A prehistoric Tiger King?
By John LeMay
Author and historian
Due to the quarantine-induced love-fest that occurred with the Netflix “Tiger King” series, I couldn’t help but draw some parallels with this old story from the 1920s. It details an Old West “Tiger King” nicknamed Idaho Bill. And naturally, with a name like that, Bill claimed to have ridden with Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Buffalo Bill. However, there had to be something to Idaho Bill’s credit, because in December of 1923, several newspapers reported on how he delivered wild animals to the White House for the amusement of President Calvin Coolidge.
Five years later, in 1928, papers reported that Idaho Bill had captured a mysterious big cat down in Mexico, a big cat with notable tusks like the extinct saber-toothed tiger.
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The Morning Oregonian, on Aug. 2, 1928, told of Idaho Bill pulling up to the newspaper office with a strange animal in the back of his truck:
“…(Pearson) declared he had an animal, which has yet received no name — either as a scientific identification or as a family name such as pets often have — hidden away in that cage. Tarpaulins, rags, sheets of tin, close screen netting and what-nots entirely covered the cage, and so the crowd was not allowed to see enough to satisfy its curiosity. Two lucky newspapermen were the only ones allowed to peek in, and they’ll tell the world there was a Whatizis in there because it growled at both of them at once.
“Beast Comes From Mexico
“The beast was captured in Mexico southwest of Mexico City about three months ago, the colonel explained, and he is now taking it east to Washington D.C., where it will be given a scientific identification. So far the colonel does not know what it is that rides with him.
“Anyway, it weighs 800 pounds, looks like a combination of tiger, lion and cougar; growls like all of them together; has claws like a cat, has stripes like a tiger, a square snout, shaggy hair around its shoulders and tusks in its mouth.
“‘What does it eat?’ an onlooker queried.
“‘One calf every 2 ½ days,’ the colonel replied. ‘When I can’t get a calf, I have to buy fresh meat from a butcher shop. That’s why I look so disreputable myself.’
“Going east from Portland, the colonel expects to ‘percolate’ over the Columbia Highway to Pendleton and over the Old Oregon Trail to Yellowstone Park and thence on eastward to Washington.”
A follow-up article appeared in the Ogden Standard Examiner, on Aug. 18, 1928. In part, it reads:
HUGE WILDCAT ENROUTE EAST
‘Indian Bill’ Ropes Animal Which He Can’t Classify
“TWIN FALLS, Aug. 18 — (AP) — Colonel B.R. Pearson, widely known as ‘Idaho Bill,’ scout, guide and outstanding figure of the frontier West arrived here Friday night by automobile with a monster cat as passenger.
“Colonel Pearson is en route to Washington to present the beast to the National Zoological Society. The animal is about twice as large as a mountain lion, with peculiar beard and markings similar to those of a tiger. Its ears resemble those of a gorilla. The colonel expects the animal, which he captured in southern Mexico, will be identified at the zoological gardens.
“Six men assisted Mr. Pearson in roping the beast in its native haunts, where it was believed to have killed several humans. One of the assistants was severely injured by the big cat, and a second victim, the colonel said, was a spectator who thought the animal was a ‘show animal’ and moved too close to the cage. His face was laid open with a sweep of the cat’s paw.
“On the trip east, Colonel Pearson is traveling only during the daytime, in order, he said, to avoid risk of mishap, which might result in liberation of his ‘pet.’ A young calf fed to the animal every two and one-half days is constituting its rations on the trip.”
And did “Idaho Bill” make it to Washington D.C. with his prehistoric prize? Of course, the answer is no — or at least, not that we know of. As it is, no articles exist reporting on the outcome of the journey.