Hours before dawn, the boys were gathering at the depot waiting for the circus train. They would be playing hooky that day but wouldn’t get into much trouble for it; after all, their fathers did the same thing (and maybe grandfathers, too) and they had heard their elders speak wistfully about the pleasure of it, waiting in the dark with a swarm of kids and grown men for the trainload of marvels speeding their way on the rails.

From the 1916 Argus-Courier: “A monster train of red cars, loaded to the guards with circus paraphernalia and equipment of the John Robinson ten big combined shows, the oldest circus in the world, reached Petaluma Thursday morning, a little late but all safe and sound. There was a good sized reception committee on hand to welcome the showmen. Some were there who declared they had not missed seeing a circus ‘come in’ in twenty years. A few even remembered the last time the John Robinson circus visited California 35 years ago. Some small boys were at the depot as early as 3 a. m. although the circus did not arrive until 8:30.”

Setup in Santa Rosa was easier than many towns, where the fairgrounds were usually outside city limits and far from the depot. Here the show lot was nearly in the center of town – the former grounds of the old Pacific Methodist College (now the location of Santa Rosa Middle School, between E street and Brookwood Ave). Once the college buildings were removed around 1892, the nine acre vacant lot became the temporary home of every show rolling through.

This is the second item about the circuses that came to Santa Rosa and Petaluma as viewed through our local newspapers. Part one, “WHEN THE CIRCUS WAGONS CAME TO TOWN,” looked at the shows before the railroads arrived in the 1870s. With trains available the bigger and more famous circus companies began to come here and by the early 1900s, Santa Rosa could expect a visit from a world-class circus every year. The shows discussed below are only a small sample.

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A big attraction for the 1883 John Robinson’s Circus was the electric light “as bright as the noon-day sun.” For advance PR they sent newspapers a humor column about “Uncle Jerry Peckum” complaining the “sarkis” tent being too close to his chicken farm: “It’s lit up so brite thet every last one o’ them tarnal fool chickins thinks it’s daylite again’, an’ got up an’ gone to layin.'” The column ended with Jerry deciding to go to the circus because “I’ve heern so much about this ‘lectricity light–an’ we may never hev a chance to see one agin.” The promo piece ran in the Petaluma Argus, naturally, because chicken.

1883 John Robinson’s Circus

The 1886 Sells Brothers Circus was the first mega-show to visit Sonoma County. While both Petaluma and Santa Rosa newspapers raved about its quality, the Petaluma Argus was outraged admission at the gate was $1.10 instead of the traditional buck.

Speaking of ripoffs: Earlier the Santa Rosa Daily Democrat ran an amusing reprint from a New York paper describing the predator/prey relationship between a circus “candy butcher” (food vendor) and the locals: “…The candy butchers in a circus never work the bottom row of seats. Country bumpkins who easily become their prey always get up on the top benches. They do this because they are afraid of the ‘butchers’ and want to hide from them. The latter move around on the top seats, and when they find a verdant fellow they fill his girl’s lap with oranges, candy, popcorn and fans. If the girl says she doesn’t want them they ask her why she took them, and make the young man pay thirteen or fourteen prices for the rubbish…” The piece continued by describing the pink in a circus’ trademark pink lemonade was a red dye added to conceal how little lemon actually was in the drink: “Strawberry lemonade men make two barrels of the delicious beverage which they sell of ten cents worth of tartaric acid and five cents worth of aniline and two lemons. They make fifty dollars a day each…”

1886 Sells Brothers Circus

I’m sure it lived up to its claim of being the “greatest show on earth,” but when the Ringling Brothers Circus made four visits during the 1900s we were flooded each time with the greatest hype on earth, as the Press Democrat seemingly printed every scrap of PR flackery the advance promoters churned out as “news” articles. “The aerial features of Ringling Brothers shows by far surpass anything of a similar nature ever exhibited in the United States. The civilized countries of the world have been thoroughly searched for the newest and most thrilling acts.” (1903) “Their Acts in Ringling Brothers’ Circus Almost Surpasses the Possible.” (1904) The low point was probably the 1907 article, “Interesting Facts Regarding the Expense of Advertising and Maintaining a Great Circus,” which was neither very interesting nor very factual: “An elephant without plenty of feed is as dangerous as a healthy stick of dynamite.” Yowp!

