My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
The Big Top

This story was written in 1996 and published that same year in The Charity Peak Outlook. A trip to the circus always inspires awe, amusement, and little ambition.


Any trip to Missoula was a lark to we little Evaro kids but the coming of a circus was a real event in our lives, even more marvelous than the Fourth Of July stampedes. The old time shows were advertised by an advance man who would obtain permission to put up his circus bills on the outbuildings fronting the roads. The broad exterior of my granddad Johnson's barn was plastered with sensational, nearly life-sized posters showing wild animals and buxom ladies in tights and ornately lettered with the names of Al G. Barnes, Sels Floto or Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. The advertising agent gave free tickets for this privilege which added to our excitement, and our chances of getting to go.

It seemed like forever before we donned our "Sunday best" and climbed into the buggy for the ride to Missoula. About 1920 the horse and buggy was tethered and we climbed into the Johnson Model T.

The circus grounds were on what is now the thickly populated west side of town and the circus train stood nearby on the railroad siding.

Traffic was but a fraction of what it is today and we could tie the horse and buggy to the hitching rack or park the jalopy most anywhere and ride a street car to within walking distance of "THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH." In order to get full benefit of the day we watched the parade down Higgins Avenue, fascinated by the animals in their cages and the elephants with their howdahs and fantastically garbed riders but if one of those lions had let out a roar, I, for one, would have headed for the hills!

I was told that when my mother and her siblings were small children my granddad led them through the crowds without getting anyone lost, all four of them with a fist clenched around a tightly rolled umbrella. In my day the umbrella was dispensed with and we bug-eyed kids clung to each others hands leaving one hand free to feed the elephants peanuts.

The clowns managed to get our attention but only for a while. The hawk with his pink lemonade was distracting but not for long. Some of the side shows were judged improper for our young eyes so we didn't get to see them. But we sat enthralled when the bareback riders in sequins and silks stood up on galloping horses or jumped through rings of fire. I was afraid to watch the trapeze performers but I couldn't tear my eyes away. Icicles zigzagged up and down my spine when the pretty young lady stuck her head in the lion's mouth but the thing that stuck with me the longest was the hyena. I swear it yet. He looked me right in the eye and gave out a hideous, inhuman laugh! For a long time the meanest thing I could think of to call anybody was a "laughin' hyena!"

I wonder how many poor old dogs thought their masters had gone crazy trying to make them ride the family pony. And how many kids aspired to become circus performers. Well, I did. But I got pretty well cured of dreaming of becoming a tight-rope walker, getting black and blue marks when I fell trying to walk the pole on top of our chicken yard fence.