Bloody History of Gypsy the Elephant

Valdosta Police Chief Dampier used a borrowed Krag-Jorgensen rifle to bring down the rampaging elephant, Gypsy, in November 1902.

Valdosta Police Chief Dampier used a borrowed Krag-Jorgensen rifle to bring down the rampaging elephant, Gypsy, in November 1902.

In 1952, Billboard magazine reported that the bones of Gypsy the  infamous  man-killing elephant were in Ray City, GA.  (See Bones of Gypsy the Elephant.)  The elephant was killed in Lowndes County near Cherry Creek in 1902, after trampling her trainer and escaping from the Harris Nickel Plate Circus.

But the elephant Gypsy had a well documented history as a man-killer long before the bloody rampage in Valdosta.  There were reputed to be notches filed on her tusks for each of her victims.

 The Valdosta Times

The One that Didn’t Get Away!
      The monster brute of the Harris Nickel-Plate Show trampled her keeper to death and ran amuck.  After terrorizing the business portion of the city [Valdosta], she dashed out to Pine Park and was shot down six miles north of the city Sunday morning After trampling her keeper and leading the townsfolk on a chase lasting all night and far into Sunday morning in the Cherry Creek area of the city, Gypsy was killed by Chief of police Calvin Dampier with a single shot from a Krag-Jorgenson rifle.  This is said to have been the first animal of its kind ever killed by a rifle in the country.

For more than a decade, Gypsy had been one of the star attractions of W. H. Harris’ Nickel Plate Show.

Advertisement depicting Gypsy and Barney in Harris' Nickel Plate Shows.

Advertisement depicting Gypsy and Barney in Harris’ Nickel Plate Shows.

Circus historian C. E. Duble gave this description of the Harris Nickel Plate Show:

The Harris Nickel Plate Show
Bandwagon, Vol. 1, No. 10 (Oct), 1942, p. 4.

      One of the prominent old-time one ring shows of years ago was the W. H. Harris World-Famous Nickel Plate Show originated in 1893 in Chicago by W. H. Harris. This show was a big success. As far as I can learn the show was 10-car size during its long career. The show came to Jeffersonville, Ind., in the early 1890’s and the last appearance was on September 28th 1901. The writer passed bills for the show on that occasion. Admission was 10 and 20 cents. Among the performers were Miles Orton, principal bare back rider; the Millette’s aerial performers etc.; and the St. Leon Family Acrobats. One of these girls Elsie At. Leon was Star of the play “Polly of the Circus”. The side show and menagerie were under one tent.
       A parade feature was a combination Bandwagon and Lion Den, this being of elaborate design, with heavy carvings and mirrors; band rode atop under canopy over rear of wagon and drawn in parade by six or eight camels docked out in oriental robes and trappings.
      Show had one elephant “Gypsy” of immense size, appeared in parade and performance. Hand bills had a half tone out of the Lion Den referred to and a cut of the elephant with this exact wording “Famous Historic, Gypsy Still Lives – THE LARGEST ELEPHANT THAT WALKS THE EARTH.”
      The Territory of the Harris Nickle Plate Show was the middle West and South, Winter Quarters at the time were Valdosta, Ga. The elephant killed her keeper O’Rourke there, the Winter of 1902. W. H. Harris died about 1902 and Chas. O. Wilson became manager for Mrs. Harris. Later he was traffic Manager for years with Ringling Bros. After twenty-one years tour the show came to an end in August 1904 at Sebree, Ky.
      The old dirt ring bank remained at Jeffersonville for years. On the same spot where the tents of the Harris Nickel Plate Show were in 1901, the High School stands today.

Gypsy the elephant about 1894, with trainer Fatty Shea, and a smaller elephant possibly Pearl. During this time Gypsy was with the George W. Hall circus.

Gypsy the elephant about 1894, with trainer Fatty Shea, and a smaller elephant possibly Pearl. During this time Gypsy was with the George W. Hall circus.