1900 Ringling Brothers Circus

Santa Rosa schools were dismissed at 11AM on the Thursday morning when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to town, which was a pragmatic surrender of any hope for keeping the kids at their desks once the parade started marching down Fourth street.

There was no Big Top for this show, just a horseshoe-shaped grandstand that could seat 16,000. The audience was apparently immense; the PD reported, “afternoon and evening the vast seating accommodations was occupied with a sea of humanity.”

These 1902 performances were not Buffalo Bill’s “last and only” shows in Santa Rosa. He was back again in 1910 for his “farewell tour,” and also in 1914, after he lost the legal use of the “Buffalo Bill” name and had to perform with the Sells-Floto Circus. For more, see “BUFFALO BILL STOPS BY TO SAY GOODBYE.”

1902 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

“Early in the day farmers from far and near came driving to town with their entire families while special trains brought crowds from points as far away as Ukiah,” reported the Press Democrat in 1904 about the third appearance here by the Ringling Brothers Circus. “By 11 o’clock the streets were thronged with a good natured perspiring crowd prepared to be amused at any thing.”

Unfortunately, Santa Rosa was suffering through a heat wave that September morning: “The Court House proved a very attractive place as it was so cool and refreshing within its walls while outside the thermometer ranged from 100 upward from 10 o’clock. Many of the windows were filled with the families and friends of the county officials, while the steps and shady portions of the grounds were packed with outside visitors. All along the line of march all available windows and other points of vantage were packed, while great throngs moved restlessly up and down the principal streets, and crowded the stores.”

The description of the circus parade was probably rewrite of PR copy, but it’s still fun to imagine a sight like this coming down Fourth street: “Never before in the history of Santa Rosa has there been such a parade as Ringling Bros, gave Thursday. Floats and chariots, half a dozen bands, numerous companies of horseback riders representing various nationalities, both men and women, a drove of thirteen camels, twenty-six elephants and many open cages of wild animals. Altogether there were over 375 horses in the parade. They were ridden, driven two and three tandem, in teams of two,. four, six, eight and twenty-four horses each. One of the most pleasing sights to the younger people were the twenty-four horse team on the band wagon and the twenty-four Shetland pony team on a float.”

1905 Press Democrat cartoon: “In Town for the Circus”

Norris & Rowe’s Circus was a Santa Rosa favorite in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, and not just because they reliably showed up every April. “On account of the fact that it is a California show,” explained the Press Democrat in 1905, “the people of this state are naturally interested in its success from year to year, and the enterprise of Norris & Rowe in having advanced in a few years from a small dog and pony show to the growing circus that they now possess, has been highly commended.”

Alas, the show had no end of problems, well symbolized by the photo below showing their 1905 “Grand Gold Glittering Street Parade” in Santa Rosa taking place during a downpour. Their last appearance here in 1909 shocked some by offering “several gambling schemes” and a racy sideshow “for men only.” The circus went bankrupt and closed in 1910. For more see: “BROKE DOWN CIRCUS.”

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The Barnum and Bailey Circus made its second stop here in 1908, and the show was the biggest, best, blah, blah, blah. This trip was notable for an acrobatic act which sounds genuinely risky; the odd-but-colorful description that appeared in the Press Democrat is transcribed below (and was undoubtedly circus PR) but from other papers we can piece together what really went on.

The main performer was 20 year-old Yvone La Raque, who was seated in an “automobile” at the top of a narrow ramp near the top of the tent, about 65 feet in the air. (I can find no claim the little vehicle actually had an engine.) When her cart was released it dropped down the ramp and flew off with enough speed to somehow execute a somersault. She and the little car landed on a separate spring-cushioned ramp several feet away. The entire business took only 4-5 seconds.

Now, Gentle Reader might not think this such a great challenge; all she had to do was keep the wheels absolutely straight and do whatever weight-shifting physics needed to perform the loop-de-loop. But that was in 1907-1908, an age when steering wheels regularly fell off because gearboxes were still an experimental thing and even the best new tires sometimes burst under stress. And, of course, success depended upon workers quickly setting up the landing ramp with absolute precision while circus craziness was underway.

That was 1907 when Yvone was a solo act with a different circus; when she joined Barnum and Bailey her sister (name unknown) was added to the act, following her immediately down the ramp in an identical car and flying across to the landing ramp while Yvone looped above her. By all accounts the crowds went nuts.

I researched them with dread, certain I would discover one or both were killed or horribly mangled, but apparently they retired uninjured at the close of the 1908 season.

The start of this awful act is made from the dome of the tent. The cars ride on the same platform, one behind the other, being released simultaneously. One car is red and the other blue that their separate flights may be followed by the eye that dares to look. The leading auto arches gracefully across a wide gap, being encircled as it does so by the rear car. They land at the same instant. From the time the cars are released at the top of the incline to the landing below on the platform, Just four seconds elapse. Those who have seen the act say it amounts to four years when you figure the suspense, the worry and the awful jolting of the nerves. “You feel like a murderer waiting for the verdict,” says some one who saw the act while the circus was it New York City. “The suspense is awful. You look back over your past life. You regret as many of your sins as you can it four seconds. You want to close your eyes, but you can’t. My, what a relief when they land safely! That’s the jury bringing in a verdict of not guilty. Then you rise with a yell of joy as the young women alight without a scratch. Everybody else yells. Oh, it’s great!”

1908 Barnum and Bailey Circus

And finally we come to the Al G. Barnes Circus. The ad below is from 1921, but his show first appeared in Santa Rosa ten years earlier. I deeply regret having not found much about him beyond a few anecdotes – he clearly was gifted with a rare magnetic personality and both people and animals were drawn to him instinctively. His friend and attorney Wallace Ware tells the story of seeing Barnes throw meat to a fox in a forest, then approaching the wild animal and petting it as if it were tamed. He trained performing animals with food rewards but also by talking to them with genuine sincerity as if they could understand everything he said. Ware’s memoir, “The Unforgettables,” has a section on Al worth reading if you’d like to know more.

(RIGHT: Chevrolet and bear at the Al G. Barnes Zoo, Culver City, 1926. Courtesy of the USC Digital Library)

Barnes also had a private zoo near Los Angeles where he kept animals too old or too wild to be in the circus. It must have been enormously expensive to maintain – supposedly it numbered around 4,000 animals – but kudos to him for not destroying the unprofitable animals or selling them off to carnivals where they likely would suffer great abuses. That was the 1920s, remember; there were no animal sanctuaries for former circus animals, tame or no, and trade newspapers like Billboard and the New York Clipper regularly had want ads of circus animals for sale.

The Press Democrat treated him like a hometown boy although he was from Canada and lived in Southern California when he wasn’t touring. The PD reprinted news items about his circus, his illnesses and reported his marriage on the front page. When he died in 1931 the PD wrote its own obit: “When Al G. Barnes rode into the ring, swept off his hat, bowed and welcomed the crowd, you knew who was running the show…his death will be generally regretted, not only in a personal way but because it marks the passing of a picturesque character, one well known in the west–one of the last of the kind.”

1921 Al G. Barnes Circus


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Before Thanksgiving or Independence Day were national holidays, there was only one event nearly every American celebrated, regardless of class, race or creed: The day the circus came to town. That two-century tradition ends on May 21 when Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey gives its last performance. Before the Big Top comes down for the last time, here’s a look at what it meant to small towns like Santa Rosa and Petaluma, as viewed through their newspapers.

By no means does this series represent all the circuses that came to Sonoma county – this is only a small sample. It was not uncommon to have two or three every year, and even the shows that returned often were different enough each time to be a considered new.

Because of the number of images involved I’m breaking this article into two parts. This section covers the early circuses travelling by roads and waterways; these wagon shows were dinky affairs compared to some of the monster spectaculars which came here after the railroads were available, as discussed in part two, “LET’S GO TO THE CIRCUS ON COLLEGE AVE“.

