the mud.

But the poor horses were not the only sufferers from bad roads. The men
came in for their share. Very distinctly do I remember the night when
we were about to cross a slough. Some of us were dozing in our saddles,
others sleeping soundly on the tops of the wagons which carried the
tents. Suddenly the shout was heard from the man in the lead, "Help,
there, boys! I'm going down in the quicksands! Throw out a line,

We knew the voice. It belonged to Hickey, the wagon boss, who was a
favorite with the men. Instantly the fellows tumbled from the wagons
and rushed forward. The torches showed Hickey sunk to his armpits. A
man of ready wit and action threw a rope and the sinking man caught it
and passed the noose over his head and under his arms, knotting it so
that it could not slip and cut him in two. By that time a team of
horses had been hitched to the other end of the rope.


"All right! Easy, now!" came the order from Hickey, and the team was
carefully started. Watching those horses strain on the rope made me
hold my breath in expectation that the poor fellow would be actually
drawn in two. But, finally, the grip of the mire loosened and he was
hauled out to safety.


Perhaps the most disheartening of all bad-road experiences is that of
losing the way--a thing which happened with perverse frequency. Just
imagine yourself a member of such a caravan. You have slept four hours
out of sixteen and are crawling along in the face of a drenching,
blinding rainstorm--soaked, hungry and dazed. The caravan has halted a
dozen times in the forepart of the night to pull out wagons and repair
breakdowns. But it halts again, and the word "lost" is passed back
along the line of wagons. This means retracing the route back to the
forks of the road miles in the rear. Many an old circus man has wished
himself dead on hearing the word "lost" under these conditions.

After one of these disheartening experiences, when we were obliged to
"right about face" and drive the poor, jaded horses back over the same
road along which they had made their useless but painful pilgrimage, I
clambered up to the top of the tent wagon, stretched out on the
jolting, shaking heap of canvas, and was soon oblivious to fatigue and
discouragement. My next conscious impression was that of a sudden
crashing of timbers, the squealing of frightened horses and the
sensation of falling. Then I felt myself plunging into the icy waters
of a little stream into which the heavy show wagon and all its contents
had been precipitated by the breaking of a bridge. It seems almost
miraculous that I should have escaped falling under the mass of tents
on which I had been sleeping, but in some way I was thrown to one side
and contrived to reach the shore in safety.

It is usual, in arranging the season's route, for a circus to make all
the "big jumps" on Sundays; and it not infrequently happens that from
three hundred to five hundred miles are covered between Saturday and
Monday. This arrangement is very convenient in many ways. It may take
you out of a country that is overrun with opposition shows into one
where you may have the whole field to yourself, or it may take you to a
part of the country where the climate has forced the harvests and
therefore placed more money in circulation than usual.

As a general thing circus employés are not in love with Sunday runs
for, commodious as their cars are, they are not exactly fitted up to
enable all occupants to loll lazily around and enjoy a luxurious ride.
If the day happens to be rainy, most of them lie in their beds and
content themselves with reading, with an occasional chat, argument or
light lunch, and in this way endeavor to pass the time as best they
can. If, however, the day happens to be a fine one, then at daybreak
comes a mighty exodus from the sleeping cars. Cozy nooks are singled
out and made comfortable by pressing into service all available shawls,
rugs, etc. Those physically strong enough to brave the exposure make
for the tops of stock and box cars where, lolling at ease, they discuss
sundry topics of interest and revel in the ride through the country.
Others select places underneath the chariots and cages which are loaded
on the flat cars, and thus, sheltered from the sun, spend a delightful
time. Once, at least, during the day, a stop of a couple of hours is
made to enable the horses and animals to be fed and watered, and
advantage is taken of this interval by the performers and other
attachés to stretch themselves and also to cater to their own personal
wants. Both comic and serious accidents are frequently the result of
carelessness during these runs, as the following examples prove:

In one long run between Springfield, Mo., and Mattoon, Ill., one of our
men was standing erect on the top of a car, when a telegraph wire
caught him under his chin and cut his head completely off, as though
done by the surgeon's knife. On that same trip my watchman, Nelse, had
the misfortune to have his straw hat blow off his head. The hat rolled
gently along the top of the flat car and finally rolled off and fell on
the side track. Immediately the watchman jumped to the ground, snatched
up the hat, and leaped unhurt on the last car, although the train was
making nearly twenty miles an hour. Probably the hat cost him
originally fifty cents.

Of all the Sunday runs I ever took, however, I recall one that was
especially pleasant. It took place back in the seventies, and was a run
of some three hundred miles across an Indian reservation between a town
in Kansas and another in southern Texas. The day was beautiful, and as
we bowled along the prairie I felt that the "stillness"--comparatively
speaking--(so seldom enjoyed by circus people) was most refreshing. I
don't suppose there ever was a country-bred boy who lived long enough
to forget how, in his younger days, the Sabbath seemed, always, a day
of stillness and quiet. The cessation of all business and the chiming
of church bells produced an effect that could not fail of indelible
impression; and that Sunday morning ride over the reservation brought
back the scenes of childhood to many a rough and rugged circus man.
Towards noon we halted and erected cooking tents and stables. The
horses and animals were looked after and a dinner was cooked by the
attachés. After dinner they formed congenial knots and strolled around
while the "hash slingers" washed the dishes and the men once more
loaded up. We carried at that time an excellent troupe of Jubilee
singers, and with the light heart and impressionable feelings of their
race, they burst into song, alternating their quaint camp meeting songs
with others in which the majority of the attachés could join. The band,
too, caught the infection and produced their instruments and we enjoyed
a vocal and instrumental feast. Just at dusk, when the stars were
beginning to appear, before starting for the night's run, the "Jubes"
sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to the full accompaniment of the band
and with a refrain swelled by every one able to sing. I have, in the
course of my travels, visited many grand concerts and operas, but their
most solemn and sacred effects are dwarfed into absolute insignificance
compared with that of this impromptu performance. The rolling prairie,
the beautiful trees, the perfect weather, the joyous spirits of every
one present, the melodious voices of the Jubilee singers, and the grand
strains produced by thirty skilled musicians, combined to produce music
such as man seldom hears--that, on account of its spontaneity, thrilled
the hearts of all present, then seemed to go right up to heaven, and
"die amid the stars."

"All aboard!" is shouted, and every one climbs into the car. The
whistle sounds and off you go, past miles of beautiful scenery and
occasional Indian villages. Everything is quiet and every one seems to
be "drinking in" the beauty of the scene or sits lost in thought. No
more singing or playing. All seem to be so solemnly impressed with that
last grand hymn that the silence is unbroken. That Sunday run will
always stay in my memory! With quiet "good-nights" one after another
slipped off to bed to awake to another day's hurry and bustle.



One of the most terrible and impressive experiences of my entire career
came to me very shortly after I had become well settled in the circus
harness. Sleep was the dragon which pursued me then with a relentless
and irresistible power. There was scarcely a moment when I was not
under its spell, at least to some degree. It was like a vampire that
took the zest and vitality out of my very life sources and I went about
almost as one walking in a dream. This condition arose from the fact
that under the best of weather luck, a showman's hours are very long.
But when roads were bad and journeys long, the poor wretch attached to
the old wagon show had practically no sleep at all. After a stretch of
hard traveling I was for weeks like a person drugged. My mind seemed in
a state of miserable torpor, while my body went about in a mechanical
way and did its work. The change from a regular life, which saw me
snugly in the same bed at nearly the same hour every night of the year,
to the painful excesses of a circus man's hours told on me very
severely and I was long in becoming acclimated.

At the painful period of which I speak my main object in life was to
sleep. For this I lived, and my idea of Paradise then was a
consciousness that I was in the act of falling asleep in bed with clean
sheets, and that I would not be awakened until the end of eternity
unless I should chance to get my sleep out before then--and this
possibility seemed deliciously remote.

While I suffered more keenly than the others from the tortures of
longing for sleep, all the men who had anything whatever to do with the
moving of the show were under the spell of this dragon. They, however,
rallied more quickly than I, when dry roads and good weather fell to
our lot for any length of time.

Well, weeks of terrible traveling, of getting lost, of fighting our way
through the mire and floods, was followed by a fortnight of fair
weather. My associates had "caught up" in the matter of sleep, but I
was still in a half torpid state and thought only of the blessed
privilege of closing my eyes for an hour or two at a stretch.

But, one morning as we started north from the small Missouri town in
which we had given a very successful performance, the scene was so
novel and impressive that I held out for a few minutes against the
demon that was pulling my eyelids together, and really aroused to the
picturesque features of the scene.

We were winding our way to the northward, our caravan being fully a
mile in length and stretched out like a long serpent. The elaborate and
gilded chariots, the piebald Arabian horses, the drove of shambling
camels and the huge swaying elephants gave a touch of genuine oriental
picturesqueness to the scene strangely out of keeping with the wild
western landscape and surroundings.

On every hand the prairies were carpeted with wild flowers in the
greatest variety and profusion. Their fragrance even reached me as I
stretched out at full length on the top of a lumbering chariot. The
almost endless vista of prairie, the serpent caravan, the gay colors
and the fragrance of the flowers all combined to refresh and impress
me, and to give me more cheer and courage than hours of sleep. The
pleasant picture haunted me after I closed my eyes and mixed in my
dreams after I dozed off into a half conscious slumber.

Later the lurch of the wagon aroused me, and I started up with a sense
of unaccountable alarm. The first object which met my eyes was a
jackrabbit, sitting on his haunches not more than two rods from the
trail we were following. Knowing the habitual timidity of these
creatures the boldness of this one surprised me greatly. He sat there
with his ears cocked straight up, his nose working nervously and his
heart pounding so heavily that its pulsations shook his gray sides. Not
until the wagon had passed did the rabbit stir. Then he dropped upon
all fours and vanished in a gray streak traveling in a line parallel
with the course of the caravan and keeping only a few rods from our
trail. While I was still pondering over the strange conduct of the
animal I saw a "rattler" emerge from the grass into the beaten trail
only a few feet in front of the "off leader" of our four-horse team.
Naturally I expected to see the snake coil and strike the horse, but he
did nothing of the kind--simply avoided the horse's hoofs and then
slipped away into the grass beyond. What was the meaning of the strange
spell which seemed suddenly to have taken possession of the wild
animals and reptiles of the plain through which we were traveling?
There was no escape from the conclusion that some peculiar influence
had seized upon them, blunting their ordinary sense of fear and
precaution. Had I been more accustomed to prairie life I would probably
have realized at once the nature of the trouble; like all of the men on
the wagon with me I was a rank tenderfoot.

In the course of the next ten minutes several flocks of birds passed
over us, flying low but very rapidly. The grass on both sides of the
trail seemed suddenly to swarm with animal life.

Before I had arrived at any conclusions regarding the peculiar actions
of the prairie creatures the captive animals in the darkened cages
began to show signs of unusual restlessness. The lions and tigers began
a strange moaning unlike their ordinary roars and growls. From the
monkey cages came plaintive, half-human cries. These sounds were taken
up by all the animals big and little. The elephants trumpeted, the
camels screamed, and every animal took part in the weird chorus, which
rapidly increased in volume. Then the air seemed to take on a hazy
appearance, particularly in the direction from which we had come.

Finally the truth dawned upon me--the prairie was on fire! By turning
backward and straining my eyes I fancied I could make out a cloud of
smoke far in the rear of the caravan. In a few moments this dim vision
became clear and tangible. I told my fears to the driver, who laughed
at me for my pains. Then I caught sight of a man on horseback on the
crest of rise in the prairie. He was riding towards us as fast as his
horse could carry him. Passing us like a whirlwind, he shouted: "Whip
up, man! The prairie's on fire! Move for the river straight ahead!" In
a second he was gone, shouting the same word to every startled driver
he passed. His approach had been noted by the boss, who was at the head
of the entire procession. That grand marshal of the day, for that was
substantially his position, came riding back to meet the courier.
Instantly, on learning the tidings, he wheeled about and rode like the
wind for the chariot in the lead, drawn by six splendid horses white as

Sharp orders emphasized by a liberal sprinkling of profanity were
sufficient to impress the driver of the magnificent leaders with the
awful gravity of the situation and with the fact that he must set the
pace for the remainder of the caravan. It might be thought that the
greatest drag on the speed of the terrified procession would have been
the camels and elephants. So thought the boss, but no sooner did the
driver of the elephants get into position on the back of old Romeo and
give that knowing creature an idea of what was expected, than he saw
his mistake.

The way in which both the elephants and camels swung themselves over
the ground was a revelation to all who saw them. Which was the more
pitiful and terrifying, the trumpeting of the elephants or the
squealing of the camels, was difficult to tell.

As the awful scroll of the fire rolled closer upon us the ungainly
bodies of the camels and elephants swayed from one side to the other
until they seemed fairly to vibrate.

"Where is the river? Are we nearing the stream? Can we make the water?"
These were the questions in the mind of every person in that long wagon
train. Sometimes they were yelled from one driver to another, but the
only answer was to lay the lash harder on the backs of the poor horses
pulling the heavy wagons and chariots--leaping and straining like so
many modern fire department animals responding to an alarm. It was a
genuine chariot race--in which the stake was life and the fine death by
flames. Nearly every vehicle was drawn by either four or six horses,
and the scene was one of the grandest and most terrible that human eye
ever looked upon.

Suddenly I saw the boss put his horse into its highest speed, leading
on ahead of the six whites. Then he leaped from the saddle, struck a
match to the grass, remounted and rode back a short distance. As each
team approached he ordered: "Wait till the flames spread a little and
then break through the line of the back fire I've started and form a

The grass which he had fired was considerably shorter than the general
growth of the prairies; then, the fire it made had not acquired the
volume, intensity and sweep of that hurricane of flame from which we
were fleeing. One after another of the teams reared, pitched and
plunged, only to find that the back fire had gone under their feet
leaving them inside a charred, blackened circle fringed with flame.

No sound I have ever heard approached in abject terror the awful
symphony of roars, growls, screams, wails and screeches that went up
from the maddened beasts in that caravan as the great sky-reaching
cylinder of flame and smoke rolled down upon us and was met barely
forty rods away by the rapidly spreading line of our own back fire.

Just as we were wondering if our next breath would be flame or air, the
leaders of the white chariot horses leaped into the air like rockets.
Instantly the whole six stallions became absolutely crazed with fear
and made a plunge directly for the oncoming storm of fire and smoke. On
toward the furnace of fire they ran, the driver tugging with might and
main on the reins.

"Jump!" yelled the boss. And jump the driver did. He was not a second
too soon, for an instant later the white charioteers had disappeared
under the great red and black barrel that was rolling upon us. Then
came a moment which was a dizzy blank to most of us, I guess. The
fearful strain of the long race, the moments of awful suspense after
the charred ground had been reached--it was enough to have dethroned
the reason of every man and woman in the charmed circle! Small wonder
that a few fainted dead away and the rest of us were stunned into
momentary confusion.

But we had scarcely recovered the use of our faculties when the wag of
the circus broke the long strain of the flight and escape by the
remark: "I reckon there's been more genuine praying done in circus
circles in the last hour than since Noah let the elephants out of the
Ark!" The truthfulness of the remark hit home to every one in the whole
group. Probably there was not a choicer collection of "unbelievers" on
the face of the civilized earth than our company contained--yet only a
few moments before every man, woman and child had been praying for dear
life--some fairly shouting their supplications, others kneeling quietly
in the wagons, and still others mumbling their petitions as they helped
to hold the horses in check or performed some other imperative duty.
But there was not a single individual in the whole wagon train who had
not, under the awful pressure of the trial through which we passed, put
up some kind of a petition to the Almighty for deliverance from the
devouring flames.

One of the first things we did, when the burning ground became cool
enough, after the tornado of fire had swept around our little oasis of
burned ground and passed on towards the river, was to go out and look
for the remains of the chariot and the six white stallions. We had not
far to go before we came to a heap of wheel tires and other ironwork
from the big vehicle. A little beyond it were the blackened remains of
the splendid horses which had dashed into an unnecessary death. These
animals had been the pride of the show, and there was scarcely a man
connected with the equestrian department of the circus who did not
deeply lament the loss of the noble creatures. As for myself, I could
hardly keep back the tears, for my fondness for the beautiful,
intelligent horses amounted to a passion.

Slowly we made our way to the river. On the other bank were gathered
the inhabitants of the prairies who had been fortunate enough to reach
this refuge. They had immediately extinguished the fires started on the
far side of the river by the sparks which the wind carried across the
stream. Some of them were almost raving with grief over the fate which
they firmly believed had overtaken their relatives and friends, while
others put their whole energies into caring for all who needed
help--thus forgetting their own distress and afflictions in ministering
to others.


After relating one of the most stirring and tragic episodes of my life
as a showman, my thought turns instinctively to the other extreme--to
an experience quite as typical of the wandering existence of the
pioneer showman of the old wagon days. I refer to a chance meeting with
one of the greatest men who helped to make the history of the United
States, a splendid, picturesque giant of the pioneer type whose life
was an unbroken romance. It may be asked, What has this kind of thing
to do with circus life? I answer: Everything! Much of the success which
I have achieved in this peculiar field of effort I owe to the contact
with men of large capacity with whom I chanced to "fall in," as it
were, while on the road. These meetings were as bread to my mind. They
made the bright spots in my life, and, from the very beginning of my
career, gave me the inspiration which helped me to see things in a
larger way, to persevere in the face of all obstacles and to take
advantage of every opportunity. Of the hundreds of experiences in this
line, no other approached in romantic interest that which came to me
very early in my southwestern tour.

I was then a young man and was traveling in Louisiana. I put up at a
hotel in a rather small town, where hotels were as rare as other
evidences of civilization. I had just gone to my room on the night
succeeding my arrival when I was honored with a call from the landlord.

"Mr. Coup," he said, "there'll be another feller up to bunk with you in
a few minutes. You'd better wait up and arrange with him about the side
of the bed you are to sleep on. If he walks in and finds you sleepin'
on his side, there might be a coolness spring up between you."

At that time I was a stranger to southern customs, and their manner of
doing things struck me as being a trifle irregular. However, I offered
no objection. It has always been a rule with me to maintain the silence
which is said to be golden when I am among strangers in a strange land.
I afterwards discovered that it was customary for this landlord to put
as many as three in one bed when he happened to be cramped for room. In
about ten minutes my bedfellow came up. He was an elderly man with eyes
which seemed to pierce one.

His bedroom candle lighted up a face which I have never since been able
to eradicate from my memory. It was one of the most interesting faces
it has ever been my good fortune to gaze upon. When he smiled, I was
somehow irresistibly drawn towards him. It was the saddest, tenderest,
sweetest smile that I have ever seen upon a man's face. He spoke to me
kindly as he placed his candle upon the little table, then drew his
chair up close beside me in front of the open, wood fire. Twenty
minutes afterward I could have sworn that I had known the man all my
life. He was a brilliant talker; and his stock of knowledge regarding
men and affairs of that day seemed to be inexhaustible.

"By the way," I said, after we had talked well into the night, "I see
Gen. Sam Houston is billed to speak here to-morrow night. I shall
certainly go to hear him." He glanced up at me quickly.

"Are you an admirer of him?" he asked.

"I will answer that question by saying both yes and no," I replied. "I
greatly admire him for his sturdy independence, his political ability,
and his apparent hatred for all shams. But there seems to be another
side to his character which I do not admire. The manner in which he
deserted his Cherokee wife after he had left the nation and returned to
civilization, I regard as wholly contemptible. Do you know him?"

"I have seen him," he replied, quietly, smiling the sad smile which had
before struck me so forcibly.

"Well, don't you agree with me?" I asked.

"Before I reply to that question I would like to tell you a little
story," my roommate replied, and it seemed to me that his voice
trembled a little.

"I once knew a man who held a prominent office in the State of
Tennessee. He was a young man then--not older than yourself, and with
just as quick a tongue when it came to condemning all sorts of wrong
and injustice. His position gave him admission to the best social
circles, and he wooed and married a beautiful girl. On his part it was
wholly a love match. He worshiped her as he had never before worshiped
anything on earth. For a time he was happy--after the manner of men who
place their entire lives in the hands of one woman. By and by he
noticed that his beautiful young wife was growing dejected and unhappy.
Often, when he spoke to her in terms of endearment when they were
alone, she would burst into tears, tear herself out of his arms and
escape from the room. On one of these occasions he followed her to her
room and insisted upon an explanation. At first she refused, but
finally yielded, telling him a story which crushed him to the very
dust. She said she had never loved him, but had been persuaded by
friends to marry him on account of his position. She told him more than
that. She told him that long before the marriage occurred she had loved
another man.