W. H. Harris had acquired Gypsy for the Nickel Plate Show around late 1885.

Purchased from the deep South’s W. W. Cole’s Circus, she  proved to be a huge brute that put fear into everyone. Charley Curran, the trainer, examined her tusk stubs and noting many notches there-on, exclaimed, “I knew it!, this is Pogie O’Brien’s notorious outlaw and as she has nine notches filed into her tusks, she has killed at least that many people”. “Well”, dryly commented Harris, “we bought her as Gypsy, so don’t anyone mention her bloody history”. – White Tops, April 1930, Col. C. G. Sturtevant.

Indeed, the “bloody history” of Gypsy aka Empress was no secret.  Just months before her purchase by Harris, she had killed a man in Philadelphia.  Although Empress belonged to O’Brien’s Circus, she was temporarily being housed at the winter quarters of Forepaugh’s Circus in Philadelphia. The  sensational story was reported all over the United States, even in the small communities of south Georgia:

The Weekly Sumter Republican
Americus Georgia

October 12, 1885


    Philadelphia, Oct. 12th. – Yesterday afternoon R. White, about 55 years of age, an employe of Forepaugh’s circus, was attacked and killed by the large Elephant Empress, who struck him a fearful blow with her trunk and threw him across some cages with such force as to disembowel him.

October 16, 1885 news clipping: Killed by an elephant.

October 16, 1885 news clipping: Killed by an elephant.

The New York Times told more of the story:

The New York Times
October 12, 1885


 An Ugly Elephant Attacks A Circus Employe [sic] Without Warning

    Philadelphia, Oct. 11. – The big performing elephant Empress added another victim to her long list today by attacking and almost instantly killing Robert R. White, a watchman employed at the Winter quarters of Forepaugh’s Circus, at the corner of Lehigh avenue and Edgemont street.  As in almost every other instance where this beast has injured people the attack was made without provocation or warning.  White was in the elephant building, which is detached from the quarters of the other animals, in company with a  man named Allen and  a song and dance man who has been connected with O’Brien’s Circus during the past season.  When the men entered the building Empress trumpeted loudly and moved restlessly about in her stall.  As she had received her quota of hay White knew that she could not be hungry, and for a time was at a loss to account for her uneasiness.  He then jumped to the conclusion that she was thirsty, and told his companions that he would give her  a drink.  They knew her ugly disposition and tried to dissuade him from releasing the big brute, but he protested that he could manage her and entered the stall.
      Empress stood perfectly passive while White unwound the heavy chain that secured her foreleg to a stake in the ground.  She obediently backed out of the stall and started toward the water trough at the other end of the building .   She had not gone half a dozen paces, however, before whe gave vent to a threatening snort, and raising her trunk in the air felled White to the ground with one tremendous blow.  She struck him another blow as he lay prostrate, and then rearing on her hind legs brought one of her front feet down on White’s chest with the full force of her ponderous weight.  She paused for a moment apparently to see whether her victim would offer any resistance, and when he moaned feebly she thrust down her immense head and with her tusk literally disemboweled him.  In the meantime,, White’s companions, who had been rooted to the ground with horror for an instant after the attack began, ran from the building  and gave the alarm.  There were very few of the employes [sic] about, but those who were within call quickly assembled and held a hurried consultation at the door of the elephant house.  They could hear Empress tramping about.
    Daniel Taylor, an attaché of the circus, picked up a spear, and dashing into the elephant house plunged it into the brute’s leg.  She stopped thrusting at the prostrate man with her single but ugly tusk, and turned her head to look at her assailant.  Taylor followed up his attack by plunging his spear into the beast’s side, meanwhile shouting at her.  She turned toward him and made a movement as though she intended transferring her attention to him.  Taylor never wavered, but continued prodding the brute with his spear, and commanded her to go to her stall.  Empress hesitated a moment, and then doggedly turned and walked to her stall, where she was  promptly secured.  White was taken to a hospital, where he died very soon afterward.
    Empress has been traveling with O’Brien’s  Circus during the past season.  It is said that this animal has killed two or three persons and injured and maimed a dozen or more.  Her last escapade in the city was on the morning of Aug. 31 last, when she was exhibiting at Broad and Dickenson streets.  At the time a young man named John Kimberline, who was employed with the show as cook, stole into the elephant’s tent when Empress was lying down apparently asleep.  Near her was a pile of hay, which constituted her allowance for the night.  Kimberline abstracted an armful  and spreading  it under the lion’s cage made a bed for himself and went to sleep.  His actions were watched by Empress, who after Kimberline had gone to sleep drew out the stake to which she was chained, picked him up with her trunck and hurled him across the tent.  The young man was seriously injured, but subsequently recovered.  Three months before this occurrence Empress attacked an old employe [sic] of the circus named John Loudon, and injured him so severely that one side of his body was partially paralyzed for life.  Another employe had been attacked by the brute shortly before and severely injured.  Several years ago she hurled a female performer across the tent and seriously hurt her.  Soon after Empress came under the control of her present trainer,  Mr. Colley, she took him unawares one day and, forcing him against a cage, thrust her trunk almost completely through his body and fractured three ribs.  She is very intelligent, and performs some remarkable tricks with her trainer in the ring.  It is thought now it will be necessary to have her shot.

