Editors Note. The following two articles were first published in Gentry Family Gazette & Genealogy, vol 3, p.105-114 (June 1983)] . The first article by Richard Paxton is reprinted here unchanged. The second article, by Joseph Bradbury, originally appeared in White Tops, a publication directed to circus professionals and devotees. This arrticle is reprinted here with minor omissions and editing to make it more readable by the non-circus lay reader.
The Gentry Brothers Circus was developed by four Gentry brothers from Bloomington, Indiana and was probably the greatest dog and pony show ever developed in the United States. While researching this article at the Hertzberg Circus Museum and Library in San Antonio, Texas, I was impressed by the impact made on the circus world by these brothers between 1885 and 1934.
As a personal note - my father took me to see the circus in Austin during the summer of 1932, and I was very impressed by the tricks the ponies and dogs could do. My father introduced me to men with the circus, but unfortunately I do not remember their names.
I hope this article will serve as an inspiration to other members of the Gentry family to do more research on the circus and naturally, I hope there will be others in the family who have recollections of the circus and will add to my comments.
The brothers' father was Richard Henry Gentry – number 202 in the 1909 book on the family ["Gentry Family in America"]. Richard Henry Gentry' was born in Stokes County, North Carolina, September 23, 1825; moved to Indiana with his father William when he was a child, and later married Frances Umbarger. The children of this marriage were Wallace, Henry, William, Frank, Lillie, and Jesse.
No name in circus history has any better reputation than that of the Gentry Brothers Dog and Pony Show. Henry B. (H.B.) Gentry was the moving force among the brothers; he originated the business in 1885. When he was 17, H.B. started with Professor Morris, the "world's greatest animal showman." H.B. then began training his own dogs and ponies for a theater act. This prospered and H.B. invited his three brothers to join him in the operation. One of the first purchases of the Gentry brothers was a railroad car.
In 1891, the brothers decided to change from their theater-style operation to a circus operation. The railroad cars were called "Gentry's Equine and Canine Paradox."
The beginning of the 1894-95 season found H.B. and his brothers in New Orleans developing a second unit. The only humans needed were a ring master, a trainer, and a combination barker-ticket seller. Later as the circus grew Roy Felkus, Taylor Coons, and W. B. Tarkington were hired. Unit number two played Los Angeles, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Denver, and Omaha.
Each unit had up to 40 ponies and 80 dogs. The ringmasters were Wink Weaver on one unit and either Will or Frank Gentry on the other. Beach Parrott was the unit 1 bandmaster and Jean Wack led band 2.
The shows used an 80 foot roundtop with one or two middles and no side shows. The ponies and dogs were kept in a single tent on each end of the setup. There were few one day stands and no Sunday shows. After each performance children in the audience were invited to ride the ponies free.
In 1898, competition was very keen when the Gentry's ran against the Sipes show. One fascinating incident gives the tenor of the times and competition: at Mattoon, Illinois, both the Gentry circus and the Sipes show changed their beginning dates in an effort to appear as the first.
Both circuses had shown up in Mattoon on the same date. The cities of Davenport, Moline, and Rock Island were considered Sipes' towns which prompted the Gentry's to send their wagon down the main streets of the towns with a sign advising the citizens to wait for the greatest dog and pony show to get here . . .
In order to prevent a repeat of the scheduling rnixups, (and obvious competition), the Gentry's took the course of least resistance: they bought out the Sipes circus, and another dog and pony show owned by Tom Ogeat and Henry Main, and then dispatched four shows throughout the countryside. Naturally, a Gentry brother was in charge of each unit.
(The author does not give us dollar figures for circus income but it is obvious that the brothers were in good financial condition in order to buy-out competition quickly and integrate the old operations into the single show. GFG&G Editor.)
In 1900, acts using humans and elephants were added to the program. The admission fee which had formerly been 10 and 25 cents was then increased to 25 cents and 35 cents. One unit traveled to Chicago while the other covered the state of New York.
The year 1901 found units 1, 3 and 4 wintering in Houston while unit 2 was at Macon, Georgia. After winter quarters, units 1, 2 and 4 played three days at Monterrey and another three days at Guadalajara, both in Mexico. During a six week stay in Mexico City, Mr. Gentry proudly presented a pony to President Diaz. During this period, unit 3 was touring in the United States under the management of Mr. Coons.