"That night the husband left his home and his high official position
and disappeared. Shaving the hair from his head and tearing the
broadcloth garments into shreds, he donned the scanty apparel of the
savage and became a member of the Cherokee nation. The members of the
tribe treated him with the greatest consideration and respect, and he
became a sort of oracle among them. In time he married an Indian
maiden, thereby widening the breach between himself and the past. After
a number of years had passed, however, he grew weary of savagery and
his mind often reverted to the life which had been his before his great
trouble came upon him. Finally he bade his wife and her untutored
friends a temporary farewell and drifted into Texas. Here he soon rose
to recognition, and in a comparatively brief space of time once more
held an important official position. But he had not deserted his Indian
wife. On several occasions he returned to the tribe to see her and
tried to induce her to return with him to civilization. But the poor,
untutored Indian squaw was a thousand times nobler than the beautiful
society woman who had ruined his life in early manhood. She loved him
passionately, but positively refused to accede to his requests. 'I
would only disgrace you,' she said. 'I am not fit to go out into your
world.' Finally the husband returned without her--very much against his
wishes, remember--and a few months later word reached him that his
Indian wife was dead. She had loved him too well to accompany him into
his changed life for fear of disgracing him, and had loved him too well
to wish to live without him. She was found, said the messenger, at the
bottom of a cliff, and the manner of her death was only too apparent.
The white wife represented what is popularly called the highest type of
civilization and social culture--the poor Indian girl what is best
known by the name of savagery. That, young man, is how General Houston
came to desert his Indian bride."

I had been deeply interested in the old man's story, and when he had
finished I thought that his keen eyes were filled with tears as he sat
gazing into the dying embers of our fire. I hastened to assure him that
I was glad to be set right regarding General Houston's character. "I
shall listen to his speech with renewed interest to-morrow night," I
said. "You must have known him well?"

"Yes," was the reply, "I have seen a good deal of him. But, my young
friend, don't let your enthusiasm run away with your discretion.
General Houston has his faults like the rest of the world--plenty of

"By the way," I said, as we pushed back our chairs and prepared for
bed, "I believe you have omitted telling me your name. I have spent
such a pleasant evening that I would really like to know to whom I am
indebted for it."

"Ah," he said, with the same smile, "I believe I did omit that little
formality. My name is Sam Houston."

We did not quarrel regarding the side of the bed he was to occupy.
General Houston could have had both sides had he expressed a wish for



It may not be generally known to the public, but it is a fact, that
nearly one-half of the entire expenditure of a circus is incurred in
the work of the advance brigades. The advertising material, its
distribution, express, freight and cartage, together with the salaries,
transportation and living expenses of seventy-five to one hundred men,
amount to vast sums of money. The largest number of men I ever used in
advance of my show was seventy-five, and for this people called me

Though, of course, there is a limit to possible receipts, there is no
doubt that the business secured is in proportion to the sum used in
advertising, and it is almost impossible to draw the line at which
judicious advertising should stop. This is demonstrated by the fact
that the dressing-room tents of the present day are larger than were
the entire old-time circus canvases, when the advertising was done by
one man on horseback and all the paper used was carried in his
saddle-bags, and the salary of any star advertiser now is as much as
was required to run the entire show of years ago.


I early learned, by experience, that big receipts at the ticket wagon
followed big advertising expenditures. In 1880, in order to boom the
"Newly United Monster Shows," I arranged some very peculiar and novel
advertising features in the way of three cars especially fitted out for
the use of my advance agents. The first brigade was accompanied by an
enormous organ, for which a car was built, the latter being drawn
through the streets by an elephant. This organ was a masterpiece of
mechanism and was specially built by Professor Jukes. Its tones
resembled the music of a brass band and could be heard at a great
distance. This, of course, attracted the people, and the brigade would
then advertise the show by a lavish distribution of hand-bills.

Unfortunately the elephant and the music combined to frighten many
horses, and I soon found myself defendant in numerous damage suits.
Indeed, that single elephant seemed to frighten more horses than did
the entire herd with the show.

At one place temporary quarters for the elephant were secured in a
stable which could be reached only through a private alley. When we
came to take possession of the barn, the owner of the alley, with
several policemen, stood on guard and undertook to stop the progress of
the huge animal. Their efforts, however, met with no success, for, with
the most sublime indifference, the beast moved quietly forward. For
this I was sued for "trespass" and "injured feelings." As the elephant
was the offender, my lawyer proposed to bring him into court as the
principal witness, a proposition which caused considerable amusement.
As no damage had been done, the "laugh" was decidedly on the owner of
the alley.


My second advertising car was fitted up with another enormous organ of
far-reaching power, and attracted much attention, while my third and
last advertising brigade rejoiced in the possession of an engine to
which was attached a steam whistle of such power and discordant tone
that it could be heard for miles. This the men would blow while going
through the country. Professor Jukes had christened this diabolical
invention the "Devil's Whistle," and so well did its sound fit the name
that the people must have frequently thought His Satanic Majesty was
near by.

As that car with its whistle would steam into a town, the inhabitants
would flock as one man to see what it was that had so disturbed their
peace, and thus we were enabled to advertise more thoroughly than any
show before or since. I have often thought that I really deserved
punishment for thus outraging the public ear.

Between these three advertising brigades I had smaller companies,
accompanied by a colored brass band, which discoursed pleasant music
while my bill posters decorated the dead walls and boards. The band
also gave concerts at night upon the public square and, between pieces,
a good speaker would draw attention to the excellences of the coming

A uniformed brigade of trumpeters was also sent through the country on
horseback, and a band of Jubilee singers marched through the streets
singing the praises of the "Newly United Shows." Added to these
attractions were two stereopticons that pictured, from some house-top
or window, the main features of the show. This, together with perhaps
the most liberal newspaper advertising that ever had been done, made
the whole advance work as near absolute perfection in show advertising
as possible.

One of the picturesque features with the advance show was Gilmore's
"Jubilee Anvil Chorus." The anvils were made of wood with a piece of
toned steel fastened at the top in a manner which secured a volume and
resonance of tone that could be heard much further than that of an
ordinary anvil. At intervals, to strengthen the chorus, cannon were
fired off. This, though a great novelty, caused some dissatisfaction,
especially amid crowded surroundings. My excuse was that the chorus was
a free feature furnished by my friend Gilmore, and that, as it cost the
public nothing, the latter should be satisfied. Never before nor since
was a country so startled and excited over the coming of a show.


A great circus uses large quantities of advertising paper--so much, in
fact, that it is difficult to keep track of it. True, the
superintendent of the advertising car gives each man so many "sheets"
in the morning and the man at night hands in a statement which is
supposed to show where and how he has placed the paper. These brigades
are followed by "watchers," or, as the railroad men term them,
"spotters," who look carefully over the ground. But the impossibility
of detecting all crooked work may be readily understood when I say that
from eight to twelve wagons containing bill-posters and paper start out
on country routes in as many different directions, so the "spotter,"
not being ubiquitous, cannot follow every trail. One of my "spotters,"
however, did once ascertain that a party of my men had driven into the
country and dozed comfortably in the shade all day, had not put up any
paper and had not fed the hired horses, although they did not forget to
charge for the "feeds." The horses were thus made to suffer and the men
pocketed the money which should have gone for oats. Of course my
superintendent discharged the entire brigade, although, when the season
is well under way, it is very difficult to obtain skilled bill-posters,
for it is quite a difficult craft and experts are in good demand.

The reader, however, can easily see what a great loss such doings
entail on a show, considering the cost of the paper at the printer's,
the freight or expressage, the cartage, and the money paid the men for
putting up the sheets. The printing bills of a first-class show are
enormous. My lithograph bill alone, the last successful season of my
show, amounted to $40,000, and this was before the days of extensive
lithographing. I believe I ordered the first three-sheet lithograph
ever made, and also the first ten-sheet lithograph. This was considered
a piece of foolishness; but when I ordered a hundred-sheet bill and
first used it in Brooklyn it was considered such a curiosity that show
people visited the City of Churches for the express purpose of looking
at this advertising marvel. How things have changed! The Barnum and one
or two other shows now use nothing but lithographs, and many of their
bills are beautiful works of art, some of them being copies of really
great pictures.

I can remember when one-sheet lithographs cost one dollar each, and for
several years later they could not be bought for less than fifty to
seventy-five cents apiece. They can be had now in large quantities for
about five cents or less the sheet. As shows nowadays frequently use
hundreds of sheets in a day, imagine what would be their cost at the
price paid in the pioneer show period.

The circus of the present day is judged by the quality of its paper.
One season I arranged with a publisher to use a folded quarter sheet,
three sides of which advertised our show and the fourth side contained
the first chapter of a story about to be published in his magazine.
These were furnished to us in enormous quantities and our agents
distributed them. In Boston we had four four-horse wagons full and
these followed our parade. The men tossed the folders high in the air
and the wind carried them in all directions. While this style of
advertising surprised the people, it was soon stopped, and properly,
too, by city ordinance. I think circus people would be better off if
ordinances were passed wholly prohibiting bill posting; but
unfortunately such a movement would go far toward breaking up a
profitable industry, since many of the bill posters are rich men, some
making as much as $25,000 a year and a few fully $50,000. I believe Mr.
Seth B. Howes, the veteran circus manager, was the first one to order a
billboard made or paste paper on the outside. Previous to this all
bills were hung or fastened up with tacks.


There was always a sharp rivalry between the advance brigades of
opposition shows, and many are the tricks which they play upon each
other. Perhaps the most serious and daring trick played on me was when
the agent of an opposition show actually went to the railroad office
and ordered a carload of my paper, which was on the sidetrack there
waiting for our man, to be shipped to California. Believing him to be
representing me, the freight agent did as requested, and my advance
brigade was delayed until a fresh carload could be sent on from New
York, which could be done in less time than it would have taken to have
brought the original carload back from San Francisco. After
accomplishing this contemptible trick the fellow escaped, and, although
I had Pinkerton men closely on his trail, I was never able to get
service on him. Of course the scamp's employers were legally
responsible; but in those days we never thought of bringing suit in
cases of that kind, although I was strongly tempted to do so in one
place, where an opposition show had covered my dates with their own and
had greatly damaged us by misleading the people.

Of the many other sharp tricks played on me by opposition shows, one of
the best, or worst, was that of equipping men with sample cases, and
sending them in advance of my show in the rôle of commercial salesmen.
These men would step into prominent stores and, after a short business
talk, incidentally mention my name and then impart the information that
my show had disbanded and gone to pieces. This, of course, would set
the whole town talking, and the news would soon spread over the entire
country, thus doing me irreparable harm.


The general public has very little idea of the extent to which
opposition tactics are carried by the representatives of circuses and
menageries. The rivalry between two shows often costs thousands of
dollars and is sometimes kept up by the agents long after the
proprietors have become reconciled. Once we became involved in one of
these contests, and the opposition, in order to harass us, actually had
four of our men arrested in different States on a charge of libel. The
Indiana libel laws were very severe, and in each instance we were
compelled to give a heavy bond for the release of our man.

That year the train of a rival outfit ran off the track, and one of the
proprietors, in the course of time, became my agent. One day, in a
confidential chat, he alluded to the mishap, and told me that at the
time it occurred he fully intended accusing us of having had the
switches turned, thus causing the disaster. To that end he had even
gone to the length of swearing out warrants for our arrest. They knew
that we were perfectly innocent, but their object was to gain notoriety
and sympathy. At the last moment, it is to be presumed, their better
natures asserted themselves; at all events, they weakened.


Another party in opposition warfare copied our money orders. Orders of
this kind were given by our agents and paid by our treasurer on arrival
of the show. They were given for services rendered or goods bought, and
covered the expenses of livery teams, distributing bills, flour, feed,
advance brigade supplies, newspaper advertising, etc. They were made
out something after this style:

    "On presentation of this order and ten issues of ---- Newspaper,
    containing advertisements of the Coup Show to exhibit at
    ---- on the ---- day of ---- pay Mr. ---- $----, amount due him.

    "(Signed) ---- ----, Agent."

These orders were extensively used by the opposition for some time
before we discovered it. Its object, of course, was to make the
newspaper proprietors and the public think they were advertising the
Coup show, while of course their own dates would be inserted instead of

At a certain place in Ohio a bridge was burned in advance of us and
entailed the loss of our next "stand," or date. We could not safely
accuse any of our competitors of this contemptible and incendiary
trick; but we knew they were driven to desperation and were capable of
resorting to any such outrage.

There were agents so utterly unscrupulous as to receive pay from
opposition shows for disclosing to them information that should have
been jealously guarded, even betraying the advance route. I knew one
agent who was an expert telegraph operator and able to take messages by
sound. He would scrape acquaintance with the regular operator and pass
his spare time in the telegraph office secretly taking our messages as
the latter were being sent over the wire, the local operator being
ignorant of the loafer's telegraphic skill.


These opposition fights greatly benefited the local bill posters and
were frequently urged on by them. Sometimes a show would send a brigade
over the country at night, placing its own dates on the paper of its
rival, thus getting all the advantages of the first show's paper.
Sometimes the indolence and laziness of my own men have annoyed me
greatly. I am reminded that, while my advance brigade was billing
Texas, one of my agents became utterly disgusted with the sleepiness of
his men. They were mainly of corpulent build, and their captain
actually sent me this message:

    "WACO, Texas, July, 1881.

    "W. C. COUP,

    "Sturtevant House, New York City:

    "There is one more shade tree in Texas; send another fat man to sit
    under it."

On numerous occasions I have had to pay dearly as a result of the sharp
practices of unscrupulous people, and it is a well-known fact that a
circus man has to deal with a great many of this class. Our advance
agent always engaged the lots on which we were to exhibit, and he did
so at Austin, Texas, renting the necessary ground at a most exorbitant
figure. As usual, he gave an order on the company which was to be paid
immediately on our arrival. But the owner, or pretended owner, inserted
a clause in the agreement that the lots were to be used if still in the
possession of the signer. Immediately on our arrival the bill was
presented, and as promptly paid. Imagine my surprise when, as the show
opened at night, another bill was presented for $150. It seems that
this sharper had made a fraudulent sale of one of the center lots on
purpose to swindle me. Of course I paid it, under protest, in order to
enable the performance to proceed, as, anticipating a refusal on my
part, they had illegally attached some valuable ring stock.

Some years ago when George Peck was struggling with Peck's Sun, long
before it had been recognized as a "leading comic paper," I visited
Milwaukee with my show. My invariable instructions to my agents were
to advertise in every paper, but especially to place an extra
advertisement in all young papers struggling for recognition, provided,
of course, that they had merit. For some reason, or through oversight,
George Peck's Sun had been entirely forgotten. Nevertheless, I found on
reaching Milwaukee that Peck had, on several occasions, good-humoredly
alluded in his columns to my coming, and had not "roasted" me, as many
other editors so slighted would have done. Accordingly I sent him a
check which would have more than paid for the advertising he should
have had but did not get. To my surprise he returned the check, saying
I owed him nothing. I declined to receive it, and once more sent it to
him, telling him not to come any of his "funny business over me," and
to reserve his jokes for his paper. This brought him around to my
hotel, and I was delighted to become acquainted with one of the
cleverest men I have ever met. Later he became Governor of his State.


As an example of the courteous treatment I have invariably received at
the hands of the newspaper editors I cannot refrain from giving the
following incident which occurred when the show was in North Carolina.
In a town in that State one paper, through an oversight, had been
skipped altogether in the distribution of the advertising. When the
second brigade of the advertising army arrived in town, it found that
the issue of this paper had already been mailed to its subscribers.
Nothing daunted, however, this agent arranged with the publishers for a
special issue which, teeming with praises of the Coup show, was issued
and mailed to all subscribers. As a result excellent houses greeted us
when we exhibited in the place.

The rivalry between the great shows extended to the newspaper
advertising as well as bill-posting department. I remember that once,
at Pittsburg, the opposition was very strong, and I had as press agent
a brother of the man who held the same position in the employ of my
rival. They were both excellent newspaper men and thoroughly understood
their business. We would take whole columns in the newspapers, and my
men with the show would telegraph to the papers at Pittsburg after this


    "The W. C. Coup show did a tremendous business here to-day; the
    largest and best show ever seen here."

These telegrams would be used to head our other notices in the
Pittsburg papers, and whole columns would follow, setting forth the
merits of the show. With more solid indorsements these telegrams so
worried my agent's brother that he was at a loss to know how to
overcome them. He finally hit upon a novel and dashing plan. After our
columns had been set up in the various papers, he would then engage the
adjoining columns. In this space, in display type, he denounced our
telegrams as bogus, stating that he had seen his own brother write them
at the hotel. This announcement completely took the wind out of our


Many amusing things of this sort occurred in the war of opposition, but
others of a more serious nature would, of course, come up.

The greatest amount of free advertising ever received by a big show,
within my knowledge, for any one thing, was that which was incident
upon the purchase of "Jumbo." The elephant was bought by Barnum, Bailey
& Hutchinson from the Zoological Gardens in London. When the day
arrived for his removal, the elephant lay down and refused to leave his
old home. This created a sympathy for the dumb creature, and the
children became so interested that petitions were signed by
hundreds--yes, thousands--of children and adults of Great Britain,
protesting against the delivery of the animal to its new owners.
Jumbo's stubbornness proved a fortune to his new owners. Taking
advantage of the opportunity they began to work upon the sympathies of
the Humane Society, which made every effort to prevent Jumbo from being
sent to this country. The news was cabled to America by the column. I
happened to be in the editor's room of a daily paper in New York when
one of these cables came into the office. The editor laughingly called
my attention to it and threw it into the waste basket. I said: "What,
are you not going to use this?" He said: "No, of course not."

"Well," said I, "you will use Jumbo matter before the excitement is

I saw how the excitement could, and surely would, in such able hands,
be kept up. I left that night for St. Louis, where my educated horses
were being exhibited, and made a call on my old friend Col. John A.
Cockrill, then editor of the Post Dispatch--when another associated
press Jumbo dispatch came in, with which they were delighted. I then
related my experience with the New York editor who had refused to use
the cable that came into the office while I was sitting there. The
colonel and Mr. Pulitzer said: "Well, we are glad to use it--this and
future dispatches."

The next day the colonel handed me a New York paper, which proved to be
the same that I had mentioned, and in it appeared a double leaded
account on the Jumbo excitement. Their show agents in London did
wonderful work in keeping the associated press filled with new matter,
and the free advertising they secured would have cost at regular rates
a half million of dollars and even then would not have been as

The agents succeeded in working up this opposition to Jumbo's removal
until they induced the editor of the London Telegraph to cable Barnum,
asking what price he would take to leave Jumbo in his own home,
explaining the feeling of the people, especially the children. This
editor had no idea then and perhaps does not even now know that he was
made an innocent agent in the big advertising scheme. The children of
Great Britain had ridden on Jumbo's back, fed and fondled him for
years, so that it was easy to arouse this feeling of indignation and
sympathy. The multitude even threatened violence if he was removed. The
excitement had purposely been kept up to such a pitch by these people
that it became international.

There was also much excitement about Jumbo's wife, Alice. Elaborately
written articles were cabled over, expressing the sorrow of Alice at
the enforced departure of Jumbo and her consequent separation from her
husband. The feelings of the people were so worked upon that sympathy
for Alice and Jumbo almost equaled that aroused for the slave by the
description of Uncle Tom in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The advertising matter
for Jumbo--the lithographs, etc.--had already been printed, and in them
he was called "Mastodon." When he refused to be moved his right name,
Jumbo, was used, as the dispatches had gone out in that name. The
strategy used by these managers and their agents to get all this
notoriety did no one any harm and made good sensational reading for the



Shows thrive best on bluster and buncombe. Years of experience have
taught me that the traveling show business handled by capitalists who
have been trained in other lines of enterprise can never succeed. I
have often been reproved by business men who were astounded at the
lavish and apparently wasteful expenditures of the circus for "show and
blow," and who have insisted that these expenses should be cut in half.
It is true that such reckless expenditures in any ordinary commercial
undertaking would be disastrous, but it is the life of a big show. When
it is possible thoroughly to arouse the curiosity of the public,
expense should be a secondary consideration.


