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Grizzly Adams

June 2023
1min read


In Tony Scherman’s penetrating article about Constance Rourke’s study of the elements that have gone into the making of the American character (“Why These Three Men Are Part of Your Soul,” December), you reproduce a painting of a “backwoodsman” striding alongside a grizzly bear. This painting was based on a publicity print showing none other than James Capen Adams and Ben, his favorite bear. Born in New England, Adams worked as a cobbler before decamping in 1849 for gold-rush California, where he eventually ended up living alone in the Sierra Nevada foothills. He was no typical backwoodsman; he fought grizzly bears with pistol and knife, survived many serious wounds thus suffered, and actually tamed at least three grizzlies to the point where they followed him everywhere and even shared his bed, such as it was. Later he shipped many of his captive animals around the Horn to New York City and went into partnership with P. T. Barnum. That painting is a fair representation of his rapport with bears. Grizzly Adams was one of a kind!

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