Circus Boy - Grant's Equestrian Antics

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I don't know what brought me back to the beginning pages of Brook D. Simpson's book on Grant - Triumph Over Adversity - but recently I read passages from these pages again and found what may be a little known curiosity about Grant. Around the same time I also discovered a documentary program on the history of the circus in America which only added to my intrigue.

"Just as Ulysses neared his second birthday, a small circus came to town. The toddler, adorned in petticoats, was fascinated by a trained pony; when the ringmaster invited members of the audience to ride the animal, Ulysses begged and implored his father until he got his way. Lifted onto the horse's back and held in place by an adult, he circled the ring several times, "manifesting more glee than he had ever shown before."

That was Ulysses initial experience and exposure to the circus. It wasn't to be his last.

"Ulysses was eleven when another circus visited Georgetown. Once more the ringmaster brought out a trained pony; once more Ulysses mounted it. This time, however, the ringmaster barked orders for the pony to throw its rider while galloping at full speed around the ring. Ulysses simply dug in his heels. Undeterred, the ringmaster brought out a monkey: it scrambled on board, grabbed Ulysses by the hair, and stared down at the boy's face. People laughed, then they grew astonished when they saw that Ulysses stayed on. There was no quit in this boy. In a similar episode young Grant earned five dollars for hanging on to a particularly slick mount."

These are fascinating stories to me. I don't know why I love them so much. Maybe because they are little known peculiarities belonging to a well known personage. But I didn't know Grant's equestrian antics also extended to the circus. And even here he shows his incredible tenacity while yet a child.
 
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Here's another example of Grant's collectedness as a young boy, from W. E. Woodward's Meet General Grant:

"Another adventure was with an unbroken horse which he had harnessed to a buggy and was bringing home from Kentucky. The horse ran away, and Ulysses succeeded in stopping him only on the extreme edge of an embankment where another foot of movement would have sent horse, buggy and driver all rolling to the bottom.
While the horse stood panting and trembling, the boy climbed cautiously out of the vehicle and reflected a moment, his hand on the reins. Then an idea occurred to him. He had heard that blind horses are not likely to run away, so he took out his handkerchief and tied it across the horse's eyes. Thus blindfolded, the unbroken horse became a slow-paced Dobbin and was driven home by the lad with great decorum."
 
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Here's another example of Grant's collectedness as a young boy, from W. E. Woodward's Meet General Grant:

"Another adventure was with an unbroken horse which he had harnessed to a buggy and was bringing home from Kentucky. The horse ran away, and Ulysses succeeded in stopping him only on the extreme edge of an embankment where another foot of movement would have sent horse, buggy and driver all rolling to the bottom.
While the horse stood panting and trembling, the boy climbed cautiously out of the vehicle and reflected a moment, his hand on the reins. Then an idea occurred to him. He had heard that blind horses are not likely to run away, so he took out his handkerchief and tied it across the horse's eyes. Thus blindfolded, the unbroken horse became a slow-paced Dobbin and was driven home by the lad with great decorum."
Another great addition to the stories of Grant's equestrian abilities @Copperhead-mi .

He was wise to animals, especially horses, in a way I imagine many others weren't, and going by the circus story had a natural attraction to them, plus ability with them, from an early age. I'm not sure about the ringmaster and his more than dangerous antics in sending the pony galloping at full speed! I think that would come under the heading of "reckless endangerment" ... just as well Ulysses didn't cower in the circumstances.

I also am always fascinated to hear of boys in petticoats back in the day. I know it was common, but it still seems a little odd.

If I had to pick three elements of this story to focus on it would be:

1/ The Circus
2/ Grant's little known equestrian antics
3/ Grant in petticoats

I think in the past the circus has held a fascination with many people - children and adults alike. I know my children and I attended the circus regularly when in Ireland and whenever it came our small town. The documentary on the circus indicated it first came to America in the late 1700's. It was so interesting to hear what was involved and how it grew over time involving a number of competitors. I really enjoyed reading about Grant's experience with the circus and how it once again involved horses, as well as his extraordinary ability with them. No monkey business was going to interfere with his very singular focus on the task at hand!
 
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Joined
Jan 24, 2017
Well, it seems Grant's fascination with and enjoyment of the circus endured into adulthood.

This comes from a blog post detailing some of Ulysses potential relationships prior to meeting Julia, and a visit to one of the young ladies after she had chosen to marry another. His visit to the newlyweds in New York was made on his way home after graduating from West Point.

"After this the couple accompanied him to the circus in New York City, "to see the riding, of which he was very fond."

https://rediscoveringourpast.blogspot.com/2014/12/grant-chronicles-before-julia.html

The whole blog post is very interesting in terms of Grant's prior love interests.

I wonder what it was he enjoyed so much about the riding in the circus? And maybe he got some ideas there for his daredevil stunt in the Mexican war? One thing leads to another as they say ...
 