I recall an incident, however, which goes to show that the most
expensive attractions do not necessarily prove the greatest drawing
cards. Among the rare animals which I had one season were some
Memiponias, or tiny deerlets--"hell benders," as they were commonly
called. One of the opposition shows was making a great feature of a
pair of hippopotami, or river horses, from the Nile. I had made
arrangements to receive, at stated intervals, regular numbers of "hell
benders," and I would wire my agents ahead, "Another living hell bender
arrived to-day." This he would advertise with great gusto, getting out
special bills and keeping up the excitement.

One day, while one of my agents, who happened to be back with the show,
was sitting in my office, a bill to the amount of six dollars was
presented for "One dozen hell benders." Seeing this he inquired what it

"Don't you see?" said I. "'One dozen hell benders, six dollars.'"

"Do you mean to say," my agent exclaimed, "that I have been advertising
fifty-cent hell benders?"

"You have," I laughingly replied.

"Well," said he, "if that doesn't beat the deuce! These fifty-cent hell
benders have knocked $10,000 worth of hippos higher than a kite!" It
certainly was a fact that our fifty-cent articles had been so
judiciously advertised as to create more excitement than the costly
"hippos" of the opposition.

In the course of the same season I made a discovery which proved to be
a valuable drawing card. I owned some young elephants which I had lent
to a showman on the Bowery. On going to see them one day I noticed a
man holding his finger in the mouth of one of the smaller ones. I
placed my finger in the mouth of another and found that the creatures
seemed to derive pleasure from the action of sucking. Immediately I
sent out for an ordinary infant's nursing bottle. The young elephant
drained the bottle as if to the manner born. It was passed from one to
another of the infant class. Finally they fought in the most
indescribably comical manner for possession of the bottle.


Then I fitted a large glass jar, holding a gallon, with rubber tubes,
so that all could use it at the same time. Invariably they would empty
this bottle before loosening their hold on the nipples. They had
doubtless been taken from their mother when too young, or perhaps she
had been killed at the time the young were captured. So effectively did
they appeal to public interest and sentiment that by dint of skillful
advertising the celebrated "sucking baby elephants" made quite a
fortune in a single season. They would be led into the ring, where they
would take their nourishment like human babies, their over-grown size
making this infantile operation very comical and absurd. The sight
captivated the heart of every woman who attended the show.


The eagerness of circus proprietors to procure animal monstrosities for
exhibition purposes has called forth many laughable communications from
persons who have curiosities of this kind to sell. I remember going one
morning into the office and reading a telegram which came to Mr.
Barnum. It was as follows:


    "To P. T. BARNUM: I have a four-legged chicken. _Come quick._"

The circus of the present day is not complete without the side shows
and the after concerts. For my own part I can honestly say that I never
in my life heard a concert announcement made in my show without feeling
like getting up and leaving in disgust; but all classes of show-goers
must be pleased, and there is one class which demands the concert and
another class that wants the side shows.


I am glad to know that the circus man who speaks of his patrons as
"gillies," and who endeavors to obtain his wealth by fair or foul
means, is becoming more and more rare. I recall an illiterate circus
man of this description who employed every "privilege" known to the
circus world. For example: when traveling by wagon the whole caravan
would pass through a toll-gate, stating that the "boss" was behind and
would pay the toll. The last vehicle to go through would contain this
dignitary and his treasurer, who, when confronted with the long list of
vehicles on which he ought to pay toll, would declare that the
toll-keeper had been imposed upon, and that half of those vehicles
belonged to a gang of gypsies having no connection whatever with the
show. He would then cut the bill down according to the easy or hard
nature of the custodian of the toll-gate, and in this manner evade
payment of what, in a whole season, would aggregate a large sum of

On one occasion, when about to exhibit in Albany, and knowing that his
whole outfit would that day be attached for debt, he ordered the parade
to start early, as he intended to give them a "long ride." The
procession accordingly started on what has passed into circus history
as the "silent parade," for, leaving the city in all the glory of
spangle and tinsel, the showmen never rested until they had reached the
State line, while the sheriffs, waiting at the tents in Albany for the
parade to return, had the poor satisfaction of attaching the almost
worn-out and quite worthless canvas.

I have often been asked what it costs to start a circus and menagerie.
This is a most difficult question to answer, since it depends entirely
upon the size and pretensions of the enterprise in question. Shows vary
in size from cheap affairs, capable of being carried in three railroad
cars, to the elaborate institutions which require two long special
trains for their transportation. The expense of running a large show is
enormous, although in advertising this expense is usually exaggerated.
There are a great many traveling tented exhibitions which "bill," or
advertise, like a circus, and in the eyes of the general public pass
for circuses, but which, in reality, are variety exhibitions given
under canvas.


In the eye of the law a circus must have feats of horsemanship in its
program, and such shows have to pay a "circus" license, which in some
States and cities is very high. If, however, the shows do not give any
riding, their performance simply consisting of leaping, tumbling, and
athletic feats, then a license may be taken out at a greatly reduced
price; and this accounts for the almost numberless small shows which
annually tour the country. Of the circus and menagerie show proper I do
not think there are more than twenty in America; but of tented
exhibitions, billed as "railroad shows," there are several hundred. The
tented exhibitions employ from fifty to six hundred men each, and the
capital invested in them runs from $5,000 to $250,000.

Many of the smaller shows are fitted out economically by purchasing
from the larger ones paraphernalia that has been used a season or two.
For example: the canvases used an entire season by a large show may be
purchased cheaply, because it is essential to the attractiveness of a
really great amusement institution to have each season a new, white
"spread." The old canvas, if not sold to the smaller showmen, is
disposed of to the paper manufacturers at about one and one-half cents
the pound.

The same rule of enforced replenishment applies to wardrobe and general
paraphernalia. In this way a beginner in the circus business may, by
judicious investment in second-hand bargains, start out with a very
fair outfit secured at a much smaller cost than if he were compelled to
purchase everything new. And, in this connection, let me say that I
know of no other business enterprise in which new material costs so
much, and when sold at second-hand realizes so little. One of the
largest shows ever organized in this country, and which was reputed to
be worth more than half a million dollars, was inventoried on the death
of one of the proprietors, with a view to selling the estate of the
deceased, and, to the great surprise of the executors, was found to
reach in value only about $200,000.

Twenty years ago a show with a daily expenditure of $250 was thought
extravagant, while fifty years ago a circus whose receipts averaged
sixty dollars a day was considered to be doing a good business. To-day
there is one show the expenses of which are undoubtedly more than
$3,500 a day, although it is surprising what wonderful displays are
made by others at a cost of less than $1,000 a day. The reason for this
is that, above a certain amount, the expenses depend largely upon the
amount of advertising done. It is amusing, however, to note the manner
in which all of them, big and little, claim to be the largest and most
expensive attractions in the country. Many smaller showmen use the same
billing matter as the largest ones, and scores of lines can be read in
the circus advertisements of to-day that have done duty for many years.


It is almost impossible to give an intelligent idea of the cost of wild
animals, since this depends entirely upon the operation of the law of
supply and demand. The cost of cages varies, of course, according to
size and decorations, and the same observation applies to the railroad
cars. The most expensive of the latter are the highly ornamental cars
used for advance advertising. These are comfortably, and even
elaborately, fitted, and are provided with a huge paste boiler and
other conveniences. They cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000. The flat
and stock cars used by circuses are much more substantially constructed
than the ordinary ones used in the railroad freight business, and are
considerably larger, most of them being sixty feet in length and fitted
with springs similar to those of passenger coaches. Cars of this
description cost from $500 to $800 each; passenger coaches from $1,500
upward, according to the quality of interior, fittings and decorations.

Some circus proprietors also have their own private cars, fitted with
every imaginable convenience and luxury, and such a car costs high in
the thousands. The expense of the wardrobe depends, of course, on the
amount used and its quality, and whether the costumes are intended for
a spectacular show or for an ordinary circus. The wardrobe and papier
mâché chariots used in the production of our "Congress of Nations" cost
Mr. Barnum and myself more than $40,000, and I am told that Mr. Bailey
expended a like amount on his "Columbian" display.

The price of the canvas has been wonderfully reduced within the last
few years. We paid $10,000 for our first hippodrome tent alone, and
this did not include dressing-room tents, horse tents and camp tents.
Afterward, however, we had a larger one made for very much less money.
The small circuses that hover around Chicago and the larger cities of
the West in summer usually use a tent about eighty feet across, with
two thirty-foot middle pieces. This, equipped with poles, seats and
lights, costs about $800. These tents are made of light material. The
larger canvases have to be made of stouter stuff, and a tent suitable
for hippodrome or spectacular shows, which must be about 225 feet in
width and 425 or 450 feet in length, would cost about $7,000.


As an evidence of how circuses have increased in size, I will say that
the seventy or eighty _quarter_ poles which hold up the main tent of
the Barnum & Bailey shows are each larger than the _main_ pole used
years ago. The present system of lighting, which, by the way, I was the
first to use, is the patent of an Englishman, improved by an American
named Gale. It first took the place of kerosene lights, so far as
circus illumination is concerned, in 1870. In experimenting with
these lights, when I first introduced them, I several times met with
accidents which threatened to terminate my career. Once I purchased an
electric light plant with the intention of doing away with all gasoline
illumination, but was compelled to abandon the attempt after expending
$8,000 for a portable electric plant.

The item of tent stakes is quite a formidable one. Fitted with iron
rings, they cost about fifty cents each, and hundreds of them are
required by every circus. Harnesses require an outlay of from ten to
twenty-five dollars each, according to decoration and material.

The draught horses used by circuses vary in price, some of them being
purchased cheap from horse markets; but I have always found that the
best I could get were the most economical. Those bought by me averaged
$200 each; the usual circus horse, however, costs much less, and so
long as it does its work all right the main purpose is answered, for,
in passing through the streets, its faults do not attract the attention
of the ordinary observer, but only that of the typical horseman. Ring
horses, whether for a "pad" or a "bare-back" act, must have a regular
gait, as without it the rider is liable to be thrown. They are
frequently and generally owned by the performers themselves, and I have
known a crack rider to pay as high as $2,000 for one whose gait exactly
suited him. The performing "trakene" stallions brought from Germany by
Mr. Barnum cost $10,000, and my first troupe of educated horses, ten in
number, were purchased at the same figure. These, however, were
unquestionably the best and most valuable ever seen in a circus.


Though it would be comparatively easy to start a circus and menagerie
equipped almost entirely with second-hand paraphernalia, the reader
will see from the following figures that the cost of starting a new
first-class circus and menagerie is another proposition. Here are a few
official figures on the cost of a first-class circus and menagerie
which have never before been made public. They are taken from my
private record, or invoice book:

     20 Cages at $350,                $7,000.00
      2 Band wagons at $1,500 each,    3,000.00
      3 Chariots at $3,000 each,       9,000.00
      1 Wardrobe wagon,                  800.00
      1 Ticket wagon,                    400.00

The above for the parade.

Animals to fill these cages will average about:

      2 Lions,                        $2,000.00
      2 Royal Tigers,                  2,000.00
      2 Leopards,                        400.00
      1 Yak,                             150.00
      1 Horned Horse,                    500.00
      2 Camels,                          300.00
      2 Elephants,                     3,000.00

(As small elephants have been delivered here for $1,000 each, this is
probably a fair average.)

      1 Hippopotamus,                 $5,000.00
      1 Rhinoceros,                    5,000.00
      2 Cages of monkeys,              1,000.00
      1 Kangaroo,                        200.00
      1 Cassowary,                       200.00
      1 Ostrich,                         500.00
      1 Giraffe,                       1,500.00

    Other small animals including
    hyenas, bears, ichneumon, birds,
    etc.,                             $2,000.00

     12 Baggage wagons at $200,      $ 2,400.00
      4 Roman chariots,                1,000.00
    125 Horses at $125 each,          15,625.00

This price is above the average.

    125 Harnesses at $15,            $ 1,875.00
      2 Advertising cars,              5,000.00
    Wardrobe,                          3,000.00
      2 Sleepers,                      5,000.00
     10 Flat cars at $400,             4,000.00
      6 Horse cars at $400,            2,400.00
    Elephant car,                        500.00
    Tents,                             4,000.00

This could be reduced by eliminating the rhinoceros, hippopotamus,
giraffe and other very expensive animals, but to this must be added
considerable money for stakes, shovels, picks, stake pullers, extra
ropes, tickets, blank contracts and all necessary printing, which would
bring the cost of the usual "million dollar" circus and menagerie up to
about $86,000.

On all this property there is not one dollar of insurance. Once, when
on the road, a live stock insurance company came to me to insure our
horses, but at the rate at which they wanted to insure them I soon
convinced them that we could not make any money.

I might add that a circus and menagerie at the figures I have given
would be far better and larger than the average "million dollar show"
now on the road, there being certainly not more than three aggregations
that cost more than the amount I have given. No man should attempt the
show business who has not a fortune, and also plenty of that other kind
of capital quite as essential to his success--long experience on the




The first circus in America was started by Nathan A. Howes and Aaron
Turner under a top canvas in 1826. Previous to that time others had
shows in frame buildings and some simply with side canvas in hotel
yards, and in theaters in New York City. The full tent circus
originated in the towns of Somers and North Salem, Westchester County,
New York, and Southeast and Carmel, Putnam County, New York. The
original showmen were Raymond, Titus, June, Quick, Angevine, Crane,
Smith and Nathans, and so far as I have been able to ascertain, June,
Titus and Angevine were the first to import wild animals on their own

Previous to this the Raymond and Titus companies were in the habit of
purchasing wild animals from sea captains who, in a spirit of
speculation, would bring them to our shores. There existed a great
rivalry between these companies and they soon became possessed of more
animals than they needed. They toured the East during the period from
about 1826 to 1834, with but indifferent success, and then Titus &
Company took their show to England, where John June had preceded them.

The circus and menagerie in those days were separate and distinct
attractions and, while the menagerie had the greater drawing power, it
was only exhibited in the daytime. In the case of an opposition circus
the attendance would generally split up, but would result in a benefit
to each attraction, for the same crowd which gazed at the menagerie
during the day would also be able to enjoy the circus which exhibited
at night. It was not until 1851 that a circus and a menagerie were
exhibited together, at one price of admission and owned by the same

At that time George F. Bailey induced Turner, who was his
father-in-law, to purchase an elephant and some other animals from
Titus & Company, and others from incoming vessels at New York, Boston
and Charleston. Mr. Bailey had six cages built, and these, together
with the elephants, he added to the circus in order to reach the
church-going element which would go to see the "menagerie only," but
invariably remained, when the band commenced to play, "because the
children wanted to see the circus."

To Mr. George F. Bailey must also be given the credit of devising a
tank on wheels in which could be exhibited the hippopotamus. This
animal proved a wonderful drawing card, and was then advertised as it
sometimes is to-day as "the blood-sweating Behemoth of Holy Writ." This
animal made several men wealthy. L. B. Lent, the well-known circus man,
afterwards hired it and paid for its use no less than twenty-five per
cent of the gross receipts of his show. From the death of this
hippopotamus until 1873 there was none in the country; but in that year
Mr. Barnum and I secured one from Reiche Brothers, whose men had
captured it from a school on the river Nile. It cost us $10,000, and we
had previously spent several thousand dollars in sending our own men to
Egypt on a similar errand that proved fruitless.


I am informed by the best living authority that the first elephant
brought to this country was imported by Hackaliah Bailey, an uncle of
George F. Bailey, the retired circus manager. It was exhibited in barns
in the eastern country and was considered a great curiosity and
sufficient in itself to constitute a whole show and satisfy the people.
It traveled altogether at night--principally that the country people
should not get a free glimpse of the wonderful animal, and also
because, in Connecticut, there was a law prohibiting the driving of
elephants through that State during the daytime without a license, the
neglect to obtain which entailed a fine of $100, half of that going to
the informer and half to the State. The law was passed in 1828, and, so
far as I know, has never been repealed. This piece of information will
doubtless astonish a good many showmen.

At some place in Rhode Island this elephant was fatally shot by some
malicious person, and no one at the present day seems able to explain
the wanton outrage. It may be that it was done out of curiosity, to see
whether a bullet would penetrate the skin, but I think it is more
likely to have been the spite of some countryman who was disappointed
at not being able to obtain a free glimpse of the animal. I am
encouraged in this opinion because it is a matter of record that the
farmers would gather on the road over which the elephant was to pass at
night and build huge stacks of faggots, straw and brushwood which they
would ignite on the approach of the beast in order to secure a distinct
view of the wonder; but the showmen would blanket a horse and send him
ahead, shouting "Mile up! Mile up!" when approaching a party of
nocturnal spectators. This command has been used in handling elephants
as long as these creatures have served the white race. On hearing this
call the farmers would light their bonfires only to discover, on the
approach of the draped horse, that they had been fooled. And bitter
would be their disappointment when, after the last flickering ember of
their fire had died out, the huge object of their curiosity would pass
unseen in the darkness. At the death of this elephant Hackaliah Bailey
went into the hotel business at Somers, N.Y., and erected, outside of
his tavern, the cast of an elephant in bronze, mounted on a stone
pedestal more than twelve feet in height. The elephant monument may to
this day be seen in perfect condition, although placed there nearly
seventy years ago. The first drove of elephants seen in this country
were brought from Ceylon to America by Mr. S. B. Howes and P. T. Barnum
in 1850. The exhibition was in charge of George Nutter, and the
expedition was about six months en voyage. After losing one or two on
the way they finally landed in New York, about 1850, with ten
elephants, and they proved a very great attraction.


The first drove of camels was, likewise, brought into this country by
S. B. Howes, and, being broken to drive in harness, they also proved a
powerful drawing card. This first drove he imported in 1847 from Cairo,
Egypt. Mr. Howes then sent Augustus Crane to the Canary Islands, in
1848, in search of camels, and in 1849 he landed in Baltimore with a
drove of eleven. No more camels were brought in after this for several
years, until a lady in Texas, the owner of a "slaver" or slave ship,
brought some over as a subterfuge. Her excuse was that she wanted them
to use as beasts of burden on her plantation; but, although the camels
were on deck, she had a lower deck on which were huddled together,
after the inhuman fashion of the time, many poor blacks, who were
really the "beasts of burden" of greatest value to this feminine slave

The government also imported a lot of camels and made the experiment of
carrying the mails from Texas to California by "Camel Post"; but, this
proving unsuccessful, the animals were turned loose to shift for
themselves until showmen created a demand for them and bought most of
them for very little money, in some cases paying only $80 apiece for
them. It is said that even now there are a few camels running wild in
Western Texas and Mexico.


For the opening of the Hippodrome we had imported a drove of nearly
forty ostriches and had quartered them at the American Institute. The
birds attracted a great deal of attention, not only on account of their
rarity, but also on account of their magnificent plumage, some of them
being marvels of natural splendor. They would walk around their
enclosure with the most majestic gait imaginable. Among the
professional spectators one morning was Mr. J. J. Nathans, a retired
circus proprietor. Mr. Nathans wore in his scarf a very valuable
diamond stud, and the stone evidently attracted a great deal of the
attention of the birds. They would turn their heads around and the
gleam in their small eyes would rival that of the stone. Suddenly one
of the ostriches made a vicious peck at Mr. Nathans. That gentleman
immediately drew back, but too late to save the precious stone. The
bird had swallowed a $400 solitaire! Mr. Nathans ever afterwards
admired ostriches from a distance.

At the American Institute we had placed the ostriches in charge of an
old employé named Delaney. This man had noticed that for some time two
of the male birds had been pecking at each other and, to use his own
expression, were "spoiling for a fight." This increasing viciousness
one day culminated in a battle royal.

The morning of that day both seemed to be in a particularly ugly mood,
and the rest of the drove gave them a wide berth. Every now and then
one of them would stretch out his long neck and, with head uplifted,
give vent to a sharp hissing sound. This was evidently a challenge, for
it would be immediately taken up and answered by the other. They would
follow each other around the wooden enclosure, striking viciously at
each other. As by concerted action all the female birds huddled
themselves together at one end of the enclosure and eight or ten males
took up positions just in front as if to protect them. This left the
enclosure almost clear for the two belligerents, and they went at it in
fearful earnest.

Word was immediately sent me, but neither I nor any of my employés were
on terms of sufficient intimacy with them to justify a personal attempt
at arbitration. Delaney, however, armed himself with a stout club,
deliberately threw himself into the breech and attempted to separate
them. In doing so he only exposed himself to the risk of sustaining
severe bodily injuries. The birds took no notice of him whatever, but
continued to fight, uttering at times a series of piercing screams and
hisses, They would swing around each other and land fearful blows.

