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Julia Pastrana and Her Tribe

Julia Pastrana (circa 1832-1860)

During the late 1980s I was researching Julia Pastrana, who I had first learned about upon reading one of Frederick Drimmer’s books.  I was curious to see what further information was available and obtained photocopies of some of the printed materials about Julia that had been made at the time of her public appearances during the mid-nineteenth century.  I featured the first portion of a Boston playbill in a previous blog article and similar information appears in the Worcester flyer (presented below) that provides a brief account of her life until then.  The Boston playbill also reported about Julia: “She has a thick, heavy skull, and half an inch of flesh over it; a small brain, well-proportioned and capable of being cultivated and improved, like a child’s eight years old.  Her disposition is mild and childish.”

Upon becoming acquainted with this information, I recalled some of the accounts of strange beings and tribes presented in Ivan T. Sanderson’s Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life (1961).  Sanderson’s book was presented as “The Story of Sub-Humans on Five Continents from the Early Ice Age Until Today.”  Central America testimonials presented in the book include a report from a resident of “the outer periphery of the Mexican state of Chiapas” about a form of ‘ABSM’ or ‘Bigfoot’ in nearby forests known locally by such names as Salvaje, Cax-vinic, or simply fantasma humano.  There is also a description by people living in the vicinity of Gautemala’s Baja Verapaz, around the town of Cubulco: “There live in the mountain forests very big, wild men, completely clothed in short, thick, brown, hairy fur, with no necks, small eyes, long arms and huge hands.  They leave footprints twice the length of a man’s.”  Cases in this chapter include two anecdotes of women being captured by a similar being known as a Sisemite.  Sanderson also reported that people living or working in the southern forested area of British Honduras (now Belize) associated sightings of “small semi-human creatures” sometimes associated with the expression Dwendis.  The chapter concludes with the statements: “We are, in fact, once again confronted with the strange fact that great numbers of people of all manners of tribes, nationalities, and even races, insist that ABSMs are wild men, as opposed to manlike animals.  This is one theme that runs consistently through all ABSMery.”  Sanderson also wrote about ‘man-things’ in the books “Things” (1967) and More “Things” (1969).

Visiting the British Library in London in August 1989, I found some more details about Julia Pastrana’s life.  I eventually wrote a screenplay about Julia and the man who married her, Theodore Lent.  I was working on finding a producer for this screenplay (among others I’d written) at the time I traveled to Oklahoma to interview a family experiencing what had been described as a ‘talking poltergeist’ case.  Among those who expressed a favorable response to the screenplay about Julia was a co-producer of the movie “Fire In The Sky” and the president of marketing for Paramount Pictures, where I was working as a publicist at the time.  As readers of my case study Testament know, soon after my trip to Oklahoma I relinquished all of my previous writing projects.

Here follows accounts of the life of Julia Pastrana as presented in two original brochures publicizing her ‘levees’ (appearances for a public assembly) in the 1850s.

First, the following information is presented here precisely as it was worded in this Worcester advertisement.

T H E   O P A T E   I N D I A N S

These remarkable beings inhabit the Sierra Madre Mountains in the State of Sinaloa, near California.  They live in caves, in a naked state, and subsist on grass, roots, insects, barks of trees, &c.  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 Ourang Outang.  Their mouths are elongated, with very thick double lips.  They have no front upper teeth, but a strong jaw to masticate nuts or any hard substance, 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 reported by travelers as a species of Ape or Babboon, having no intellect.  Their dispositions are very much of the Monkey order, very spiteful and hard to govern.  This tribe of beings have always been looked upon as forming a kind of link between the man and the brute creation, and this singular Hairy Woman will go far to prove that philosophy which establishes the perfect order and graduation to be found in all animated Nature.  She is in some respects an exception to her tribe, as she is much larger, and has no hair on her bosom, hands and feet, and human nature seems to predominate.  She is 22 years old, four feet six inches high, and weighs 112 pounds.  No description of her could be given so minute, as to be at all satisfactory.  The public are, therefore, respectfully invited to call and see and judge for themselves, and all will be perfectly satisfied that there is no imposture attempted by her exhibition…….. continues

Copyright©Mark Russell Bell


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