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