During 1902, the Gentry Brothers Circus switched from a car show setup to flat cars. Twenty baby elephants were purchased in this period which allowed a distribution of five for each of the units. Two well-known Gentry twin steam calliopes were added as the new flat cars had made them practical to transport. Each of the steam calliopes had a 20 whistle Nichol instrument.
The circus had developed such a reputation by this time that the name was changed to "Gentry Brothers Famous Shows." An elaborate route book for 1902 was published which listed a total of 72 railroad cars, 22 elephants, 12 camels, 12 sacred cattle, and 50 big horses.
As Gentry had done to a competitor the previous year, Ringling Brothers now did to Gentry: Ringling "raided" the Gentry circus to the point that the brothers were left with only three units. Of these, unit 1 opened at Jonesboro, Arkansas with 2 ticket wagons, 25 other wagons and cages, 5 elephants, a baby camel and some zebras. Unit 2 had 12 camels, 150 ponies, 90 dogs, 60 monkeys, 5 elephants and 20 Ilamas.
By 1910, the Gentry Brothers Circus was considered the largest traveling show in the U.S. It had 7 elephants and 4 camels; Henry Crigler directed the 18 piece band and the steam calliope was played by Deacon Albright, one of the greatest of the old-time calliope players. Four Kelley's and six Bonniselli's provided the trapeze acts; the show had its first side show and a cookhouse. Thirteen or 14 railroad cars were routed for a one week stand in Indianapolis and a two week stand in Chicago. The circus was noted for trained dogs, ponies and monkeys, and included a cage full of house cats.
The Gentry's advertised educated Persian sheep and performing razorback hogs. The Gentry Monkey Fire department was widely recalled and big pyramids of numerous ponies, military pony drills, dancing ponies, high diving ponies, rope jumping ponies, waltzers, jumpers, and hindleg ponies were also featured. The Schneider dog family, wire walking dogs, trained pigs, goats, and other trained animals were also featured.
The Gentry performances were simple and pleasant for both children and parents to watch; the facilities were clean and attractive. Employees wore uniforms and no one was permitted to drop his coat carelessly over a cage wagon or other show prop visible to the public. The show provided free ice water for women, bicycle parking, and even sprayed attar of roses in the stable area.
Many problems confronted the circus but the critical one was that the owners never knew how many people were going to attend any particular show and of course, weather and other natural circumstances caused headaches. The show encountered an epidemic in Florida, a tornado in Grand Island, Nebraska, and a 12 inch snow storm in June, in Colorado. When more than one unit wintered together there would be fights as workmen from one unit stole from another.
The Gentry's lost control of the show in 1915 and in 1916 the circus had new owners -- Ben Austin and J. C. Newman. However, from 1916 until 1922, the new owners displayed the Gentry banner as a tribute to the brothers. [A detailed account of the final year of the circus under the Gentry name is given in the article following.]
James Patterson purchased the circus during the winter of 1922-23 and operated it as the Gentry-Patterson Circus from 1923 to 1925. Henry and Floyd King took over the circus and used the Gentry name, but finally the show went into receivership in 1929.
The Gentry Brothers Circus closed at Paris, Tennessee on October 23, 1929 (the next day just happened to be Black Friday on Wall Street). Howard King the manager made every effort to keep the show moving but was unable to meet transportation costs out of Paris, TN. The final troubles had started during the fall of 1928 after a disastrous tour through the Carolinas where the show lost heavily. After wintering at Dayton, Ohio, it took to the road severely handicapped because of a cash shortage.
But there was another reason for the decline and fall of the Gentry Brothers Circus that year - in the form of H.B. Gentry! That last season, H.B. was the manager of the Sparks Circus which was headquartered in Canada. The Sparks Circus with Gentry at the helm actually went head-to-head with the circus bearing the Gentry name trying to attract the customers. The Sparks outfit had 20 rail cars and a fine street parade to compete with the Gentry Brothers show.
The Gentry Brothers show was first sold in lots and the combined bids were only $4720. The show was finally sold to the Donaldson Lithographing Company of Newport, Kentucky for $10,000 to protect a mortgage they held for about $14,000.
