Circassian Girl, Grandmother Lizzie

Submitted by Carol Mobley
   Elizabeth Metz (Lizzie) was born in Manhattan, NY on December 5, 1861 — a beautiful girl whose life was as colorful as her red hair.
   There is little known of Lizzie’s childhood but by the time she was 19 she was married to Ambrose Hadley, a Civil War veteran 20 years her senior. They traveled together in the Sells Circus and the Burr Robbins Circus all along the east coast and into the Midwest. Lizzie sat for photographic portraits in Baltimore, which she sold for extra income to circus attendees. She was referred to as the “Circassian Girl” which was a phrase coined by PT Barnum in the 1860’s. Circassian women were thought to be the most beautiful women in the world with fair white skin and dark or red hair.
   Lizzie not only had bright red hair but she teased her tresses into a style known as moss hair – something started by Barnum but soon copied by other female performers in the United States. Lizzie and Ambrose left the circus in 1884 to homestead in the west. A handmade pin made of silver dimes carved by her fellow circus performers was presented as a farewell.
   There was still significant unrest with Native Americans on the plains. Many of the Native Tribes considered the color red sacred, representing sunshine and Spiritual life. Thinking to prevent attack, the group of settlers took advantage of Lizzie and her bright red hair, setting her in plain view in the front wagon.
   Apparently, this was a successful strategy as they settled in western Nebraska by 1889 in a sod house. The local Native Americans did think Lizzie was special. She was presented with a ceremonial war club with a fully beaded handle and told to display it on the porch of the homestead and no harm would ever come to them. But western Nebraska proved to be too difficult so the Hadleys left the soddie and moved to Arkansas. Homesick for the Plains, within a year they moved back to Nebraska and settled in Box Butte County. Lizzie lived on the homestead farm until her death April 12, 1938.
   Cabinet photographs of Lizzie still show up for sale. I am always looking for them because you see, Lizzie is my great grandmother. Are you interested in genealogy, old photographs, historical documents, postcards and other historical items? If so, come out to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds on Friday or Saturday January 18-19 for the Denver Postcard and Paper Ephemera Show, Watch for my next article on Capt. Fred Hadley – Tattoo Man.

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