But  Gypsy was not shot.  Instead, she continued to tour the country with circus shows.

The New York Times
March 26, 1896


Lion Tamer Scott Paid For His Ride With His Life at Chicago. Gypsy Resents Her Keeper’s Attempt to Direct Her Movements and Beats Him to Death with Her Trunk – A Woman’s Brave Battle with the Enraged Pachyderm – A Building Wrecked and the Police Defied by the Beast.

      Chicago, March 25. – W. H. Harris’s big elephant Gypsy became unmanagable at Winter quarters on the West Side this afternoon, and before she could be got under control, killed her keeper, tore down a frame building, and created an excitement which drew thousands of people to the scene.
     Harris’s circus is quartered at the corner of Roby and Jackson Street in a six-story brick building, and Gypsy occupies the greater part of the first floor.  Her regular keeper is Bernard Shea, but Shea is at present in Omaha, and the animal was temporarily in charge of Frank Scott, a lion tamer.
     Scott this afternoon took Gypsy out for a ride in the alley.  Gypsy did not seem inclined to stop at the boundary of the alley, and Scott gave her a jab with an iron hook.  The beast became enraged, and, throwing her keeper from her head, where he had been riding, proceeded to pound him with her trunk, and succeeded in killing him and knocking him through a board fence.
      Mrs. Harris came to the rescue with a pitchfork.  She was knocked down, but pluckily jumped up and gave the brute  battle. She soon had blood streaming from wounds in the elephant’s side. Gypsy ran toward the end of the alley.  Here was standing a large crowd, and many were scattering which took place when the elephant started out of the alley. 
      Gypsy did not go far, but went back for Scott, who, in the meantime, had been moved into a wood building just opposite the elephant’s quarters.  The animal knocked in the whole side of the building in her efforts to get at the man again.
      Mr. Harris had sent for all the bread and cake that could be bought in the neighborhood, and also telephoned for Claude Orton, his horse trainer, who soon arrived.  The elephant quieted down somewhat while she was eating fifty loaves of bread, a large number of cakes, and other delicacies which were placed before her.

The Oswego Daily Times ran the same story about Gypsy’s March 25 rampage, adding:

      Finally she walked into her barn and the heavy doors were shut after her.  The door had no sooner been shut than the elephant, with one blow, shattered it and ran out again.  By this time every street in the vicinity was crowded with excited people.  Three wagon loads of police came to the rescue, but could do nothing further than keep back the crowds.
    The elephant had her own way for about four hours, when she went back into her stall and allowed Orton to chain her.