In 1930, Donaldson donated the steam calliope to Henry Ford to be placed in the Ford Museum at Dearborn, Michigan as a perpetual memorial to the era of the Grand Free State Parade in American circus lore.
The Circus Fans Association was helpful in securing this donation from Mr. Donaldson. The calliope remains in Dearborn to this day in perfect playing condition.
One of the twin ticket wagons used on the Gentry Brothers Circus is now housed in the Hertzberg Circus Collection Room of the San Antonio Public Library.
When the show closed at Elgin, Texas in 1916, Henry B. Gentry took it into winter quarters at Memphis, Tennessee and turned it over to a company which had been organized to operate it.
The Gentry brothers then retired but H. H. Tammen lured H.B. Gentry into taking charge of the Sells Floto Circus. Although Tammen had lost nearly a million dollars with Sells Floto, Mr. Gentry took it out and for several seasons brought it back to the barn with a profit. Again, H.B. "retired." In 1928 Gentry bought into the Sparks Circus only to sell his part shortly thereafter to the American Circus Corporation.
Apparently, the retired life in Florida made Mr. Gentry restless for in the Fall of 1930 he began planning to retrieve his original show. The name was being used by Sam Dill but early in the Spring of 1931, it went back to the Gentry brothers. On June 1, 1931, at Bloomington, Indiana, traditional home of the Gentry shows, the "new-old" Gentry show opened again and under the management of the man who had made it famous.
Eugene Whitmore, editor of White Top the circus magazine, wrote in the January/February 1931 issue that he had heard from H.B. Gentry about the show re-opening. The editor reported that he caught the show at Mount Vernon, Indiana and had had a fine visit and that H.B. had told him that the show was making money.
The show was on the road again under the management of two of the original Gentry men, H.B. and Frank. All of the early acts were back: the Gentry military ponies, the Schneider dog family, the monkey horse doctor and a troupe of trained pigs were particularly funny. There were also trained goats, a dog walking the high wire, and a high diving monkey. Whitmore in a "PS" to his article noted that many well known circus executives had gotten their start with the Gentry brothers. Jake Newman and Ben Austin being two of the best known. Ben Austin had worked the "Monkey Hotel" in the Gentry program before he became an advance man and one of the best agents in the business. The circus went broke in 1934 and never appeared again.
Henry B. Gentry died during February 1940 at the age of 75 and left as survivors his widow, Grace, two daughters, Anne Lee and Elizabeth, a son Robert of Louisville, Kentucky, and a brother, Frank Gentry of Bloomington, Indiana.
James W. Gentry had died December 3, 1937 after a long illness; he was interred in Bloomington. Frank Gentry, last of the circus brothers, died at the Elks Home in Virginia in 1951.
[Reprinted from Gentry Family Gazette & Genealogy Exchange, see note at beginning of article.]
"Usually an author lists in the last paragraph the credits of those assisting him in his work but in this case so much is due to one person, it is fitting that his name be mentioned at the beginning. Walker Morris, now retired and living in Beaumont, Texas, spent many years as a member of some fine old circus bands of the past. He was a member of Charles "Spud" Redrich's band on the Gentry show in 1922 and furnished much of the information given in this article, but we are also indebted to him for the loan of his entire collection of photographs he took of the show that season. Many of these are as fine and interesting as have ever been printed in this publication and it is my pleasure to dedicate this article to him in grateful appreciation for sharing these with the readers of White Tops.
"Students of circus history usually consider the season of 1922 the last for the Gentry Bros. Famous Shows, a title made famous throughout this vast nation of ours by the four Gentry boys from Bloomington, Indiana. It is true that the Gentrys retired from the show following the 1916 season but the equipment featuring the pony drawn vehicles and cages and the performance of the famous dog, pony, and monkey actors as the foremost exponents of the 'dog and pony show' were practically the same as when the show was still under the ownership of the original Gentrys. After 1922 the title did continue on other shows but for the most part the old equipment which had served the show for so many years was scattered and never again did a show take on the flavor of the Gentry Bros. Famous Shows.
