Weirdy-beardy frontiersman who gave Lincoln a mule-skull fiddle and turned a bear into a chair

Meet Seth Kinman, a hairy-chested, hairy-faced frontiersman who liked to make chairs out of entire stuffed bears. He also made a fiddle out of the skull of his favorite mule and gave it to Abraham Lincoln.

California hunter whose presentation of an elkhorn chair to the President on November 26, 1864 attracted wide publicity. Kinman, with a penchant for western buckskin clothes and eastern publicity, Stanley Kimmel wrote that after presenting the chair and explaining the seven years of hunting that went into its production, Kinman told "the President that he had another little keepsake with him in the form of a fiddle made from the skull of his favorite mule, which, when alive, appeared to have music in his soul, for he would always look around the camps on the plains when he heard music. After the mule had been dead for some time, he passed his bleached bones one day and the idea struck him that there might be music in the bones, so he made the fiddle. Later he took a rib, and some hairs from the tail, and made the bow. Much to the amusement of Lincoln and other spectators, he played 'Essence of Old Virginia' and 'John Brown' on the bones of the mule. Lincoln said that if he could play the fiddle he would ask him for it, but since he could not, the fiddle would be better off in Mr. Kinman's hands."
Seth Kinman (via Geisha Asobi)


  1. I would like to roll around with this man and run my finger through his lovely beard. Never has a rifle seemed more essential….

  2. I think the chair is actually made of two or more bears, that or a bear with six legs. Either way, it’s something that Colbert should buy on e-bay.

  3. Maybe it’s just the way he is reclining on his bear-chair, but I’m going to guess that in addition to the donkey’s skull, Mr. Kinman would have liked to have given Mr. Lincoln another kind of bone…

  4. Are you sure this isn’t some character made up by John Hodgman? Because if you told me he spent his free time wrestling hobos and conversing with mole men, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  5. On that wikipedia link, there’s an image of “Lincoln examining Kinmans Rifle”

    What is his rifle? Its a big old thing and I was wondering if anyone could tell me any more info about it!?

  6. while that dude has some righteous facial hair, those chairs he made look ready for their appearance on the “texas chainsaw massacre” set. [/shudder!]

  7. bit o’ mixed bag, wot?

    “Methodist bishop and writer Oscar Penn Fitzgerald met Kinman in California while he was on his way to deliver the chair, and he recorded his impressions in the sketch The Ethics of Grizzly Hunting.'[8] He presented Kinman as a drunkard who cruelly abused Indians and grizzly bears.
    His countenance was expressive of a mixture of brutality, cunning, and good humor. He was a thorough animal. Wild frontier life had not sublimated this old sinner in the way pictured by writers who romance about such things at a distance.
    —Oscar Penn Fitzgerald
    James R. Duff, a fellow ’49er, also described Kinman as “an avowed enemy of the red man, … (who) shot an Indian on sight.”[9]
    Kinman bought 80 acres of land one mile east of the future Table Bluff lighthouse in October 1858. This was the first purchase of land in the Humboldt Land District, which was established by an Act of Congress in March, 1858.[10]
    During a gale on the night of January 5–6, 1860, Kinman saved many passengers from the wreck of the ship the Northerner, in which 38 people perished. Kinman was hailed as a hero, and awarded a Bible and free life-time passage on the line.[11]

  8. Personally, I very much regret that the term ‘sideboards’ derived from ‘side-beards’ has been so thoroughly supplanted by the American term ‘sideburns’, a pun on the name of Ambrose Burnside.
    just saying.

  9. Kinman lived in the house next door to me here on Tablebluff. He was not a nice man. He did kill Indians on sight. The ironic thing is that there is now an Indian reservation across the street from his old house.

  10. Based on lighting alone, I’d warrant that this is a latter-day neopagan with some awfully wrinkly Levi bell-bottoms.

  11. To be commented on, in those times, for having a special hatred for “the red man”, implies an especially intense hatred for said people, remarkable even for a society that based its existence on the screwing over of the natives.
    This man, while outwardly awesome, is no longer my new hero.

  12. if it makes you feel better, he could probably have been educated by living in South America or Africa or Asia on his own for a while. Ignorant bigotry dies in the light.

  13. Why can’t more hunters do that with the animals they bag? I would love to sit in a chair made entirely out of bears.

    The last time I was at a hunter’s house (I was babysitting), all they did with their deer antlers was scatter them over their big mantleplace.

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