Their mouths were wide open, their eyes red and hideous, and their
magnificent plumage ruffled, until the spectators, while deploring the
fight, could not help admiring the splendid appearance of the birds in
their rage. The smaller of the two was the more cautious. After a
severe blow he would with some difficulty recover his equilibrium and,
running off a little distance would suddenly wheel about and deal the
big fellow two or three blows in rapid succession.

Delaney jumped between them and used his club on their long necks, but
without any effect, for the birds seemed tireless. Their cries grew
harsher and louder and the resounding blows fell like the beats of an
automatic sledgehammer. Suddenly a most peculiar cry was heard. The
others of the herd seemed to manifest more attention; and the two
principals spread their wings, like the dragons of old, and made the
final onslaught. Screaming with frightful shrillness and with their
little bloodshot eyes gleaming hideously they made the crucial rush.
Just as they were within a few feet of each other, Delaney managed to
strike the larger bird a severe blow on the neck. The creature wavered
for a moment and then fell prostrate. Another peculiar cry came from
the smaller bird and both principals receded from each other. They were
about to resume hostilities when a second blow brought the larger bird
to the floor and the other one seeing this, evidently adjudged himself
the victor, for he walked proudly away, followed by many of the
admiring female birds. We immediately took steps to prevent a
repetition of this remarkable fight by keeping the combatants in
separate pens.

The fight, however, was most stirring and splendid, and the birds
themselves seemed to be the very embodiment of knightly pride, so
manifestly aggressive did they look in their ruffled plumage. Alas for
vanity! Scarcely twelve hours had passed when a message was brought me
from Delaney to come at once to the ostrich pen. I did so, expecting to
hear of another combat of feathered gladiators. Instead a sorry sight
met my eyes. During the night some vandal had plucked the brilliant
plumage from the birds and left them miserable and dejected specimens
of despoiled pride. I would cheerfully have given $1,000 to have
discovered the miscreant. As for the birds, the life seemed to have
left them. They would gaze sadly at each other, peer at their own
denuded bodies, and with an indescribably piteous expression, slink
away into corners as if inexpressibly ashamed of their appearance.

Every possible inquiry was made in the hope of finding out the vandals
who had plucked their feathers, but in vain. I dare say, if the truth
were known, some of our own men secured the plumes. The birds did not
regain their beauty for many moons, and all we got that season for our
big outlay was the thrilling spectacle of the ostrich fight.


During the whale season we utilized the whale tank, which was empty
owing to the death of the whale, by placing in it a number of
alligators from Florida. Our agent had just returned from an
expedition, with forty of these creatures ranging in length from one to
twelve feet. Although the tank was an immense one, these forty saurians
did not have as much room as they would have liked. This overcrowding
was doubtless the cause of a most terrible fight between them, which
occurred very soon after they were installed in their new quarters. It
is impossible for me to describe this conflict. Nearly all the larger
"gators" took part in it, springing at each other and locking their
jaws with a resounding, crashing noise that could be heard all over the

While thus locked together they would toss each other about and swish
their tails with such vigor as to completely destroy the tank, breaking
the thick glass. Our attendants were almost paralyzed with fear and
confusion at the strange battle, and vainly endeavored to separate the
combatants. There seemed, however, to be no way of doing this, as they
would snap at each other so violently as to break each other's jaws,
and this horrible snap really sounded like the report of a gun. To
prevent their escape into the exhibition room a temporary barrier was
soon erected and, when they became exhausted in attempting to kill each
other, we determined, for fear that returning strength would bring
about a repetition of the horrible scene, to dispatch all save the
smaller ones. This was done by sending bullets into their eyes. We
buried the carcasses on Long Island, much to the regret of an eminent
taxidermist, who would have been glad to have secured them; but we were
eager to be rid of the monsters. The fight was not down on the bills
and was one we were entirely unprepared for; but it was the most
exciting and at the same time most terrifying combat I ever saw. Had it
not been so horrible and could it have been advertised, I am sure it
would have drawn together more people than a Spanish bull fight. The
tank, which was totally destroyed, was made of glass one and one-fourth
inches thick, embedded in cement and bound with solid iron columns. It
was erected at a cost of $4,500, and yet was destroyed in ten minutes
by these vicious alligators from the slimy depths of southern swamps.

I remember vividly the time when (in Winchester, Va.) Charles Dayton,
the Herculean cannon ball performer and general gymnast, was attacked
by hyenas just after entering the den for the street parade. Only such
a man of strength, undeniable courage and great presence of mind would
ever have escaped from the cage alive. Apparently for no reason
whatever and without the slightest warning these hideous creatures
sprang upon Dayton on this particular occasion, though he had been in
the cage many times. The expression of mingled hope, fear and
determination depicted on Dayton's countenance as he nobly fought his
way to the rear of the cage can never be forgotten by any witness of
the thrilling scene. Death stared him in the face and blood flowed in
streams from his frightful wounds. Seemingly every portion of his body
was lacerated. At last after a fearful battle he reached the rear of
the cage and the door. The latter was quickly opened, and the brave
fellow fell bleeding and exhausted into the arms of his attendants,
narrowly escaping a death too horrible to contemplate. We succeeded in
getting him to his hotel, where physicians were called, but they gave
no hope of poor Charlie's recovery. They said the hyenas had done their
awful work too thoroughly. The citizens, especially the noble women of
Winchester, volunteered their aid and did everything in their power for
him. We left him with our own doctor and in the hands of these good
people, as we thought, to die. Notwithstanding the fact that his body
was so terribly lacerated, however, in a few days Dayton gave signs of
improvement and he eventually recovered. Ultimately he returned to the


I have always watched animals with a great deal of interest, from the
bulky but docile elephant to the smallest bird that flies; indeed, I
believe my love for animals, especially the horse, was the incentive
that led me to continue so many years in the circus business. Although
I never had a natural taste for the circus, and for the details
connected therewith, still I always enjoyed organizing and putting
together different drawing attractions. All my other work was given to
the care of assistants.

During our exhibitions in Fourteenth Street, New York, I became very
much attached to many of the birds and animals, and would spend my
leisure time in playing with and feeding them, besides studying their
characters and dispositions, for even among the lower animals there is
character just as there is in mortals.

Among my collection of parrots, there was a white cockatoo. When I
entered the building in the morning he would set up such a noise and
racket, unless I came immediately to speak to him for a few minutes,
that he would soon have the entire menagerie in an uproar--the monkeys
chattering, the lions roaring, and, in fact, a regular pandemonium. But
as soon as I had complied with the wishes of the cockatoo, quiet would
be restored. Some time later when I was in New Orleans, I received a
telegram announcing the Fourteenth Street fire and the complete
destruction of the menagerie.

These beautiful birds are very easily taught. I once knew a man named
Prescott who had trained one of these white beauties to sing the Star
Spangled Banner, to crow like a rooster, bark like a dog, cry like a
child, and so on; and in this way he could entertain a crowd of people
for hours together. Unlike most of its feathered brothers, this bird
enjoyed pleasing its master, and would repeat his performance whenever
called upon to do so, and he seemed to take a pride in his wonderful


At one time in Fourteenth Street, I had a troop of educated dogs; one
of their acts was in the nature of a mock trial. One dog, a very little
fellow, steals a collar of another. A trial takes place, in which there
are judge, and jury advocates. The little culprit is convicted and
condemned to be hung--which the dogs proceed to do. The little fellow
is hung and drops apparently dead, is placed in a hearse and rolled
away to the music of the "Dead March." Several complaints were made
against this by citizens and kind-hearted women; and Professor Bergh,
president of the Humane Society, came to me about it. I had the
performance repeated for his benefit, and further said that it had been
repeated twice a day for several months. After the professor saw that
the dogs enjoyed it, he laughed and said no more about it, and nothing
more was heard from the Humane Society.

I have seen many acts done by dogs; and, as a rule, there is nothing to
appeal to their intelligence; but in this case they certainly showed
reasoning powers. I wish space would permit me to give my experience
with the canine family. A short time before I left the show business I
heard of a dog in California that could talk. I sent for the owner,
Professor Madden, and bargained for this dog. When he reached Chicago I
found he could actually say, "Oh, no." Sometimes it was easier for him
to speak than at others, and invariably he would have some trouble in
talking the first time.

Of all the dumb creatures the dog is by far the most faithful to his
master, and it is said to be the only animal that has ever died of
grief on his master's grave.


In 1880 I met with a very severe railroad accident, in which many of my
valuable horses were injured; and among them an "entry" horse which,
being of considerable value, I ordered to be taken on the train again,
after the wreck was cleared away; but we could not use him for several
days as he was so bruised that he presented a horrible appearance. One
day, however, just as the "grand entry" was going into the ring, our
head groom was surprised at the entrance of this horse. The creature
had dashed into the ring with the others of his companions, and without
bridle, saddle or halter, he went through the figures as he had been in
the habit of doing before he was injured. The music was stopped, and
our groom wanted to have the horse taken out, but I refused. Hearing
the familiar music by which he had always entered the ring and
performed his acts, habit was stronger than bodily pain, and,
unfastening his rope in some unaccountable way, he had burst upon us.
There is no doubt that a horse does know when his particular music
strikes up, for I have often watched them at that time. They will rear
and prance and if secured will make every endeavor to get loose. I lost
this horse later in a wreck and few similar losses have grieved me

Hearing once that Professor Bartholomew had some wonderful horses I
determined to purchase them, although I had really retired from the
circus business. I saw the owner and paid him $10,000 for the horses
and exhibited them in the New York Aquarium, where they drew great
crowds. Among this troupe was the well-known Nettle, the most beautiful
animal I ever saw, being of a cream color and about fourteen hands
high. He was remarkable more particularly for his jumping feats, being
able to jump over an eight-foot gate and six horses, doing this act
twice a day for four years. Finally he was able to jump over a gate and
eight horses: but this feat was too great a strain and I would not
allow it to be repeated. Like a human being he would never undertake
this jump until he had first examined the horses carefully to see that
all was as it should be, and then, with apparent pride and confidence,
he would make his leap. The act performed, he would trot to his trainer
with all the pride of one who had accomplished what had been expected
of him.


I once concluded that it would be good policy to buy a herd of untamed
bronchos and educate them for the circus business. Thereupon I hired a
young fellow named George Costello and sent him to Colorado, Texas and
New Mexico in search of handsome bronchos and Pintos, as this was the
same breed of horses that I first owned. They are certainly the wildest
and hardest to break, but with these untamed animals I concluded to
make a start. It was more difficult work to find exactly what I wanted
than we had hoped. Finally, at Pendleton, Oregon, we found a herd of
about 3,000 head that were white and spotted and belonged to a tribe of
Indians. We bought about forty of them and then shipped them to
Chicago, where we sold all but sixteen. We engaged a celebrated trainer
and built a training stable, where we watched them work.

The bronchos at first refused to take the food which we gave them, and
would blow the oats out of the trough; but hunger finally subdued them.
They were very curious, investigating everything around them, and it
did not take long to learn the customs of civilization. They not only
learned to eat tame hay, and whinny for their food, but each horse also
learned to know his own name and those of his companions. We would
place these horses in a row and call out the name of one of them. If he
did not immediately respond the other bronchos would bite him to remind
him that he should obey orders.

As is usual to a herd, this band of ponies looked to one of their
number as the leader. The leader's name was Duke, and when the herd was
turned loose in the yard for exercise Duke was evidently commander. In
my experience with these wild animals I became convinced that they had
different intonations to express different feelings--that they have a
language of their own. Their whinnys when happy, when frightened, when
angry and as a warning differed greatly, and by careful study could be
easily distinguished.


Mr. Cross, a celebrated animal painter, who owns a ranch in Montana,
told me that his horses had, at one time, disappeared in great numbers,
much to his astonishment and wonder. He finally discovered that
whenever a herd of wild horses, headed by a certain spirited stallion,
came near the ranch, some of his own horses were sure to be missed.
Setting a watch over them he found that the big handsome stallion was
the thief. This magnificent animal would approach the tame horses and
by some mute eloquence would induce them to follow him. Mr. Cross
determined to capture this noble beast and thief, and procured the best
lasso throwers. After following the stallion for many days they were
compelled to give up the chase. Finally they decided to shoot the
animal if he again interfered with the tame animals. Some weeks passed,
but no more horses were lost. Suddenly, however, a number were again
gone. With great compunctions of conscience, Mr. Cross at length
decided that the leader must be shot. His death struggles were
noble--he died as befitted a great chief whose power, strength and
beauty had made him the leader of his kind. Next to the dog I believe
the horse to be the most intelligent of creatures.


The humor of elephants is sometimes almost as remarkable as their
intelligence. In 1887 I purchased an elephant in New York to send to
Australia, and as we were in a great hurry to catch the steamer from
San Francisco, I arranged to have the animal brought as far west as
Chicago by passenger train instead of freight. He was loaded in a
special car which was placed just behind the baggage car, and in due
time started from the depot in New York. Shortly after leaving Albany
the conductor was surprised to have the bell rope pulled violently. The
train, of course, stopped, but the conductor could not find that
anything was wrong or discover the man who had pulled the rope. Another
start was made, and when nearing Syracuse a second violent tugging
brought the train to a stop. The conductor instructed the brakeman to
keep strict watch on the passengers, thinking all the time that some
one had been playing a joke on him. Nearing Rochester, however, the
same thing occurred again, to the great fright of some of the
passengers, notably one old lady, who declared the train to be haunted,
and averred that spirit forms were tugging at the rope. As the rope
continued to be pulled thorough investigations were now made and the
train crew experienced little difficulty in tracing the cause of the
trouble to the elephant. On opening the door of the last car that
animal was discovered sitting on his haunches and deliberately pulling
the cord, and the elephant seemed to derive as much pleasure from it as
a child would from a new toy. The passengers were reassured and the old
lady was convinced of her error when she learned that the spirit form
that pulled the cord weighed about three tons.

In India where elephants are kept at all military barracks for
transportation purposes, it is no uncommon thing for the officers to
leave their children in the elephants' charge for hours together, the
huge animals taking the most tender care of their little friends.
Elephants have a great dread of rodents and even insects. The presence
of a rat or mouse will greatly excite them, and even the gnats or fleas
annoy them exceedingly.

One of our largest elephants took quite a fancy to the son of a rider,
and the boy used to spend every afternoon in the menagerie lying on the
hay close to the animal. The lad never displayed the slightest fear,
and the elephant invariably showed its pleasure when its pet came
inside the inclosure. It would entwine its trunk around him and gently
draw him close, then settle back in a recumbent position, allowing the
child to take whatever liberty he liked. The pair attracted great
attention and were called "Beauty and the Beast."


But it is not always animals that make the success of a circus. An
unfamiliar type of the human species will occasionally make the fortune
of a showman. Mr. N. Berhens, one of my ablest agents and a great
traveler, at the time of the breaking out of the Zulu war was connected
with the Royal Westminster Aquarium in London, an institution at that
time celebrated. These Zulus had made such a bold resistance to the
British government that the excitement ran high and the press of the
world contained daily reports of England's conflict with this now
subdued people. Their bravery in battle and gallant defense of their
homes attracted widespread attention and made them objects of deep
interest and curiosity. Being satisfied that their exhibition would be
everywhere heralded with approval, he determined to visit Africa,
although at the risk of his life, and secure a band of these sable sons
of the tropics, that the world might know more of their laws, customs
and characteristics. He reached Africa after a very perilous voyage
early in the spring of 1878, first visiting Durban, the headquarters of
the English army and the coast outlet to Zululand. Letters of
introduction to the British officers and the experience of three
previous trips to that country soon placed him in the way of attaining
his object. First securing the services of an interpreter and buying
his horses and supplies he followed in the rear of the columns of the
British army en route for "Ulundi," the royal Kraal of King Cetewayo of

When the Tugela river was reached he was surprised by the sudden
appearance of what proved to be a band of about four hundred Zulu men,
women and children, under the leadership of Oham, brother of King
Cetewayo and lieutenant-general of the Zulu army. They had come to
surrender to the British authorities, having rebelled against the rule
of King Cetewayo, who was then in the British prison at Cape Town,
Africa. This surrender was instigated for revenge growing out of the
subjugation of Oham, by the Zulu king in a strife for the rulership of
the Zulu people.

This band of natives contained three genuine Zulu princesses and the
daring chief Incomo. Negotiations were at once begun, and through the
influence of the British officers were finally concluded. Being at the
mercy of their captors a reasonable consideration was agreed upon. The
following day the Prince Imperial of France was slain by the formidable
assigais only a few miles from where he was stationed. On hearing of
his death the Zulus exhibited signs of sincere sorrow, as he was
regarded with great admiration on account of his valor. It is
characteristic of this tribe to admire and applaud courage in their
opponents, so much so, indeed, that they seem to take pleasure in
acknowledging their masters after defeat.

Arrangements were at once made for their voyage. At first the Zulus
were frightened at the idea of going on board a ship and refused to go
to the "white man's country" unless they could walk. Further
persuasion, however, induced them to yield, and they agreed to
undertake the voyage. They embarked at Durban in May, 1878, on board
the royal mail steamer "Balmoral Castle," en route for London. The
length of the voyage and the absence of land filled them with
superstition and fear, and they insisted that the captain had lost his
way; that their food would soon be gone and themselves thrown into the
sea. Indeed, so excited did they become that they visited the ship
officers in a body and insisted on knowing their whereabouts. It was
with great difficulty that they were pacified; they were all violently
seasick and believed they were under the influence of the "evil one."

This embassy consisted of three Zulu princesses, a Zulu baby, the
celebrated chief Incomo and twenty-three swarthy warriors. Their
arrival in London was greeted by over one hundred thousand people on
the docks and as far up the street as the eye could reach. Deafening
cheers ascended as they passed through the crowd, many going so far as
to pat them on the back in recognition of their bravery. Anonymous
letters were received threatening death if they were exhibited.

Mr. Cross, Home Secretary of England, issued an order prohibiting their
exhibition, but public opinion was so much in favor of their being
shown that the authorities were defied, and they were placed on
exhibition at the Royal Westminster Aquarium, London, three times a day
for two years and four months. All London came to see them. Their
performance consisted of songs and dances commemorative of marriage,
death, hunting, joy and sorrow, changes of the moon, rain, sunshine and
war. They gave exhibitions of the throwing of the assagais, that
formidable weapon which is thrown with unerring precision and with a
force capable of penetrating a horse at a distance of four hundred

The making of fire by means of friction, produced by rubbing together
two pieces of wood, was practiced nightly. Here one could see the
exhibitions of the witch doctor, his means of ascertaining disease and
his method of curing. They showed also their methods of fencing and of
conducting battles, their sports, pastimes and strange characteristics.
Among their strange customs was that of offering prayer to their king
every time they smoked. Their marriage relations are strange. When a
man becomes enamored of a girl he immediately begins negotiations with
the parents for her purchase, the price being from six to ten cows,
according to her beauty and age. A cow is worth about five dollars in
our money, so a pretty and attractive Zulu maiden is worth from forty
to fifty dollars. A man of any other nationality is at liberty to buy
them as if he were a Zulu. A man may have as many wives as he has cows
to purchase them with. Their marital laws are very strict and worthy
the recognition of many races graded higher in the scale of

It was the intention to bring this group to America to join my show,
but owing to their enormous success in London they were not brought
until early in the spring of 1881. After their arrival in this country
they were visited by many African missionaries. In this way the
whereabouts of two missionary families supposed to have been killed
during their war were ascertained.



The awe inspired in the breast of the average countryman by the "daring
act" of the lion-tamer is well founded. Long years of familiarity with
this feature of the show business have not served to dampen my sense of
admiration for the grit of a man who does not flinch to enter the cage
of any fierce animal and prove man's mastery over the brute creation.
In justification of this sentiment I have only to point to the
professional animal-trainers of long experience. If there is one of
them who does not bear on his body the marks of his encounters with his
savage pupils he is a rare exception to the rule. The whole fraternity
is physically ragged and tattered--torn and mutilated by the teeth of
beasts they have trained. I have never ceased to marvel that men will
deliberately choose to follow the subjugation of animals as a
profession, particularly when they have only to look upon the veterans
in the business to behold a ghastly and discouraging array of ragged
ears, of split noses, of shredded limbs and lacerated trunks. But at
these substantial warnings the novice and the past-master in the art of
"working" animals alike only laugh and scout the idea of danger or
dread. At least, this is their attitude in private conversation, when
not attempting to make an impression on the minds of their auditors.

