Circuses and sideshows often invented exotic stories about their exhibits. For example, exceptionally hirsute men were exhibited as "lion-faced men" or "wild men" along with tales that they had been captured in a remote country, were wild and ate raw meat. Despite the legends that the "Oregon Wonder Horses" had been captured from a legendary wild herd, they appear to have been bred from Clydesdale, Percheron draft horses, possibly with some Andalusian blood as well. Excessively long manes and tails would have been a severe hindrance in the wild and needed a lot of care in a domestic situation.
One of the earliest long-maned horses was a Percheron named "Prince Imperial" who also laid claim to the world's longest mane. Prince Imperial originally belonged to Emperor Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte III (nephew of the famous Napoleon). In 1869, a Marion livestock breeder named Jacob Howser traveled to France and bought the horse for $3,000. Howser exhibited Prince Imperial at fairs and horse shows around the USA and billed him as "The Greatest Living Curiosity of This or Any Other Age". Prince Imperial was credited with having the longest forelock (at 7 ft) and longest mane (at 9 ft 10 inches) in the world, the mane later being described as 14 ft 3 inches at its longest. He weighed 1840 pounds and is believed to have been one of the first Percherons imported into the USA. When not being exhibited, his mane was braided and the braids looped to stop the hair dragging on the ground. Prince Imperial died in 1888, but continue to be a curiosity and money-spinner for his owner. Professor AG Ward stuffed the horse so that Howser could continue exhibiting him. Outside of the sideshow travelling season, the stuffed horse was kept in Howser's living room. After Jacob Howser died, his sons continued to exhibited Prince Imperial. This tradition continued to the next generation, with Jacob Howser's grandsons and great-grandson Jake Howser doing the same. Great-gradson Jake Howser tried to end the tradition and instructed his sons to burn the stuffed horse when Jake died. Luckily for sideshow historians, Prince Imperial was sold to another local family. They cleaned him up and put him on a wheeled platform which they dragged through local parades. He later became the property of Theodore Myers, associate director of the Marion campus of Ohio State University and member of the board of the local historical society. Myers kept Prince Imperial in a travelling case in his barn. Prince Imperial eventually became the property of the Marion County Historical Society and continues to enjoy a degree of posthumous fame as a static exhibit in Marion, Ohio. at the Heritage Hall.
White Wings was a pure white Percheron stallion whose mane was said to be 14 feet long with a tail 17 feet long. A 1902 book of animal life described White Wings as the most beautiful horse alive. He was exhibited by Bostock and Wombwell in their Royal No 1 Menagerie in England. According to Edward Henry Bostock ("Menageries Circuses and Theatres") "Unfortunately White Wing's tail had been cut off by a revengeful groom while the animal was in America, and this had to be plaited on and doctored up for show purposes. But for this defect I might not have been able to acquire the animal.
Below: White Wings, or one of the other white "wonder horses". I've converted the sepia image to black-and-white to improve the image.
The horses for which we have the best "career records", however, are Linus and Linus II.
Books and magazines contain photos of 3 different horses, with different facial markings and different length white socks, all of whom claim to be the famous Linus. According to one postcard ("famous Oregon exhibition horse"), Linus' mane was 14 feet long (with 10 feet forelock) and his tail was 12 feet 3 inches. Another source gives his mane as 18 feet and the tail 21 feet. Other photos supposedly of "Linus" appear in the the 1902 book "Animal Life". These photos are actually his son Linus II and a similar, but unidentified, horse that might be either Aurelius (a brother of Linus II) or Montezuma (a possible son of Oregon Beauty). "Animal Life" (1902) claims a tail 17 ft long and a 13 ft double mane (circuses and sideshows are well known for exaggeration). One of these was Linus II who, at 8 years old, had a mane 13 foot long (with 5 ft 6 inch forelock) and a tail 19 foot long. At 11 years old, both measurements had decreased by 18 inches: mane 11 foot 6 inches; tail 17 foot 6 inches.
