Two Celebrities from the 1860s in San Francisco: Bummer and Lazarus

February 25, 2015 | By | Reply More
Bummer lies in state. This cartoon of Jump's was accompanied by a long satirical eulogy.

Bummer lies in state. This cartoon of Jump’s was accompanied by a long satirical eulogy.

In 1860′s San Francisco, two stray dogs who were best friends became local celebrities. Their exploits were celebrated in local papers and they were granted immunity from the city’s dog catchers.

Bummer and Lazarus were two stray dogs that had celebrity status in San Francisco in the 1860’s and were immune to the city’s laws on strays.

Two stray puppies were allowed to run about the town of San Francisco during the period of the 1860s.  In the these period there was an overflow of dogs in San Francisco, and the only way a stray could survive was to prove his worth. Preferably by being a master rat catcher. If he was good at that, he had a fighting chance.

The Three Bummers. Edward Jump's cartoon shows Bummer and Lazarus begging scraps from Emperor Norton.

The Three Bummers. Edward Jump’s cartoon shows Bummer and Lazarus begging scraps from Emperor Norton.

Bummer was such a dog, and he was allowed to settle in behind the saloon of Frederick Martin. He still had to make his own way and begged for scraps where he could find any.

In 1861 he saved another dog from a fight. The dog was badly hurt, but Bummer encouraged him to eat, brought him some scraps and huddled next to him at night to keep him warm. He recovered, and the city folk named him Lazarus.

Bummer and Lazarus became inseparable. Luckily Lazarus was also an exceptional rat killer and together they once killed 85 rats in 20 minutes!

Needless to say, in any other set of circumstances, a stray dog would have been rounded up and taken to the Dog Pound: but not these two canines. The dogs were not rounded up because they were considered celebrities by the town.

The newspapers reported upon the activities of the two adorable mutts just like the tabloids report on the activities of the stars of today. In example, if Bummer and Lazarus got into a confrontation with other dogs; the papers reported it. Naturally, many of the confrontational events of the celebrity canines were exaggerated. They became a favorite of newspaper reporters and celebrities on the San Francisco streets.

So much that, when Lazarus was taken to a pound by a dog catcher, an angry mob of citizens demanded his immediate release! The city supervisors declared the pair immune to the city’s laws on strays.

Ambling Down Montgomery Street. Joshua A. Norton, Bummer and Lazarus are accompanied by "George Washington II" another local eccentric.

Ambling Down Montgomery Street. Joshua A. Norton, Bummer and Lazarus are accompanied by “George Washington II” another local eccentric.

Usually there were accounts by eyewitnesses of what happened complete with cartoon graphics. The noted novelist, Mark Twain, took time, away from his writing schedule to write about Bummer and Lazarus. People really took to the two mutts because the canines were very close as friends.

The story of Bummer and Lazarus continued to grow with every detail of their abiding friendship reported. Once the heroic Bummer was shot in the leg. The town became all uptight and stirred up when Lazarus did not look after his ailing friend, as was expected. It was at this point, the city turned on Lazarus.

Lazarus was killed in October 1863.

The¬†San Francisco Kaleidoscope¬†claimed that he was kicked by the horse of one of the city’s¬†fire engines,¬†but contemporary accounts say he was poisoned by being given meat laced with “ratbane” after he bit¬†a boy.¬†San Franciscans put up a $50 reward for the capture of the poisoner.

The¬†Daily Evening Bulletin¬†featured a long obituary entitled “Lament for Lazarus” in which they described the various adventures of both dogs together.

Bummer continued alone and without his companion, Lazarus, Bummer was of less interest to the press.

He died a lingering death in November 1865 after being kicked by a drunk, Henry Rippey.

Bummer was still popular enough that, to avoid violence, the city immediately arrested Rippey. He also did not escape popular justice: on learning of his crime, his cellmate, “popped him in the smeller”.

Lazarus' funeral as depicted by Jump. At the rear of the cortege is the dogcatcher in his cart. "Emperor" Norton presides over the service.

Lazarus’ funeral as depicted by Jump. At the rear of the cortege is the dogcatcher in his cart. “Emperor” Norton presides over the service.

The obsession about the two canine companions continued until the mutts’ passing.

Even after each mutt had passed away, the town continued, for awhile, its fascination and coverage. One newspaper would accuse the other of misstating certain facts about the two famous mutts and each mutt’s associated passing.

Mark Twain produced a eulogy for him in the Virginia City Enterprise which was reprinted in the Californian on 11 November 1865:

The old vagrant ‘Bummer’ is really dead at last; and although he was always more respected than his obsequious vassal, the dog ‘Lazarus,’ his exit has not made half as much stir in the newspaper world as¬†signalized¬†the departure of the latter.
I think it is because he died a natural death: died with friends around him to smooth his pillow and wipe the death-damps from his brow, and receive his last words of love and resignation; because he died full of years, and honor, and disease, and fleas.
He was¬†permitted¬†to die a natural death, as I have said, but poor Lazarus ‘died with his boots on’ – which is to say, he lost his life¬†by violence; he gave up the ghost mysteriously, at dead of night, with none to cheer his last moments or soothe his dying pains.
So the murdered dog was canonized in the newspapers, his shortcomings excused and his virtues heralded to the world; but his superior, parting with his life in the fullness of time, and in the due course of nature, sinks as quietly as might the mangiest cur among us.
Well, let him go.
In earlier days he was courted and caressed; but latterly he has lost his comeliness – his dignity had given place to a want of self-respect, which allowed him to practice mean deceptions to regain for a moment that sympathy and notice which had become necessary to his very existence, and it was evident to all that the dog had had his day; his great popularity was gone forever.
In fact, Bummer should have died sooner: there was a time when his death would have left a lasting legacy of fame to his name. Now, however, he will be forgotten in a few days.
Bummer’s skin is to be stuffed and placed with that of Lazarus.

‚ÄĒMark Twain

The skins of both dogs were stuffed by a taxidermist and placed on display in the two saloons they had frequented while alive. In 1906 the skins were given to the Golden Gate Park Museum (now the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum) for display. They remained in storage there until 1910, when they were destroyed.

On March 28, 1992, a ¬†plaque recalling their adventures and misadventures was installed at the base of one of the city’s most visible landmarks, the Transamerica Pyramid.

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Category: Curiosities, Fog City - City of Fog

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