John “Grizzly” Adams
Grizzly Adams is perhaps one of the most impressive frontiersmen in American History. He regularly did things that nearly all sane people would describe as “pants-shittingly terrifying.” These episodes of wildman courage mostly took the form of Grizzly trapping, training, riding, and wrestling.
Early Life: Born John Capen Adams, Grizzly grew up a shoemaker, and spent his time dreaming of the outdoors. He gave life to those dreams when he left home with a zoological party to trap and sell wild animals. During this short period, he developed many of the survival skills that would serve him later in life. After receiving spinal injuries from a pissed off Bengal Tiger, he decided that taking it easy for a while might not be a bad idea.
The Man Before Grizzly: After recovering, Adams moved west to Missouri for business, but lost the $6,000 in shoes that he expected to sell, in a fire. Swept up in the gold rush, he decided to give mining a shot. Being an expert outdoorsman, he knew that his worst option would be to simply fend for himself in the wilderness. California saw fit to bestow our hero with wonderful and terrible fortunes- he alternated regularly between rags and riches. Finally, after a bad economic blow that cost him his Stockton, CA ranch, he decided to head to the hills and ride out his misfortune in the comfort of nature.
Bears, and Bears, and Bears. Oh My! In 1853, Adams decided to undertake a hunting and trapping expedition. The man traveled 1,200 miles to Washington Territory, which is now part of Montana, in order to collect furs and other valuables. Somehow, he arrived at the conclusion that furs were even more valuable while still attached to man-murdering animals: Grizzly bears. This notion was likely left over from his time spent being mauled by Bengal tigers. While on this journey, Adams captured a wild one-year-old Grizzly cub and named her Lady Washington. He managed to train her to carry a pack, then drag a sled, then cuddle him for warmth, and (naturally) to allow him to ride on her back. Now casually kidnapping bears, Adams snagged two male cubs from the den of their mother. He named one of them Benjamin Franklin, seemingly because he could tell that he was becoming a folk hero. That bear would later save Adams’ life when Mama Grizzly discovered them, and brought her ferocity to bear on her cubs’ kidnapper. The trauma that John sustained to his head would later lead to his death.
The Circus: Adams continued to expand his collection of bears. During the winter of 1854, he captured a Grizzly that weighed about 1,500 pounds (which is equal in weight to roughly 300 Chihuahuas.) This absolute monster of a mammal remains one of the largest Grizzlies ever captured alive. Adams named him Samson, and continued to grow his collection of animals. Eventually, he started to show his menagerie off to curious crowds, which was a natural prelude to his tour with a New England circus and contract with P.T. Barnum (of Barnum & Bailey fame.)
Death: John Grizzly Adams was fatally punched in the head by a Grizzly whom he had named General Fremont. The injury was brutal, and compounded the earlier bear wound that he had sustained at the paws of Benjamin Franklin’s mother. The blow occurred during a friendly wrestling match that got out of hand, much to the dismay of the watching crowd. He left behind a legacy that inspired millions of Americans to travel the outdoors, and perfectly embodies the restless, adventuring frontiersman. A rendering of Samson, his massive bear, graces the State Flag of California today. His observations of Grizzly behavior are another legacy, and became invaluable in the early study of these magnificent beasts.