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On October 4, 1890, a traveling circus called the French & Company’s Great Railroad Show arrived in Alderson. While in town, the show’s lioness gave birth to three cubs. Having no space or time to raise them, Mr. French instructed one of his employees to take the cubs to the river and drown them.

Susan Bebout, the wife of a local blacksmith, was at the river getting water and offered to take the cubs. She kept one and gave the rest to other women in town. Bebout named her cub French, after the circus proprietor. She wrapped him in red flannel and deposited him in a soap box with her house cat. While the other lion cubs died, French thrived, weighing more than 150 pounds by summer. He frequently escaped the Bebouts’ backyard and wandered the streets of Alderson. Silent and unnoticed, he sidled up next to people and leaned against their thighs and butted them with his head.

While French apparently did not hurt anyone, residents complained, and the city council adopted an ordinance that required all lions in town to be on a leash. (The law remains on the books.) The Bebouts sold French for $300 to the new National Zoological Park in Washington where, on September 12, 1891, he became the zoo’s first African lion. French was popular with the zoo’s visitors, but in May 1894, he was traded to the Barnum and Bailey Circus where he apparently spent the rest of his life as one of the many attractions of "The Greatest Show on Earth.”

This Article was written by Richard Hartman

Last Revised on April 07, 2016


Cite This Article

Hartman, Richard "Alderson Lion." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 April 2016. Web. 28 April 2017.

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