But regardless of the year or degree of magnificence, every circus day was magic and were the climax of weeks of hot anticipation. The places you had walked past thousands of times – fences with scabby whitewash, streetlight poles, the plain brick walls on the sides of businesses – those drab things were now transformed by beautiful lithograph posters showing flying trapeze women, daredevil animal trainers and other scenes you had never imagined. You know the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opened the door to Oz into a world riot in color? It was like that, only better because YOU were about to enter such a magical place. And you would go there. Nothing on earth could stop you.

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This is the oldest circus ad I’ve found in the local newspapers, dating to June, 1856. The promise that “The Police Department will be under the supervision of efficient officers” suggests the public believed a circus attracted criminals and troublemakers.

1856 Rowe Circus


The 1857 ad for the Lee & Bennett circus also has the “efficient officers” vow. Note they don’t say much about the acts, but boast at length of their “magnificent, new, and costly” wagons. They promise the Big Top is waterproof and ladies will get cushions for their seats. Classy!

1857 ad for the Lee & Bennett circus


Until the railway reached Santa Rosa in late 1870, circuses with large animals rarely visited Sonoma county in those days. This 1859 show with two elephants was the first exception. As with most circuses seen here in that era, the performance was mainly horseback stunts, acrobatics and a featured clown.

1859 Wilson circus


The patriotic theme of the “United States Circus” reflects the national mood in the first months of the Civil War – although it may not have gone over so well in pro-Confederacy Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. “Blondin” was the famed tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls.

1861 United States Circus


Although there was still no train service to Santa Rosa in 1869, we were on the tour route of Dan Castello’s Circus and Menagerie, the first East Coast show to come to California via the new transcontinental railroad, which had been completed less that four months earlier. “Their immense posters cover half the town, and everybody is anxiously waiting to see the greatest show of the age,” the Democrat commented. It seems the ads exaggerated the number and varieties of animals; their wagon caravan included only ten cages and a couple of elephants and camels. A correspondent to the Russian River Flag wrote, “It was agreed by us that the menagerie was a failure, but the circus part we liked very well.”

1869 Castello’s Circus and Menagerie


The 1872 San Francisco Circus and Roman Hippodrome was the first show in Santa Rosa to introduce exotic themes, with an “oriental pagoda” and Roman Empire-style chariot races. The show also included a political angle, with “Horace Greeley, Comic Mule.” That year Greeley was the most well-known among the eight candidates running against incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant and lost by a landslide (in Santa Rosa he came in fourth). Greeley actually had died four days before this Santa Rosa performance.

1872 San Francisco Circus and Roman Hippodrome


Montgomery Queen’s 1874 Circus and Traveling World’s Fair drew an audience of 2,800 that night in Santa Rosa – about the same as the official population of the town. Since before the Civil War, the price for an adult ticket was always one dollar, which would be between $30-40 in today’s currency. Even if half this 1874 audience were children, they pulled in about $60,000 (adjusted for inflation) with this one show. While circus life was hard on the performers, crew and animals, it was undeniably very profitable for the owners.

1874 Montgomery Queen’s Circus and Traveling World’s Fair


Queen’s Great Moral Circus was here in 1875 and I’m presuming it was not a railroad show, as their route went from Petaluma to Sonoma and there was no rail line running between the towns. Aside from the appearance of a living giraffe and a “hogapotamus,” this visit was special because of a delightful story which appeared in the Sonoma Democrat:

1875 Montgomery Queen’s Great Moral Circus




Yesterday morning as we were quietly strolling down town, with both hands in our pockets, thinking of nothing in particular, our meditations were disturbed by the loud demand:

“Whar are they a-goin’ to stretch the canvass?”

Looking up, there stood a tall, rawboned fellow with a grizzled beard and sun-burnt face, waiting for an answer.

“Canvas? What canvas?” we answered, all abroad like.

“Why, the circus,” you know, replied the man from the mountains.

We confessed our inability to direct him, and he pursued his way with a compassionate look on his face for our ignorance. Determined to become better posted about the circus, and to take a hand in the fun going on, we had not gone far until meeting a platform of eight small boys stretching quite across the pavement.

“Going to the circus, boys?”