"This is not a complete history of the Gentry show but is merely a composite look at the final year of the circus depicting how it was organized, equipped, staffed, the performance presented, and the route it followed. For the reader who may want the complete history of the Gentry show I would refer him to the finest article on the show it has ever been my privilege to read. This article was by Tom Parkinson titled 'Gentry Bros. Dog & Pony Shows' and appeared in the Nov.-Dec. 1959 issue of White Tops.
"For a brief necessary background only let it be said that the four Gentry boys, J. W., Frank, W. W., and Henry B. started into show business out of Bloomington, Indiana, in the early 80's and beginning in 1891 put out a circus type show which grew into the foremost dog and pony type show in the country. The Gentrys were most successful but rather than expanding into one very large show they added other shows and for several years around the turn of the century operated as many as four separate shows, each managed by one of the brothers. The two larger flat car type shows had many duplicate wagons which were built by the Sullivan & Eagle Wagon Works of Peru, Indiana, and often referred to as the Gentry 'twins' by wagon historians.
"Gradually the shows were reduced in number until the 1916 season in which there was only one 14-car show left. The years immediately preceding the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 were quite bad for some circuses and many were killed off during these semi-depression years. The Gentrys were finally finished and lost control of the last show to J. Ben Austin and Jake D. Newman. This duo obtained the entire show, title, and good will, as well as the physical equipment. Both Austin and Newman were seasoned showmen and had served for some years as employees of the Gentrys.
"They put the show on the road in 1917 using the same equipment and following mainly the same format in the performance that had been so well accepted in the past. The 1917 show traveled on 14 cars with 1 advance, 3 stocks, 7 flats, and 3 sleepers. According to the Haviland lists the show remained on the same number of cars for the 1918, 1919, and 1920 seasons, and in 1921 added another sleeper thus giving the show a total of 15 cars. The same number of cars were used in 1922. Although it is possible some cars might have been replaced during the 6 years Austin and Newman had the show, they were of the same type as those on the show in 1916 and by examining the Ralph Miller and J. J. Fluff photo files of 1916 and the Morris 1922 train shots it seems the cars were pretty much one and the same.
"The train in 1922 consisted of 15 cars, with one advance, and 14 cars back, 3 stocks (1 for horses, 1 for horses and elephants and 1 for horses and dogs), 7 flats, and 4 sleepers. Morris doesn't recall the color scheme of the cars but did mention they were not spectacular and painted just a normal railroad color with little or no circus decorations. Photos of the train bear this out. The color seems to have either been a dark yellow or orange basic color with the title in a darker color, either red or blue.
"All cars were wooden or wooden with steel reinforcing. The flat cars were the old style sway bellied jobs which causes present day fans to wonder how they ever carried a load, but they did, even though when heavily loaded they looked like they would burst in the middle.
"Four different lengths and type of sleeping cars indicate they came from a variety of sources. Also interesting is that some of the show's large number of dogs were carried in one of the stock cars rather than all being loaded in wagons.
"A total of 31 wagons loaded on the seven flat cars. Although by 1922 many shows were now using one or more tractors to aid in moving to and from the lot not a single piece of motorized equipment was carried on the Gentry train.
"The show had canvas covers for all of these parade wagons when they loaded on the train. Most of the cages were of the small pony-drawn cross-cage type. These were highly carved and painted and made a wonderful flash in the parade. The two ticket wagons were identical, highly carved, and were part of the twin equipment built by Sullivan & Eagle about 1902.
"All parade equipment was highly painted and decorated using a variety of colors with gold leaf on the carvings. Morris recalls that the baggage wagons were painted traditional circus red with title in white or yellow. The cages were a variety of colors and most had the customary sunburst wheels.
"In 1922 the show carried 32 baggage horses, 30 performing horses and ponies, and 27 saddle and parade horses and ponies. As many of the parade vehicles, especially the cages, were quite small, these were easily pulled by ponies in the parade. Baggage horses were used for the larger bandwagons and tableaux and the steam calliope.
