January 19, 2018

The Shoemaker’s Circus: Grizzly Adams and Nineteenth-Century Animal Entertainment

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by Jon T Coleman

Grizzly Adams rose to fame in partnership with bears. A wilderness celebrity, he actually grew up in Massachusetts, where he trained as a shoemaker. Shoemaking taught him how to instruct others including wild animals. His management ethos emerged from a nineteenth-century household manufacturing system coming undone by industrial capitalism. This article delves into Adams’s shoemaking background to recover the entwined histories of industrial discipline and wild animal training. Grizzly Adams

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trained bears like human apprentices and apprentices like bears. They all belonged to his working family. Adams manipulated the social behavior of grizzly bears to bring a dying patriarchal labor tradition back to life. Immature animals followed his commands, but he struggled to control full-grown bears, a failure that led to the demise of his family and the end of his act.

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