Fighting Bob

Fighting Bob is now stuffed and mounted in a glass case and can be viewed at the College of Idaho’s Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History in Caldwell.

Interest was high in 1911 when G.W. Hull and two partners purchased a pair of ostriches with the intention of breeding them in Boise and starting a fabulous business. After all, a female ostrich could lay 40 eggs per year and it took only two years for a bird to reach adulthood. Just do the math. It was clear that Boise would soon have more ostriches than horses.

Hull was the owner of the White City Amusement Park, so named because of the popularity of the 1893 World’s (Fair) Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and its famous White City. It was one of dozens of such White City parks built across the country. The Boise park, which featured a half-mile-long roller coaster, a miniature railroad, boating pond, penny arcades and much more, operated next to the Natatorium (on Warm Springs Avenue) from 1910 until 1943. In 1955 the Adams Elementary School was built on the site.

The ostriches, named “Fighting Bob” and “Desdemona” would be housed at the White City Amusement Park for a short time until all those hatchling young birds would necessitate their removal to a sprawling ranch. That was Hull’s plan, anyway. Fighting Bob did not subscribe to that plan.

Hull purchased the 300-pound birds from a San Diego man who had exhibited them at the Intermountain Fair. If Hull asked the man why Fighting Bob was named thus, the answer apparently didn’t put him off.

It turned out that Bob was a scrapper. He pecked at people, clawed at them and ran at them. People found it amusing, which was all well and good in an amusement park, but it turned out that Fighting Bob liked nothing more than beating up Desdemona.

Caretakers tried everything they could think of to safely introduce Desdemona to Fighting Bob. He was simply not interested in a mate. At least, not this mate. When together, he would kick and claw her relentlessly, pulling out her tail feathers, until someone separated them.

Ultimately, he was so infuriated by the sight of the female bird that he broke through a fence and killed her, much as the estranged spouse in Othello killed her namesake.

This solidified Fighting Bob’s reputation and gave people an excuse to pull every trick they could think of on him. The favorite was feeding him something inappropriate, such as a golf ball. He liked to eat golf balls. He loved to eat cigars. Marbles were also on his menu. He also ate edible items, such as hot dogs, oranges and chewing gum. People fed him a horseshoe and a tobacco can full of sand. He tried it all, often pecking the fingers of a prankster, or tweaking his nose.

Shortly after the death of his intended, Fighting Bob nearly did himself in while “shadow boxing,” hooking a talon in his own neck, slitting his throat. It took 90 stitches to close the wound.

One night in 1924, a group of young pranksters kidnapped Fighting Bob by feeding him some kind of sedative, then walking him out of his pen.

They reportedly had some fun riding the six-foot-tall bird until it plunged into the river, dumping one of them off.

The ostrich was weakened after that adventure. He lived for a couple of years but died in 1927 at the age of 25. Fighting Bob was stuffed and mounted in a glass case, to be donated to the Idaho State Historical Museum. He was on display there for decades but has since moved to the College of Idaho’s Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History in Caldwell where he can be viewed today, along with a pair of Desdemona’s eggs.

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