Many of the photos of the various Linuses are cabinet cards showing the attractions of circuses and travelling freak shows. There was also a promotional leaflet produced with a fanciful legend about Linus's ancestry which reads like a prequel to the My Friend Flicka/Thunderhead/Green Grass of Wyoming saga. This leaflet mentions Linus and Linus II. There are photos here of Linus I and Linus II and of a third "Linus" - undoubtedly related, but with different facial markings. The legend used to attract the public is as follows:
The story of the long haired Oregon horses
"In the early history of Oregon traditions of a herd of magnificent wild horses that roamed at will over her mountains and valleys were told the settlers, and, like many other tales of like character, seemed beyond belief. It was said this herd was led by an enormous chestnut stallion, whose mane and tail were so abundant and of such length as to almost envelop the entire animal in a wealth of flowing hair. For years this" Wild King of Oregon Wonder Horses" roamed over the country, ever alert to stampede his followers and flee with almost the rapidity of the wind at the approach of a human being. So subtile was this wild leader of his race that it was only at rare intervals that the best hunters were able to even secure at a distance a glimpse of these marvelous equines. Frequent hunts were inaugurated by those who had heard of the surpassing beauty of these horses for the purpose of capturing them to be placed in subjection and used for improving the breeding of the settlers' horses; but, though all the advantage that the intelligent hunter could command was brought to bear, added to which were large rewards for the capture of the magnificent leader, or some representative member of the herd, for years the intuitive cunning of this remarkably intelligent horse rendered his capture, or that of his followers, impossible, though for some unaccountable reason there was no apparent increase in the herd, which was later accounted for, as this wild king would brook no rival, and killed every male born to his equine harem.
Surrounded by his bevy of beautiful mares, who, like him, possessed in a marked degree the hirsute adornments that caused the settlers to seek their capture, this" uncrowned king" of the Pacific Slope continued to evade civilization until his demise, leaving sixteen beautiful mares to mourn their lifelong protector, but with apparently no means of perpetuating the race. Many, in fact most, of these mares were aged, for they, too, had followed the footsteps of their leader and fought among themselves for supremacy to such an extent that only such rivals as were imbued by nature with extraordinary powers of endurance were enabled to rear their female young; and possibly none would have survived but for the probable interference of the "wild old king," who saw in this bitter war of extermination the loss of opportunity to surround himself with the choicest of equine beauty, and so in a few instances must have insisted on allowing some "to live. At all events, of the sixteen mares but one was ever captured that was possible to breed, and she possessed extraordinary powers for perpetuating the peculiarities of her race, for, as shown in the second, third and fourth descent, all the leading characteristics of this marvelous mare are not only found, but in each instance strengthened and increased by careful breeding, so that now the "Oregon Wonder Horses" have become in captivity what they were in their wild state, a distinct and beautiful breed, exhibiting to a high degree the intelligence that enabled them to retain their liberty for so many years while pursued and eagerly hunted by the most famed scouts, cowboys and hunters the great West could command.
The capture of "Oregon Queen," the youngest surviving mare of the wild herd, was hailed with pleasure by those interested in improving the breeding of horses, both in Oregon and the entire Pacific Coast (for their fame was widespread), and when it became known that the "Queen" was to bear a foal by the old leader of the herd, offers of fabulously large amounts were made in advance of its birth for the offspring; but all were refused by Messrs. Rutherford, who had, by early purchase from the captors, secured the much-coveted prize. In the early spring of 1870 "Oregon Queen" became the dam of "Oregon Beauty," the first of the Wonder Horses born in captivity. This filly was treated with the utmost care, and soon developed into a marvel of beauty (hence her name); and when five years old, and after the birth of her first colt (Linus), was placed on exhibition, and proved one of the greatest drawing cards for fairs and museums ever known, until her death at Coney Island, where she was killed by lightning in the summer of 1887. Happily Linus, her son, who not only resembled his dam, but possessed even a greater development of tail and mane, was able to succeed her as one of the most attractive exhibition animals ever placed before the public.
Linus was sold in 1890 to Messrs. Eaton Brothers, of Boston, for $30,000, and proved a splendid paying exhibition property for several years, so much so that $60,000 was refused for him by his owners, who retained possession of him until his death in 1894. In the meantime, by careful and judicious breeding extending over a period of twenty-five years from the capture of the first mare, the Messrs. Rutherford have succeeded in establishing this breed of "Wonder Horses" on a secure foundation; and, though guarding with utmost jealousy all the progeny, they carefully continued their line of breeding until they possess to-day absolute control of a distinct breed of horses, the like of which has never been seen in all the world, nor will it ever be reproduced, since the wild origin is now extinct.