The NYT article concluded with:

      Harris has owned the animal for five years and has had no trouble with her before.
      Frank Scott’s right name is unknown.  He would never tell who he was, and although he had been with the Harris circus for six years, no one knows anything of him except that he went under an assumed name. His body is now in the hands of an undertaker, and will be buried from the home of Mr. Harris.

The story continued:

The Alexandria Post News
Alexandria, Douglas County, Minnesota
Thursday, April 2, 1896, page 7

Her Seventh Victim.

      Omaha, Neb., March 26.—Bernard Shea, the former keeper of Gypsy, the elephant which created so much trouble in Chicago Wednesday, will take the first train for Chicago to assume his old position. Mr. Shea has been Gypsy’s keeper off and on for the past ten years and says he has never had any troubles with her. In an interview he stated that Gypsy is only another name for Empress, the original old Empress, the first elephant imported into this country, and that the killing of her late keeper, Scott, makes the seventh victim of her vicious character.  
      The first was Harry Cooley, in 1870, at Forepaugh’s winter quarters in Philadelphia; then George West had the life crushed out of him in 1874, traveling on the road with Robinson’s show. “Jimmy, the Bum,” was the next man, at New Iberia, La., in 1882, followed by William Devoe, with O’Brien’s show at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1886. Patsy Hulligan was the sixth victim, and he had his arm torn out at Cincinnatti in 1894, and died two days afterwards.

Glad to See Him.

      Chicago, March 27.—Trainer Shea arrived in town last night and made haste to reach Gypsy’s quarters. The meeting between the two astonished those who beheld it. Shea patted the elephant as he asked: “How are you, old girl?” Almost instantly Gypsy wrapped her big trunk around the waist of her friend and held him firmly, yet tenderly, for many minutes. Then, receiving a reassuring kiss from Shea, the monster slowly lowers him to the floor. While her trainer remained in her quarters Gypsy trumpeted merrily, and it was not until the keeper left the place that the beast ceased these manifestations of her joy.

After the death of Frank Scott, public sentiment rose against Gypsy.  Pehaps too dangerous to show and too infamous to sell, Harris sought to exploit her infamy.   He made a publicity stunt out of offering her to Tomás Estrada Palma, Maximo Gomez and Cuban insurgents who were fighting for independence from Spain before the beginning of the Spanish-American War.

The New York Times
January 2, 1897


Showman Harris Says His Elephant Would Help the Insurgents.

CHICAGO, Jan. 1. – Gypsy, the bad man-killing elephant, is not to be killed by electricity. She has been reprieved and may be sent to Cuba to trample down the ranks of the Spaniards.
Her owner, W. H. Harris, sent a telegram to Senor Palma last evening tendering the insurgents the four-footed terror, and she is now in her cage on the Pan Handle tracks in Rockwell Street, subject ot Palma’s orders.
Following is the telegram sent by Mr. Harris:

CHICAGO, Dec. 30.

Senor Palma, American Representative of Cuban Insurgents, New York:
       I have Gypsy, large man-killing elephant, on track, awaiting electrosecution, as she is too vicious for show purposes.
      She is a trained performer and will obey any command, and I think she would be serviceable in the rough country of Cuba, where it is, I am told, difficult to manipulate field pieces.
      I want to dedicate her to the cause of humanity and liberty. Will ship at your expense to any American port, and will agree to secure you animal man to go with her to Cuba.
      If Hannibal found elephants useful in battle, why should not Gomez conquer with Gypsy.
W. H. Harris

But harnessing Gypsy as a weapon of war was impractical, so the elephant remained in America.  Talk again turned to her execution.   Harris, of course, turned the prospect into a media circus, capitalizing on the novelty of  electricity in 1897.  Just four years earlier Nikola Tesla had stunned the world with an electric display of 200,000 lightbulbs  at the Columbian Exposition of 1893.  (It would be another 25 years before electric lights illuminated Ray City, GA. )  The Columbian Exposition was a triumph for Tesla’s alternating current (AC) over the safer direct current (DC) favored by Thomas Edison. For the next decade, Tesla and Edison battled for public opinon concerning the superiority of AC versus DC.  Edison took to touring the country staging shows where he demonstrated that alternating current was deadly by electrocuting various animals. Not to be outdone, Harris proclaimed he would electrocute Gypsy the elephant. “He accordingly hit upon the idea of a public execution with a five dollar admission fee.” There was talk that Gypsy would be stuffed and exhibited on the Circus tour.