If all animals subjected to training were even in disposition, and did
not have their ugly moods, the same as their human lords, the principal
element of danger to trainers would be removed. Unfortunately, it is
the universal testimony of the men who have devoted their lives to the
training of fierce creatures that the most docile, obedient and
friendly carnivorous creature is sure to be in an ugly humor sooner or
later, and then is the great time of test. These sudden, unexpected and
abnormal moods in the animals handled are responsible for having sent
scores of good trainers to early graves.


Let us suppose an animal to be even-tempered. This means he is always
at his maximum of ugliness. He shows every day the worst that is in
him, and the trainer knows the limit of what to expect in that
direction. But animals are not constituted that way. They are generally
on their good behavior, or at least have an astonishing reserve of
ferocity to be vented on the hapless trainer when the day of abnormal
ill-humor comes--provided, of course, the trainer is not discerning
enough to detect the gathering storm.

In no other profession is eternal vigilance so surely the price of
safety. There is nothing more certain than the fate of the trainer who
once relaxes the intensity of his vigilance. Just as surely as he
throws himself off guard the animal he is working will get him. This is
an accepted rule among those who train and perform with animals. Of
course, it often appears to the outsider that the men handling
ferocious animals are off their guard and nonchalantly indifferent to
the creatures in the cage. But the experienced animal-man knows better.
The fact that a trainer or performer allows two or three lions to pass
behind his back might seem to indicate that watchfulness is not
necessary, and that creatures naturally ferocious may at least
sometimes be put absolutely on their good behavior--trusted with a
man's life without being subjected to the slightest surveillance. In
nine cases of every ten a momentary adherence to this departure would
result in disaster.


The best men of the profession I have ever known have all assured me
that the stupidest animal is quicker to detect the slightest relaxation
of a trainer's watchfulness than is the keenest trainer to observe the
abnormal and hostile mood of his pupils. For this reason no trainer or
performer should be allowed to enter a cage unless he is in a normal
frame of mind--sober, in full command of all his faculties, and not
subject to any distracting influence.

Most of the tragedies of the profession are chargeable to a
disobedience to this rule. The unfailing brute instinct at once detects
the fact that the trainer has let down the bars of his mind, and then
comes the long-delayed attack!

Never do I tire of watching a good trainer work his animals, especially
those fresh from their native wilds and full of snap and spirit. What
sport more splendid and royal can man imagine than that of placing his
life in imminent peril for the purpose of putting a wild beast--a
creature far his superior in strength, in swiftness of movement, and in
all-round fighting power--in complete subjection to his will! It is
truly a sport for a king!


The only universal rule for working animals recognized by all trainers
is this: First, _show_ the creature what you wish done; then _make_ him
do it. Easily said, but sometimes almost impossible in practice. I have
yet to find any other line of human effort demanding such unwearying
patience and application, shifty tact and unflagging alertness. All of
these mental qualities are brought into activity during every moment
that a trainer is working his animals. And not for an instant may he
safely slacken his courage or control. A stout heart is his only
safety. To go into a cage in a state of fear is recognized among these
men as a fool-hardy undertaking.

My observation is that trainers almost universally prefer captured
animals to those born in captivity, so far as working purposes are
concerned. This preference is founded on practical experience--for your
animal trainer is little inclined to theorize or experiment in his
work. The answer which my trainers have invariably returned to
questions on this point of animal nature has been: The wild animal is
afraid of man, recognizes him as a strange, dangerous enemy, and is
willing to make a safe retreat from him. The carnivorous beast born in
captivity is accustomed to the daily sight of man, and has not the
wholesome and instinctive fear of him that dwells in the breast of the
free-born denizen of the jungle. On the other hand, the cage-born
creature seems to retain all the mean, treacherous and savage traits of
its race.

Then the trainers declare that the jungle-reared animals are more
intelligent and active, and therefore make better performers. This I
have no reason to doubt. Leopards are the least in favor among
trainers, and the latter prefer to undertake the education of lions
rather than tigers, as the former have more stability of disposition,
and lack the element of treachery which seems so universally a
characteristic of cat nature.


The first active step which a trainer takes in the education of an
animal which has never been handled is to test its temper. I recall
very distinctly watching an excellent trainer working a leopard and a
jaguar from start to finish. No man had ever been into the cage along
with these vicious brutes before "Frenchy," as we called this crack
trainer, laughingly took up his tools and slipped gracefully through
the iron door which closed behind him with a sharp bang. Realizing that
these animals, which were full grown, belonged to the most spiteful and
treacherous of the cat kind, I scrutinized the face of Frenchy to see
if I could possibly detect the slightest sign of inward anxiety or
disturbance. Not the slightest evidence could I see to indicate that he
approached his dangerous task with a particle more excitement than any
business man feels in going to his daily work.


As he slipped into the cage he thrust before him an ordinary kitchen
chair of light, hard wood. This was held in his left hand by gripping
two of the central spindles of the back, thereby obtaining an excellent
purchase which enabled him easily to hold the chair outstretched with
its legs pointed directly at the animals. In his right hand he carried
a short iron training-rod. The only other article which he used in his
first lesson was a stout, movable bracket, which could be instantly
hooked upon any of the horizontal bars which extended the length of the
cage in front.

The instant the trainer faced his pupils there was a regular feline
explosion--a medley of snarls, growls and hisses. And the way those
spotted paws slapped and cuffed the rounds of the extended chair which
served as a shield to Frenchy's legs was something to be remembered.
Never before had I seen such a startling exhibition of feline quickness
as in this preliminary skirmish between master and pupils. The latter's
claws seemed to be everywhere in a moment and played a lively tattoo on
the shield and against the point of the rod with which the trainer
protected himself. During all this excitement the trainer was as calm
as if standing safely outside the cage. However, he did make some
lively thrusts with his rod as the leopard attempted to dash under the
legs of the chair.

While one of the beasts was engaged in carrying on an offensive
warfare, the other would invariably attempt to sneak behind the
trainer. How alert the latter was to the movements of the creature
which apparently claimed little of his attention was impressed on me by
the fact that every time the crouching animal attempted to steal past
the trainer he was met with the quick, sidewise thrusts of the prod,
which sent him back spitting and hissing into the corner.


In less than half an hour the leopard and the jaguar seemed to realize
that they, and not the man, were on the defensive. Their savage dashes
were less frequent, and they were more inclined to crouch close to the
floor and lash their tails in sullen defiance. Then it was that Frenchy
began his first attempt at teaching them. Hooking the movable bracket
upon one of the lower rounds about three feet from the floor of the
cage, he made a forward movement toward the animals, veering a little
to the side opposite the bracket. The creatures had long been
attempting to get past him, and now their opportunity had apparently

Together they made a rush to run under the projecting bracket. Quick as
a flash, however, the trainer was back again in his old place, and the
head of the foremost animal struck the rounds of the chair. This
checked the leopard's progress for a moment, but the creature was not
given a jab of the rod as before. Instead, the chair was slightly
withdrawn, with the result that the spotted cat instantly bounded upon
the narrow bracket--precisely the result at which the trainer had been

Before the leopard was fully aware of what was transpiring, Frenchy
reached forth his training-rod and rubbed it caressingly along the
creature's back from head to tail. Of course the animal struck out
spitefully with its paw, but the blows were received by the chair and
did no harm, while the trainer had been able to bestow upon his
ferocious pupil a caressing touch of approval.

Even at that early stage in the education of the animal I fancied I
could see an understanding of this commendatory stroke. Certainly
within a week this sign was clearly understood, and never did one of
the animals leap upon the bracket without receiving this token of
approval. Before Frenchy came out of the cage on the occasion of this
first experience with these two creatures his chair was splintered
beyond repair. Backing out as deftly as he had entered, he leaned up
against one of the posts in the winter quarters and remarked:

"Those cats will make good performers. They've got just enough fight in
them. I don't mind working a leopard that's been captured, but I don't
want anything to do with cats that have been born in a cage. By the
time an animal has cuffed one chair to pieces I can generally size him
up and get at his disposition. I don't mind a creature that's ready for
war right at the start. The sulky, sullen brutes are the ones that keep
a trainer in a perpetual state of suspicion."


Most of the training is done while the animals are in winter quarters,
the cages being generally arranged in a semicircle or along the wall,
while the center of the main room is occupied by a big ring or circular
space inclosed by a very strong and high fence of iron bars. At first
the animals are worked in their cages, later in the ring. Lounging
about in front of the cages is a man with a long iron rod having a
sharp point. The duty of this guard is to keep watch of all the cages
where animals are being worked, and to be ready to come to the instant
relief of any of the trainers who happen to get into trouble.
Occasionally he assists them from the outside in various ways; as, for
instance, by slipping his rod between the bars and heading off an
animal which is attempting to sneak out of doing his trick. In the
main, however, he is there to do heroic service in times of emergency.

Should a lion, tiger or any other savage creature get a trainer down or
fasten its teeth or claws into his body, the watchful guard on the
outside is expected to plunge his spear into the animal, or get into
the cage with hot irons, if necessary. The use of heated irons is, of
course, only justifiable in cases of extreme peril, but more than one
trainer's life has been saved by recourse to this weapon, which quickly
cows an infuriated creature which has had a taste of blood when nothing
else will avail.


I have already cited one cardinal rule recognized by all animal
workers. There is one other just as universally accepted by the
fraternity of trainers. This is, that any animal which has inflicted
injury on a trainer must be punished until completely subjugated. This
punishment must be given, if possible, by the one whom the creature has

No doubt more than one trainer who has been half killed by a
treacherous animal has been inclined to overlook this chastisement
after recovering from his injuries. This, however, is regarded as
professional treachery, for it is practically certain that the
rebellious animal that is not chastised in this manner will kill the
next man who enters its cage. To neglect to show the brute which has
injured you that you are its master is therefore, according to the
ethics of the profession, a deed of cowardice, and a sure way of
bringing disaster upon any other person having the hardihood to trust
himself in the power of an animal that has "downed" its trainer.

Of course some trainers are killed outright, and others are so disabled
in severe encounters that they are absolutely unable to continue in the
service. Then the duty of inflicting the chastisement falls upon a new
man, and you may rest assured he never looks forward to the job with
any particular pleasure. There is but one course, however, and that is
to beat the creature until it howls for mercy. Occasionally an animal
famed for its splendid performances is suddenly and without any
apparent reason retired from the program. As a performing animal is
worth many times as much as one that has not been trained, this would
seem a strange and unbusinesslike course on the part of the management.

The outsider would immediately ask: "Why not continue the performance
with this animal so long as it does not kill a man or conduct itself
more savagely than many others of its kind which have the confidence of
trainers and performers?"

The answer is very simple: The man handling the animal and knowing well
its character has been able to discern a radical change in its
disposition. He declares that the brute is no longer to be trusted, and
any wise and humane showman who receives this kind of a warning from a
reliable and efficient trainer or performer will retire the brute in
question to a cage and leave it there. On the other hand, some animals
which have tasted blood, and even "killed their man," are continued in
the service. Why? Because the trainer who goes in to chastise them
believes that he has been able to beat the animal into a permanent
state of penitence, humility and wholesome fear, and to effectually
obliterate the sense of triumph in the mind of the creature.


Occasionally a foolish and intermeddling spectator will endeavor to
show his brilliancy by experimenting with the animals. More than once
this tendency has well-nigh cost a performer his life. I recall one
instance when a performer was doing an act in a cage containing five
lions. He had just begun his work, and the lions had taken their
positions. In the middle of the cage, facing him, was one large lion,
and at either end sat two others. Of course a big crowd had collected
in front of the cage and was pressing heavily against the guard ropes.
Suddenly a countryman of the smart kind was seized with a desire to
distinguish himself and attract a little attention. Slipping inside the
ropes, he stooped down and took up the ragged little dog that was
crouching at his heels. The instant he lifted the cur up to the level
of the cage every lion gave out a roar and made a wild leap for the
yellow mongrel.


For a few moments the performer was completely lost to view, buried
underneath the writhing bodies of the infuriated lions. Of course the
animal men outside made a rush for the cage door, but before they could
reach it with their irons in hand the plucky performer was on his feet
again and fighting his own battle. A tooth or a claw had split his nose
and upper lip, and the tattered condition of his clothing indicated
that he had suffered severely. Although his face was bathed in blood,
he stood his ground and plied his rod on the heads and noses of the
growling beasts until they were momentarily driven back. But they had
tasted blood and were furious. Before he could reach the door they were
at him again, and in the onslaught his right arm and hip were
frightfully lacerated. His grit, however, was indomitable, and he
struck and jabbed right and left like a gladiator. Finally the howls of
pain from the lions revealed the fact that he was getting the upper
hand of them, and at last they were driven howling and whining into the
corners of the cage and he backed out of the door. No sooner was he
safely outside the cage than he became unconscious.

It was a good thing for the countryman whose folly had stirred up the
lions that he contrived to make his escape from the grounds before the
circus men got hold of him. This incident is simply typical of hundreds
of others perhaps more interesting and exciting. It will, however,
serve to indicate the constant perils that surround the trainer or
performer, many of which arise from sources over which he has no

I have often been asked if the training of animals does not quite
generally involve considerable cruelty. This, it seems to me, may
fairly be answered in the negative, although one exception should be
made. Though great firmness must be shown in working wild animals, and
frequent and severe chastisements are called for, there is nothing
essentially cruel in the method of training. This, however, cannot be
said of the methods generally followed by the trainers of horses.

I can never forget how forcibly and painfully this exception was
brought home to me. In company with Mr. Costello I had brought from
Texas and New Mexico a herd of beautiful pinto ponies, or bronchos.
They were handsome piebald creatures, and apparently very intelligent,
although desperately wild. From a herd of about forty we picked out
sixteen to be educated for the ring. About ten miles out of Chicago we
put up a convenient stable and engaged one of the most celebrated
trainers in the United States. In the course of a few weeks the animals
became accustomed to having men about them, and then I told the trainer
to begin his work.

I had never watched a trainer work horses for the ring, and I was
greatly interested to see how it was done. The method was so cruel that
I told the trainer if he could not invent a method which inflicted less
torture he might quit and we would have the horses sold. He had not the
ingenuity or patience to devise a more humane method, and consequently
retired from the field, leaving his assistant to work out the problem
under my directions. This we finally succeeded in doing with fair
results, but the method followed by the trainer is a more general one.


In teaching a horse to dance, the master would strike the poor animal
above the fetlock, and this would produce a painful swelling. The
result was that in a very short time the motion of the stick, in time
with the music, would cause the horse to raise its foot. Before the
swollen limb was healed the performance was repeated so frequently that
the animal did not need the incentives of fear and pain to cause him to
keep step with the music.

Jumping the rope is taught in nearly the same manner, a chain being
attached to two long sticks swinging back and forth, striking the horse
just below the knee. As a man was stationed on each side of him, the
poor horse had no way of retreat, and was compelled to jump in order to
escape the blow from the swinging bar. A horse is taught to roll an
object or to push open a door in a very simple manner, and without
cruelty. One man stands in front of the horse and another behind him,
the three being stationed in a passageway too narrow for the horse to
turn. After standing a bit in this way, the man behind the horse gently
slaps him on the back and urges him forward. Instinctively the horse
pushes against the man in front, and the latter quickly moves along. In
this manner the horse soon learns that by pushing against an object in
front of him it may readily be forced out of his way. An intelligent
spectator can always tell by the attitude of a horse toward its master
whether it has been ill treated. If fear seems to be the governing
motive it may be depended upon that the horse has been harshly dealt
with; on the other hand, the very nature of the trick performed by the
animal goes far to indicate whether fear or intelligence has been the
main factor in acquiring the accomplishment displayed. If you see an
animal open a trunk or drawer and pick out some article for which it
has been sent, you may know that this feat is the result of an appeal
to the creature's intelligence and not to its fear, for no amount of
punishment could ever teach a thing of this kind.


Ring horses are generally irritated when the rider first stands upon
their backs. Probably the action of the foot pulls the short hair; but
the irritation ceases in a short time. Riders are first trained to do
their tricks on the ground. When complete masters of themselves on the
ground they are put upon the back of a horse having an even gait and a
reliable disposition. To the performer's belt, at the back, is attached
a stout rope which runs to the end of a strong arm or beam running out
from a post set in the center of the ring. This arm is swung around by
a helper, who keeps the loose end of the rope in his hand in order to
regulate the slack and prevent the young performer from having a heavy
fall should he lose his footing. Again and again the rider is pulled up
just in time to prevent him from falling under the hoofs of his horse.
He is swung forward, dangling from the arm of the derrick, until he
regains his balance and his footing upon the back of his horse.

To describe in detail how every feat and specialty is taught would
require a volume, but on general principles it may be said that all
tricks are first learned on the ground, or at a safe and minimum
elevation. Then when the performer has attained absolute
self-confidence and is wholly without fear he is allowed to swing
higher, until he finally reaches the height required in the public


In the old days it was the general custom for the circus proprietors to
put their own children into the business, teaching them to do
everything in the acrobatic line, from bare-back riding to trapeze and
bar work and slack-rope and tight-rope walking. Many of them were also
skilled musicians and could play several instruments in the band.

At the present day many persons not familiar with the inside life of
the circus will no doubt be horrified to think that a man wealthy
enough to own a big circus and menagerie would train his sons, and
particularly his daughters, for the ring. Let me say on this score that
I could name a long list of families in which this custom prevailed,
and must say that the private and domestic life of these people was far
above that of the average families in fashionable society. Almost
invariably the members of each family were devoted to each other and
were refined and intelligent. Many of the young women of these families
married wealthy and cultured men, and retired from the circus business
to become the mistresses of refined and happy homes. Many old showmen
whose children were star performers carried accomplished teachers with
them on the road, and the children were as well educated as if the
entire time had been spent attending school.

Their training and work in the ring not only afforded them splendid
physical exercise, but taught them patience, application, alertness,
and many other valuable lessons which made their progress very rapid
when it came to their lessons from books. It is a fact worthy of notice
that the circus people are a long-lived race. I can name almost a score
of famous performers who have attained an age of more than eighty
years. This would tend to show that circus work is quite as healthy as
any other. I may add that the charge so frequently brought against
showmen, that the training of children for the circus ring is cruel, is
not well founded.

While I have seen many instances of cruelty in this connection, there
is nothing in the work itself which necessitates hardship or harshness.
In fact, quite the reverse is true.

The child is the sooner trained into an ability to do a dangerous and
daring feat through gentleness and encouragement. In other words, the
more they overcome their fear in every direction the better able are
they to swing from one trapeze to another, to walk the tight rope at a
dizzy height, or to turn somersaults from the back of a galloping



In a lifetime spent with the circus I have learned the heart of the
people. I have felt the pulse of the multitudes who have made the
history of the West. This insight into conditions of things in the West
brought me many and varied experiences, some of which were rough and
severe. They had their interesting sides, however, and many of them are
worth the telling, if for no other reason than to throw light upon the
character of the people with whom we had to deal. That the show was
appreciated by these frontiersmen there can be no doubt.

In the earlier days it was the custom to have a concert in a side tent
before and after the regular performance in the circus. At one place
where we stopped the people paid their money and went in and enjoyed
the concert; but so well pleased were they that they insisted upon a
repetition of the performance. At the point of their pistols they
compelled the poor minstrels to continue their antics nearly all night,
until ready to drop from sheer exhaustion.


At one time, while in Texas, we were doing an act called An Indian
Chase for a Wife, in which we used several guns with blank cartridges.
The act opened with a lively fusillade and the reports brought a great
crowd to the tent. The Texans appeared to come from every direction,
many of them with revolvers ready cocked. The fact that many of them
had been drinking greatly increased the perils of our situation. After
careful consideration of these facts I decided not to give a night
performance, and ordered an early supper so as to be able to load by
daylight and, if possible, get out of town before nightfall. The seats
were soon taken out and the side wall was dropped.

I sat in the cook tent, eating dinner, when a great crowd suddenly
surrounded us. The leader, who claimed to be the town marshal, had his
revolver pointed directly at my head, and I could see by the inflamed
condition of his features that he, like the rest, had been drinking
heavily. Realizing my danger, I knocked the pistol down and it went
off between my feet. This was taken as the signal for a rush toward me,
the crowd evidently thinking I had shot at the marshal. The noise
attracted the concourse that had just left the circus and they drew up
in line with revolvers cocked. A slaughter of showmen was clearly

I leaped upon a box and tried to pacify the infuriated Texans, while
receiving, at the same time, their abuse. I was entirely ignorant of
the cause of the disturbance and demanded to be informed of the reason
of the uprising. Getting no reply, I appealed to them as law-abiding
citizens, and for the first time in my life this appeal was useless.

