Weird California
Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Bummer and Lazarus

Map Plaque to Bummer and Lazarus
Transamerica Redwood Park, 600 Montgomery St, San Francisco, California 94111

Plaque to Bummer and Lazarus
Plaque to Bummer and Lazarus

In the 1800s, many cities in the United States had a stray dog issue where packs of dogs roamed the city. As a result most had strict anti-stray dog policies leading to dog catchers regularly either poisoning stray dogs or trapping and killing them. San Francisco, like most other cities, was no different. But two dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, received special dispensation from the anti-stray law and were allowed to come and go as they saw fit.

In 1860, Bummer, a black and white Newfoundland, arrived in San Francisco, supposedly brought to the city from Petaluma by a reporter for the Alta California. Left to his own devices he set up his territory along Montgomery Street, and begged for scraps from the passer bys and patrons of the establishments along that stretch. He particularly begged outside the saloon of Frederick Martin (Martin's Saloon). The street had prior been patrolled by Bruno, but Bruno had been poisoned leaving a vacancy for Bummer.

Ruby pays respect to San Francisco's legendary Bummer and Lazarus
Ruby pays respect to San Francisco's legendary Bummer and Lazarus

In January 1861, Bummer rescued Lazarus, a yellowish black dog, from a fight with a much larger dog. Lazarus had sustained considerable injuries in the fight, but Bummer brought him food and huddled with him for warmth during the night, which led to Lazarus's remarkable recovery, thus earning him his name. The Alta California actually reported this incident on January 18th, 1861. The Daily Evening Bulletin once described Lazarus as a "cross between a cur and a hound, with a dash of terrier... In color he was of a yellowish black - and proudest of the black."

The two were reportedly excellent rat catching dogs, and in the 1860s rats were a terrible problem in San Francisco. If the stories are to be believed, the pair supposedly finished off 85 rats in 20 minutes. Another account states that when a downtown fruit stand was cleared in January 1863, the two dogs managed to kill over 400 rats.

Their rat killing prowess led to them being well respected by the local merchants and citizens of San Francisco. So much so that on June 14th, 1862, when a new dog catcher had captured Lazarus, an angry mob formed and demanded his release. Supposedly on June 17th, 1862, the Board of Supervisors passed a special law placing the pair of dogs exempt from the anti stray law and giving both dogs free reign to roam throughout the city as they pleased. Rumor has it, that the two dogs were even hanging outside the meeting chamber while the very law was being considered, although no one has stated how they actually got there. A week after the dog catcher incident, they reportedly stopped a runaway horse.

Local newspapers, many of their journalist hung out at Martin's Saloon, often reported and chronicled the many adventures of Bummer and Lazarus, praising their rat killing skills. The San Francisco Bulletin referred to them as "two dogs with but a single bar, two tails that wagged as one".

Ruby pays respect to San Francisco's legendary Bummer and Lazarus.
Ruby pays respect to San Francisco's legendary Bummer and Lazarus.

In October 1863, Lazarus sadly passed away. Reports of his death are varied usually glorified. One account states Lazarus was kicked by a horse from one of the city's fire engines, although another states he was actually run over by the fire engine as it raced off to report to a city fire. It is more likely though that after Lazarus bit a boy, he was poisoned with laced meat by the boy's father. A $50 reward was supposedly put up for the capture of the poisoner.

Lazarus was taxidermed and placed on display behind the bar at Martin's Saloon. The Daily Evening Bulletin ran a long obituary entitled "Lament for Lazarus" in which they praised both dogs and recounted their many adventures together.

Bummer survived until November 1865 at which time he succumbed to injuries he sustained when he was kicked down some stairs by Henry "Ripper" Rippey". Ripper was immediately detained and arrested out of fear for retaliatory violence against him. However, his cellmate, David Popley, upon hearing of what Ripper had done, punched him in the nose. It took Bummer a few months to finally pass away from his injuries. Mark Twain wrote a eulogy for Bummer, entitled "Exit Bummer", although unlike the rest of the newspapers his piece was not filled with love and affection for Bummer. The Alta California wrote:

He, who was faithful to the end,
The noble Bummer sleeps;
Gone hence to join his better friend,
Where doggy never weeps.

The Three Bummers -Edward Jump
The Three Bummers -Edward Jump

Bummer was also taxidermed. Both bodies were supposedly donated to the Golden Gate Park museum in 1906. The museum kept them in storage for a few years but then destroyed them in 1910.

Cartoon featuring colorful San Francisco
Cartoon featuring colorful San Francisco "celebrities"

Edward Jump in the 1860s drew several cartoons appearing in the city's newspapers. Depicted in his cartoons were caricatures of the city's notable (infamous) characters including Bummer and Lazarus along with Emperor Norton I. It is thanks to these cartoons that historians came up with the tale of the "Three Bummers" (Bummer, Lazarus and Emperor Norton). But it is entirely made up. Bummer and Lazarus had no connection to Emperor Norton and were most decidedly not his dogs. One of Edward Jump's cartoons showed Bummer, Lazarus and Emperor Norton at a free lunch counter. Norton was so angry at the cartoon that upon seeing it he reportedly smashed a window with a cane, angry that he had been depicted eating lunch with strays. The Alta California stated that Norton "let fly with his walking stick at the window pane and smashed - his stick."

Edward Jump did run cartoons after both Lazarus's and Bummer's death. The first depicting Lazarus's funeral with Norton pontificating at it, and a host of celebrities attending the funeral. Although it is unlikely that Lazarus had a funeral that was attended by dignitaries and local celebrities, the cartoon does show how revered the pooch was to the city. Bummer's cartoon shows Bummer in state, being presided over by rats with Lazarus up in heaven awaiting his dear friend.

The Funeral of Lazarus - Edward Jump
The Funeral of Lazarus - Edward Jump
The Death of Bummer - Edward Jump
The Death of Bummer - Edward Jump

Raff Distillerie on Treasure Island makes a gin called Bummer and Lazarus. Raff Distillerie has been operating there since 2011 starting with absinthe.

Transamerica Redwood Park, next to the Transamerica Pyramid, has a plaque erected within it commemorating the two dogs. It was installed on March 28th, 1992. The plaque is inscribed:

Bummer and Lazarus were two stray dogs who roamed this part of San Francisco in the 1860s. Their devotion to each other endeared them to the citizenry. And the newspapers reported their joint adventures, whether stealing a bone from another dog, uncovering a nest of rats or stopping a runaway horse. Though authorities destroyed other strays on sight, the city permitted these two to run free. Indeed, they were welcomed, regular customers at popular eating and drinking establishments on Montgomery Street. Contrary to common belief, they were not Emperor Norton's dogs. They belonged to no one person. They belonged to San Francisco. When Lazarus died in October 1863 (followed by Bummer in November 1865), a reporter for the "Bulletin" described them thus: "Two dogs with but a single bark, two tails that wagged as one."

Outside References:

Last Edited: 2015-03-29


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