Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site
Herr (Jake) Driesbach obituary
The Zanesville Daily Courier (Zanesville, OH) – December 12, 1877
Herr (Jake) Driesbach
Driesbach, The Lion Tamer
His Death – His Remarkable Life – How He Cleaned a Tiger’s Cage, and How He Cleared a Pit of a Theatre –
Driesbach’s Joke on Edwin Forrest
From Ohio State Journal
Herr Driesbach, the well known lion tamer, died at Apple Creek station, Wayne county, Ohio, at the age of seventy years. Herr Driesback, or Jake Driesback, as he was known when a boy, was born in Sharon, Schoharie county, N. Y., on the 2d of November, 1807. He was the seventh of a family of ten children. His father was a carpenter, and young Driesbach worked with him at the same business until the year 1834, when he secured a position in a shipping house in New York city. At the hotel where he boarded, also boarded some of the employees of the Zoological Gardens, with whom he became acquainted. Not having employment in the shipping house during the winter months, he got work in the Garden. One day he was set to clean the cage of a Brazilian tiger. It was the custom to remain on the outside to clean it. Not being satisfied with this mode of proceeding, when the men were absent he crept into the cage and began to clean. Some of the men soon came around, and seeing Driesbach in the cage with the wild beast, they told him “to get out;” “he would get killed;” “nobody had ever been in there before,” etc. Jake told them he guessed not; he would attend to that; he wanted to get the “darned thing clean once.”
Not long after this Driesbach trained several animals, and Mr. Raymond, who was at that time one of the stockholders of the concern, shipped him to Europe. In England he met with unprecedented success, showing in London before Queen Victoria and other notables. From London he went to Paris, where he exhibited in the National Theater before the crowned heads and notables. From there he went to Lyons, Avignon, Bordeaux, etc; then back to England, Ireland and Scotland, visiting all of the principal cities. His fame was established, and when he returned home he was greeted with overflowing houses at the Bowery Theater and elsewhere. This was about the year 1840. He filled a two week’s engagement at the Bowery.
President Van Buren thought Jake and his wonderful lions curiosities, and was at the Bowery one night when Driesbach drove his favorite from the stage, in a golden chariot. Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc., were next visited. Three plays were written expressly for him and his pets. These he produced in grand style, with full companies, wherever he went. The following summer Herr Driesbach’s menagerie was put on the road. Raymond & Weekes were the proprietors. The first colored show posters that were ever printed were gotten out for this menagerie. The cuts were a rough picture of the Lion Tamer in those days with his pets. They were engraved by Joe Morse and worked by Thaddeus Anderson. They were rough-looking things beside the magnificent bills of the present day, but no doubt answered the purpose just as well.
Driesbach’s Menagerie having met with so much success, show stock, which had fallen to twelve cents on the dollar, began to rise and the business took a fresh start. Driesbach, however, continued to give theatrical exhibition during the winter months, and in after life he used to relate some amusing incidents that happened. Here is one in his own words:
“I was exhibiting in the city of Baltimore. We were playing a piece in which one of my tigers was to suddenly leap from above upon me, as if to kill me. After it would jump on to me we would roll around on the floor, to all appearance engaged in mortal combat. The theater in which we were playing had a large pit, and it was filled almost to suffocation that evening with boys and men. This time the fellow jumped over my head and was flying for the pit when I caught him by the tail and hauled him back. I needn’t tell you that standing room was made mighty quick in that pit when they saw the animal coming. They rousted out pell-mell, yelling and screaming for me to ‘Hold on to him.’
An amusing incident is related concerning Driesbach, and the late Edwin Forrest. When the latter was playing at the old Broadway, in New York his pieces were followed by an exhibition of lions by their tamer, Driesbach. Forrest was one day saying that he had never been afraid in his life – could not imagine the emotion. Driesbach made no remark at the time, but in the evening when the curtain had fallen, invited Forrest home with him. Forrest assented, and the two entering a house, walked a long distance, through many devious passages, all dark, until finally Driesbach, opening a door said: “This way, Mr. Forrest.” Forrest entered and immediately heard the door slammed and locked behind him. He had not time to express any surprise at this, for at the same moment he felt something soft rubbing against his leg, and putting out his hand, touched what felt like a cat’s back. A rasping growl saluted the emotion and he saw two fiery, glaring eyeballs looking up at him. “Are you afraid, Mr. Forrest? Asked Driesbach, invisible in the darkness. “Not a bit.”
Driesbach said something; the growl deepened and became hoarser, the back began to arch, and the eyes to shine more fiercely. Forrest held out for two or three minutes; but the symptoms became so terrifying that he owned up in so many words that he was afraid. “Now let me out, you infernal scoundrel, “and I’ll break every bone in your body.” He was imprudent there, for Driesbach kept him, not daring to move a finger, with the lion rubbing against his legs all the time, until Forrest promised not only immunity but a champagne supper into the bargain.
Driesbach continued to travel until about twelve years ago, when he renounced the show business, and settled down in Wayne county, Ohio, where he died. There he resided on a farm, after having lost about all the money he had ever made in the show business, and his last days were passed as an humble tiller of the soil, his abode being a dilapidated log cabin, but his life one of contentment.
Burlington Hawk Eye (Burlington, IA)
February 21, 1878
The Schoharie Republican gives some
reminiscences of the great lion tamer who died not long since on his farm in
Ohio, at the age of seventy, “poor but contented.” Driesbach’s earliest
characteristics were marked daring and an uncontrollable love for animals. From
his uncle’s farm, near Schoharie, he graduated as an apprentice to the
shoemaking business in that village, under one Christian Keyser. He found
nothing in the making and mending of shoes to conform to his restless, daring
spirit and fondness for adventure. He left Schoharie, went to New York and
obtained an appointment on the police force of that city. While acting as a
policeman he daily visited a menagerie there, and his old fondness for animals
revived. This was noticed by the managers, and Driesbach was induced to resign
his position on the police force and become an obscure employee of the
menagerie. He soon shown such tact, talent and daring – such perfect absence of
fear – that he was at once promoted, and afterward became renowned throughout
the world as the “great lion tamer.”
He undoubtedly was. No one disputes the title of championship of Herr Driesbach. He visited Europe and received the plaudits of crowned heads in all the monarchial centers of fashion and folly. He induced his caravan (at that time traveling) to come to Schoharie. The management laughed at the idea of coming to a country village with such an expensive establishment. But they acquiesced. The result was an immense throng and money in the treasury. An instance of the daring courage in his nature is given in this adventure: Driesbach possessed a favorite leopard. He was tame, gentle and docile as a child. Driesbach carried him in his arms, on his shoulders and often laid down with him and slept together. One day Driesbach left the door of the cage open and laid himself down under the shade of a tree and soon fell asleep. As soon as the leopard perceived that his keeper was wrapped in the arms of Mr. and Mrs. Morpheus, he sprang from the cage and grasped Driesbach’s throat. A death struggle ensued, Driesbach coming off victor in the death of his favorite pet. And this, too, without an implement. Driesbach with his own hands choking the leopard to death.
A Note to Researchers using this Web-site: As you use this site, please keep in mind the difference between primary and secondary sources and the importance of building a preponderance of evidence. Accept nothing without further checking. It is our hope that through this collection of data from many sources, you will find a piece of the puzzle that you are working on and that may lead you to further discoveries.
Links to external web sites are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or approval of any of the products, services or opinions contained in any external web site.
Welcome Page of the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site
This page established July 23, 2005 and last updated January 11, 2007