The" Wonder Horses" of Oregon are remarkable for the great growth of hair in mane and tail, which for length and thickness is not equaled in the world; and since these horses have been bred in captivity this growth of beautiful silken hair has increased with each generation, as will be seen from a comparison of the photographs contained herein. The wonderful endurance and intelligence of this breed of equines is at once apparent to anyone familiar with horses; and now that all trace of the wild nature has bowed to the gentle care and treatment meted out to these animals, they exhibit the utmost gentleness and court the attention of those who come near them. Another remarkable characteristic of this truly wonderful breed of horses is their color, all of them being rich chestnuts, which goes far to prove them a distinct breed, able, by reason of their thoroughbred origin, to perpetuate their blood from generation to generation.' No doubt the "Oregon Wonder Horses" are the truest descendents of the first horses brought to America by Cortez, the conquerer of Mexico. Probably some escaped at that early period and established this breed hundreds of years ago remaining wild and uncaptured.
Linus II is pronounced by eminent horsemen as the most perfect type of equine beauty in the world, and his proud bearing adds much to his natural grandeur, for he carries himself as a worthy successor of his wild old ancestor, the King of Oregon Wonder Horses, in whose place he now stands as leader of his race."
The true origins of the Oregon Wonder Horses is more mundane. According to a report in the New Zealand Observer "The first of these long-maned Oregon Wonders came to light in the [eighteen-]eighties, being worked on a farm in Oregon. He was then taken East and put on exhibition, dying in Coney Island in 1887. His son Linus was the only colt sired by him of which there is a record that he had the same superabundance of hirsute [hair] and Linus II was likewise the only one of the sort got by his sire." That farm horse was actually a mare named Oregon Beauty, who produced a son, Linus, in 1884. Oregon Beauty was indeed exhibited and the New York Times reported that she was killed in a fire on June 17, 1888 at Coney Island (a popular exhibition venue) when "Lightning struck the gable of a roof and glancing off, set a heap of rubbish on fire 10 feet away. It then went through the stable, setting it on fire and killing a very fine mare belonging to M.E. Reid of California. The animal was the celebrated Oregon Beauty, a beautiful dark chestnut, 9 years old. She possessed a fine, large, bushy tail and a heavy mane 10 feet long. She was valued at $15,000. She was well known throughout California and Oregon, having been exhibited in all cities and towns of those states, and her owner had brought her to New York to exhibit to the admirers of horse flesh."
This original Linus is known to have been three-quarter Clydesdale and one-quarter French (Percheron) and his weight was advertised as 1435 lbs. He was bred in Marion, Oregon, about 1884, then acquired around 1890/91 by brothers CH & HW Eaton from Calais, Maine. Linus was sold to the Eaton Brothers for $30,000 in 1890, but died in 1894 at the age of 10 years. By then, he had sired Aurelius (born Oregon June 1890) and Linus II (born 1894). Aurelius was exhibited at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles as one of the "Oregon Wonder Horses" and was 16 hands tall with "a luxuriant mane and tail". Some photos of Linus II can also be found labelled as being Aurelius (mane 7 ft, tail 8 ft) who was two-thirds owned by LA Cole and JK Rutherford.
The Eatons became the most successful promoters of the horse. "When about four years old his mane and tail grew so rapidly-often as much as 3 inches a month -that in three years they reached their present astonishing length. His body colour is a glossy golden chestnut, he has white hind feet and a white face, and his mane, tail and foretop are of a soft flaxen colour. His hair, which is 'done up' when he is not receiving visitors, continues to grow, though now very slowly. Linus is certainly a beautiful animal. He is proud, carries his head high, and enjoys admiration with all the intelligence and pride of his race. The mane is 14ft, the foretop 9ft and the tail 12ft. When spread and drawn out to their full extent, the display of the beautiful locks is quite impressive. It is washed out with cold water, no tonics being applied to it. Before the horse is placed in his stall the hair is drawn out and divided into several thick strands. From his mane four such strands are made. Each strand is then tied around once every six inches almost to the end. It is then rolled up and put into a bag. For his mane and foretop alone five bags are required. He is exercised in the same guise, a blanket or sheet, if necessary, being thrown over him to conceal the pendant bags. He is exercised every day, either in a ring or out of doors under saddle. The owners will not permit him to be taken into the upper floor of any building for fear of some accident."
