Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

The Circus Came to Town in 1871

Van Amburgh & Company’s Menagerie and Circus, managed by Hyatt Frost, was billed to perform in Keosauqua on July 25, 1871. After performing here, it moved on to Fairfield on the 27th.

The collection of animals was first organized by Isaac Van Amburgh in 1834. By 1871 the amazing exhibit included at least one hippopotamus, rhinoceros, great African eland, hartebest, yak of Tartary, Koomareah elephant, New Holland ostrich, three-horned Spanish bull, two-humped Bactrian camel and a zebra.

In 1871, Van Amburgh & Co. Had two large traveling circuses. The company’s Great Golden Menagerie featured Willis Cobb’s troupe of performing goats, monkeys and dogs. This exposition employed 110 men, and was composed of 21 wagons and 151 horses. They used a canvas tent with six center poles to house the show and the audience. The first performance that year was at Connersville, Indiana and this herd traveled up the Wabash River into Michigan.

The other circus called Van Amburgh & Co.’s Mammoth Menagerie had merged with Siegrist’s French and Frost’s American Circus. H. Frost was listed as one of the proprietors, and was the manager mentioned in the Keosauqua billing.

This exposition included Clark Gibbs and John Foster as clowns. It had gymnasts, tumblers, trick horses and mules and 16 cages of animals. A three center pole canvas was used. The show was organized in Carthage, Illinois where it first performed on April 17, then it crossed the Mississippi and made its way from town to town until it reached Omaha.

This was the show that came to Keosauqua. It employed 112 men, 146 horses and contained 32 wagons, thus it must have made a very impressive parade as it entered town. Jeff Benson was the chief cook for this gang of people, which included an equestrian leader and members of a band with their leader. Joseph Stout was “chief bill poster,” and Marietta Zanfretti was a tight rope “artiste.”

There were children employed in the show. Francola Siegrist performed with his children and a troupe of dogs. Also listed was little Meeme Foster who may have been the daughter of Madame Foster, also billed. One of the horse or pony riders was “Little Kitty Kincade.”

The show included elephant performers Frank Nash and William Winner, who was also known as the “lion king.”

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick