Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Atascadero's First Zoo

Atascadero's First Zoo
E.G. Lewis definitely had a sense of humor as witnessed in this excerpt from a very long article he wrote in the January 1920 issue of The Illustrated Review.  He frequently added amusing paragraphs in his articles reporting the progress and events of early Atascadero.  It appears from his writing that  forming a zoo was his desire from the very formation of Atascadero.  It is unfortunate E. G. didn't have Charles Paddock to assist with the Colony's first zoo; the release of his collection may not have been necessary.
Making the Unearned Increment Earn Itself
   The Zoological gardens that I had secured, composed of all the native varmints obtainable, was located close to Headquarters House, the only residence on the vast estates.  They soon learned to sing in chorus, however, with a big black furred coyote name Bob as bandmaster.  They certainly could go some when they got started about midnight; but for the fiercest noise the ear can listen to, commend me to about a thousand cows with their calves inside a corral being weaned, while they talked to them through the rails all night...
   A  great convention had been held, to which came several thousand people from every part of the United States... A tent city, complete in every detail, had been constructed with a capacity of four thousand people, and it was filled to over-flowing... It was during this convention that the Zoo having become such a nuisance, Mrs. Lewis insisted that it be dispensed with.  One clear moonlight night, about 2 o'clock a. m., the nightly concert having become insufferable, I went out and cut the wires of the cages and pens.
   First Old “Bob” the leading coyote, slowly and carefully stuck his head through, then jerked it back, and watched to see what would happen.
   Then he stuck it out again, and jerked it back, then he sat and contemplated the hole in the wires, and the moon, and thought a moment.  Then he stuck his head clear through and carefully examined all the edges and the ground below; then like a flash he went through.
   After gamboling round a few moments he went back and tried to get the rest of the bunch to come out, jumping in the cage and out again to show them it was all right.  Finally one by one he coaxed them out.  Meantime, the bob cats, the coons, the eagles, the foxes, the badgers, the owls and the rest of the varmints had taken their silent departure.  
   The whole outfit struck right over to the tent city and crawled in wherever they could.  There were many heroes in Camp Atascadero that night.  That Zoo outfit stuck round Headquarters House for months and in fact the coons and some others still are with us, as the watermelon patch bears testimony to each summer.  The eagles made a specialty of cleaning up all the cats, while the coyotes feeling that they were the original option holders, helped themselves to Mrs. Lewis' chickens.  One eagle used to sit out on the pergola in front of the house all day, and a visitor with a fine Pomeranian dog, dropped him on the ground one day.  The eagle spotted the pup and not having had any Pomeranian recently, made a dive and I lost a land purchaser when she lost her pup.
James Wilkins is the president of the Atascadero Historical Society.  The Colony Museum is located at 6600 Lewis Avenue, mailing address: P.O. Box 1047, Atascadero CA 93423.  For more information, visit the website, or call 805-466-8341.

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