Linus was featured in Scientific American in 1891 where he was described (incorrectly) as a Percheron stallion (Percherons are grey, Linus was chestnut): "He is 16 hands in height, weighs 1,435 pounds and is of chestnut color. The mane is fourteen feet, the foretop nine feet, and tail twelve feet long. When spread and drawn out to their full extent, the display of the beautiful locks of bright hair is quite impressive. The greatest care is taken of the hair. It is washed out with cold water, no tonics being applied to it. Before the horse is placed in his stall the hair is drawn out and divided into several thick strands. From his mane four such strands are made. Each strand is then tied around once every six inches about to the end. It is then rolled up and put into a bag. For his mane and foretop alone five bags are required....During the last two years his mane and tail have grown about two feet."
The sideshow business was highly competitive and as well as Linus, there were several other Wonder Horses. "Santa Rosa, California has the distinction of being the home of one of the remarkable horses of the age. It is Montezuma, a son of Oregon Wonder, the long-tailed and long-maned curiosity of the Nortwest. This horse has a handsome tail over six feet long, and its mane is over five feet long." ("Horses and Horsemen. Notes from the Carriage Room, Auction Mart, and Breeding Farm" New York Times Jan 1st, 1894.) While Oregon Wonder might be another name for Oregon Beauty, it is equally likely that a competing sideshow invented the name so that the horse appeared to be a relative of the famous Linus!
A Wonder Horse exhibited at Fells Waxworks in Glasgow, Scotland was very similiar in appearance to Linus and Linus II, suggesting he was a son or brother of Linus. Marquis was another three-quarter Clydesdale and one-quarter French, at age 7 his mane was 14 ft and his tail was 18 ft long. Marquis was bred at Grande Island, California and owned and exhibited by J A Grimmer and J O Sharp. In 1894, Ringling Bros boasted of exhibiting Prince Chaldean, the long-maned Percheron, with a mane over nine feet long. Bostock and Wombwell had White Wings, claimed to be the most beautiful horse alive and said to be of Spanish Andalusian descent. Another long-maned horse was Jack Allison's Percheron, photographed circa 1880. The Walter L Main Circus boasted a white long-maned horse "Boneito". It appears that the chestnut Oregon Wonder Horses (including Linus I, Linus II, Marquis) were Clydesdale/French (Percheron) mixes while the white ones were Percherons or Percheron/Andalusian mixes. One article erroneously described Linus as a Percheron, rather than a mix.
If a sideshow couldn't get hold of a living Wonder Horse, then a taxidermy specimen would suffice. The stuffed Prince Imperial had a long posthumous career. A stuffed Wonder Horse was exhibited in San Francisco and advertised in a brochure for Chutes Museum (which opened in 1897): "Here may be seen the $3,000, long-tailed and long-maned horse, "Beauty". This animal, in life, was one of the chief attractions of the zoo. In death, he is a permanent interest not alone to those who knew him in the zoo, but to those who now see him for the first time. A more beautiful animal never lived." Despite the name, this was not Oregon Beauty as she was female (the taxidermy was male) and had been killed in a fire (which would have consumed her mane and tail), but is more likely to have been Howser's well-travelled French import, Prince Imperial.
An account of Linus II, son of Linus, appeared in 1899 and detailed the amount of care required to maintain the mane and tail - this immediately rules out any idea of there being a wild race of "wonder horses":
"A WONDERFUL HORSE. The Sampson Among Equines. Lawrence D Fogo.
The accompanying illustration pictures the most wonderful horse in the world - Linus II, son of Linus, a celebrated horse in his day. That his owner James K Rutherford, of Waddington, NY, is very proud of him goes without saying. No photograph can do adequate justice to his superb beauty. In colour he is of a golden chestnut, with a coat like satin. His wonderful mane is double, falling in a solid mass down both sides of his neck and lying about four feet on the ground. In color the mane is much lighter than the horse's body, and mixed with white, very fine and silky, so that it gives a silvery appearance.The tail is even more remarkable than the mane, measuring over sixteen feet from tip to tip, and lying on the ground fully nine feet. It is white, with a dark streak showing in the center. The abnormal growth shows not the slightest tendency to stop. The photograph herewith was taken a year ago. During the short time which has elapsed since then, both mane and tail have made a growth of eighteen inches.
