james t. adams

James "Grizzly" Adams

James (or John) Capen "Grizzly" Adams was born October 12, 1812 (according to his gravestone which also gives his first name as John) and died October 25, 1860, although many reports offer October 20, 1807 as his date of birth. (Correct if he was 53 when he died.) Discrepancies aside, Adams was most recently popularized by a television series in 1977, based on a motion picture from 1974, which was in turn based on a book written in 1973. Prior to this, a biography had been written about him after his death, and in his own time he was a famed United States outdoorsman and a performer/partner in P. T. Barnum's shows.

Born in Medway, Massachusetts, Adams spent many years in the mountain ranges of the U.S. west (mainly California), living around animals and sometimes capturing them for zoos. He went to the mountains after having gone broke through a series of disappointments, and having left his wife and children behind. Adams's famous companion was a bear named "Ben" (short for Benjamin Franklin), who died in a zoo that Adams himself opened in San Francisco in the late 1850s.

Adams made pets of several grizzlies and often wrestled with them. His most delinquent grizzly, named General Fremont (for John C. Fremont), during a playful wrestling match, struck Adams in the head, cracking it like an eggshell. The wound healed, only to be reopened by the "General". Although never fatal, by the fourth time the General severely injured James Adams' head, it left his brain exposed.

Adams died at about 53 years of age of meningitis from the open head wound that resulted from an accident while training a monkey on tour with P.T. Barnum in 1860. He was buried in Bay Path Cemetery, Charlton, Massachusetts. It is said that P. T. Barnum paid for his tombstone.

The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, a 1973 book by Charles Sellier, a movie and a television series made in the U.S., were loosely based on his life in the wilderness.


  • The adventures of James Capen Adams, mountaineer and grizzly bear hunter, of California, San Francisco : Towne & Bacon, 1860.

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