Monday, April 01, 2019


When I retired as metro columnist for the Kingsport Times News on Sept. 23, 2018, I still had a hopper full of almost-finished, half-finished and half-baked columns.
Over the next few weeks, or months, or maybe even years, I plan to clean out my digital desk and post those columns on my blog. Some are in more finished form than others but none will be a string of nonsensical phrases. (I already published those in the paper.)
So watch this blog space for the Columns I Never Got Around to Publishing.
Feel free to share this link with friends, family, in-laws or outlaws.

(This was scheduled to be my column for Sept. 23, but then I retired.)

It sounds like the headline on one of the Times News’ annual April Fool’s Day pranks:
But it’s true.
I first heard about it from Dana Light, Jr.
“My cousin Sherry Crowder and I were talking recently about the time when our fathers and another uncle and our grandmother were sharecroppers on Rome Brandon's farm located on the Horton Highway below Fall Branch. They were living in the house across Lick Creek where later Buf Staten lived after World War II.”
(By the by, as an aunt of mine would say, Buf Staten was my grandfather’s brother.)
 “During their time living there Rome Brandon's son Richard (Dick) Brandon worked for a circus as a front man who went ahead of the circus and booked the event. One winter possibly during the 30's the circus wintered on the farm with their animals. Elephants and zebras and so on lived in the big barn close to the creek and a man from the circus lived there and looked after the animals.”
Dana adds, “My dad and uncles helped with feeding and so forth. I remember, and so does Sherry, hearing them talking about people passing and seeing the big elephants in the pasture field below the barn and stopping to look.”
I’m sure lots of folks stopped and gaped at elephants and zebras grazing the pastures in Fall Branch. That would have been way out of the ordinary.
I dug around and discovered that it was the Richard Bros. Circus that wintered in Fall Branch in 1939.
The circus was owned by E.E. Wetzel and Dick Brandon, both of Fall Branch. They bought it in 1938 and made a go of it for two years. They were forced to fold in 1940 while set up in Alabama. The assets - by then down to six trucks and an old tent - were sold to the Mills Brothers, whose Mills Bros. Circus lasted till 1966.
The elephants were owned and trained by Captain Ali Ben Bowman, who claimed to have learned his skills when his father was in India.
The circus wintered in Fall Branch only that one season.
But it was the talk of the town and written up several times in the newspaper. When the show hit the road that spring, it played first in Kingsport.
The Richard Bros. Circus was founded around 1919 by one of the Ringling heirs, who didn't want to use the family name.
There’s another Kingsport area connection Richard Brothers Circus. Kinnie Wagner, who would later become famous as the Outlaw Kinnie Wagner, joined the Richard Brothers Circus in 1919 when it was playing in Clinchport.

(These columns are copyrighted and may not be rebroadcast, reproduced or republished without the express written consent of the Commissioner of Baseball.)


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