By this time our entire force had collected, and as the show was the
"First Hippodrome" and altogether the largest circus ever in the south,
we had at least five hundred attachés, three hundred of whom were
powerful fellows and well armed. This was the first time that I had
ever thought of permitting my people to fight. Our gang was headed by
my boss canvasman, "Put." I momentarily expected the attack, but just
as I got down from the box a detective who was hired to travel with the
show rushed upon the scene and yelled: "In the name of the United
States Government, whose officer I am, I command peace!" It was
surprising to see that crowd scatter, and certainly this was a
master-stroke on the part of the detective. He earned more that day
than I ever paid the agency for his services. In ten minutes all was
calm and peaceful.


In 1859 two Philadelphia friends of mine were going to make a trip
South, and offered me big inducements to join them, which I accepted.
We started from Philadelphia, making our way slowly through the
different States, with the usual routine of wagon-show life. No event
of importance occurred until we reached Missouri. It was a most foolish
trip to undertake, for the people were then so embittered by the John
Brown raid that we were in constant danger. First came a tirade of the
fiercest abuse and this soon led into a regular knock-down fight, which
speedily developed into a shooting-scrape lasting several hours. We
were compelled to defend ourselves by every method at our command. Our
men were marshalled inside the tent and armed with long, heavy stakes
which looked like guns and were really formidable weapons. The wagons
and other available goods were grouped in a circle, and behind this
pioneer fortification the men paced with their long stakes at their
shoulders like the guns of sentries. In the dim light thrown by the
torches they certainly looked like armed men. So formidable was our
appearance the enemy thought us armed with Winchesters. By putting on
this bold front the canvasmen were able to get all the loose stuff into
the wagons, leaving the tents standing until the last. Finally these
also were taken down and loaded. Then came the most perilous
undertaking of all. To get our horses from the stables seemed at first
an absolute impossibility. It was the custom, at that time, to stable
our horses wherever space could be found for them, and as Granby was
only a small village, nearly every stable contained one or more of our
horses. We divided the men into two gangs, one of which was left to
guard the property on the grounds.

Our show was situated in the public square and was thus surrounded by
houses and stores, all of which were filled with armed men. By the dim
light we could see our enemies running from house to house with guns in
their hands. The second detachment of our men was sent to gather in the
scattered horses. And a lively time they had accomplishing that
business! Shot after shot was fired at them while the horses were being
driven into the corral. Fortunately, however, neither man nor horse was


We remained quiet until daylight, keeping constant guard, for we feared
an attack at any moment; but toward daybreak we could see that the
ranks of our enemy were thinning out. After careful deliberation I gave
the order to march. Just as the first team was leaving the square the
sharpshooters opened a vicious fire from the windows and doors of
houses and stores. Practically every shot brought down a horse. Strange
to say, we could not discover that a single man had been struck. Our
men instantly fell into line and began firing together, but as we had
only pistols the fight was against us. As our enemies were safely
concealed in stores and buildings, only a few exposing themselves to
our pistols, we fought at great odds. However, we kept up a rapid
fusillade, and under this heavy fire we managed to get out into the
open country, leaving our dead horses on the village square. Once
safely outside and beyond the range of the enemy we paused for
roll-call and found that three of our men were dead. This put the
spirit of fight into every man in the company, and there was almost an
eagerness to have another encounter.

Proceeding cautiously on our way, we came to a stream spanned by an
old-fashioned bridge. The first chariot being a very heavy one, the
bridge was carried down, throwing the wagon, horses, driver and men
into the water twenty feet below. Soon firing was again heard, and two
more horses fell. This proved my suspicion that the beams had been cut
for the purpose of wrecking us and of trapping us where we could be
slaughtered. The next shots brought several of my brave men to the
ground--dead in their tracks! The enemy, being in ambush, had us at
great disadvantage; but my men were so thoroughly aroused and so
fearless that we soon drove our assailants back. This last plucky
onslaught won the day for us, although at sad cost.

After a delay of several hours, during which we repaired the bridge, we
were again able to proceed on our way. Hardly were we fairly started
when a new difficulty was encountered in the form of big trees felled
across the roadway. This work had been cleverly done by the enemy in
order to retard our progress, and we had to stop and remove these
obstacles before we could pass. The time lost by the first attack, by
the bridge engagement and subsequent delay threw us behind a whole day.

Although the people were all anxious to see our show they had not a
friendly word for us. Frequently large crowds would force their way
into the tents, pointing a cocked revolver at the doorkeeper's head.
Finally, however, we managed to reach the Arkansas line with
comparatively small loss of life. I am surprised that we were ever able
to do so, because of the extreme bitterness which then prevailed toward
all Northerners.

At length we came to a town called Bucksnort, the scene of the hanging
described in one of Mr. Opie Read's short stories. Nearly every man at
the tavern was ready for any kind of excitement. They started the
quarrel by accusing our men of stealing their hats. A fight quickly
ensued; and we were forced again to defend ourselves by resort to arms.
At that time we were playing Mazeppa in which we used a number of dull
swords. These were instantly placed in the hands of performers and
canvasmen who knew how to wield them, and the result was a terrific
hand-to-hand encounter in which we came off victorious.

At Lickskillet, another place on our line, the principal building was a
log tavern. We put up our tents, but shortly afterward noticed several
old men with long-bladed knives cutting slits in the canvas. The
canvasmen, on seeing the tent walls slashed, vigorously protested. At
once bullets began to fly from the corner of the tavern. One of our men
was killed at the outset of this mêlée.

Previous to this episode our men had become pretty well discouraged and
would gladly have had peace, but this last outrage seemed to arouse
them to a perfect frenzy. Instead of shooting they went for the gang of
roughs with clubs, stakes and every other kind of weapon they could
find. The encounter was a terrific one. Our men knocked the desperadoes
senseless and seized their guns, and in a very few minutes we were much
better prepared to defend ourselves. I think during the battle our men
seized fully thirty rifles. Shotguns were seldom used in this section
of the country. Most unexpectedly we succeeded in getting some
recruits. A few Northern men who had come into the place to settle
permanently offered their services for our protection.


In early days many of the young countrymen would be seized with a
desire to become "actors," as they called the acrobats. This led the
circus performers into the scheme of selling the ambitious wights
something to make them limber. A big trade of this kind was carried on
by selling an oil made from very cheap grease, the innocent victims
being thoroughly convinced that they would come out full-fledged
"actors" by the use of this lubricant. Frequently some young fellow
would apply for the position of student to the clown. When he presented
himself for tuition, the paint prepared for his make-up would be mixed
with grease and thoroughly rubbed on his face and limbs. He would then
be dressed in an old pair of tights and made to enter the ring, where
he would be ordered by the ringmaster to "act up." He would be so
embarrassed at this demand that he could not speak, whereupon the
ringmaster would lay the whip upon his practically naked limbs, telling
him that it was the only way by which to learn the acrobatic art.

Another trick was to toss the students to the clown in a strong blanket
of canvas. I can now point to an ex-member of Congress who was thus
tossed until sore and exhausted.

Among the various performances on our circus program one feat was that
of placing a large stone on a man's breast, as he lay on his back, and
then striking the stone with a sledge-hammer so as to break the rock.
The audience was invited to furnish a man to break this stone, and
although one would naturally suppose that such an act would hurt the
performer on whose breast the stone rested, he would, in fact, receive
no shock whatever. But one day, while exhibiting at a small town, a
drunken countryman, in attempting to break the stone with a
sledge-hammer, missed his mark entirely, and the poor fellow received a
blow that nearly killed him. He was obliged to lie in bed and have
medical aid.

The following day we were compelled to move on to the next town, as
advertised, which was a keen rival of the village we were just leaving.
Our principal actor being unable to perform, we came near being mobbed,
for this rival town did not relish the idea that its competitor had
witnessed features which it could not see. All our remonstrances were
in vain; and we were finally compelled to allow the injured man to quit
his bed and actually go through the performance. These rough countrymen
would certainly have kept their word had we not complied with their
wishes, and it would have fared very badly with us. However, the sick
man went through his part as well as he could, and received the full
approbation of the audience.

From this town we proceeded to a large Indian encampment. There we
obtained permits from John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, and
erected our tents. The government had just made an Indian payment to
this tribe, all the money being in twenty-dollar gold pieces. Neither
the circus treasurer nor any one in the community could change these
coins for money of smaller denomination, and we were almost in despair.
Meantime some of the Indians climbed into a tree, seated themselves
comfortably in the branches, and prepared to witness the entire
performance free of charge. This exasperated me, and, seizing an ax, I
commenced hewing at the tree. Instantly I found myself the center of an
incipient riot, as there was a law in the Territory forbidding a white
person to cut down a tree. John Ross, however, quickly came to my
rescue and saved my scalp by an adroit appeal to his people.

We adopted the plan of admitting the Indians in squads, charging them a
dollar each and taking a double-eagle from every twentieth man. The
Indians seemed to enjoy the performance hugely, but were highly excited
by the tricks of the magician, whom they regarded as a supernatural


At a certain town in Missouri a laughable circumstance occurred. Here,
for some time, a revival had been in progress. The revivalists had been
abusing the circus, its surroundings and influences, and had tried to
prevent us from exhibiting. However, we secured a lot adjoining the
church and opened our doors. John Robinson, the chief proprietor of our
show, was one of the best equestrians that ever lived, and at that time
was introducing what he called his Demon Act. In this act he dressed
and made up as nearly as possible like a demon. While riding his four
horses at breakneck pace around the ring, he would utter a series of
the most ferocious yells imaginable, at the same time working himself
up to a great pitch of excitement, until, as the auditors frequently
expressed it, he "looked like his Satanic Majesty himself."

On this occasion, at the close of his act, he jumped from his horses,
ran out of the dressing-room and boldly entered the church, exclaiming
in the stentorian voice for which he was famed: "I am victorious! I am
victorious!" The effect was magical. The revivalist had been eloquently
exhorting on the subject of the Prince of Darkness, and the overwrought
congregation took but one glance at the theatrical Satan, and then,
leaping madly through the windows and doors of the little church, broke
for the woods.

At Council Bluffs, Iowa, we had exhibited to a large afternoon
audience. The day was extremely hot and sultry, and in the evening,
just as the people were seating themselves on the benches, a cyclone
struck us without the slightest warning. In a twinkling the poles,
seats and canvas were being hurled through the air in all directions.
At that time we used an inflammable liquid for illuminating the tent,
and this ignited and added the horror of fire to the scene.


In those days our menagerie was exhibited in the same tent used for our
circus performance, the seats being arranged on one side and the animal
cages on the other. Imagine the scene! Several thousand terrorized and
screaming men, women and children rushed wildly in all directions, the
combustible tents and paraphernalia were in flames, and above all could
be heard the roar of the terror-stricken animals, beating madly against
their iron bars. Two of the largest dens had been placed together and
the partition bars withdrawn, so as to form one big cage, wherein the
lions and tigers were exercised by their keepers. The fire burned the
woodwork so that this double cage came apart and liberated the
ferocious animals. These lions and tigers escaped among the people and
added a new element to the general pandemonium of terror. Words cannot
convey an adequate idea of that awful moment.

As the tents and cages slowly burned out, total darkness came upon us.
In the excitement, one of the men in the audience happened to jump on a
crouching lion and yelled that he was in the clutches of the beast;
however, the animal was as thoroughly frightened as the man. Some of
the animals were loose all night, and one Royal Bengal tiger
disappeared altogether. No trace whatever was found of his remains when
the debris was examined, and he probably escaped to the nearest woods.

Near to the tent was one of those prickly osage hedges, and into this
hundreds of people ran, becoming so entangled in the thorny network
that it was almost impossible for them to extricate themselves. Many
were badly lacerated by the brambles. There was no sleep in Council
Bluffs that night.

Several of our wagons disappeared and one carriage was never afterward
found. Four or five horses were lifted and blown into a lot some
distance from where they had been stabled. To add still further to the
misery that prevailed, the catastrophe ended with a cloud-burst and the
earth was fairly deluged, so that in a short time what little remained
undestroyed by wind and flame was floating around in a sea of water.
Dense darkness prevailed and nothing could be done till dawn. It was
then found that the cyclone had done even more damage to the city than
we had at first supposed. Though the circus was a complete wreck, it
was learned that both the city and its suburbs had suffered severely,
and it was considered providential that the performance had attracted
so great a concourse of the people from their homes.


When we exhibited in Kansas the country was in such a state of terror,
resulting from the "border warfare," that all the towns and villages
had organized military companies. At each camping place we were obliged
to join these home guards, for protection. One day, while we were
exhibiting at Lawrence, a detachment of militia encamped about a mile
from us, the posts and guards surrounding the entire city. I had with
me a friend from my old home at Delavan, Wisconsin. He was a merchant
and had never seen any of the hardships of the camp or of circus life,
and all this rough experience was new to him.

As we were obliged to travel through the country for weeks without
daring to take off our clothes, I had a wagon snugly covered and this
served as a sort of sleeping berth. In this wagon my friend and I spent
our nights. At our feet slept a faithful watch dog. On this particular
night we were sound asleep, when the dog made a sudden lunge, jumping
upon us and instantly awakening us. The moon was hid behind a cloud,
and it was, for the moment, very dark. As I jumped to my feet, I
indistinctly saw what appeared to me to be a body of men coming towards
us. I fired several shots from the big pistols I always carried swung
from my belt; but still the mass came forward. I soon heard a most
pitiful wail of grief, and then I discovered that I had shot into a
herd of elephants which had stampeded.

The firing, together with the noise, alarmed the militia around the
city, who, thinking the border ruffians were upon us, came to our
assistance. It was some time before I could convince them of the real
state of affairs, as the elephants had made a wild escape and
consternation reigned. The militia hunted for the men who fired the
guns, threatening dire vengeance for alarming the post, but after a
full explanation we succeeded in pacifying them. Then we had a long
chase after the stampeded elephants, which were finally captured.


One of the most exciting and amusing episodes connected with my career
as a showman is that which passed into Gotham history as "the bear hunt
on Fifth Avenue." And certainly nothing could be more strange and
picturesque than a hot chase after a ferocious polar bear along this
aristocratic thoroughfare!

In 1873 there were no polar bears in America, and I thought it would be
a good stroke of business to obtain some of these beautiful and
imposing animals for my menagerie. Therefore I sent an expedition to
the Arctic waters to capture a pair. My men finally succeeded in
landing two enormous polars in New York. In the process of shifting
them from the shipping-box one of these monsters made his escape, and
started on a run down the middle of Fifth Avenue. His course was marked
by general consternation. Children playing on the streets, seeing an
immense white bear lumbering toward them at full speed, screamed and
fled in every direction for shelter; horses, frightened at this unusual
spectacle, became unmanageable and ran away; nurse-maids, wheeling
their small charges, were stricken helpless with terror, and even the
street dogs fled howling down the cross streets and into business
houses. Everywhere disorder and terror reigned supreme; the streets
became suddenly deserted, and one would have supposed that a plague had
instantly depopulated the city. The police were called out from every
adjacent station as soon as it became known that a white bear was loose
in the streets of New York. The poor animal, unaccustomed to the
strange medley of metropolitan civilization, was more frightened than
those who fled before him.


Finally, by the aid of the police and some of the braver citizens, the
beast was driven into a basement of a private residence, and there
shot. Had the people only realized it, the creature could easily have
been captured alive; but fear reigned in every heart, from the child to
the policeman, and the latter would not consider anything save instant
death to the bear. The animal was very valuable and had cost me a large
sum of money, not only for its capture but also for its transportation,
and I was exceedingly sorry to lose him in this way. I considered
myself exceedingly fortunate, however, to escape as easily as I did,
for had the bear done any harm I should have had to pay heavy damages.
No person fortunate enough to witness the tumult of that exciting scene
can ever forget the bear hunt on Fifth Avenue!


At one time certain towns in Pennsylvania were greatly dreaded by all
showmen, from the fact that the "tough" element there predominated, and
rarely did a circus escape without a pitched battle with these
desperadoes. Mahanoy City was one of the worst of these towns, and on
my last visit there nothing but the sound "horse sense" of one of our
trained animals saved the show from a conflict the result of which
might have been deplorable. I had wired my agent, weeks before, to drop
this town from the list, but he had written back that, under favorable
circumstances, we were sure of taking about $10,000 there, and
therefore, in accordance with my instructions, the town had been

We had a fair afternoon's business, and at night, judging from the
appearance of the house, we ought to have had at least $5,000 in the
treasury. But, as usual in that town, the toughs had simply forced
their way in without paying, and, as a consequence, only about $800 had
been taken. On the outside were several hundred hoodlums clamoring for
a fight, and I am bound to say that "Old Put," our boss canvasman, and
his faithful followers were anxious for the same means of satisfaction,
and only refrained from an outbreak because they knew that instant
dismissal from my employ would follow any attempt on their part to take
the initiative in any trouble.

At last, however, a fight did come off, and a hot one it was, too!
Right in the midst of it one of my horses, which had been trained to
fire off a cannon from its back, got loose and, fully accoutred,
galloped into the thick of the mélêe. The creature seized the strap
which operated the trigger and began firing blank cartridges in every
direction. If ever a mob of toughs was frightened it was then! They
stopped not upon the order of their going, but fairly flew in all

One of them afterward told a policeman that they could fight any gang
of showmen that ever traveled, but when a horse commenced to unload on
them with a cannon, he knew it was time to quit.



Nothing can afford a better idea of the variety and picturesqueness of
a showman's life than the medley of odd incidents, of strange
experiences and homely happenings that crowd the thought of a veteran
when in a reminiscent mood. It is under this kind of inspiration that I
have jotted down, in this scrappy and haphazard way, the episodes which
sufficiently impressed me at the time of their occurrence to claim
frequent rehearsal when talking over the "old days" with other pioneers
of the tent and the ring. It is the clowns who in one way or another
furnish most material for anecdotes, and the greatest clown America
ever saw was Dan Rice, who at one time was the most famous circus
performer in America, and, with the exception of John Robinson, the
most daring. I have never met a more nervy man; he was without an equal
in trying emergencies. He would face a mob at any time and under any
circumstances. Besides being a natural fighter he was a natural orator.
He had a sonorous, penetrating voice, his enunciation was clear and
distinct, and he knew the secret of flattering and delighting his
auditors. Dan had many competitors for the patronage of the river
towns, the most prominent of whom were two veteran showmen who owned a
floating palace. The "Palace" was simply a large boat fitted up as an
opera house with the most elegant appointments. It would seat several
hundred people and was provided with a complete stage and elaborate
sets of scenery. This was towed by a tug called the "James Raymond," on
which all the performers roomed and took their meals. They had,
besides, a steamer called the "Banjo," on which they gave a minstrel


Dan had formerly been "featured" as one of their attractions; but, some
trouble arising, he had left them and started in business on his own
account. He experienced the usual ups and downs of a showman's life,
finally "went broke," and was at last cleaned out to what he boldly
announced as "Dan Rice's One-Horse Show." With this little affair he
courageously fought his former associates and did a large business.
During the performances he was in the habit of singing a song entitled
My One-Horse Show, which took the popular fancy and materially helped
him. In this song he told how the opposition had placed false buoys in
the river, thereby misleading his pilots and throwing him on sand bars
where his craft stuck for days.

For the information of those unacquainted with river travel I will say
that buoys are placed by the government in dangerous parts of the river
to point out the only safe channel. Now, whether or not the opposition
was really guilty of this trick, Dan's verses gained him the sympathy
of the people, and with that sympathy came their dollars. In fact, to
such an extent did Dan work upon the sympathies of the people that, at
many points, they actually refused to allow the opposition boats to
land. At some of these places the opposition had themselves incurred
the displeasure of the people by touching at the landing only long
enough to receive their audiences, and then going into the middle of
the river to give their performances, thus avoiding the payment of the
license fee.

This lasted through the winter, and when summer came both shows took to
their tents and traveled toward New York State. There Dan's enemies
succeeded on some charge or other in getting him in jail. While in his
cell he composed the song "Blue Eagle Jail," in which he described the
jailer, whom he disliked, as "Dot-and-Go-One," from the fact of his
having a wooden leg. This song made the one-legged jailer notorious all
over the country.

