The Three Bummers

From left to right, Norton I, Bummer, Lazarus

Though Norton was usually a gentle man, this cartoon moved him to violence. Ed Jump's The Three Bummers became a hit all over San Francisco. Norton I first saw it in the window of a favorite saloon. Not happy with the depiction of the Imperial Presence stuffing his mouth nor the implied association with two notorious, flea-bitten mutts named Bummer and Lazarus, he is said to have broken the window and destroyed the offending drawing. Another report has it that the window proved too hard and he broke his walking stick instead. Norton I saw himself as a King, not as a bummer or a derelict. Nevertheless, his later biographers described Bummer and Lazarus as "his dogs" and even told stories about their attendance at affairs which took place long after their deaths.

Lazarus died first. He erred by biting a boy. Someone gave the dog meat laced with ratbane which led to his end. Concerned San Franciscans (who had earlier rallied to exempt Bummer and Lazarus from a leash law) put up a $50 reward for the capture of the poisoner. One wag suggested that the mutt be buried in a place of honor, near the graves of David Broderick and James King of William. Jump created a new cartoon, showing a long funeral cortege bearing the Mutt's bloated corpse atop the dogcatcher's wagon. Bummer stood by, hanging his head. Willie Coombs (George Washington II) dug the grave. And Norton, arrayed in episcopal finery but still wearing his Union Army cap, read the obsequies for poor Lazarus. The year was 1862.

Bummer died a classic dog's death three years later. One Henry Rippey kicked him to death in November 1865. Though the sheriff managed to avoid a revival of the Vigilance Committees by quickly arresting the ruffian, Rippey's cellmate, a popcorn vendor named David Popley, "popped him in the smeller." Some journalists denied the death: "Bummer still lives, in spite of endeavors of a certain mercenary sheet [the Bulletin] to kill him," said an editorial in the American Flag. Mark Twain eulogized Bummer, saying that he'd died "full of years, and honor, and disease, and fleas." Jump took the occasion to create a new cartoon showing Bummer laying in state, the ghost of Lazarus enjoying a free meal. The whole city minus one man mourned him: the Emperor Norton's heart remained hard against the dog, but this never deterred a line of biographers, led by Fremont Older, to soften his anti-canine stance and make the mutts his constant companions in memory.

Lazarus was stuffed, exhibited in a bar, and eventually turned over to the California Historical Society. The fate of Bummer is unknown.

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