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Grant's son Fred also recounted his father bringing him and Buck to the circus when they were kids. What seems glossed over to me is what psychological effect it had on young Grant when his young friends died in a horseback accident trying to duplicate a stunt that Ulysses had done. I mean most would agree he never intended for his friend to die, but how did process the situation and was he able to move past it simply because he was young? Either way, horses were a dangerous addiction for Grant at times leading to some near-fatal accidents on powerful and unruly animals.

I am still working on a blog post regarding Grant's attitude toward horse racing. It seems he may have been much more interested in visiting with the horses trackside than watching the horses race. I wonder what about the circus performances may have been more engaging for him? He seemed to indulge his passion for fast horse/carriage rides into his later years.

Grant seems to have displayed a reckless disregard for his own safety on numerous occasions. When a fellow West Point cadet, after Grant completed a set of risky horse jumps, warned him "Sam, that horse will kill you someday." Grant replied, "Well, I can die but once."
 
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trying to duplicate a stunt that Ulysses had done.
I think this is the connection I would make with the circus and part of Grant's fascination with it. He may have been fascinated with the combination of both horses and various stunts, or daredevil tactics, which could be performed by man and beast. Being so proficient with horses may have naturally led him to this next level experience or interest. Unfortunately, it appears Grant was capable of things his friend was not, and it would be hard to know the impact of that on him. He may well have been devastated, but also well trained not to show that. Which reminds me of the time he was given the news of Lincoln's assassination. Although he did cry publicly on the occasion of Lincoln's funeral, he remained stoic when he got the news, so it's hard to know what he may have done in private after that boy's death. What a shame it seems to have been glossed over as it would give us more insight into Grant, the man.

Grant's son Fred also recounted his father bringing him and Buck to the circus when they were kids.
So interesting that there are accounts given by Fred about his father bringing them to the circus. It does seem to have been an interest or fascination of Grant's, and one he wanted his sons to enjoy as well. And it would have been a major source of entertainment when it came to town. Here's some more interesting information on it's start up, where the influence of riding and horses is apparent also:

"The first circuses in America were European—and small. Although circus arts are ancient and transnational in origin, the modern circus was born in England during the 1770s when Philip Astley, a cavalryman and veteran of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), brought circus elements—acrobatics, riding, and clowning—together in a ring at his riding school near Westminster Bridge in London.

One of Astley’s students trained a young Scotsman named John Bill Ricketts, who brought the circus to America. In April of 1793, some 800 spectators crowded inside a walled, open-air, wooden ring in Philadelphia to watch the nation’s first circus performance. Ricketts, a trick rider, and his multicultural troupe of a clown, an acrobat, a rope-walker, and a boy equestrian, dazzled President George Washington and other audience members with athletic feats and verbal jousting.

Individual performers had toured North America for decades, but this event marked the first coordinated performance in a ring encircled by an audience. Circuses in Europe appeared in established urban theater buildings, but Ricketts had been forced to build his own wooden arenas because American cities along the Eastern Seaboard had no entertainment infrastructure. Roads were so rough that Ricketts' troupe often traveled by boat. They performed for weeks at a single city to recoup the costs of construction. Fire was a constant threat due to careless smokers and wooden foot stoves. Soon facing fierce competition from other European circuses hoping to supplant his success in America, Ricketts sailed for the Caribbean in 1800. While returning to England at the end of the season, he was lost at sea.

After the War of 1812, American-born impresarios began to dominate the business. In 1825, Joshua Purdy Brown, a showman born in Somers, New York, put a distinctly American stamp on the circus. In the midst of the evangelical Second Great Awakening (1790-1840), an era of religious revivalism and social reform, city leaders in Wilmington, Delaware banned public amusements from the city. Brown stumbled upon the prohibition during his tour and had to think fast to outwit local authorities, so he erected a canvas “pavilion circus” just outside the city limits.

Brown’s adoption of the canvas tent revolutionized the American circus, cementing its identity as an itinerant form of entertainment."


https://www.smithsonianmag.com/hist...lar-has-long-and-cherished-history-180962621/

I am still working on a blog post regarding Grant's attitude toward horse racing.
I'll look forward to this and hope you will post a link here :smile: My guess is Grant would rather be in the race than watching it :smoke:

When a fellow West Point cadet, after Grant completed a set of risky horse jumps, warned him "Sam, that horse will kill you someday." Grant replied, "Well, I can die but once."
In many ways he seems to have had a very 'fatalistic' approach to life ... which probably helped him in combat, too, and may be another reason he was so cool under fire. He certainly didn't seem to be afraid of death and maybe there are times where that helped him when it came to the death of others also. Perhaps even his young friend who he could not save, and did not intend to die. Fate had the final word.
 
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