"The show carried three elephants, Babe, Queen, and Pinto, all of which had served on the Gentry show for some years. Other animals listed in the official property inventory were as follows: 2 Siberian camels named Bill and Jeanette; 11 monkeys, 5 of which are trained and perform; 1 sacred ox male; 2 pumas, female; 1 untamable lioness, safe to handle (for sideshow act); 2 lions, male and female; 1 deer, male; 28 dogs, all trained and performers; and 12 performing pigeons and cages.
"The show had a modest spread of canvas. Photos taken in 1922 indicate quite a bit of the canvas to be not in the best of condition. It is quite evident the show was operating under financial difficulties and all canvas was at least a year old and some no doubt older. From photos the big top seems to have many large patches and the windy western route followed by the show kept the canvas crews on their toes.
"Canvas on the show included a big top, a menagerie top, a dressing room top, a sideshow, a horse tent, a dining tent, and a cook tent. The show used a 18x20 marquee and the main sideshow had one entrance banner 7x12 and 5 sideshow banners, 7x12. The show still used the old carbide gas lights for illumination as many shows were doing as late as 1922. The cars were equipped with good Delco electric plants however. Seating in the big top consisted of 14 lengths of reserved seats and 17 lengths of blues. Performance was presented in three rings and a track and necessary aerial rigging was erected.
"It was always customary on the Gentry show to place in the menagerie in addition to the cages, elephants, and other lead stock, the ponies and dogs which made up so much of the performance. Photos of earlier Gentry shows also indicate at times parade vehicles would be parked inside the menagerie.
"As mentioned before both Newman and Austin were capable showmen. Newman in addition to serving under the Gentrys had also seen service on Hagenbeck-Wallace and Barnum & Bailey. Austin was equally experienced. During their years of operation of the Gentry show it was customary for Austin to be ahead of the show as general agent and Newman back in the show as General Manager. This situation prevailed in 1922. For the final year of operation Herb Duvall was the legal adjuster or official 'fixer' and also served as more or less an assistant manager and personnel director and it was he who usually signed the ads appearing in Billboard for various acts, personnel, etc. Henry Emgard managed the sideshow and Ed C. Brown was in charge of the concessions. Charles 'Spud' Hedrich was band director.
"The official title of the show used to 1922 was Gentry Bros. Famous Shows. Although in the early years the Gentrys had used a variety of titles such as Prof. Gentry's Dog and Pony Show, and Gentry Bros. Dog & Pony Show, the title had been standardized in later years to Gentry Bros. Famous Shows and that was what was used during the Austin & Newman era.
"The sideshow featured the customary acts of colored minstrels, fire eating, snakes, punch, magic, and fighting lion. Several coach dancers were on hand for outside bally and presented their usual act for a blowoff. A No. 2 pit show featured reptiles and animals.
"The late Deacon Albright, one of the best known steam calliope players of all time, played the steamer that brought up the rear of the street parade. This wagon was one of the famous Gentry 'twin' calliope wagons that were built by Sullivan & Eagle in 1902 for the Gentry show and had served continuously on the show since then.
At times one or both of the highly carved ticket wagons which had also been built by Sullivan & Eagle about 1902 paraded. Photos of the Gentry show in earlier years show these wagons being used as bandwagons as well as tableaus in the street parade.
"Dogs rode many of the pony-drawn cross-cages in the parade and these little wagons were always favorites of the children.
"The 1922 performance had trained ponies, liberty horses, many trained dog acts, trained monkeys, and elephants. Also present were many track and ring equestrian numbers. The show had a ballet of several young ladies who rode in spec and other numbers and performed on web and ladders. Mrs. Henry Emgard worked a pleasing act of trained pigeons. Arthur Burson was one of the featured acts and did a slack wire act in the performance. Burson also presented as an outside free act a fine tight wire routine performed on a wire from a center pole to a wire jack anchored to the ground. Another featured performing duo was K. Riley Malthuse and his wife who did a double trapeze act, while he appeared in another solo trap act and his wife in a swinging ladder routine. The show also had good clowning and other acrobatic and aerial acts.
