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Applegate farmer exposes fake zebras

In 1910, the Barnum and Bailey Circus came to Medford, astounding the town with a herd of exotic zebras. At least one man refused to be fooled by their beautiful black stripes.

That man, an Applegate farmer, did not believe the stripes were real and approached the zebras to examine them. Chewing tobacco all the while, he cried out, “You can’t fool your Uncle Hi on them ’air animals. These cigarette dudes around town may be taken in on ’em and take ’em fer some strange, wild animal, but you can’t fool your Uncle Hi.”

P.T. Barnum used to describe himself as the “Prince of Humbug” because he liked to play hoaxes on the American public. He was known for sayings like, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and “Every crowd has a silver lining.” He was no longer alive in 1910 — he died in 1891 — but his successors were still trying to hoodwink people with their painted zebras.

If there’s a moral to this story, it might be “You can fool a lot of people, but watch out for those Applegate farmers!” Or as Uncle Hi said, “Them’s mules painted over. I’ve skinned too many of ’em to be fooled by a little paint.”

Sources: “Wouldn’t Stand For the Bunk Game, Medford Mail Tribune, 1 Sept., 1910:8. Print; Boese, Alex. “The Hoaxes of P.T. Barnum.” The Museum of Hoaxes, edited by Alex Boese 2016, hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/p.t._barnum. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

Elephants walking on Central Avenue in Medford, 1929.