The Golden Pigeons
"Old Grizzly Adams" was quite candid when, in his last hours, he
confessed to the clergyman that he had "told some pretty large stories
about his bears." In fact, these "large stories" were Adam's "besetting
sin." To hear him talk, one would suppose that he had seen and handled
everything ever read or heard of. In fact, according to his story,
California contained specimens of all things, animate and inanimate, to
und in any part of the globe. He talked glibly about California
lions, California tigers, California leopards, California hyenas,
California camels, and California hippopotami. He furthermore declared
he had, on one occasion, seen a California elephant, "at a great
distance," but it was "very shy," and he would not permit himself to
doubt that California giraffes existed somewhere in the neighborhood of
the "tall trees."
I was anxious to get a chance of exposing to Adams his weak point, and
of showing him the absurdity of telling such ridiculous stories. A fit
occasion soon presented itself. One day, while engaged in my office at
the Museum, a man with marked Teutonic features and accent approached
the door and asked if I would like to buy a pair of living golden
"Yes," I replied, "I would like a flock of 'golden pigeons,' if I
could buy them for their weight in silver; for there are no 'golden'
pigeons in existence, unless they are made from the pure metal."
"You shall see some golden pigeons alive," he replied, at the same time
entering my office and closing the door after him. He then removed the
lid from a small basket which he carried in his hand, and sure enough
there were snugly ensconced a pair of beautiful living ruff-necked
pigeons, as yellow as saffron and as bright as a double eagle fresh from
I confess I was somewhat staggered at this sight, and quickly asked the
man where those birds came from.
A dull, lazy smile crawled over the sober face of my German visitor, as
he replied in a slow, guttural tone of voice:
"What you think yourself?"
Catching his meaning, I quickly answered:
"I think it is a humbug?"
"Of course, I know you will say so; because you 'forstha' such things
better as any man living, so I shall not try to humbug you. I have color
On further inquiry, I learned that this German was a chemist, and that
he possessed the art of coloring birds any hue desired, and yet retain a
natural gloss on the feathers, which gave every shade the appearance of
"I can paint a green pigeon or a blue pigeon, a gray pigeon or a black
pigeon, a brown pigeon or a pigeon half blue and half green," said the
German; "and if you prefer it, I can paint them pink or purple, or give
you a little of each color, and make you a rainbow pigeon."
The "rainbow pigeon" did not strike me as particularly desirable; but,
thinking here was a good chance to catch "Grizzly Adams," I bought the
pair of golden pigeons for ten dollars, and sent them up to the "Happy
Family," marked "Golden Pigeons from California." Mr. Taylor the great
pacificator, who has charge of the Happy Family, soon came down in a
state of perspiration.
"Really, Mr. Barnum," said he, "I could not think of putting those
elegant golden pigeons into the Happy Family--they are too valuable a
bird--they might get injured--they are by far the most beautiful pigeons
I ever saw; and as they are so rare, I would not jeopardize their lives
"Well," I replied, "you may put them in a separate cage, properly
Monsieur Guillaudeu, the naturalist and taxidermist of the Museum, has
been attached to that establishment since the year it was founded, 1810.
He is a Frenchman, and has read everything upon Natural History that was
ever published in his own or in the English language. He is now
seventy-five years old, but is lively as a cricket, and takes as much
interest in Natural History as he ever did. When he saw the "golden
pigeons from California," he was considerably astonished! He examined
them with great delight for half an hour, expatiating upon their
beautiful color, and the near resemblance which every feature bore to
the American ruff-neck pigeon. He soon came to my office and said:
"Mr. B., these golden pigeons are superb, but they cannot be from
California. Audubon mentions no such bird in his work upon American
I told him he had better take Audubon home with him that night, and
perhaps by studying him attentively he would see occasion to change his
The next day, the old naturalist called at my office and remarked:
"Mr. B., those pigeons are a more rare bird than you imagine. They are
not mentioned by Linnaeus, Cuvier, Goldsmith, or any other writer on
Natural History, so far as I have been able to discover. I expect they
must have come from some unexplored portion of Australia."
"Never mind," I replied, "we may get more light on the subject, perhaps,
before long. We will continue to label them 'California Pigeons' until
we can fix their nativity elsewhere."
The next, morning, "Old Grizzly Adams," whose exhibition of bears was
then open in Fourteenth street, happened to be passing through the
Museum, when his eyes fell on the "Golden California Pigeons." He looked
a moment and doubtless admired. He soon after came to my office.
"Mr. B," said he, "you must let me have those California pigeons."
"I can't spare them," I replied.
"But you must spare them. All the birds and animals from California
ought to be together. You own half of my California menagerie, and you
must lend me those pigeons."
"Mr. Adams, they are too rare and valuable a bird to be hawked about in
that manner; besides, I expect they will attract considerable attention
"Oh, don't be a fool," replied Adams. "Rare bird, indeed! Why, they are
just as common in California as any other pigeon! I could have brought a
hundred of them from San Francisco, if I had thought of it."
"But why did you not think of it?" I asked, with a suppressed smile.
"Because they are so common there," said Adams. "I did not think they
would be any curiosity here. I have eaten them in pigeon-pies hundreds
of times, and shot them by the thousand!"
I was ready to burst with laughter to see how readily Adams swallowed
the bait, but maintaining the most rigid gravity, I replied:
"Oh well, Mr. Adams, if they are really so common in California, you had
probably better take them, and you may write over and have half a dozen
pairs sent to me for the Museum."
"All right," said Adams; "I will send over to a friend in San Francisco,
and you shall have them here in a couple of months."
I told Adams that, for certain reasons, I would prefer to change the
label so as to have it read: "Golden Pigeons from Australia."
"Well, call them what you like," replied Adams; "I suppose they are
probably about as plenty in Australia as they are in California."
I fancied I could discover a sly smile lurking in the eye of the old
bear-hunter as he made this reply.
The pigeons were labeled as I suggested, and this is how it happened
that the Bridgeport non-believing lady, mentioned in the next chapter,
was so much attracted as to solicit some of their eggs in order to
perpetuate the species in old Connecticut.
Six or eight weeks after this incident, I was in the California
Menagerie, and noticed that the "Golden Pigeons" had assumed a
frightfully mottled appearance. Their feathers had grown out, and they
were half white. Adams had been so busy with his bears that he had not
noticed the change. I called him up to the pigeon cage, and remarked:
"Mr. Adams, I fear you will lose your Golden Pigeons; they must be very
sick; I observe they are turning quite pale!"
Adams looked at them a moment with astonishment; then turning to me, and
seeing that I could not suppress a smile, he indignantly exclaimed:
"Blast the Golden Pigeons! You had better take them back to the Museum.
You can't humbug me with your painted pigeons!"
This was too much, and "I laughed till I cried" to witness the mixed
look of astonishment and vexation which marked the "grizzly" features of
"These Golden Pigeons," I remarked, "are very common in California, I
think I heard you say? When do you expect my half-dozen pairs will
"You go to thunder, you old humbug!" replied Adams, as he marched off
indignantly, and soon disappeared behind the cages of his grizzly
From that time, Adams seemed to be more careful about telling his large
stories. Perhaps he was not cured altogether of his habit, but he took
particular pains when making marvelous statements to have them of such a
nature that they could not be disproved so easily as was that regarding
the "Golden California Pigeons."