Sideshow Ephemera Header

The Artist

Main Gallery

Sideshow Ephemera

Recommended Reading

Reviewers Comments


All Important Links

Contact Us

The Wild Men of Borneo

Waino and Plutano, 
The Wild Men of Borneo

Waino & Plutano
carte de visite, 4 x 2.5 inches, circa 1875
obverse stamped with “The Popular Photographer” logo
photographer: Chas. Eisenmann, 229 Bowery, New York

Waino and Plutano, The Wild Men of Borneo, were actually Hiram and Barney Davis, two mentally retarded dwarf brothers from Connecticut. Though a mere 40 inches tall and weighing in at about 45 pounds each, the brothers were possessed of extraordinary strength. On stage, the pair would lift heavy weights, members of the audience, and wrestle — both male audience members and each other. One advertisement claimed “THOUGH DWARFS IN SIZE THEY EXHIBIT GREAT STRENGTH, LIFTING MANY HUNDRED POUNDS IN WEIGHT, or Throwing the most scientific Six-foot Athlete with Ease.”

The Davis brothers were discovered by a traveling showman in 1850. Dubbing them with new names, the showman concocted a story that the bloodthirsty pair had been captured by sailors in Borneo, but only after a desperate struggle requiring many guns, nets, and strong men.

Starting in 1880, Waino and Plutano began appearing with P. T. Barnum, whose uncanny knack for promotion caused their careers to soar. Under Barnum, the Wild Men of Borneo became one of the world’s most famous freakshow attractions. Over the course of their lifetimes, the pair earned $200,000, which was quite an impressive sum for its time.

The pair continued to work into the early part of the twentieth century, until Hiram’s death in 1905. Barney lived a while longer, but expired in 1912. The pair are buried under a marker inscribed “Little Men&dquo; in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

This particular pitchcard (above) describes Waino’s and Plutano’s age in the wonderfully vague range of “50 to 60.” They appear, as they nearly always did, with their guardian Hannaford Warner. Below is another carte de visite pitchcard from a slightly earlier date, in which the Wild Men (here called “Waino and Plutanor”) appear alone and are described as being “aged about 50 years.”

Waino and Plutanor

Waino and Plutanor
carte de visite, 4 x 2.5 inches, circa 1870
obverse stamped with caption: “WAINO & PLUTANOR, Aged about 50 years; Weigh 45 pounds each.”
photographer: W. W. Mitchell’s National Photographic Gallery, No. 77 Felix St., St. Joseph, Mo.
[Note that this is obviously a photograph of an earlier carte de visite, probably taken by another photographer. Photographers of this period often reprinted the work of others, but in this case it seems the Davis brothers’ promoters requested the cheapest and quickest way to produce more cards without having the Wild Men take the time to stand for a new portrait.]

The Wild Men of Borneo are featured in my tribute to P. T. Barnum, The Showman and His Museum, which may be seen here.

Previous Page Home Page Next Page

All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2003 - 2010