“Yes, sir, answered the eight small boys together.

“Could you tell me where the tent is?”

“Yes, sir,” altogether, and eight small hands and arms pointing in the same direction.

Sure enough, there it was, nearly covering Bill Hardy’s lot with about an acre of canvass, and surrounded with empty circus wagons, loose horses and piles of baggage. The cook stove was smoking through a short pipe, and the cook, a gentleman from Africa, was taking his morning wash in a basin that looked suspiciously like a bread pan.

On the street corners pretty girls, carrying new parasols, were grouped together, looking with admiring glances into shop windows. Along the streets new arrivals of young fellows on horses, and old fellows, just as young within were soberly driving family tumouts, containing mother and the children. As a rule from three to five of the little people contrived always to get on the front seat with the driver.

The circus band struck up the inspiring strains of “Champagne Charley,” and a mingled mass of humanity began winding its way to the “horse opera.” There, from the moment of the grand entree until the close of the performance, the boys and girls seemed spellbound with the Oriental magnificence of its sights and sounds. The venerable jokes of the clown were as new and as keenly relished as, ah, me, so many years ago, when the reporter was a boy. The gaily spangled dresses of the riders, and the fearful perils of the horsemen, held the lower seats, filled with boys, in the same trance of wonder. The eight boys had managed to get seated in a row like so many chickens on a fence, their mouths slightly opened, and their honest eyes protruding enough to be scraped off with a stick. Innocent boyhood enjoying its first pleasures. Most of them had, without doubt, performed unheard of tasks for three weeks to get taken to the circus. At its close, about four o’clock, when the audience began to disperse, they broke into family groups and slowly wended their way down street to their wagons, homeward bound, with heavier hearts and lighter pockets. How many of them wished they had their dollar back? The middle-aged frontiersman of the morning was seen mounted on a cayuse, headed toward Guerneville, riding pensively along, a little sideways in the saddle, trying to urge the pony into an easy lope, doubtless for reasons best known to himself.

How much money the showman took away is a question that cannot be answered. But, judging from the number in attendance, it must have been enough to pay off the debt of either of the Santa Rosa Colleges.


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What’s better than a circus coming to town? How about TWO circuses in the same month, with one headed by Buffalo Bill, himself?

Envy anyone who was a kid in 1910 Santa Rosa. There were plenty of things to do downtown, if you had at least a dime and a nickel; there were four movie theaters that screened about two dozen short films every week (sometimes with vaudeville acts as part of the show) and the Pavilion roller skating rink on A street with a bowling alley around the corner on B street – bowling being quite the national fad that year. Adults and children alike were crazy over everything related to aviation in 1910, and we had Fred J. Wiseman as our hometown bird-man; you could bicycle up to Windsor and watch him practice flying over the pastures. And even if smaller girls and boys didn’t understand all the particulars in the indictment and trial of Dr. Burke, they must have known from all the grown-ups whispering that something really important was happening at the court house (teens continuing their studies in behind-the-barn sex education must have been stupefied when the testimony turned to the possibilities of astral or immaculate conception).

The Barnum & Bailey circus was first to arrive that September. (Yet another smaller circus had visited Santa Rosa in May: The Campbell Brothers Circus, with twenty “happy jolly funny clowns”, a lady in a cage with a bunch of snakes, and The Marvelous Renello, who could flip a complete somersault on a bicycle.) As typically happened, Sonoma County virtually closed down for the two days Barnum & Bailey were here; the County Clerk said not a single marriage license was issued the day of the first performances, which was unprecedented. The papers reported celebrity sightings of a boxing champion and Jack London, and even the Barlow boys marched into town from their Sebastopol work camp. But even though it was a cracking good show, it was only a warmup to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East shows later that month – after all, it would be the last opportunity ever to see the legendary Buffalo Bill.

