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Texas' Tallest Tale: The Adventures of Big Jim Patterson

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Attaching story and photos about my Great Uncle James Wesley Patterson...


James “Big Jim” Patterson was born on the 4th July 1847 during his family’s migration from Mississippi to Texas via the Choctaw Trail. The Patterson men were much taller than average and none more so than Big Jim who reached an astounding 8ft 4in. The family settled in the Ark-La-Tex region owning land in both current day Brightstar, Arkansas and Bloomburg, Texas where they would farm the land and eventually invest in numerous local businesses including the Bloomburg State Bank, built in 1916 and still standing today as Cass County’s tallest commercial building. Some time in the late 1870’s the family made a trip Jefferson, which at one time was Texas’ busiest port, for goods and supplies. At that time Jefferson happened to be hosting the Sells Brothers Circus and Big Jim was noticed by one of the brothers and asked to join as their “World’s Tallest Man.” He traveled the World with Sells Brothers including visits to Australia and Hawaii, performing for paying crowds and privately held functions hosted by royal family members. While in Australia the paparazzi hounded Jim and they wrote numerous articles about the “Great American Giant.” Big Jim was a handsome and well-proportioned man and when a “World’s Tallest Woman” could not be found to hire, Jim would don a dress and wig to fill the role.

Jim constantly wrote letters home discussing his travels and the relationships formed with fellow circus performers but was mostly fond of his fellow “freaks” such as Unzi the Aboriginal Albino and three-legged man George Lippert. In his letters home he mentions how the business was “filthy lucrative” for them as they could make additional money to their salaries by signing autographs and posing for pictures. He also complained about the exorbitant cost of women’s dresses however when money for such items were needed, he would simply visit the performer’s “treasure wagon” for an advance. During Winter months Big Jim would travel between the Sells Brothers headquarters known as Sellsville in Columbus, Ohio and Bloomburg to visit family and friends. At home he was treated like a movie star, constantly acquiescing to requests for photos and autographs. He would not visit home empty handed and often showed up with elaborate gifts for the family from exotic food like oysters and pineapples to wooden organs which he gave to each of his loving nieces.

By 1895 Big Jim was ready to settle down and the Kansas City Southern railroad had just laid tracks through downtown Bloomburg, the city boomed for a while. Big Jim would invest in many local businesses and lend money to friends and family, often taking repayment in the form of poultry or livestock or whatever borrowers could afford to part with. Jim built and died in Bloomburg’s largest home on Halloween night 1920 and would be buried in Brightstar’s Olive Branch Cemetery alongside most of his other family members. His obituary was printed in newspapers throughout the United States where he was referred to as the tallest Texan on record however the local paper simply stated, “the big man from Bloomburg was over Saturday.”

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