Gypsy the elephant slated for electrocution, May 6, 1897.

Gypsy the elephant slated for electrocution, May 6, 1897.

But once again, Gypsy was spared. Perhaps Harris concluded all the publicity over her pending execution made her more valuable alive than dead.  It would remain for Edison to stage the world’s first electrocution of an elephant,  an event which he recorded in 1903 with another famous invention, the motion picture camera.

By the end of 1897 Gypsy “the man killing elephant” was back on the circus show route, even appearing in Thomasville, GA.

1897 Advertisement for the Nickel Plate Show and Gypsy appearance at Thomasville, GA

1897 Advertisement for the Nickel Plate Show and Gypsy appearance at Thomasville, GA

The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprise
December 8, 1897


“Gypsy,” The Man Killing Elephant, Is With the Show.

Harris Nickle Plate Show will be in Thomasville next Monday, and with it will come Gypsy, the most notorious of living elephants; Wallick, the man-eating lion; a full company of acrobats, a long string of wagons, many horses, dogs, parrots, and all  the other paraphernalia that is the requisite of every first class show. 
    Speaking of Gypsy, the man-killing elephant, the Atlanta Journal had the following notice on the occasion of the visit of this show to Atlanta last month;      “When the cars of the show came to a standstill this  morning and the work of unloading began a crowd of idlers gathered around a mild-looking elephant of huge proportions.  The mild-eyed mountain of flesh was Gypsy, the elephant who only a few months ago killed two men in Chicago and created excitement in the Windy City that lasted for weeks. Gypsy one day decided to run amuck and began operations by killing her keeper and another man who attempted to stop her.
      After these two murders she smashed several doors out of the big barn she had been placed in for winter quarters and started into the streets.  Men ran from her, but a woman, and a woman of small statue, barred the way.  This woman was Mrs. W. H. Harris, wife of the owner of the show.  She had as a weapon a huge pitchfork that she used with vigor upon the head of the crazy elephant. Thousands of persons who had gathered at the place expected to see her killed,but instead the great beast came to a standstill and was finally secured. Gypsy was ordered killed by the authorities and Harris fixed the day and was to charge an admission, when the Humane society interfered and the life of the elephant was spared.

Five years later,  in Valdosta, GA, Gypsy killed her final victim. For the story of that still remembered day, see Bones of Gypsy the Elephant.

How the elephant bones were brought to Ray City and what eventually became of them is not known.

Related Posts:

Bones of Gypsy the Elephant

A small note in the December 6, 1952 edition of The Billboard, entertainment industry trade magazine, unceremoniously observed the 50th anniversary of  the circus tragedy in which Gypsy the elephant killed her trainer at Valdosta, GA rampaged through the town, and was shot dead.  The article read:

Charlie Campbell, ahead of Don Robinson Circus, reports a resident of Ray City, Ga., has some large bones reputed to be from an elephant, Gypsy, executed there while with the Harris Nickel Plate Circus in 1901.

The Billboard, December 6, 1952 clipping reported bones of Gypsy the elephant at Ray City, GA

The Billboard, December 6, 1952 clipping reported bones of Gypsy the elephant at Ray City, GA

Gypsy the elephant was actually killed in Lowndes County near Cherry Creek in 1902, after trampling her trainer and escaping from the Harris Nickel Plate Circus. She was shot by Valdosta Police Chief Calvin Dampier.  In the ensuing days more than 3000 people came to see the dead elephant.

Virtually from the instant of her execution, there was talk of preserving Gypsy’s skeleton. Eyewitnesses  reported that some visitors took trophies and souvenirs from the body of the  slain pachyderm, before the 12,000 pound carcass was finally hacked apart and burned.

