In typical sideshow fashion, the Wild Men of Borneo were pure gimmick. The Davis Brothers, Hiram and Barney, were not from Borneo at all. Hiram was born in 1825 in England and Barney in 1827 in New York. The dynamic duo were dwarves, each standing only three and a half feet tall.
The brothers began their exhibition career in 1852 after showman and promoter Lyman Warner purchased the brothers from their destitute and widowed mother. Warner created an intricate persona for the tiny brothers. Renaming them Waino and Plutano – he billed them as savages from darkest Borneo. Audiences at the time had likely heard of Borneo, but the area was still veiled in great mystery. As a result, the public swallowed the story completely and Warner was inspired to elaborate the fictional biography further. He created a promotional booklet, entitled ‘What We Know About Waino and Plutano, Wild Men of Borneo’, and within its pages their ‘capture’ was detailed.
For their part, the brothers played their roles to the hilt. During exhibitions the ‘Wild Men’ acted wild and spoke a strange gibberish language. Over time, the brother began to develop characters. Waino played a gentle savage character who read poems while Plutano played a trickster and stubborn character. Both brothers were remarkable strong for their size and would often lift volunteers from the audience off their feet.
Warner passed away in 1871. His son Hanford took over possession of the duo until their retirement in 1903. In 1905 Hiram (Waino) died of natural causes. Seven years later, in March of 1912, Barney joined his brother at the age of eighty-five.
Today, the brothers rest side by side in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
image: The Wild Men of Borneo, 1894 promotional card.