One thing I must say for Dan Rice: He was the only original clown I
ever heard--with the single exception of Dilly Fay. The latter was an
erratic individual who actually became a clown that he might save money
to complete his studies in Paris. Fay was educated and original, but
lacked the physical power and deep voice of Rice. I never heard of Fay
after he started for Paris, but presume he never reëntered the ring.


Once when I was with Dan Rice on the river circus we showed at Memphis.
At this place a certain fellow was loud in his denunciation of Dan and
the show. He was a source of great annoyance to the showman and had
also made himself very unpopular by declaiming against slavery. In
retaliation Dan entered the ring and returned the compliment in kind.
He capped the climax by singing a song in which he described his enemy
as playing cards with a negro on a log, and so boldly was this done
that the people believed it and the fellow became so exasperated that
he threatened to shoot Dan. The clown, however, defied him, and
continued ridiculing him until the man was actually obliged to leave
the city in a hurry.

Dan also had trouble at Yazoo City, Mississippi. He had, it appears, on
a former visit, flogged a prominent man there, and the latter had sworn
to shoot him on sight. One night when Dan was clowning in the ring the
prominent citizen entered and drew his revolver to kill. A plucky
bystander, however, knocked the iron from his hand and prevented
bloodshed. The scene that followed I shall never forget. Dan stood
undaunted in the ring, called the man a coward and dared him to shoot.
His audience went into ecstacies over such an exhibition of bravery and
applauded to the echo. Whereupon Dan, stimulated to further efforts,
poured forth a torrent of the most stinging denunciation of cowards
that ever fell from mortal lips. I have often wondered where Dan picked
up such a command of language.


At that time he was not an educated man, although years after, when
visiting him at his magnificent house at Girard, Pa., I found that he
had a well-stocked private library, and he had certainly become an
exceedingly well-read man.


My last experience with Dan Rice when he was in the circus business was
at Elkhart, Ind. It was a very stormy day during the war. The weather
was too windy to permit the hoisting of the usual flags, and one
pompous young fellow, inflated with conceit, appointed himself a
committee and visited Dan, demanding that the flags be hoisted. He
charged that Dan had made secession speeches in the South. With an ugly
mob at his heels the fellow declared that if the flags were not hoisted
he would burn the whole outfit. Dan truthfully told the crowd that he
had already erected, at Girard, Pa., a monument to the Union soldiers;
that he owned more flags than the whole city of Elkhart, and that he
would show them if they desired; but he absolutely refused to hoist a
stitch of bunting upon such a demand. Threats and arguments were alike
powerless to move him from his stand. I thought him rather foolish, in
those exciting times, and there appeared to me great danger in his

Dan, however, mastered the situation. He publicly announced that at the
night show he would give a full history of the leader of the mob, and
did so with a vengeance. He had learned by careful inquiries something
of the character of this fellow, who was a cashier in a bank, and at
the evening performance, and in the actual presence of the man and his
associates, Dan mounted a stool and gave his enemy such a verbal
castigation as few persons have ever received. As he progressed in his
speech he waxed eloquent, and in a marvelously deep, clear and
penetrating voice pictured the vices and foibles of this "patriotic"
cashier, until the audience was ready to mob the man. Suddenly a rush
was made to where he had been sitting. But he was gone and the eloquent
showman was a complete victor.

That night I roomed at the hotel where Rice was stopping, and in the
morning he accompanied me to the depot, to see me off for my home in
the West. While waiting there the cashier appeared and begged Dan to
retract his assertions of the night before, declaring that otherwise he
would be run out of town. Dan replied that if he did not immediately
leave him he would receive the worst thrashing of his life--and Dan
would have kept his word, to the letter, had not the fellow beat a
quick retreat. I saw Rice but once after that time, but always regarded
him as a prince of the circus ring.

At one time we started our show through Kentucky, where we did a
splendid business. On this journey through the South our horses were
all caught in a fire and so charred and burned that we had to shoot
many of them. In Mississippi we were greatly troubled and delayed by
the muddy roads. We were three days going a distance of only eighteen
miles. At one point, where there was only one house, our tent was
delayed on account of the deep mud, and we were forced to show without
it, putting up the seats in the form of a circle, thus making a ring in
which the performance was given. The people could see the performance
without paying, but nearly all of them had principle enough to pay. A
few ruffians, however, began abusing the showmen, and a genuine fight
ensued, which was a repetition of most of the others, and some of the
toughs were badly hurt. Our men had all gone to the farmhouse to bed,
and I was alone on the grounds to look after my property, when, after
midnight, a crowd began to gather and suddenly surrounded me, shoving
the muzzles of their pistols and guns in my face. This crowd hung about
until daylight, and I pleaded so heartily that they did not shoot. The
fact that I was then little more than a boy in years was, I think, the
only reason I was not instantly shot by the ruffians.

When our company began to gather in the morning these ruffians left,
but I shall never forget that night sitting there surrounded by a
half-drunken mob, in a drizzling fall of rain. I was completely
exhausted and half frozen, and never before nor since was I so glad to
see daylight come.

This trip led us through Georgia, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina.
In those States we frequently traveled at night, and sometimes all
night, illuminating our way by setting fire to the patches of gum on
the pine trees at the spots where they had been "blazed" for their sap.
In the mountains of North Carolina we encountered the "clay eaters." I
was assured that they subsisted to a great extent upon a certain kind
of clay which appears to be able to sustain life. The reader can
imagine the character and intelligence of these beings. There was also,
in a certain region, a strange people who held regular monthly fairs
where they met to barter. They were said to be descendants of a certain
Scottish clan, who, when they first came to this country, were fairly
well civilized, but instead of settling in the fertile soils and
lowlands, took up their homes in the mountains, because the latter
reminded them of their native country. Here they became more and more
isolated until, at length, they were governed solely by their own
outlandish laws and customs, knowing nothing of the usages of
civilization. Outside of the clay-eating districts these mountain
people grew to an enormous stature and possessed great strength. I
found them very hospitable, always treating their guests with marked


When we went to New Orleans to close up and pay off a show that had
been "flooded out" in one of my earliest ventures, it was our intention
to take the New Orleans company to New York, but I found it
impracticable. I thereupon called all the members to my rooms at the
hotel and explained to them the situation. I proposed to pay them all
off and let them remain idle until the opening in the following spring.
To this all agreed save two, our principal riders, a woman and a man.
These positively refused to make any compromise. The woman snapped her
fingers in my face and said: "No, I was engaged for a year and you will
have to pay me my salary just the same. You are able to do it, and do
it you shall." The man took precisely the same stand, and as they were
not only our star riders, but also the best equestrians in America, I
was at a loss to know what to do.

I took a little time for deliberation, and learned that both
malcontents were very much in love with each other. This immediately
helped me to determine what course to pursue. I first sent for the
woman and told her to get ready at once to go to my farm in Wisconsin,
where I intended to build a ring around a tree, to furnish her with a
ringmaster, and to allow her to earn her salary by giving two
performances daily to the birds and squirrels. She claimed that her
contract did not call for such performances, but a reference to the
contract proved that she was to ride in any part of America I might
designate. Then I sent for the man and told him that he and his horses
must take the next steamer for New York City. He refused to do this,
but I quickly proved to him that his contract with us, though calling
for transportation for himself and horses, did not specify of what
nature that transportation should be; I had a perfect right to send him
by sailing vessel if I chose. His refusal to go of course canceled his
contract, and I accordingly left him. The woman expressed her
willingness to go to Wisconsin, but I knew she could not leave her
sweetheart--and I was right. In less than half an hour they proposed a
compromise, but I refused. Finally I agreed to take the woman to New
York and pay her half salary until the season opened.

Among the many men employed with the Barnum show was one large,
handsome fellow who was superintendent of the equestrian department. As
showmen are fond of having nicknames, some one called this man
"Barnum." The poor fellow was wholly illiterate and tolerably fond of
whisky, consequently the name was decidedly inappropriate, but, as a
nickname will, it stuck to him hard and fast. One day, while Mr. Barnum
was visiting the show, his namesake was lying asleep outside one of the
horse tents on a pile of hay, and one of the hands, desiring to waken
him, shouted at the top of his voice: "Barnum! Barnum! Wake up!" Mr.
Barnum had been a witness to this scene and he came to me in a
tremendous rage, saying: "Have you no respect for me at all?"

"What do you mean, Mr. Barnum?"

"What do I mean?" he replied. "Why, I wish to know your intent in
calling that drunken, illiterate brute by my name."

Of course, after an explanation, Mr. Barnum's rage cooled, but I think
he was never so much annoyed in his life. It well illustrates how
thoroughly he hated the vice of drunkenness. After that episode strict
injunctions were given to refrain from calling the man "Barnum."

On one occasion when we had run to Joplin, Mo., the train was divided
into three sections, the first having been switched on a siding to wait
for the other two. I was sitting at the hotel, eating breakfast, when
the superintendent of the road came in and announced, "I am afraid you
will not show to-day."

"Why not?" I replied.

"Well," said he, "the section of your train that has already pulled out
has run wild down a steep grade over an immense trestle with nothing
but zigzags and reverse curves. We have to run over them with our
passenger trains at a very slow speed, and, as your cars are top-heavy,
I can see nothing but complete destruction for them."

"Well," said I, "can't you send an engine after the runaway section?"

He promised to do this and, as there was nothing more I could do, I
finished my breakfast at leisure.


The locomotive went out and caught the train. It had passed safely over
the trestle and had reached a heavy ascending grade. Here it naturally
lost its momentum and began to back down the grade toward the city. I
was unaware, at that time, that a passenger train was then due and that
the superintendent fully expected a collision to take place. I can
assure my readers that I drew a long breath when the operator looked up
from his key and remarked: "Thank the Lord! Number Six, the passenger,
is an hour late!" Thus a dreadful catastrophe was prevented. Two men
were asleep on one of the platform cars of the circus train, and one of
them, in the stress of excitement, jumped off and was instantly dashed
to pieces one hundred feet below. The man who stuck to the train was
saved, although nearly frightened to death.

Mr. Barnum, although never particularly nervous about accidents,
usually refused to travel in the same train with me, giving as his
reason that should we both be killed the show would be without a head.
Really he regarded me as something of a "hoodoo." In the course of one
trip from New Orleans to New York we were compelled to ride together,
and on that occasion the sleeper caught fire and was very nearly
destroyed. Fortunately this happened in the daytime.

Not only was Mr. Barnum quick to grasp a situation, but was also ready
at repartee. Once, at the hotel at Block Island, the dining-room was
crowded with people from all over America. One of the guests was a
somewhat notorious Mayor of a well-known Western city. During a partial
lull in the conversation, this politician had the temerity to bawl out:
"Barnum, what is going to be your next humbug? Your last one, the White
Elephant, was a failure!" Mr. Barnum, in a voice equally loud and
without a moment's hesitation, replied:

"I think my next humbug will be the present Mayor of your city! I have
been twice Senator of my State and three times Mayor of Bridgeport; but
from what I have learned of politicians and their methods in the West I
have come to the conclusion that I am now in a far more respectable
business--that of showman--in which no man is either corrupted or


The people who were patrons of the circus in early days were very
"gullible." Every showman of ripe years has in his memory incidents
from his own experience which fully corroborate this statement. The
old-time show was an "event" of large importance in the life of the
small village, no matter whether that village were hid among the hills
or were a landmark upon the open plains--in either instance it was as
effectually separated from the rest of mankind as if it had been an
isle at sea. The circus, to the villagers and the farmers, was an
unending cause of wonder and curiosity.

Strange reports floated ahead and behind the circus--and, for the most
part, were believed. The exact size of the coming wonder was a subject
for animated discussion. Of course the people did not believe all that
the billboards said; but they believed enough to credit the coming show
with being two or three times as large as it really was in fact. When a
circus proved to be smaller than the popular estimate, it was said to
have split or divided, one section going to some other "small" place.
As these rumors were never contradicted by the showmen they spread
rapidly and the circus became near kin to some fabulous, hydra-headed
sea serpent--a creature which has a habit of taking on more heads and
bristling manes every time it is seen. As a matter of fact it would
have been exceedingly impracticable to have divided a show and, so far
as my knowledge goes this was never done. Showmen did not deny these
reports for the simple reason that they had no time to answer
questions. Many inquiries had hardened them, and, if they ever relented
in this particular it was only to fill their auditors' ears with bigger
yarns because that course was the easiest way to get rid of the
questioners. In explanation of this I may say that the questions which
are "fired" at showmen in every town would go a long way toward filling
a volume. Showmen in the early days had a habit of agreeing, without
hesitation, to every story advanced by patrons. For example, I remember
that, on coming into a certain town we selected our lot and began to
pitch our tent. During the process of the work one of our men--a
strong, burly Irishman--was approached by an angry countryman who
demanded to know what had become of his calf which, it appeared, had
been stolen from him during the run of the last circus which had
stopped at the town. Of course the countryman had laid the blame at the
door of the circus men and, although ours was an entirely different
show, it was evident that all circuses looked alike to him, and that he
believed them all to belong to a strongly knit brotherhood whose
mission was for the accumulation of dollars and, incidentally, the
promotion of general deviltry. He threatened our men with many things
if they did not disclose the whereabouts of his lost calf. "Well," said
big Pat, when the countryman had ceased his tirade; "now you spake av
it, Oi balave Oi do remember thot calf. We took her down here to
Jonesville and--domn me--she's a foine big cow now."


In the days of the wagon shows--particularly before and just after the
war--the advance agent of the show usually had many experiences to
relate. Sometimes, when the show was traveling in the South, this
genius would come upon some old negro who, with ax over his shoulder,
was on his way to the woods to cut timber. When the agent came up he
would call out to the negro:

"Uncle, where you going?"

"Ise gwine to chop fiah wood, boss," would be the reply.

Then the agent would say: "Did you hear about the fire last night? We
had a big fire last night, and all our animals got away from us and
took to the woods. They're running wild down there now, elephants,
tigers, lions--they all got away."

Having finished relating this alarming bit of news the agent would
reach under the seat of his buggy, take up the halter and say: "Here,
Uncle, take this halter and if you see any of those animals catch them
and take them to the tent--we will pay you a good reward for each and
every animal." By this time the whites of the negro's eyes were the
most prominent parts of his countenance.

"No, sah," he always managed to say as he backed off; "Ise not gwine t'
dem woods dis day."

"All right," the agent would respond, and, taking the reins, would
start on his way. One of our agents had reached this point in the
program when he heard the negro calling to him. He immediately reined
in his horse and looked back.

"Say, boss," called the old uncle, "what animal have de mos' preference
fo' a colored man--a lion or a tiger?"

Whenever our advance wagons came upon a field in which the negroes were
picking cotton the negroes would immediately be observed to edge toward
the fence so that they could see the show go by. Then our men would
advance on horseback and cry out lustily:

"Look out boys, de elephants am comin'; climb yore trees--dem elephants
get you shore!" The cotton-pickers seldom needed a second warning, but,
as one man, they would turn and make for the other end of the field as
if they were possessed of demons. They were a very superstitious and
impressionable race. The managers of our show had great difficulty in
preventing the candy boys from filling the negroes up with ghost
stories, hoodoo stories and the like, a course that tended to scare
them away and reduce our receipts. One day a young fellow, an attaché
of our show, went up to a group of plantation negroes and commenced to
go through a series of outlandish contortions and crazy antics. Finally
one of the negroes asked:

"What you all doin'?"

"Now keep still," he replied, "I'm hoodooin' that girl there." Finally
the girl herself thought she was hoodooed and fell to the ground
kicking and screaming. The rest of the negroes did not care to linger
in so dangerous a quarter.


In the early days in the South the country was so sparsely settled that
we did not content ourselves with showing in the towns, but were in the
habit of putting our tents up on any large plantation which appeared to
be centrally located for a region in which we believed we could make a
good "stand." It was invariably our custom to show in the afternoon. In
the evening the attachés of the show were quite apt to be invited to a
plantation dance or "hoedown." The "acting" at these impromptu
gatherings was of no mean order. The negroes would bring out all their
finery and there was sure to be a "Miss Sue" or a "Miss Lucinda" to
carry off the honors.

Many people--and this was particularly true in the South--entertained
the notion that circuses secured most of their performers by stealing
children. One time when we were showing down in Texas an incident
occurred which will illustrate under what strong suspicion we were held
in certain localities. It so happened that at the time we were showing
in a certain Texas town, a little colored chap named "Josh" became
lost. Of course there was a great hubbub over this incident, and we
were immediately blamed for having a hand in the matter. A thorough
search of all our belongings, however, failed to reveal to the angry
inhabitants the whereabouts of the missing boy. At intervals during the
excitement the boy's mother, a great negro "Mammy," went about among
her people moaning and wailing:

"Ain't dat horrible, ain't dat sorrowful, the old showman done stole
little Josh away from his paw an' his maw." This incensed the crowd and
for the time being we were in imminent danger of being torn limb from
limb by the enraged crowd. Finally, however, the missing boy turned up,
and, to make amends, the old negress went about exclaiming: "Little
Josh done got home; little Josh done got home!"


Just after the war many of the Southern people regarded a "Yankee" as
an unending wonder. They had heard so much of Yankee ingenuity that
they came to regard a Northerner as a curiosity. We conceived the
scheme of utilizing our knowledge of this fact to swell our receipts.
We advertised that we had with our show a number of Yankees from
various States. The crier dilated upon the wonderful ingenuity of the
Yankee and told the people that if they had any old clocks or other
things which needed fixing that they might bring them and watch the
Yankees fix them. Our first attempt to put this scheme into operation
turned out somewhat disastrously. It was Saturday and the people
flocked to see the Yankees. When they saw, however, that Yankees are a
good deal like other people we narrowly escaped a riot. The attachés of
our show got into trouble with the quarrelsome element of the crowd and
ended by boasting that they were all Yankees. Only by the exercise of
great diplomacy was a combat avoided.


As I stated in the beginning of this chapter, our patrons at this early
day were very gullible. At one place the people had a great curiosity
to know how the circus performers slept at night. After filling these
questioners up with outlandish stories the attachés of the show decided
to have a little fun at their expense. To bring this about they bribed
the hotel keeper to let them have for a sleeping room one of the front
rooms which faced the streets. When it became rumored about the town
that the circus men would occupy this room a crowd composed of the
curious assembled on the sidewalk outside. When night came each and
every showman stood on his head. They ranged themselves in rows and the
countrymen who caught glimpses of them were told that this was the way
all showmen slept.

The advertising agents for a large circus of the present day would, no
doubt, get a good deal of amusement from the tales of the experiences
of the advertising men who traveled in advance of the old-time wagon
show. One time when I was traveling with a show owned by a man named
Yankee Robinson we discovered that we were almost entirely out of
show-bills. We were for a time in a serious quandary--but we were not
to be downed in this manner. We finally hired a "democrat" wagon and
with a single bill in our possession started out to bill the country
from which we hoped to draw our patrons. At the gate of every farmer
we stopped and called loudly. When the king of the soil appeared we
would hand him the bill and allow him to read it; then we would take
the bill and ride on to the next house. It was tedious work, but we
succeeded in drawing our crowd and felt repaid for our efforts.


It is doubtful if there was to be found a more interesting character
than the circus crier in the days of the wagon shows. He was often a
man of ability--many men who were circus criers have attained
substantial success in the world of affairs. They were chosen for this
position largely on account of their good "talking" qualities, and
were, as a rule, resourceful and given to witty jests. The show once
had a "Little Man" whom they exhibited as Tom Thumb. He was in reality
a boy of about eleven years of age. But he was fitted out with a little
carriage and ponies, and filled the bill very well. When the crier took
his stand in front of the tent he would call out:

"Ladies and gentlemen; we have little Tom Thumb inside. More than this,
we have the carriage which was presented to him by her Majesty, Queen
Victoria of England. Ladies and gentlemen, Queen Victoria gave this
superb outfit to him with the words: 'Here, Tom Thumb, is the little
carriage, together with the horses, together with the harness--here,
Thomas, take it. Take these to America; show it to your countrymen.
Tell the people of America that it cost three thousand pounds in our
money or $15,000 in their money. Take it, Thomas, take it.'"


