1928 - Alderson High School - 1968

The Journal Of The
Greenbrier Historical Society
Alderson, West Virginia
Written by Kenneth D. Swope

Alderson's Lion

Probably one of the most famous stories about Alderson.  Most have heard it, or of it, so once again.

No chronicle of Alderson is complete without an account of the tale of the lion.  The humorous story of Mrs. Bebout's lion has been told in numerous sketches, newspaper stories and "Ripley's Believe It Or Not".  Alderson has been given publicity as the only town in America with an ordinance forbidding lions from running at large in the city streets.  Alderson may well have had such an ordinance but the old Council Minute book which would prove it, is lost.  As for the lion, there is no doubt whatever.  He was a very real lion.

It happened this way.  About 1890 when people carried household water from the river, Mrs. Susan Bebout, wife of the town blacksmith, went to the river for water.  A man came to the river with a small basket containing three lion cubs.  French's Great Railway Show was in Alderson and the little lions had been born the night before.  Mrs. Bebout ask for the cubs, and the showman said lions could not be raised in captivity but gave them to her, instead of drowning them as he intended.

Two of the lions promptly died but Mrs. Bebout saved the third. It is said she asked Dr Walter Beard what to do to save her strange pet.  Dr. Beard denied knowledge of any lion medical lore.  The cub lived and grew and grew and grew.

Mrs. Bebout called her lion French, and it ran about the neighborhood like any dog or cat except he was so big.  Then he got to running all over town.  The Bebouts built a high fence on their lot to contain his meanderings but he jumped the fence.  Numerous tales have been told of traveling salesmen, drunks, children, horses and visitors having had the living daylights scared out of them by the sudden appearance of a big lion.

It was time for the Town Council to act and the famous ordinance supposedly was passed forbidding lions from running at large in the streets. 

French was sold the Nation Zoological Park, Washington, in late 1891.  Some say he lived there long years and other accounts say the park sold him to Barnum and Bailey's Circus.

This writer will not vouch for the truth of some of the sketch but French certainly lived in Alderson, grew up here, and was sold in Washington.  My mother, a truthful woman, distinctly remembers him.

Next: Well Known Women

The contents contained in this series is copyrighted and the sole property of The Greenbrier Historical Society - Lewisburg, WV
Used by permission - November 18, 2008