Dion De Marbelle

July 4, 1818, Seville, Spain.

December 18, 1903, Wayne, Illinois.

Bluff City Cemetery, Elgin, Illinois.

De Marbelle worked on a whaling ship in the early 1800’s, then joined the American navy and served as a drummer in a New York company during the Mexican War (1847). He was also a military musician in the American civil war, serving in the 6th Michigan Infantry. After that, he toured America as a musician and actor with an opera company, later organizing his own theatrical troupe. It has been said that at the invitation of Bailey (of Barnum and Bailey fame), he became the very first circus clown. Later, he managed his own circus, but lost everything in a fire while touring Canada. Then, he helped Buffalo Bill Cody set up his famous Wild West Show:

Wracked by rheumatism and penniless, a tired old man had come to Elgin [Illinois] to live with a son on Seneca Street. Few paid him much attention until Buffalo Bill [Cody] and his Wild West Show came to town in 1897. He was standing in the crowd among the tents when Colonel W. F. Cody glanced in his direction, gazed intently at him for an instant, and recognized a former associate, Dan De Marbelle…The colonel arranged for his old friend to view the afternoon entertainment from an easy chair in front of the band. That evening, De Marbelle dined with Cody, Annie Oakley, and other show figures in the colonel’s private dining car, and left with a generous parting gift [called in his obituary a substantial roll of currency].

Days Gone By, by Mike Alft, p. 141

De Marbelle could play almost any instrument, and wrote many songs. He was a ventriloquist, organized a brass band, and sang in a Methodist choir in Elgin, Illinois. He also called the figures in local square dances. He claimed he could make an eloquent speech on any subject, without preparation! The royalties from all his songs were stolen from him, and he died penniless, near starvation.

  1. When They Ring the Golden Bells