Julia Pastrana: A 19th Century Wonder of the World

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By Mark Russell Bell

Those who’ve read my nonfiction case study book Testament might remember that when I was an aspiring screenwriter one of my screenplays was based on what I knew about the life of Julia Pastrana. Julia performed as a singer and dancer during an epoch when human oddities were a popular source of public entertainment. She was four feet and six inches tall.

While I no longer have any interest in the television or motion picture mediums, I remember researching the project in 1988/89 and have occasionally discovered new sources of information about Julia.

An article about Julia may be read at http://thehumanmarvels.com/?p=33    The following is the first portion of a Boston playbill about Julia.

“ROOT-DIGGER INDIANS.

“These remarkable beings are better known under the name of Root Doggers, that inhabit the California Mountains, from Oregon to the Gulf of California. There are different species of them, and they speak different languages, but they all subsist on the same kind of food. These semi-human Indians, as they are called by the Mexicans, inhabit the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Sinaloa, near the Gulf of California. They are a small tribe of about five hundred. They live in caves, in a naked state, and subsist on grass, roots, barks of trees, &c: they eat no animal food! They have a great many tamed animals, such as Bears, Monkeys, Squirrels &c., which they know no difference between and themselves. Their face and whole person is covered with a thick, black hair, and their features have a close resemblance to those of a Bear and Orang Outang. Their mouths are elongated with very thick double lips; they have no front upper teeth, but a strong jaw to masticate the food which they live on much like a brute. Their stature is from three to four feet, and they weigh from eighty to ninety pounds; they have intellect, and are endowed with speech, which no monsters have ever possessed. They have always been looked upon by travellers as a species of beings having no intellect, and as a kind of link between the man and the brute creation. It seems as if Providence has created and provided for them in the state in which they now live. This mountain is very fertile, full of springs, and grass and vegetation grow in abundance through the year. They get their food daily, and never lay up any thing for the next day; the present time is as far as they look for. They have no cause to labor, as they cook nothing nor wear any clothing.

“This singular HAIRY WOMAN is in some respects an exception to her tribe, as she has been raised in civilized life; she is much larger, walks erect, and has no hair on her bosom, hands or feet; and humanity seems to predominate . . .”

 

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