TexasEscapes.com  
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
TEXAS TOWNS
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Elephant Execution
in Witchita Falls

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Someday, perhaps, a work crew laying cable or pipe will unearth a large set of bones near a busy Wichita Falls intersection.

They may think they have found the remains of some prehistoric creature, but they would be wrong. Should a paleontologist be consulted, the expert would readily determine that the bones, while old, did not come from a wooly mammoth, but its evolutionary descendant, the elephant.

How an elephant came to be buried in Wichita Falls is a story of incredible cruelty – at least by modern standards – that from this distance smells like a shrewd if terrible publicity stunt. Whatever the motivations involved, a bizarre set of circumstances converged in this Northwest Texas city in 1899.

It started when a circus hit town. Back then, more than a decade before the discovery of oil in Wichita County would transform the place into a boom town, Wichita Falls was just a sleepy county seat cow town. The arrival of the circus train had been a big enough deal, but that was nothing compared with the story the circus owner started spreading: The circus company had a killer elephant under sentence of death.

The animal had been spared after killing one man some years before, but when the pachyderm killed a second, the circus proprietor sentenced it to death. At least that was his story. Could be the animal was just getting old and the circus boss figured the publicity attendant to executing a “killer” elephant would be worth a whole lot more than the hay it took to keep the animal swinging its trunk.

Plastering the town with handbills, the circus man called on the good people of Wichita Falls to lend a hand in the creature’s execution. It had been five years since local residents had broken the tedium of everyday life by lynching two bank robbers from a downtown telephone pole, so enthusiasm for the scheduled event ran high.

On the date set, circus handlers walked the condemned animal from the Big Top to a spot then on the edge of town near where Brook now crosses Kell Boulevard. Handlers staked the trained beast with leg chains. Whether truly a pachyderm gone bad or simply old, this would be the elephant’s last public appearance.

“Everybody in Wichita Falls who had a shooting iron repaired to the scene,” one newspaper reported. “There were folks with shotguns, revolvers of various kinds and rifles.”

Unfortunately, no one had the kind of firepower it would take to drop an elephant. The beast took on more lead than 20 coats of old paint and seemed not much worse for the wear. The only noticeable effect, totally understandable, was its considerable annoyance with those doing the shooting. The elephant roared and lunged at its chains, but fortunately for the crowd, the iron held.

Shotgun pellets bounced harmlessly off its thick hide as the beast continued to cry out in fear and rage.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals not yet having a toehold in Wichita Falls, the circus gang came up with another idea. A railroad track being nearby, and with the ready cooperation of the local station master, two switch engines were employed to stretch out a heavy chain fastened around the big animal’s neck.

The killer elephant, if indeed it was, finally died of strangulation.

Safe at last from the possible rampage of a purported man killer, the people of this Northwest Texas community faced another not-so-little problem: How to dispose of a dead elephant.

As city officials pondered the situation, someone noticed the town scavenger in the crowd and had an idea. He could have the hide if he would bury the elephant.

The man, thinking the near bullet-proof skin would make a fine roof for his small house at Seventh and Austin streets, agreed to what literally was quite a large undertaking. With help from his family, he skinned the elephant, dug a hole sufficient to contain the body, and somehow got the carcass in it. For a time, the junk dealer had the distinction of having the only elephant skin roof in Wichita Falls, the state of Texas and perhaps anywhere in the nation.

But fame, and utility, proved fleeting. After the first good rain, the elephant roof shrank like so much green rawhide. By that time, of course, the circus had long since pulled its tent stakes and moved on to the next gig.


© Mike Cox - 2003 column, modifies January 8, 2015
More "Texas Tales"
More Texas Animals | Columns
Related Topics:
Columns | People | Texas Town List | Texas
Books by Mike Cox - Order Here
 
 
Custom Search
TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS FEATURES
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes. All Rights Reserved