|July 6, 2016
Actor Dan Haggerty, the star of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, was cremated after he died in January 2016. Although he has no gravesite for the public to visit, the real-life John “Grizzly” Adams does. The mountain man is buried in Worcester County, Massachusetts, the state of his birth.
The character Haggerty portrayed on television and in movies in the 1970s and 1980s was a markedly fictionalized version of the actual Grizzly Adams. Unlike in those media portrayals, Adams did not escape to the wilderness because he was a wanted fugitive, wrongly accused of murder. In truth he was a cobbler who invested his savings in a venture to the West Coast in 1849 so that he could participate in the Gold Rush during the period of the California Genocide. After bad fortune in California, Adams relocated to Nevada in 1852. Partly relying on past experience as a zoological collector, Adams began to trap and train bears. He performed shows with the animals and gained a reputation throughout the U.S. and its territories.
Adams sustained a head injury inflicted by an ursine in 1855, but he continued to perform in places such as San Francisco and New York over the next five years. His health declined, though, and he died in Massachusetts in October 1860 at age 48. It is reputed that showman Phineas Taylor Barnum — under whom Adams and his menagerie briefly performed — paid for Grizzly’s gravestone. Two figures are carved into the top of the monument’s front face; those of Ben Franklin and John Adams, technically speaking. John “Grizzly” Adams is depicted with his left hand grasping a rifle. His right hand rests on the back of Ben Franklin, one of the trained bears that made the mountain man famous from coast to coast.
The more recent and more legible marker Grizzly Adams’s burial plot is a footstone placed by the Charlton Historical Commission in 1976. Of note, it was installed during a time when the outdoorsman had palpable posthumous popularity, when the Grizzly Adams TV show and movies were being produced. In earlier decades, Adams’s fame spread via books. The year he died, 1860, Theodore Hittell released a book based on a 647-page manuscript of interviews he conducted of Adams between 1857 and 1859. The publication’s title, which used James as Grizzly’s first name instead of John, was The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter, of California. It was reprinted in 1911.
Born: October 22, 1812 in Medway, Massachusetts
Spouse: Cylena Drury Adams (m. 1836-1860)
Died: October 25, 1860 in Neponset, Massachusetts
Cause of Death: Meningitis
Interment: Bay Path Cemetery, Charlton, Massachusetts
"[...]This bear was so violent as to gnaw entirely through some of the floor timbers of the trap. It was almost a pity to kill the noble old fellow, but there was no help for it; and, accordingly, inserting the muzzle of my rifle through a crack, put a half-ounce ball through his heart."
- Grizzly Adams
in an interview with Theodore Hittell, released Hittell's 1860 book, The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter, of California
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Bancroft Library. “Bear in Mind: Grizzly Adams.” University of California, Berkeley. Updated December 4, 2006. https://bancroft.berkeley.edu/Exhibits/bearinmind/themes/grizzlyadams/01.html.