Billed as “The Sheep-Headed Men,” “The White Ecuadorian Cannibals Eko and Iko,” and “The Ambassadors From Mars,” George and Willie Muse were world-famous sideshow performers in the early 1900s.
Born black with a rare form of albinism, the two brothers were kidnapped as boys in Truevine, Virginia, in 1899 by bounty hunters and forced into the circus.
Upon their capture, they were falsely told that their mother was dead and that they would never return home.
Their mother suspected her sons had been abducted for it was common for bounty hunters to look for new freak show performers.
But with nearly 100 traveling circuses in the country at the time, the chances of her laying eyes on her beloved boys were slim to none.
Their owners showcased the brothers in circuses where they were exploited for profit in so-called freak shows.
The Muse Brothers became famous across the United States as “Eko and Iko”, the “White Ecuadorian Cannibals”, the “Sheep Headed Men”, the “Sheep Headed Cannibals”, the “Ministers from Dahomey” and “Ambassadors from Mars”.
George and Willie were forced to grow their hair into massive dreadlocks which together with their white skin and bluish eyes were exhibited as rarities. They were also billed as “Darwin’s Missing Links” and “Nature’s Greatest Mistakes”.
The boys were not permitted to go to school, neither were they paid for their work. They were literally kept in slavery, earning nothing despite thousands of people who paid to see them. Their only rewards were clownish attire they wore for the shows and food meant to keep the ‘assets’ alive.
Their mother tracked them down and eventually found the boys working for the Ringling Brothers circus and surprised them while they were on stage and their family reunited, 28 years later since they had gone missing in the very same town. The poor and powerless black woman stood up to police and big shot circus owners and successfully took her sons home.
Harriet successfully sued Ringling Brothers for the mistreatment of her sons and they were given back pay after a legal battle.
When the Muses were reunited most papers entirely omitted Harriet’s successful lawsuit against Ringling Brothers, in which she won a large settlement and fair pay for her sons.
The two brothers later chose to go back to work for the circus as paid employees.
Willie died aged 108 in 2001 while George, older by three years, died in 1972.