Col. William F. Cody – AKA Buffalo Bill – was America’s first superstar, as Larry McMurtry points out in his enjoyable bio, “The Colonel and Little Missie.” Probably every boy and young man (older ones, too) in late 19th century America dreamed of living his rootin’ tootin’ life in the Wild West, at least as it was portrayed in lurid dime novels. Gordon Lillie – AKA Pawnee Bill – was one of those young men, a schoolteacher with a yen for western adventure. Lillie found work teaching English at the Pawnee Indian Reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and learned to speak their language fluently. He was hired by Cody’s Wild West show in 1883, when an interpreter was needed for the Pawnees performing in his show. (Much of the rest of the frontier exploits claimed in Lillie’s backstory – including that he was named “White Chief of the Pawnees” at age 19 – should be viewed as suspect.) Lillie started his own traveling Wild West show in 1888, the same year publication began of a new series of dime novels about the fantastic adventures of a hero named Pawnee Bill.

The “Two Bills'” show was an awkward marriage of necessity. These traveling shows were enormous operations and enormously expensive; Cody employed as many as 500 people who had to work together like cogs in a high-precision machine. With a performance in a different town every night, there was no room in their schedule for even the slightest glitch. At the same time, audiences were declining after 1906 because of competition from motion pictures and vaudeville. A merger of rivals made good business sense, and they unveiled the combined show at Madison Square Garden in 1909 (don’t miss the the New York Times review).

When the show arrived in Santa Rosa on September 29, 1910, apparently every child in the vicinity was on hand to greet them: “At least 1000 youngsters volunteered their services as assistants to the men engaged in erecting the twenty-two tents that house the Wild West-Far East,” reported the Santa Rosa Republican. As that was a Thursday and thus a school day, a new record for en masse truancy was surely set.

…the sight of Colonel Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) walking about the grounds, exercising a general supervision over things, and moving at that with a democracy befitting ordinary folks, was too much for them. No strength of will yet developed in adolescent man is sufficient to resist the temptation to drop all other concerns, however grave to gorge vision with such rare intimacy with the living heroes of your best beloved, if contraband literature.

Buffalo Bill bade Santa Rosa farewell that autumn evening, but he continued bidding farewells elsewhere in 1911, 1912 and 1913. The Two Bills show finally came to an end in July 1913, when a sheriff in Denver seized the company’s assets for a printing debt. Cody was notoriously bad at handling money and had already mortgaged his ranch and interests in Cody, Wyoming to Gordon Lillie. To cover the costs of launching the 1913 tour he had obtained a loan from a man he considered a friend, but who also co-owned the rival Sells-Floto Circus. When the Two Bills show had to declare bankruptcy, Cody defaulted on the loan. He lost the use of the “Buffalo Bill” name and had to perform with the Sells-Floto tour for 1914-1915. The following year Cody agreed to star in a World War I recruitment show, the “Military Pageant ‘Preparedness'” which was part of a new Wild West touring company started by friends of Pawnee Bill. Sick with kidney problems and more than a little addled, Cody only made a few appearances.

Colonel William F. Cody died in 1917, over six years after he said his goodbye in Santa Rosa. The essence of him was captured by Gene Fowler in his book, “Timber Line”: “Indiscreet, prodigal, as temperamental as a diva, pompous yet somehow naive, vain but generous, bigger than big today and littler than little tomorrow, Cody lived with the world at his feet and died with it on his shoulders.”

Barnum & Bailey Enterprise Pays Regular Visit to Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa gave a royal welcome today to an old-time friend–the Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth–here in its biennial pilgrimage through this section of the country and both city and country reveled in the delights of the gorgeous parade, the great tented city erected on Santa Rosa avenue, and the charm of the regal performance beneath the acres of gaily-bedecked canvas that never loses its power to lure…

…It is to the Barnum show that one looks for all that is latest and best in the arenic world [sic] and there were no disappointments this afternoon for while it would seem that all the sensational acts and thrillers had been exhausted long ere this, the Barnum show came across with two new heart action quickeners and creep-massagers. The first of these was Jupiter, the balloon horse. The intelligent equine stood on a narrow platform attached to a yellow balloon and ascended to the top of the tent. When the top was reached a pyrotechnic display broke out on all sides of “Jupe.” Did he plunge out to the hard earth beneath and dash out not only his own brains, but those of his fair rider? Certainly not. He gave a fine exhibition of a splendidly trained equine, immune to all noises and distractions.

