The Auburn Mountainview Lions have graced Lea Hill since the high school opened in 2005. But half a century before the school opened, a real lion lived at the base of that same hill.
The circumstances surrounding the lioness, Little Tyke, are quite unusual. She was born in September 1946 to an erratic mother at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. Her mother was captured in the wild and lived as a zoo attraction. The first four times she gave birth to a litter of cubs in captivity she killed each of them. When she birthed a fifth litter, one female cub was saved by the zookeeper. They turned her over to Auburn residents George and Margaret Westbeau who adopted the lioness and named her Little Tyke. They lived on their farm, Hidden Valley Ranch, which was located near where the 8th Street NE Bridge crosses the Green River at the base of Lea Hill.
The couple learned an astonishing fact about their new pet: she refused to eat any meat despite years of efforts to introduce her to a normal carnivore diet. George and Margaret were finally convinced by a visitor that a chapter in the book of Genesis provided an explanation for Little Tyke’s vegetarianism. He told them to read Genesis 1:30 which proclaimed, “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
As a strict vegetarian, her diet consisted of various types of grains and gallons of milk for meals. Alongside her at the ranch lived other cattle, chickens, lambs, and a deer. Little Tyke even became friends with a lamb named Becky and a photo of the “Lion lying down with the lamb” became popular.
Taking care of a growing lioness came with its fair share of obstacles. Despite her gentle disposition some community members believed that Little Tyke would eventually show her true nature. Eventually the city council passed a law directed at her that required “dangerous” animals to be caged.
Little Tyke became internationally famous and George Westbeau published a book Little Tyke: The True Story of a Gentle Vegetarian Lioness, about raising their unique pet. The Westbeaus used the notoriety of their lioness to raise funds for Seattle Children’s Orthopedic Hospital.
Little Tyke contracted pneumonia during a trip to Hollywood and died just short of her ninth birthday in 1955.
Many Auburn residents have memories of Little Tyke. If you have one to share, please select the “Leave a Comment” link below and share your story.
To see a series of Little Tyke photos in the Tacoma Public Library archives click here.
Guest author, Tishayla Williams, was born in Newport News, Virginia but has lived in Washington since the age of four. She recently moved to Auburn and is a high school junior at Auburn Mountainview where she’s on the staff of the school newspaper, In View.