Did the bones of Gypsy the elephant eventually make their way to Ray City, GA?

Valdosta Police Chief Dampier used a borrowed Mauser rifle to bring down the rampaging elephant, Gypsy, in November 1902.

Valdosta Police Chief  Calvin Dampier used a borrowed Mauser rifle to bring down the rampaging elephant, Gypsy, in November 1902.

The tragic events that occurred at Valdosta, the trampling death of James O’Rourke and the execution of the beast he trained were almost inevitable given the bloody history of Gypsy the Elephant. Even the circus train’s travel to Valdosta, GA, foreshadowed the impending doom awaiting them at their final destination.  On October 28, 1902 two cars of the Harris tNickel Plate Circus train were derailed at Dothan, AL  According a a lawsuit filed by the circus owner, the two derailed circus rail cars were broken to pieces, the circus wagons loaded on the rail cars were broken and smashed as were the tent poles, seasts and canvas. The wagon known as the “bank wagon” and the “lion den” was turned over and demolished. One of the lions died from injuries and another was crippled. As a result of the accident, the circus was forced to cancel its engagement at Bainbridge, GA but was able to resume travel to its show in Valdosta. As the circus and menagerie were in route the Harris Nickel Plate Circus train was wrecked at Tifton, GA in a collision with another train.  Several of the show people were injured. Another show wagon was demolished, one of the largest and heaviest in the troupe. One of the show’s finest ring horses was crippled and had to be put down.

Surely the show people were relieved to reach Valdosta, which was to be their season finale’. After the Valdosta performance, the show people would winter over in the town before resuming their exhibition circuit in the spring.

The circus disaster that occurred in Valdosta was first reported in the Valdosta Times with a printing that came to be known as “the Elephant Edition,” and quickly  swept across the nation:

The Valdosta Times
Tuesday, November 25, 1902


 The Monster Brute of the Harris Nickel-Plate Shows Tramples  Her Keeper to Death  and Runs Amuck —

After Terrorizing the Business Portion of the City,  she Dashes out to Pine Park and was Shot Down Six Miles Above the City Sunday Morning.

 Valdosta experienced a sensation Saturday night such as no other city in the country has ever witnessed.
     It was a chase by scores of people after a monster five ton elephant, which had trampled its keeper to death and was standing in defiance of all who should come within reach.
      After a chase lasting all night long and far into Sunday  morning, the big brute was killed by Chief of Police Dampier, six miles above the city, with a single shot from a Krag-Jorgensen rifle.  The anima had been shot dozens of times  in the past, and this is said to have been the first animal of the kind ever killed with a rifle ball in this country.
       The elephant belonged to the Harris Nickel Plate Shows, which gave two performances here Saturday and which broke tents that night to go into winter quarters at Pine Park.  The animal was named “Gypsy” and she had been seen many times in this city.  She was one of the largest elephants in the world.  The show was here for two weeks during the State Fair and gave two performances daily, the acts by “Gypsy” being features of the performances.
      The show went from here to Lake City for two performances and then visited Macon, Cordele, Tifton, and  other places along the Georgia Southern road, returning here Saturday morning for the last two performances of the season.

Elephant under perfect control.

The big beast was in charge of James O’Rourke, who seemed to have her under perfect control.  She was an exceedingly intelligent anima and her acts in the circus ring were the cleverest ever witnessed here.   Among them was the blowing of a harmonica.  Gypsy being the only elephant in the word which had been trained to blow a wind instrument of any kind.
      All day Saturday, O’Rourke, the elephant’s trainer, complained of being sick and that afternoon he began to take quinine and whiskey in pretty liberal doses.   He was seen to take a drink of whiskey just before mounting the elephant to go to the park and one of the showmen spoke to him and suggested that he had “better cut that out.”
      At O’Rourke’s command, the elephant kneeled down and he crawled up on her head and then he gave the signal for her to move on.  The great beast started off from the show grounds east of the city hall, toward Patterson street and thence to the Georgia Southern passenger depot where O’Rourke expected to get a change of clothing to put on. He remained at the circus cars a short while and started back up town along Patterson street, turning at Hill avenue toward the show grounds, but turning again at Ashley street toward Central avenue.  The showmen say that the elephant expected to go  in the car at the depot and when she was brought back  up town it angered her.

