Thomas Jefferson was not only fond of dogs, but also loved mockingbirds and grizzly bears, which lived on the White House property. His favorite pets included two bear cubs, Dick the mockingbird, Caractacus the horse, and his two shepherd dogs, Bergere and Grizzle.
Jefferson, who became the nation's third president in 1801, received the bear cubs as a gift from Capt. Zebulon Pike, who wrote in an accompanying letter to the president that the bears were "a different species of bear from that found in the East." Pike stated the bears were thought to be the "most ferocious animals of the continent," according to the Presidential Pet Museum.
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Pike had purchased the bears from an Indian and had them carried by horseback hundreds of miles to the White House. The bears stayed on the White House grounds for two months. They were often on display for public view in a cage on the front lawn.
Jefferson's political opponents and critics sometimes described the animal display as a "bear-garden," which referred to a rough and rowdy area at the time.
Although fascinated with grizzlies from the Lewis and Clark expedition he authorized, Jefferson found the bears "too dangerous and troublesome for me to keep," he wrote in a letter to his granddaughter.
He decided to give the bears to his friend Charles Peale, who had opened a museum in Philadelphia for natural history objects and living animals. Jefferson told Peale the bear cubs, a male and a female, were "perfectly gentle" and "quite good humored."
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Peale wrote to Jefferson that he looked forward to the bears growing to full size. Unfortunately, they grew to the point where one of them escaped and ran loose through the museum. The bear had to be shot dead in the museum's kitchen. Visitors could later see the bears mounted on display at the museum.
Jefferson had long been a collector of mockingbirds, admiring their melodies and affectionate disposition. He kept his favorite mockingbird, Dick, in cage in his presidential office and often let the bird fly around the room.
Dick took food from the president's lips and even followed him up the stairs at times when he would retire for the day, according to the Jefferson Monticello website.
When Jefferson left office in 1809, he wrote that he was happy his birds arrived safely at his home in Monticello, "and are the delight of every hour."
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