Who was Big Jim Patterson, “the tallest man in the world”?


BLOOMBURG, Texas – When Benny Prince started researching his Ark-La-Tex roots, he had no idea he would meet a literally larger-than-life character.

James Wesley “Big Jim” Patterson, Prince’s great-uncle, stood out in family history as much as his reported height of 8 feet 4 inches stood out among residents of Bloomburg, where he died in Halloween 1920. A treasure trove of heritage documents, including rare vintage photos, told Prince the story of Patterson’s life as a circus performer, businessman and member of a family who played an important role in the history of Cass County.

James Wesley “Big Jim” Patterson, left in each photo, poses for undated photos. At a height of 8 feet 4 inches, Patterson was billed as the tallest man in the world when he performed in circus shows in the 1890s. He then returned home to Bloomburg, Co. Cass, Texas, to join his prominent family in business ventures that have played an important role in the development of the city’s economy. Researcher and author BE Prince, Patterson’s grandnephew, writes a book about Patterson based largely on a wealth of family documents, letters, and period photos. Photos courtesy of BE Prince

Now Prince is working on a book about Patterson and is hoping someone can tell him more about the giant that Sells Brothers Circus has touted as “the tallest man in the world.”

Patterson was born July 4, 1847 in Sevier County, Arkansas, and is buried in Brightstar Cemetery in Miller County, Arkansas.

“There is an interesting story about his burial site. There is now a fence built around his gravestone and that of his parents and some of his family. And when they went to fencing the burial grounds. burial, they made it too short. So his feet actually came out of that little enclosed space, “Prince said in an interview for the Texarkana Gazette” On the Line “podcast.

James Wesley “Big Jim” Patterson, third from right, poses with family members in this undated photo. Patterson is said to have reached 7 feet tall at the age of 13 and later played the role of “the tallest man in the world” in circus performances. The Pattersons established the first business ventures in Bloomburg, Cass County, Texas, including retail stores and a cotton warehouse, and years later established banks as their wealth grew, according to researcher and author BE Prince, Patterson’s grandnephew.

Reports vary on Patterson’s height, but photos show him towering above his family members, and his height was certainly impressive enough to attract an audience.

“Everyone says he was 8-4 years old. He isn’t listed in the Guinness Records or anything you find online. He would have been the fifth or sixth tallest person in the United States to never lived to be 8-4 years old.

“However, the obituary indicated something different. So his obituary was printed in San Francisco, on the east coast, in the Midwest. It was printed in several places, indicating that he was 7-5 years old,” he said. declared Prince.

It is not clear exactly when Patterson became a “monster” – as sideshow performers were called in the golden age of the circuses – is unclear, but in the 1890s he was not only showing shows. as himself, but also, putting on dresses, as a giant woman. He also portrayed an “African savage” character who growled at onlookers, shaking the bars of his cage.

“I have several pictures of him in a few different dresses, which in his letters he complained about because they cost because he had to have them custom made. At the time, I guess they cost. about $ 3,000 or so today. money, ”Prince said.

Far from being exploited by the circus, Prince said, Patterson embarked on the business as a partner and co-owner of his menagerie, which included a rare albino gorilla trained to do tricks such as swinging on a trapeze. .

Sales of photographs and autographs supplemented his income to the point where he now earned the equivalent of about $ 15,000 per week. Prince found records of land purchases Patterson made on his travels across the country.

Much of Patterson’s correspondence found so far concerns the circus tour of Australia, where he was introduced as “the American giant” and frequented the upper classes of the country.

Eventually, he would leave show business behind and return home to Bloomburg, where his family was taking advantage of the Kansas City Southern Railroad to increase their wealth in the cotton industries and banking, among others. The family built the three-story Patterson Building, once the tallest in Cass County, according to Prince.

A Houston-area tech professional, Prince began researching his family tree about a year and a half ago. He has become an active member of the Cass County Genealogical Society and other genealogy groups and strives to become a certified genealogist.

He is funding the self-publication of his book, “Out of the Borderlands and Into the Bigtop: Adventures of the World’s Tallest Man,” via the Kickstarter website, with nearly $ 1,200 pledged so far for a goal of $ 6,600.

“It’s definitely a story that I want to get out for sure. And maybe eventually do a script and a movie because there are so many cool things,” he said.

“I’m planning on going back to Cass County here in a few months. So the Genealogical Society, they invited me to come over and do a presentation. I’m just hoping to talk to some of the elders and put together as many stories as I can. can talk about him and the family. “


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