Seth Kinman was a self-made man and a self-promoter. A bushy-faced nineteenth-century California hunter who never met a bear or buck he cared for, Kinman used the skins and carcasses from his quarry to fashion unusual chairs that he presented to several American Presidents.
Kinman began bestowing these odd gifts to Presidents during the Buchanan Administration, which is the subject of the first excerpt, taken from an 1857 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The second excerpt, an article from a 1885 New York Times that originally ran in the San Francisco Call, further examines Kinman’s life and by then what had become a longstanding chair-giving tradition that had allowed him to become friend to several Presidents.
From May 18, 1857 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
From “Seth Kinman, The Pacific Coast Nimrod Who Gives Chairs to Presidents,” New York Times, reprinted from the San Francisco Call (December 9, 1885):
A unique character is Seth Kinman, the grizzly bear hunter and presidential chair presenter, now stopping in this city. He is a tall man, 70 years old, straight as an arrow, dressed in buckskin from head to foot, with long silver hair, beard, and shaggy eyebrows, under which and his immense hat a pair of keen eyes peer sharply.
He is the Nimrod of this coast, the great elk shooter and grizzly bear hunter of California, who has presented elk horns and grizzly bear claws from animals that have fallen before his unerring rifle to four Presidents of the United States–Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, and Hayes–and has ‘the finest of all’ to present to President Cleveland next spring. He claims to have shot in all more than 800 grizzlies, as many as 50 elk in one month, and to have supplied the Government troops and sawmill hands in Humboldt with 240 elk in 11 months on contract at 25 cents per pound.
He was born in Union County, Penn., in 1815, went to Illinois in 1830, and crossed the plains to California in 1849. He tried mining on Trinity River, but followed hunting mainly for a living. In the Winter of 1856-57 he made his first elkhorn chair, and conceived the idea of presenting it to President Buchanan. Peter Donahue favored it. He went on in the Golden Age with letters to Col. Rynders in New-York, and in Washington he met Senator Gwin, Gen. Denver, and others. Dr. Wozencroft made the presentation speech, and Buchanan was highly pleased. He wrote Rynders to get Kinman the best gun he could find in New-York, which he did, together with two fine pistols. He also got an appointment to corral the Indians on the Government reservation, and when they strayed away he brought them back.
In November, 1804, he presented President Lincoln with an elkhorn chair, which greatly pleased him; Clinton Lloyd, Clerk of the House, made the presentation speech. The chair to Hayes was presented when he was Governor of Ohio, but nominee for President. The chair presented to President Johnson was made of the bones and hide of a grizzly.•