Desperado supplied thrill No. 2. Concerning Desperado: Waiting until the band stopped playing a funeral dirge, Desperado took a header, and those who weren’t looking at that exact instant saw him standing on the sod the next. Desperado lit squarely on his indestructible wish-bone and slid to earth. These two acts were the headliners of the bill.

Everything else on the bill was in great profusion. There were three rings and two stages with a quarter mile track. Droves of performers filtered into the big tent from the dressing rooms and circulated about the rings and stages until one got cross-eyed trying to follow the mystic maze of the immense affair.

The management was lavish in its treatment of the guests of the day. With a program of such excellence it might seem unfair to particularize, but mention should be made of the aerial displays. A word as to the menagerie. Nothing more complete, if as much so, has ever been seen here before, and if the Barnum show offered nothing more than its animal display, a visit beneath its canvases would be worth while. The display was varied and exhibited under fine conditions as regards clean and roomy cages. The herd of four giraffes was an especially fine thing and the entire zoo made an especial appeal to the thoughtful.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910

No Marriage Licenses Issed Late Friday

The clerks in the office of County Clerk Fred L. Wright declare that circus day, Friday, has broken a record in their office. Up to a late hour Friday afternoon, not a single marriage license had been issued and therein lies the broken record.

Each circus day heretofore has brought with it its quota of brides and grooms. Some circus days six and eight couples have come here and launched on the joys of the matrimonial sea. The lack of applicants for the joy permits on Friday cause consternation in the office of the clerk.

Other than in the matter of issuing these permits, it was a dull day in the clerk’s domain. “Cupid” Casey Feldmeyer wore an elaborate smile all day long in anticipation of the matrimonial onslaught Dan Cupid would cause to be made on the office, but it never came, and toward late afternoon the smile began to vanish.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910


Bob Fitzsimmons, erstwhile champion heavyweight of the world, and Jack London, one of the foremost literary lights of his time, drove in to this city shortly before noon Friday. They were accompanied by Mrs. Fitzsimmons and Mrs. London, and came to attend the circus performance given here by Barnum & Bailey’s aggregation. Fitz and London are friends of many years’ standing, and the former and his wife are making a visit with the Londons at their bungalow, situated near Glen Ellen, in a picturesque nook. The party took dinner at the Campi restaurant, and then attended the afternoon performance at the big tent.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910


More than one hundred of the boys who are gathering the crop of berries at the Barlow berry fields came over on an electric train Friday morning to enjoy the circus. They were accompanied by Superintendent Frank C. Turner, and enjoyed a splendid day’s outing. The lads marched up Sebastopol avenue behind their drum corps and attracted much attention by their manly bearing and military precision.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910

Great Sport of the “Wild West” Exhibition That Soon Comes to Santa Rosa

Football on horseback bids fair to rival polo as a game for horseback riders in this country. The Buffalo Bill and Wild West and Pawnee Bill Far East is demonstrating the sport this year as one of the features of that popular exhibition. It is played by a group of horsemen, trained to expertness in the new “fad” mounted on the lively Western ponies which are features with the Wild West.

A large ball standing half as high as an ordinary horse is used as the “football.” The knees of the ponies are padded and by running into it the ball is thus propelled from goal to goal. Aside from the interest which the game creates, there is a strong element of grotesque comedy in the exhibition. The horses are rigged out after the fashion of the regulation football player, with guards and leads of all sorts, presenting a grotesque appearance. In every way the football horses are interesting, and the diversion is proving a great hit with patrons of the Wild West exhibition. The show comes to Santa Rosa on Thursday, September 29th.

The horses play a star part throughout Buffalo Bill’s entire program. Ray Thompson’s trained Western range horses are a special feature, and their graceful evolutions are supplemented by the marvelous high school exhibitive feats of Rhoda Royal’s twenty thoroughbreds, Bucking horses, Indian ponies and Arabian steeds are numbered among the equine stars of the Wild West, contributing vastly to a program of lively events.