The most painstaking care is taken of Linus II. When not on exhibition, his hair is treated in the following manner: The mane is parted evenly down the back of his neck, and each side divided into five parts. Each part is then braided, beginning about six inches from the neck. After braiding to the end of the hair, it is doubled up and passed through to where the braid began, making a loop about ten inches long. This is repeated until the braid is all looped up, when it is tied and a bag, made especially for this purpose, is drawn over it and securely fastened. The foretop and tail are cared for in a like manner, and thus he has perfect freedom in his movements.
Just because of this wonderful growth of hair, Linus has been facetiously dubbed the Sampson of equines, a name that is not wholly applicable, because he has displayed no remarkable feats of strength, though not wanting in powers of endurance for a horse of his size and age. Linus is a large horse, standing nearly sixteen hands high, and weighing 1,300 pounds. He is nine years of age and enjoys perfect health. The noble animal is high spirited, but withal gentle and affectionate, and has become greatly attached to his groom. He has an excellent memory. mr Rutherford's partner, who formerly had the care of the horse, taught him several tricks, for the successful performance of which the animal received candy and apples. Upon his going into the horse's stall, after not seeing his master for three years, Linus immediately recognised him, and began to perform the tricks that had been taught him, and which the horse had not done once during those three years.
Linus II was widely exhibited in the USA including star turns at the American Horse Exchange (Broadway, New York) and Huber's Museum (New York). He also took parts in harness parades and was also ridden. In 1903, or thereabouts, he travelled to the UK and was exhibited in England, Scotland and Ireland. One photo taken during Linus II's tour describes him as "the famous Linus II of Killarney". At that time, travelling animals shows were a major form of entertainment and travelled throughout North America, Britain, Continental Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. During 1905, Linus II was purchased by Bostock and Wombwell for £1200 (though £2000 is also claimed). Linus II replaced their white Perchereon stallion, White Wings, in their Royal No 1 Menagerie in England. EH Bostock wrote: "Another freak of this kind procured for me after many futile attempts was a horse named Linus [Linus II]. This was a horse, chestnut coloured entire [i.e. not gelded], which, while not so large as White Wings, had two distinct manes, one on each side of his neck. Its tail measured 16 feet and was also prolific of hair. Linus cost me £1,200 - four times more than I paid for White Wings - but its drawing powers did not come up to expectations. The reason for this was that the novelty had worn off. White Wings had already been all round the country, and the public were ready for a fresh freak. Linus and White Wings, however, were both animals of which one could well feel proud." In March 1905, Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie ("Britain's premier travelling zoo") was in the Common Haugh, Hawick, Scotland for two days before travelling to Selkirk and Jedburgh. Entrance to one of the three daily performances cost 1 shilling (adults) or sixpence (children) and the star of the show was Linus [Linus II] even though he was not a performing horse. He was billed as having a double mane reaching 13 feet each side and a 17 feet long tail. It was reported that he had been bought two years earlier for £2000 and the proprietors offered to forfeit £10,000 if his equal could be produced or give £1000 to any local charity if any person could prove that the manes and tail were not genuine.
After extensive tours of America and Britain, Linus II joined the Bostock and Wombwell menagerie in Australia where he was supposed to join their tour of Queensland. This had to be cancelled due to a tick plague in Queensland that would have resulted in the animals being quarantined for six months after the tour. The Queensland leg of the tour was cancelled and menagerie headed back to Sydney and Melbourne. Linus II was billed as one of the star attractions when exhibited at Fitzgerald's Circus Building, St Kilda Road in Melbourne in October 1906 where the exhibition formed part of the Caulfield/Melbourne Cup Carnival. The Argus (Oct 18, 1906) reported: "Among the attractions of Bostock and Wombwell's Circus, which opens at Fitzgerald's Circus building on Saturday next [this was on Caulfield Cup night], are several specimens of livestock, which differ from the class of animals usually to be seen in a menagerie. Chief among these is Linus, a fine bay stallion, whose points of pride are his beautiful mane and tail. Two days off the boat, on board of which he has spent 41 days, Linus, in excellent condition, awaits inspection, surrounded by the plenitude of his hair. His tail lies along the ground for several feet and the drooping flood of his double mane covers the canvas on which he stands. Although his broad back and heavy shoulders show traces of draught blood, his alert poise and cocked ears betray his trotting strain which is transmitted from his mother. He has been exhibited all over England and America. Two friends of Linus are a fine pair of Harlequin danes, fine upstanding dogs of the Great Dane breed."