      Turned Down Wrong Street 

      The turn at Ashley street was made and Gypsy ambled along toward Central avenue, where a turn was made to the left, leading toward Patterson street, but crossing that street and continuing the slow pace toward Toombs street.  A number of parties on the street called out to O’Rourke and told him that he was going the wrong way, but he paid no attention to them.  Chief Dampier was sitting at his stable when the elephant passed there and he called O’Rourke’s attention to the fact he was on the wrong street, but a mumbled answer came from the man on the elephant’s head, and the chief supposed that he wanted to go a side street to get out of the way of the vehicles and street cars on Patterson street.
      Two young men, Smith and Christian, followed the elephant from Patterson street to Toombs and were close to her when O’Rourke fell off of her head.  They stated that the elephant stopped a moment as if to wait for him to resume his position, but a moment later she kneeled down over him and crushed every bone in his body, rolling the limp body along with her trunk and tusks for probably fifty yards.

Her Keepers’ Death Reported.

      She then turned toward the side of the street and began grazing on the grass there as if nothing had happened.  Chief Dampier heard her crushing O’Rourke and ran over close enough to see that he could do nothing for the man.  He then went to the circus and informed the managers of what had taken place.  In a short while the entire circus force was on the ground trying to control the animal, while Manager Wilson and Sheriff Passmore were trying to get the crowds to stand back.
One of the clowns ,  Barney Shea, who was formerly her keeper, undertook to lead her toward the depot and place her on the cars there and it was believed that he would succeed, as the animal knew his voice and followed him nearly to the Plant System depot.  In the meantime, a large crowd had gathered and excitement was running high. A train was stopped on the crossing where the elephant was to pass and this, together with the excited crowds, seemed to rattle her.
      She turned back toward the Christian church, from which some of the members of the circus were calling to her in “elephant talk,” but it was apparent that she was getting thoroughly aroused.  She grabbed an electric  light pole with her trunk and shook it until the lights flew out all along the street.  Then, she began to hurl bricks and pieces of timber through the air.

Elephant Thoroughly Aroused.

      Billy  Mincer, another of the clowns in the circus, was hemmed in a rear door of the new Christian church but was pulled out and hurled some distance of the angry animal.   She started to renew her attack upon him but he was pulled out of the way by some parties  who were near by.  He was in an unconscious condition and was carried to the Valdes Hotel for medical.  In the meantime Barney Shea and Clem Kerr, the latter being  the advance agent  of the circus, were in the new Christian church calling to “Gypsy” and trying to get her under control.  Shea fired at her with a pistol several times,  but the bullets did no harm except to make her mad.
      For a couple of hours the elephant was master of the situation in that section of the city.   She seemed to pay very little attention to home folks , but a number of times indicated a very keen desire to get hold of some of the circus crowd. They seemed to fear her more than anyone else, probably because they knew her better and they were careful to keep out of her way.  Especially is this true of Barney Shea, her former manager, who stated that she had old grudges against him that she would never forget.
      After an hour or two spent in promenading up and down the side walk in front of the Valdes Hotel and the new Christian church, Gypsy turned up Toombs street in a full gallop and as far as the eye could reach under the swinging electric lights  her huge form swayed along with the alertness of a rabbit.  Her steps by actual measurement were eight or nine feet each.  She followed Toombs street to the vacant lot beyond the residence Mr. B. H. Jones when she cut across to Patterson street and went on to the park.

The Big Brute at Pine Park.