Showmen were often given names for the city or county in which they
were hired. Thus "Cincinnati Bill" or "Chicago Jim" would not only
serve as well as any other name, but they possessed this advantage,
that they indicated in a breath where Bill or Jim had been picked up by
the circus. When the show was touring Texas we chanced to hire a man in
Bastrop county. Of course we called him Bastrop. He proved to be an
"all around" handy man, and, while he had no professional training for
any particular feat or "turn," he proved a capable man in whatever
position he was placed. One of his early duties was that of driving;
but there came a time when he was given a chance to distinguish
himself. After we had "opened our doors" for business in a certain town
our crier was taken sick and we could think of no better man to take
his place than Bastrop. Our position was particularly trying from the
fact that an opposition show had started up soon after we had got under
way, and there promised to be some lively music between us before we
left the town. For some reason or other the opposition show seemed to
be doing the biggest business and we were unable to account for it save
by the fact that they had a big snake which seemed to attract the
crowds. In every crowd of countrymen visiting a circus there is sure to
be some sympathetic chap who is quick to catch the pathos of a thing of
this kind and try to console the one that is being worsted. There was
such an one in this crowd. This man came over to Bastrop, stood
watching the latter's lips and drinking in the marvelous flow of words
that proceeded therefrom. Finally he blurted out: "Wall, you don't
appear to be gettin' em as fast as that young man over there."

"No," replied Bastrop, "I don't because I'm no d---- Yankee liar. But
I've got the best show. I am from Bastrop, Bastrop County, Texas. I
have got a human family--Master Eastwood of Ohio, the lonely star that
is now shining for you. If I had the merits and qualifications of
Master Eastwood [Eastwood could write and Bastrop couldn't] I would now
fill the President's chair. Then I have the "Little Man" with the
chariot and horses presented by Queen Victoria. Then I have the tall
man. The great curiosity is why one should _grow_ so small and the
other _remain_ so large. Why, ever since Adam, people have been of
the human family, and if it were not for the human family where would
the show be?" This sort of talk given out with a showman's gusto would
be sure to draw a crowd.


In the days when one large tent answered for both the circus and
menagerie we once met with an experience that seemed to reverse all the
laws relative to the handling of animals. We were stopping at a small
place in Indiana. The crowd which we had managed to get under the
canvas was a large one, and they were taking in the show with all the
eyes they had. Suddenly one of our leopards, made uneasy by something
or other, managed to make his escape from the cage. With a snarling cry
the creature ran into the ring where the ponies were doing their
"turn." The presence of this ferocious animal almost threw the crowd
into hysterics--women screamed and men shouted; some of them made a
hasty exit under the canvas wall. Meanwhile the leopard had crouched
for a spring. All the wildness of the jungles seemed to have returned
to his veins and shone out in the flashes from his cat-like eyes in a
way to send terror to the heart of the veteran trainer. The crowd
seemed to hold its breath for an instant as the critical moment came.
With a peculiar scream the creature leaped into the air and landed
squarely upon the back of the nearest pony. At this exciting juncture a
drunken countryman was seen making his way toward the ring. People
shouted to him, but to no avail; the fellow swaggered on into the ring
and made straight for the leopard. The pony was rearing frantically and
crying piteously. As the madman ran he grabbed up a whip which had been
lying in the ring and approached the leopard with upraised hand. The
creature was too busily engaged with the pony to take notice of its new
enemy. Soon the air was filled with the sound of resounding blows, that
fell upon the back of the leopard. Soon the creature was compelled to
loosen its hold; but the man did not stop. With an awful frenzy he
rained the blows upon the creature until the animal whined with terror.
By this time the trainers had arrived on the scene and the creature was
driven back to its cage thoroughly cowed. But the madman was not
satisfied. He continued to prance about in the ring, kicked up his
heels and shouted: "Turn yer elephants and lions loose!" Of course he
was the hero of the hour.


We used to have many amusing experiences with hotel proprietors,
particularly when we were showing in regions in which the Irish or
Germans comprised the greater part of the population. For policy we
made a practice of humoring these peoples and made it a rule always to
be friendly with them.

One of our showmen once had an educated pig that he had named Bismarck.
The pig was carried in a sort of box cage on the side of which was
printed "Hotel de Bismarck." Coming into one town the population of
which was largely German we found that we had pulled a storm over our
heads. The German residents were insulted that a pig should be named
after the beloved founder of their empire, and threatened summary
vengeance. It was only by making many promises that we escaped with
whole skins. But speaking of hotels: In billing a town in which there
were several hotels run by Irishmen our advance agent usually promised
each hotel proprietor that his particular hotel should be patronized by
the show. As a result of this I usually found myself in an extremely
embarrassing position when the show arrived at the town. Of course I
could not patronize all of the hotels, and, at the same time, it was
necessary for us to keep the good will of the proprietors. I usually
went around to all of the disappointed ones, gave them free tickets,
praised their children, their wives; berated our advance agent and
promised better things for next time. In the end I managed to make
friends with them and left them with no bad tastes in their mouths. I
have always found them a jovial and reasonable people. Of course the
hotel that did secure our patronage always had something to look back
upon. It was a day of hustling, of real business, that came only once
or twice in a lifetime. In those days napkins were entirely unknown. At
one place some of our showmen asked the waitress to bring them napkins,
and she answered: "I am sorry, sirs, but the last show that was here
ate them all up."


It was often necessary for the showmen to have their breakfast at three
o'clock in the morning, and this, as the reader may well imagine, made
it impracticable for the keeper of the little country hotel to go to
bed at all. He usually stayed up all night on a "star" occasion of this
kind and cooked for his deluge of boarders. The following little
incident may illustrate the situation better, perhaps, than I can tell
it: We had just hired a man to travel with our wagons. He was a "green"
hand; but he felt it necessary, of course, to fill the proprietor of
the little hotel where we stopped with an appreciation of a showman's
importance. He got up about two o'clock to attend to the horses. As he
passed out he came upon the hotel keeper who, with sleeves rolled up,
was working for all he was worth.

The new attaché stretched himself, yawned and said: "I'll tell you
what, this is the last season that I'm goin' to travel with a show."
"Yes," replied the other, "I guess--next to keeping a tavern--the
circus business is about the hardest goin'."

We once had with our show a woman whom we were exhibiting for her
immense size. To enhance her value as a feature in the eyes of the
countrymen she wore a gorgeous crown set with cheap but flashy stones.
The crier would tell the people that the crown had been presented to
the woman by the Prince of Wales and that it cost, in England, 5,000
pounds. Then the people would go in, examine it, and exclaim: "See the
green diamonds and the blue diamonds and the red diamonds!" Once, when
I was in a hotel in Wisconsin, I heard two waitresses talking about the
show. One said she did not believe the crown cost such an amount. The
other said:

"Well; we can't tell, of course; we only know what we hear--but wasn't
it beautiful!"



Every prominent showman has had some venture into which he has put his
whole heart. Nothing in my career touched and moved me like the great
New York Aquarium enterprise. Into this I not only put a fortune--more
hundreds of thousands of dollars than were ever put into anything of
the kind before or since--but I also invested the ambitions of my life.

I was inspired by a profound desire to promote the interests of natural
science in what appeared to me its most picturesque and attractive
field--the marine world; and everything concerned in this mammoth
undertaking exercised a strange fascination over me. All commercialism
vanished, and I was as true and devoted a student of the wonders which
I had collected as was the most erudite scientist that had ever looked
upon that strange assemblage of creatures from the depths of arctic and
torrid oceans.

Night after night I remained alone in the great museum for the purpose
of studying the habits of those fishes which displayed their most
peculiar traits while the world slept. The finale of this enterprise
was, it seems to me, in keeping with its remarkable character, and
anything less picturesque than that which actually transpired in this
connection would have fallen short of poetic justice. It is not too
much to say that never before had the scientific world been permitted
to view so comprehensive a collection of the varied and almost
numberless types of deep sea life.

Neither money nor pains was spared to the end of maintaining an
aquarium approximating that of my fondest dreams. Early in the history
of this gigantic enterprise I became associated with a member of one of
the great animal importing houses, a German, my partner, although I
undertook the active management of the institution.

The Aquarium was first opened in October, 1876, the year of the
Centennial, and I think I may truthfully say that the former received
as frequent mention in the press of the day as did the latter.

My connection with the Aquarium afforded me an opportunity to meet and
become acquainted with the leading scientists and literary people of
the day. I know of no institution of the kind that has been opened to
the public under more favorable auspices. It was looked upon as an
institution of education, and public and private schools attended in
bodies. Men who have grown rich in the dime-museum business believe
that the public do not wish instruction, but prefer to be amused with
fakes. Nevertheless, the financial success of the New York Aquarium,
during the period when it received its strongest support from the
clergy and the men of science, has proved the allegation of the fake
museum proprietors to be false.


On the first opening of the New York Aquarium I exhibited a fish from
Japanese waters which was no larger than a man's hand. The Japanese
name of this species is _kingio_, and the fish is very handsome in
appearance, having three perfect tails, and is so graceful in its
movements that these tails resemble folds of beautiful lace. It was
presented to me by a friend of mine in Baltimore, who was in the habit
of spending a portion of each year in Japan. Knowing how far advanced
are the Japanese in pisciculture, this gentleman succeeded in
persuading me to interest myself in their methods. I soon learned that
these three-tailed fishes were the result of the Japanese system of
breeding, of which they alone knew the secret, and when, on
investigation, I learned that their waters contain many varieties of
fish of gorgeous colors, I determined to spare no expense to possess a
collection from this coast, especially after I learned that even Nature
itself seemed reversed there, and that there are fishes in those waters
that swim on their backs.

Supplying a trusty agent with the necessary money, I first sent him to
Yokohama, with letters of introduction to some friends of mine. Here,
assisted by the natives, he commenced forming his collection. The
captured fish were placed in a series of tanks swung from the deck of
the steamer, and so arranged that a constant flow of water from a
cheaply improvised reservoir should keep the fish in a healthy
condition. However, the use of this device proved the inexperience of
the agent, for, although the fish managed to thrive for about twenty
days' time, one after another died until, on the twenty-eighth day of
the voyage, on landing in San Francisco, he was obliged to wire me that
not a single fish had survived the passage. My answer was: "Take the
same steamer back to Japan and try again." This he did, with somewhat
better success, reaching San Francisco with eighteen live fish
belonging to rare and beautiful species. From his description I judged
that they could not be worth less than $1,000 each. My hopes were high
for the ultimate success of the undertaking. But my pleasure was
destined to be short-lived, as my agent arrived at the Aquarium with
only one living fish. The changeable climate and the overland journey
had been too much for the delicate beauties from Oriental waters, and
one by one they had expired, leaving "a sole survivor to tell the

Just as a matter of personal curiosity I figured up the cost of this
precious member of the finny tribe from far-away Japan. He cost me more
than $2,200 in gold. This may be scoffed at by some as a very fishy
fish story, but when it is remembered that this specimen represented
the outlay of two expeditions from America to Japan, including expenses
for tanks, Japanese assistance, and all the ocean transportation, it
will easily be realized that this statement is within reasonable


We were equally zealous in our efforts to obtain the largest living
creatures of the deep; and the fact that we exhibited live whales from
the Isle Aux Condries was proof of our enterprise in this direction.
Whales are timid, stupid creatures; in pursuit of small fish they run
up close to the shore, and are captured by a comparatively simple
method. Across the mouth of some deep bay a line of piles is driven
when the water is at low tide; then the fishing fleet only awaits the
arrival of a school of cetacea. These will sooner or later be seen
rushing madly shoreward in pursuit of the schools of smaller fish on
which they feed. When the whales are sighted the fishing vessels
separate and endeavor to surround the assemblage of marine monsters. At
high tide, when the line of piles is deeply submerged, the fleet crowds
in toward the shore, and the frightened whales take refuge in the bay.
Here they remain undisturbed, and are generally quiet until they feel
the tide receding. Then they become restless, and finally make a dash
for deep water, only to run against the line of piles. It would be
comparatively easy for a big whale to batter a great gap in the
improvised fence, and, in fact, there is frequently room enough between
certain piles for him to pass through unharmed, but he is naturally
timid and cowardly, and when within a yard or two of the piles, wheels
about and darts back in terror toward the shore. This fruitless and
exhausting manoeuvre is kept up until the tide has completely gone
out and he is left helpless and stranded. In all my experience in this
peculiar line of live fishing I have never known a whale to break
through the barrier of piles and make his escape.

The boxing and transportation to New York of these big fish was a great
labor, and it often took fifty strong men several hours to get one of
the monsters into its traveling case. Once in its box, water had to be
poured over the back and blowholes of the imprisoned whale. The water
pouring, by the way, was a monotonous and tiresome job which had to be
continued without intermission during the subsequent ninety hours while
the whale was being carried by vessel to Quebec, thence by rail via
Montreal and Albany to New York. The water in which they lie must not
cover their blow-holes, for, having no room to move they would be
unable to rise and breathe and consequently would drown. Their boxes,
therefore, were tight from the bottom up only as far as their eyes.
Above that line there were cracks for the surplus water to flow off,
and it was necessary for a man to stand over the whale and constantly
drench him until the receiving tank was reached,--a difficult

I contracted to send a living whale to A. A. Stewart, of the Ætna
Insurance Company, a speculator, who with others in Cincinnati decided
they wanted a whale. For a certain sum of money, therefore, I agreed to
land one alive in that city. This venture made me much trouble and
great expense, for, notwithstanding the great care exercised the animal
died en route, and it was not until three had been lost that I
succeeded, June 26, 1877, in landing one alive. This was considered a
great achievement and was telegraphed all over the nation.


In 1870 my men captured the first seals, or "sea-lions," as we termed
them. The hunters experienced no difficulty in ensnaring these
creatures by means of wire nets. This observation is a most interesting
one in view of the fact that later we found it impossible to procure
them by this method, showing that their intuitive sense of
self-protection had taught them to fear man and to avoid his devices.
No sooner did we find that these curious creatures had learned wisdom
from the experience of their unfortunate fellows than we set about to
originate some other plan by which we might make captives.

Each of our first seals cost more than would five good specimens
to-day, and they died before we could perfect our arrangements for
exhibiting them. This was very discouraging, but we determined to try
again, and our renewed efforts were rewarded with better success. One
of the captives was an enormous creature and lived until the Fourteenth
Street fire, when he was burned, together with $300,000 worth of other
personal property.

Some of these monster sea-lions are very deceiving when seen in their
native element and surroundings. At a little distance they do not
appear larger than an ordinary Newfoundland dog, but when captured are
found to weigh from twelve hundred to two thousand pounds, and to
measure from thirteen to fifteen feet in length. It is a splendid sight
to see these glossy creatures leap from overhanging cliffs into the
water fully fifty feet below.

After our first capture there was a great demand for these animals from
superintendents of zoölogical gardens in all the large cities of this
and foreign countries. Realizing the large profits to be acquired by
meeting this demand, I greatly desired to replenish our stock of
sea-lions, and made an arrangement to that end with a man in
California. We supplied him with all the money he required, which
mounted high in the thousands of dollars by the time he had captured
about three carloads of the interesting creatures. The man then came on
to New York and delivered ten of the animals to us, stating that the
others were en route. We at once wrote to the zoölogical gardens at
Cincinnati and Philadelphia, offering to supply them with these rare
animals. Imagine my surprise and indignation when I received answers to
these communications, stating that the gardens had already procured
sea-lions--from our agent! Of course we instantly made an
investigation, and discovered that this crafty hunter had also supplied
various European institutions with sea-lions, for the capture of which
we had furnished the money. The fellow disappeared before we were
thoroughly alive to the extent of the swindle which he had carried
forward to such a brilliant success, and I have never seen him since.
As he was "a canny Scot," he probably retired to his native heath and
purchased himself a castle in the Highlands. Certainly he could easily
have done this on the proceeds of his nefarious enterprise, for at that
time the sea-lions commanded from $2,000 to $2,500 each in the European
cities, and the market could not be satisfied even at that price. Take
several carloads of sea-lions at these figures and the total would
represent a snug little fortune.

Afterwards when I opened the New York Aquarium, I bought a large sea
lion, had an immense tank built, and a rock cliff made for him so he
could jump into the water and sport around; but he kept up such a
constant barking that he became a great nuisance. Having a showman
friend who intended to spend the winter in Bermuda I permitted him to
take the animal for exhibition purposes. Some few weeks afterwards I
was surprised to receive a note from my friend saying he had returned
the sea-lion and that he would follow on the next boat. No sooner was
the sea-lion comfortably ensconced in his old quarters than he again
began barking to such an extent that I heartily wished him in the
Atlantic. His appetite, too, was most voracious, and we could scarcely
get enough live fish to satisfy him. The strange thing about it was, as
I learned on the arrival of my showman friend from Bermuda, the old
fellow had refused food during the whole trip, and instead of barking
and attracting attention, as we had hoped he would do, he had silently
sulked until once more in the old home in the Aquarium. From this I
gather that the barking which was so disagreeable to us must have been
his expression of joy. The fact that he lived so long without food is
most remarkable.


So far as I am able to learn, no enterprise of the magnitude of the New
York Aquarium was ever disposed of on the flip of a penny. This
transaction may not, at first thought, appeal to the church people of
the country as being right, and the average business man will doubtless
condemn it as unbusinesslike. The attending circumstances, however,
were peculiar. This true story was never made public by my partner or
myself, and the transaction always had a touch of mystery in the eyes
of the showmen of the country.

From the opening of the Aquarium until a certain eventful day its
success, financially, scientifically and morally, was unqualified.
This, as I have already intimated, was in large measure due to the
enthusiastic support of clergymen, scientists and educators, whose
commendations brought us the patronage of the intelligent masses with
whom these eminent leaders of thought had the greatest influence.

I received scores of letters from celebrated divines indorsing the
Aquarium, and these were, of course, made use of in the way of
advertising. My partner was a German and could not appreciate the
American feeling for the Sabbath.

He was determined to open the doors of the museum for Sunday patronage,
declaring that this would bring in a very large number of people who
were naturally inclined to Sabbath-day pleasure-seeking, and were quite
generally interested in things of a scientific nature. He continued
this campaign of argument for two years, during which I steadfastly
urged that such a step would be an offense to the belief of the
majority of our patrons; that it would bring into the place an
undesirable element, from which it had been entirely free, and that the
enterprise was enjoying a steady prosperity with which it would be wise
to remain content.

Then I repeatedly tried to buy his interest in the Aquarium, but he
steadfastly refused to yield a single point, and became more imperative
in his demands for Sunday opening. This persistency and increasing
aggressiveness at last wore me out. One Monday morning, as he dropped
in at the office and once more brought up the old contention, I
determined that it should be settled, in one way or another, before he
left the room. Instinctively I felt there was no use offering to
purchase his interest, for I had previously gone to the limit of reason
in that direction.


Calmly and coolly I took a mental survey of the whole situation during
a moment of silence between his arguments for Sunday opening. In
addition to the Aquarium, we also had a joint interest in four giraffes
and five small elephants. The Aquarium was worth at least half a
million dollars, as it included the two acres of land at Coney Island,
on which was located our storage and supply aquarium, from which the
exhibition house was replenished with attractions.

Suddenly, as if waking out of a reverie, I fairly startled my partner
with the exclamation:

"See here! we can never agree on this Sunday business in the world.
I'll stump you to flip a penny to see which one of us shall take those
giraffes and elephants as his portion and walk out of this place next
Saturday night, leaving the other in full possession of all the
Aquarium property."

"All right," he calmly answered, and led the way into the private
office. There he drew up a brief statement embodying my proposition. We
both signed it, and then I reached into my pocket and drew forth an
old-fashioned copper cent.

"Heads I win, tails you win," said the German, as I poised the coin on
the nail of my thumb. As I nodded assent to this I realized that not
only my fortune, but the dearest dreams of my life depended upon the
fall of that copper. More to me than this, however, was the thought
that my wife had become intensely interested and strongly attached to
this undertaking--so much so that it was her personal pride and joy.
Still another consideration which flashed through my mind at that
instant was the realization that if I lost it would mean months and
years of the same sort of homeless wandering life that I had lived
while building up the fortune invested in the Aquarium. These thoughts
and many others flashed through my mind in less time than it takes to
tell them. After scarcely a moment's hesitation I sent the coin
spinning into the air. It dropped upon the desk, and I can now see just
how the light fell upon the fateful "head" which transferred my fortune
to my partner! Instantly I executed to him a bill of sale, covering my
entire interest in the concern.


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Sawdust & Spangles - Stories & Secrets of the Circus" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.