January 19, 2018

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


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


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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