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Stickney, Sallie


How Men and Women in the Ring Learned Their Business.

Philadelphia Times: “There are no circus apprentices nowadays,” said W.D. Hutchinson of Barnum’s show yesterday; “circus proprietors get their talent ready made, and only want the best. The old way of training for the ring was by an apprenticeship of seldom less than six years. One of the best old time trainers was Levi J. North, who was in his prime about 1840. At that time circus people were not brought up to do any particular act. A good man was supposed to be able to do every thing; to be as good an acrobat as a juggler, and as clever a clown as a bareback rider. The boy apprentice would usually commence by learning to ride a pair of ponies. The method of teaching boys to be bareback riders was almost the same in those days as at the present time. They were first put to work on a ‘mechanic,’ which consists of a pole set in the middle of a sawdust ring, with a high arm, over which he ran a rope. The end of the rope was fastened to the boy’s belt as he stood on the horse, and the instructor held the other. As the horse galloped around the ring, the pole and arm revolved. If the pupil slipped from the horse’s back he was saved…


“Rose and Sally Stickney were great horsewomen thirty years ago. They served a sort of apprenticeship to Sam Stickney, the rider and general performer. Rose Madigan, another good rider of that time, was also a pupil of her father. One of the pet stories of the old time circus men is that told of the famous bareback rider, Ella Zoyara, who appeared in this country about 1860 with S. Q. Stokes, an old time showman. In New York Zoyara’s daring riding aroused great enthusiasm. She did things on horseback that no woman had ever yet attempted, and, as she was very pretty and of splendid physique, she soon had hundreds of admirers. She began a tour of the country, but had not gone far before she met with an accident. It was trivial in nature, but serious in its results, for in half an hour the whole show knew that Ella Zoyara, the beautiful woman rider, was—a man! It was afterward found out that her proper name was Omar Kingsley, an American lad. Kingsley afterward married Sallie Stickney, the rider, and died in India.

“All the great riders served apprentice-ship in their younger days. Jim Robinson, who was famous in 1850 as a bareback rider, served under his father, John Robinson; Bob Stickney, who was a favourite in 1857, was taught by his father, Sam Stickney; ‘Billy’ Morgan, who was with the European circus as late as 1875, and who astonished people by his daring hurdle jumping, was another of the old time apprentice boys. He was murdered by robbers last winter in Texas. Charles W. Fish, one of the finest of modern riders, was apprenticed to Charles Rodgers, and William Dutton served his apprentice-ship with ‘Bill’ Lake.”

Bismarck Weekly Tribune, August 7, 1885

Article PDF, col. 6, middle