Black History: The Muse Brothers

In 1899, brothers George & Willie Muse kidnapped as children and sold to the circus as a sideshow.

Seen as a potential ‘rare’ and lucrative attraction, George & Willie Muse were taken as young boys at ages 9 & 6 by a bounty hunter working for a promoter of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”

They were promoted as ‘The White Ecuadorian Cannibals,’ ‘The Ambassadors from Mars,’ and sheep headed freaks. truevine-body-image-1476993718
The Muse brothers were gifted musically, having the ability to hear a song once and play it on nearly any instrument from the mandolin to the saxophone, guitar and xylophone, which became the feature of their act.

Finally in 1928, they were found by and reunited with their mother Harriet after years of exploitation and travel with the circus. She spent years fighting for their freedom and payment after decades of free labor. Ultimately, she won the case and the brothers were paid for all their years working for the circus. Since the circus was all they knew, the brothers made the painful decision of staying with the circus and continuing to grow their worldwide fame.

They were able to buy their mother a home, which she passed away in during the early 1940’s.

The brothers retired in the home state of Virginia in 1961.

George, the older brother died in 1971. His brother Willie lived until 2001.

The brothers never married.

To learn more about their story read Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South