"In the beginning the Gentry show was known principally in the Mid West throughout the years, especially when at times there were as many as 4 different Gentry shows touring the country. The title soon became known from coast to coast and by the time Austin and Newman got the show there was no particular 'Gentry territory'. For the past few years the show had wintered in Houston, Texas, and had played heavily throughout that state. In 1921 the show played 35 stands in Texas. The fortunes of the show had pretty well followed the general business patterns of World War I and the immediate post-war years. The big post-war boom year of 1920 was a big one for the show which played a route throughout the Southwest similar in parts to the final season route of 1922. The show also evidently liked their home state in 1920 because the official route lists some 94 stands in Texas.
"In 1921 the show played a more Easterly route with stands in Texas, La., Ark., Okla., Kan., Mo., IIl., Ky., W. Va., Ohio, Va., Tenn., and N.C., and although it made a full season it wasn't a good year. Opening April 4 at Houston and closing Nov. 12 at Groesbeck, Texas, the sharp depression that followed so quickly on the heels of the post-war boom hit the show very hard. By the end of 1921 and during the winter following it was evident the show was in some trouble. Marital troubles of Newman also added to the show's woes.
"The Jan. 14, 1922 Billboard stated that Judge Erwin Byrd of Houston had issued a temporary order restraining J. D. Newman of Gentry Bros. from selling any community property and the order restrained the First National Bank from paying out any funds to Newman, or Gentry Bros., or any company in which Newman had an interest. In the Jan. 28, 1922, Billboard Newman stated that although papers were served on him they did not in any way tie up or enjoin Gentry Bros. Shows from doing business.
"Practically no items concerning the Gentry show appeared in the 1922 Billboard columns, usually an indication that things are not well with a show. No roster or opening program was printed and just a few short notices appeared to the effect that the show would go out as usual on 15 cars and would open at Houston. Several ads were carried then and later in the season wanting personnel or performers.
"Austin, who was a good general agent and knew his business well, routed the show again into the Southwest territory that was so good to the show in 1920. The late E. W. A dams, who furnished me the 1922 route some years ago, said that this kind of route was referred to as the. 'dry' or 'starvation' route. Finding good towns at the right time required a first class general agent in those days. Very few places could be found without competition from other shows.
"In 1922 railroad circuses, flat car type, in addition to Gentry Bros. were Ringling-Barnum, Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace, John Robinson, Al G. Barnes, Gollmar Bros., Welter L. Main, Rhoda Royal, Sparks, Howes Great London, Pattersons Trained Wild AnimaIs, CampbelI-Bailey-Hutchinson, and Christy Bros. All paraded except Ringling-Barnum. Also in competition in the smaller towns could be found several gilly type railroad circuses plus a score or more of mud shows.
"The 1922 season began in the winter quarters town of Houston, Texas, Sat., April 15. From there the show moved to Galveston on April 18, then to Mexia, Dallas and Ft. Worth, and then a long string of one-dayers across Texas going West. The show entered New Mexico May 12, at Carlsbad for the start of a total of 14 stands in New Mexico. At Belen on May 26, a storm flattened the big top and the show suffered it's first blowdown of the season.
"The show next went to Arizona May 28, at Holbrook. From there it moved to Winslow, Flagstaff, Williams, Prescott, Ashford, and Kingman, and then into California June 4, at Needles. The next stand was in the mining town of Johannesburg and the parade that day made a two or three mile trip across the desert to visit a little mining town. This most unusual parade route is shown very vividly in Mr. Morris' photos. A stand scheduled for and appearing on the official route for Victorville was blown out and the show made a long and hot jump from Barstow to Goldfield, Nevada, and then a string of dates through the Nevada mining towns over railroads which have now been abandoned.
"The show played two stands in. California again at Susanville and Westwood and then back into Nevada at Lovelock and more stands as the show headed East across the state toward Utah. From June 26 to July 18 the show traveled back and forth with brief stands in Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming.
"In the June 24, 1922 Billboard the show advertised wanting a magician or punch act for the sideshow, and also wanted a boss hostler and trainmaster which indicated some key personnel had left. In the July 22 issue the show wanted for the big show performance single and double traps wire, and iron jaw acts, and clowns. Also short were ticket sellers, a 24 hour man, and bosses for all departments, an inside man for stores, and punch and magic for the sideshow. The ads seem to point out that the show was somewhat shorthanded on personnel, both performers and staffers.