The big Indian battles, the Wild West scenes, and the reproductions of historic events and materially to the distinctive entertainment of which Col. Wm. F. Cody, the original and only Buffalo Bill, is the originator and founder. In all that is presented during the Wild West performance, realism and truth prevails. Everything is real and authentic. There is no sham or subterfuge, and riding at the head of his galaxy of horsemen, directing the entertainment and appearing at every performance, the real, genuine and only Buffalo Bill appears at every performance, rain of shine, for the last time in our city.

– Press Democrat, September 9, 1910

Sheriff Jack Smith has requested that attention be called to the fact that there are some suspicious characters in town at the present time, who came in the wake of the circus. These people follow the circuses despite the efforts of the management to prevent them and at Sacramento on Wednesday there were three bicycles and two horses and buggies stolen. In this city things will also be missing if care is not taken to guard their property by the individuals. When going out tonight care should be taken that houses are securely locked, and pocketbooks should be stowed away in safe places. In crowds is where the light fingered gentry delight to do their nefarious work.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 29, 1910

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East shows are here. Wholly superfluous information for the small boy, to be sure. There were about 500 of him on hand this morning to superintend the unloading of the special train of 78 cars, which transports the big organization. He was active and enthusiastic in his work, but no sooner had the cumbersome red wagons, bearing canvas, stakes and poles, reached the show grounds than the small boy rapidly multiplied himself, developed a most remarkable ubiquity, and his enthusiasm enlarged to a fever.

At least 1000 youngsters volunteered their services as assistants to the men engaged in erecting the twenty-two tents that house the Wild West-Far East, its twenty-seven nationalities, its 700 horses and other animals. They even offered the best of their muscular works to the “roughnecks”–men employed on the most arduous tasks upon the grounds. In many ways the lads were an interference and hinderance to the progress of the canvas city’s growth, but everywhere they met with good-humored tolerance, for it is a jolly lot of workmen employed by the Buffalo Bill-Pawnee Bill combination and having ample time in which to complete their tasks, they accepted liberally of the “assistance” to the rapturous delight of the juvenile laborers.

There were constant desertions from their elected posts of industry, though. Not that the boys really meant to shirk what they considered solemn duty, but the sight of Colonel Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) walking about the grounds, exercising a general supervision over things, and moving at that with a democracy befitting ordinary folks, was too much for them. No strength of will yet developed in adolescent man is sufficient to resist the temptation to drop all other concerns, however grave to gorge vision with such rare intimacy with the living heroes of your best beloved, if contraband literature.

Pawnee Bill was adopted by the Pawnee tribe of Indians and that is how he gets that name. He speaks twenty-four tribal dialects and is familiar with the sign language which is universal among the tribes from one boundary to another. He and Buffalo Bill are among the most noted of the Indian scouts and fighters of the early days. The operating expenses of their show is about $6000 per day. 

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 29, 1910
Novel Advertising Method Attracted Attention

Several prominent Santa Rosans were “stung” Thursday by an elderly couple who were driving in a dilapidated vehicle, and who were advertising the Buffalo Bill shows. This was unknown to the aforesaid citizens who were “stung” until time for the denouement of the drama.

Outside John Hood’s jewelry store a woman sat up an awful shrieking, as if she were having a terrible case of hysteria. An elderly man came running to the vehicle from a refreshment parlor, grabbed the woman in his arms and kissed her, at the same time telling her everything would be all right. He took a large bandana handkerchief and with this repeatedly mopped the woman’s brow.

Henry Silvershield, Deputy Sheriff Chris Reynolds and others took hold of the horse to prevent the animal running away while the old gentleman in the vehicle gave attention to the woman with the hysterics. She kept telling the man, “I asked you not to leave me alone,” and “I just knew this would happen,” and she screamed at the top of her voice.

When Deputy Sheriff Reynolds finally made so bold as to inquire what was the matter, the old gentleman turned to him and said: “Nothing, my friend; but I’ll meet you this evening at the Buffalo Bill shows.” Then the couple drove off, while the vast crowd that had assembled gave the astonished deputy a merry round of laughter. Reynolds muttered “stung” and dropped back into the crowd. He had seen the disturbance from Judge Thomas C. Denny’s court room and hastened to the rescue.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 30, 1910

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