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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

The Day the Elephant died in Flatonia

“It wasn’t beauty that killed the beast – it was railroad-strength pesticide.”

Told to the Editor by Flatonia Historian George Koudelka
Sometime way back when the 20th Century was brand-spanking new, a circus stopped in the Fayette County town of Flatonia.

The name of the circus has been forgotten, but they were indeed a circus and had an elephant (at least one) to prove it.

For readers fortunate enough to have visited Flatonia, you may remember that the town is bisected by railroad tracks - with large open spaces separating two rows of storefronts from the tracks. Some of this is paved now; but it was once lush greenery. Except in the Texas summer when it became crisp brownery.

Getting back to our story: the circus people asked the locals if their elephant(s) could graze along the tracks. Permission was given, but with the warning that the railroad had just sprayed the vegetation along the right-of-way the day before.

The elephant handlers laughed heartily (as only circus people can laugh) and assured the concerned Flatonians (and we’ve never met a Flatonian that wasn’t concerned about something) that elephants were hardy beasts. It would take more than herbicide to give these magnificent animals so much as a mild heartburn.

Well, we should all know that no good comes of bragging.

For younger readers who may be hearing this for the first time – pay attention. NO GOOD COMES FROM BRAGGING! Brag now and regret it later.

Sadly, when the sun rose over Flatonia the following day, the elephant was (as they say in academic circles) “exhibiting a 100% mortality response.”

No one in Flatonia had ever buried an elephant before, but there were several people around who remembered the Port Arthur whale of 1906 and it’s lingering aroma. It wasn't easy, but a huge hole was dug alongside the unfortunate creature and the poor animal was tipped into the open pit.

No one now living remembers the pachyderm’s name or if the handler was heartbroken, fired, or both.

Itenerant photographers who used to go to great lengths to photograph lesser events – either missed this one entirely or else photos have not yet surfaced.

The location remains unknown today. Flatonians (concerned as they are) seem to have a faulty collective memory.

George Kouldelka, our source for this story, allows that he's sometimes reminded of the incident by other members of the county historical society who occassionally ask if he has "found that elephant, yet?"

If you have a minor out-of-the ordinary incident in your town’s history - please contact us.
© John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?" August 20, 2005 Column

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