"After a July 18 stand at Wheatland, Wyo., the show moved into Nebraska the next day at Scottsbluff and after two more stands in that state entered South Dakota at Rapid City. Additional stands were played at Deadwood and Hot Springs and then the circus moved South through Nebraska and Colorado and entered New Mexico Aug. 1, at Des Moines, New Mexico.
"Western territory has always been a hard, tough, grind for any circus. Railroad jumps were usually long and many times slow. Lots were rocky and dusty and the weather either could be hot and dry or very cold and wet, and wind was always a disturbing factor. A reprint of the shows route Card No. 15 puts the show in 7 states in a two week period which was a record for the Gentry show. It also. indicates the length of jumps required of a show in western territory for even a medium sized show of that day.
"During the first two weeks of August the show made brief stands in New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas, then moved on into it's home state of Texas Aug. 17, at Perrytown.
"Throughout the western tour it is believed the show had some bad weather at many stands. Gollmar Bros. Circus, operated by Mugivan and Bowers had a poor year in 1922 and played through much of the Gentry territory and in the Billboard columns were continually complaining of bad weather and business in the West.
"Sept. 14, at Brownsville, Texas, the show had another blowdown due to high winds. A total of 33 stands were played in Texas before the show closed Sept. 23, at Giddings. Facts indicate it closed quite suddenly and then moved immediately to it's quarters in Houston.
"That the personnel were not very happy with the closing situation is indicated by the following letter by Arthur Burson, one of the two top performers in the show, that appeared in Billboard. Walker Morris says the letter is true in every respect and that no members of the band or performers he knew of ever did get their holdback pay from the show.
"Houston, Texas, Sept. 26, 1922 -- Editor, 'The Billboard -- As you claim you are impartial, I am sending you an open letter to see if you will publish it. The Gentry Bros. Famous Shows closed Saturday, Sept. 23. They didn't notify the performers of the fact until that afternoon, and then they only paid one week, when most everyone had nine days more coming. J. D. Newman, the main factor, couldn't be found that night. Only his paid servants were on hand. When the working men were paid off in Houston there was a squad of police present.
"While you are cleaning up shows, I think it would be a good play to let the grafters rest awhile and go after the unscrupulous managers who force performers to work out a holdback, and when the show closes, don't pay them. If that can be stopped the performer will be benefitted. '(signed) Arthur Burson.
"Very little details concerning the show's financial condition appeared in Billboard but it is obvious it was poor and claims had forced it into receivership. The Dec. 23, 1922 Billboard reported under headlines that 'Gentry Show to Be Sold At Houston', and said that J. B. Austin, receiver, announced that on order of the court the show was to be sold on or before Jan. 10, 1923. He also stated it would be sold as a unit and that neither he nor J. D. Newman would buy the show.
"The Jan. 27, 1923 Billboard announced that the Gentry Bros. Famous Shows had been sold to James Patterson. The sale included the physical property to his quarters at Paola, Kan.
"Patterson was a well known figure in circus and carnival circles and had operated one or more carnivals for many years. In 1922 he had operated a 20-car circus titled Patterson's Big 4 Ring Wild Animal Circus. Since Patterson already had quite a bit of circus property on hand he sold the Gentry Bros. baggage stock, the ticket wagons, and cages to G. W. Christy. The rest of the property was stored, sold off, or put into the 15-car show he operated for the 1923-25 seasons under the title of Gentry Bros.-James Patterson Circus......
"The late Frank Welter of Houston in the 30's acquired many of the little Gentry Bros. cross-cages that had served on the show. These came from several sources but the ones purchased from G. W. Christy should have a direct link to the 1922 Gentry show. The Waiter collection was scattered after his death although it is reported some of the cages are still around.
"The Gentry steam calliope that Deacon Albright played in 1922 put in many more years of service. The steamer is now temporarily 'lost'. After a short tour on the Blue Grass Shows in 1957 it was reportedly sold to a drive-in theater in Nebraska, and late reports now have it on some carnival on the West Coast. It is my fond hope that eventually this fine old relic, a living reminder of the old Gentry Bros. show, can some day be preserved in one of our ever growing circus museums."
© 2004, W.M. Gentry - All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part for non-commercial purposes provided that proper attribution (including author and journal name) is included.