John Capen Adams was the original mountain man, but you probably might not recognize that name. He was better known as Grizzly Adams.
Born in Massachusetts in 1812, Adams developed a passion for hunting and the outdoors as a child. As a young man, he trained as a shoemaker to take part in the family business. But after a fire destroyed his business, Adams moved west in 1849, hoping to follow the California Gold Rush to his own fortune. He spent the next few years trying different business ventures, all of which failed.
In 1852, Adams took to the mountains. He grew a long beard and dressed in clothing made from animal skins. Adams made a living by hunting and capturing bears and other animals, some of which he sold to zoos and circuses. Other animals he trained, and used to put on exotic animal shows that were known to erupt into chaos.
He became most famous for his “tamed’ bears. While in the territory that is now Montana, he caught a young female grizzly bear, who he named Lady Washington. A year later, he took a pair of two-week-old grizzly cubs from their den near Yosemite Valley after killing their mother. He tamed the bears and named one of them Benjamin Franklin.
In 1860, Adams sold his menagerie to P.T. Barnum. He died that same year, when a monkey bite caused infection to an old bear claw wound that had already exposed part of his brain.
Adams was buried in Bay Path Cemetery in Charlton, Massachusetts. It is said that PT Barnum paid for the headstone. The now card inscription reads: “And silent now the hunter lays, Sleep on, brave tenant of the wild, Great Nature owns her simple child, And Nature’s God to whom alone, The secret of the heart is known, In silence whispers that his work is done.”
The Charlton Historical Society placed a marker in 1976.