Thomas Hunt Morgan (Professor of Experimental Zoology, Columbia University) mentions Linus I in his book Experimental Zoology (Publ. Macmillan & Co, London, 1910): A few other cases in mammals, that seem to show discontinuous inheritance, are known. Castle and Davenport [Professor C. B. Davenport, and by Professor C. E. Castle] have both called attention to cases of so-called wonder-horses, i.e. horses with remarkably long mane and tail. In the case of ''Linus I" the mane was 18 feet long and the tail 21 feet. The parents and grandparents of these horses also had unusually long hair, which increased in successive generations. The data are insufficient to show the relation of dominance and recessiveness in this case, but the persistence of the long hair seems to indicate its dominance. The mane and tail lengths are possibly exaggerations taken from promotional literature.
WONDER HORSES AND MENDELISM
DR. CASTLE'S reference to the Oregon Wonder horse in SCIENCE for December 11 reminds me that in the autumn of 1899 I corresponded with Mr. James K. Rutherford, of Waddington, N. Y., who then owned a horse celled Linus II. Mr. Rutherford sent a photograph of the horse, taken in 1898. The photograph shows a Morgan horse probably about five years old with a double mane which trails on the ground on either side for a distance of two feet. The tail trails on the ground for a distance of about six to eight feet. Correspondence with Mr. Rutherford yielded the following additional statements: Linus II is the son of Linus I, which had a mane that was single, but at fourteen years old eighteen feet long, while the tail was twenty-one feet long. “The mother also had a remarkable growth of hair.” The paternal grandmother was known as the "Oregon Beauty" and was noted for the mass and length of her hair. My correspondence with the owner of Linus I led to few additional facts. He stated that the long hair had been in the family since importation [to Oregon] and added: "the growth and quantity has increased with each generation"
It will be seen that the data are somewhat inconclusive. Had the father as well as the mother of Linus I been long-haired (recessive, according to Dr. Castle’s hypothesis), then we can understand the long hair of Linus I. The latter was mated with a recessive mare (if "remarkable growth of hair" may be so interpreted) and produced Linus II.
On the whole, it would seem more probable that the long-haired property was dominant, unless, indeed, Linus II got no long-haired progeny. The data are, as we see, insufficient to decide the matter.
[Davenport then goes on to illustrate Dominant and recessive Mendelian factors by discussing polydactylism .]
There was also "Chief" the long-tailed pony: tail 13 feet long, height 3 and a half feet, weight 300 pounds.His exhibition equipments consist of fine blankets, brass exhibition stand and suspended tail rest, which gives the effect of tail floating in the air, and the satin sashes, banners and flags make up the most unique and beautiful equipments of any pony of horse travelling. He has travelled over the greater part of the United States and Canada and is engaged to go to Europe. He was in a railroad accident, in which there were seventeen cars wrecked, fifty horses, twelve men and many wild animals killed. In the car he was in there were four men and twelve horses killed, and as he was in between a camel and a water buffalo and a large elephant back of him it was a miracle he was not killed; but neither he nor his attendat, who is in the picture, was hurt except being pretty well shaken. Everyone admits he is a wonderful little horse and we challenge the world to produce his equal in beauty, intelligence, and size, with the lenght of tail.
In modern times, some examples of the Florida Cracker Horse boast manes and tails that reach the ground and which may reflect Andalusian blood. Andalusians may also have manes and tails that reach the ground. Outside of travelling exhibits, such as the 19th Century menageries, circuses and sideshows that exhibited Linus and his ilk, such long hair is impractical.