John Capen Adams [1812-1860] became so famous for his love of grizzly bears, he would go down in history simply as “Grizzly Adams.”
“Grizzly Adams,” in the 1970s, was the title of both a popular motion picture and NBC TV series “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.”
On the television, Dan Haggerty played the role of Grizzly Adams” and established new Thursday night record-ratings for the network. Even so, today few people realize there was a real “Grizzly Adams” who migrated to the Sierra Nevada mountains to escape the confines of civilization after participating in the great California Gold Rush.
In 2018, Adventure Outdoors Magazine recognized Grizzly Adams as one of the three greatest American outdoorsmen of all time alongside Buffalo Bill Cody and Ernest Hemingway.
Adams challenged both conventional norms and untamed nature, first by turning his back on a greed-driven society born from the California Gold Rush, and then by blazing a trail into the wildest parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
There, he built a cabin home in the wilderness, made friends with nearby Native American tribes. Of special note, he found companions among some of nature’s untamed beasts, that especially featured his prized grizzly bears.
Although a California Mountain Man, he was actually born in Boston in 1812. As a young man he fled into the wilderness in search of adventure. To earn money he would trap all kinds of animals and sell them to zoos. It was here he learned to survive in the wilderness and get close to animals.
When he attempted to train a Bengal tiger in a local zoo, he was mauled almost to death. This did not deter him. When the California gold rush kicked off, Adams headed for California himself. Finding no luck as a gold miner, he took to the wilderness, living the life of a reclusive mountain man.
“And it was in the mountains that I successfully worked out for myself the great problem which other men have to work out, each in his own way, before they say that they live.”
– Grizzly Adams (1812-1860)
Grizzly Adams cared for the California grizzly bear, and studied their behavior. He learned to approach and even tame them. He even had a pet Grizzly bear who he stole from a bear den when it was just a pup. Called “Benjamin Franklin,” the bear saved Adams life on numerous occasions.
Another bear Adams named “Samson” was confirmed by the California State Historical Society to be the bear image on the state’s flag.
It was rendered from an 1855 painting done by famous Gold Rush artist, Charles Nahl, who came to know Grizzly Adams well in the 1850s.
With his familiarity, Grizzly Adams captured numerous bears over the years, selling them to zoos, circuses and private collectors. On occasion he would perform in the circus with them.
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