       Then Chief Dampier and a large posse followed her to the park for the purpose of killing her, as she had proven herself entirely unmanageable and her owner, Mrs. Harris, had stated that she could not rest until she was sure the brute was dead.  Her former keeper Shea got in the stand over the State Fair office and called her to him.  She was in the rear end of the fair grounds but she answered his call.  Chief Dampier and his posse were on top of the ticket office.  The big beast walked up within fifty yards of them and stopped.  The moon was behind the clouds and only a dim outline of her could be gotten.  The chief drew his Krag-Jorgensen rifle  and fired at her two or three times.
      The wounds were evidently painful, but not fatal to her.  She gave one shriek and started on a full fun toward the fence  in the rear of the grounds.  She found a plank off and, with her huge trunk, brushed away a panel or two of the fencing like it was a row of tooth picks.     She took  the cross road toward the Cat Creek road and turned up that to Cherry Creek.  It was then nearly four o’clock Sunday morning.  Chief Dampier and his posse followed her for some distance and then returned to the city get lunches, secure horses and wait for light to  dawn upon the scene.

The Chase Toward Cherry Creek.

      By day light, the chief and his crowd were ready to go on the hunt again.  His posse consisted of his first lieutenant,  Mr. M. A. Briggs and Messrs.  James Gates, D. A. Sinclair, Lawrence Walker, Roy Hightower, Dave Roberts and one or two other  parties.  Mr. Briggs and Chief Dampier were in a buggy, while the other parties were on horse back.  They left the city about five o’clock and followed the big animal out toward Cherry Creek on the Nashville Road.  At several places they saw where the elephant  had stopped in the road and had stood there some time, the impression on the ground looking as if she had lain down.
      The first sight of t.he big mountain of flesh and blood was near Cherry Creek and all came to a halt.  The elephant, blind in one eye, was standing across the road with his good eye turned toward the city evidently watching in that direction.  Her big body was swaying to and fro after the manner that elephants sway themselves when standing still.  When she caught a view of the crowd she turned toward the north and started off in a rapid walk.
      The parties lighted and started in pursuit through the woods.  The elephant finally came to a stop and Chief Dampier ran around to her side, taking a position probably seventy-five yards from her.  The excitement of the chase, together with its fatigue had made him nervous and he was afraid to try and fire at her without taking good aim.  The chief got a good rest for his weapon on a fence and took deliberate aim at her head.  The Krag-Jorgensen rifle cracked with a sharp “ping” and the big brute fell to her knees and then over on her side.  One shot had  done the perfect work of destroying her life and when the parties reached her she was nothing more than a huge bulk of inanimate flesh.

Elephant’s Death Reported.

      Chief Dampier fired one more shot into her head and other members of the party fired two or three times from their Winchesters and pistols.  An examination of the death-wound showed that the bullet entered her temple and went probably three feet deep in her head.  Another shot from the Krag-Jorgensen rifle had gone entirely through her neck.  The Winchester shots had only entered an inch or two and had probably done no more than tickle her.
      Chief Dampier and his posse returned to the city and reported the death of the elephant, and the announcement came as a great relief to the circus people.  They had been uneasy all night long and were really glad to know that the great brute had been killed, even though it was a big financial loss to them.  All day Sunday large crowds went out on the scene of the killing and scarcely anything else was talked about on the streets.  The tragedy of the night before and the excitement incident to the chase after the big animal made it the most sensational event that Valdosta has ever known.

Burial of the Dead Keeper.

      The body of the dead keeper, O’Rourke, was carried to Ulmer’s undertaking rooms and prepared for burial.  It  was found that several of his bones were broken and the body was badly bruised.  It was placed in a very fine casket, bought by Mrs. Harris, owner of the Nickel Plate shows, and was buried in the city cemetery Sunday afternoon at four o’clock,  the services being read by Mr. J. Duffy, of the Catholic church.  The hearse was drawn to the cemetery by six beautiful white horse and all of the circus people, together with many from the city, attended the funeral.
      O’Rourke, it is said, had been with the circus for a number of years and had always managed the elephant.  He came from San Francisco, though his family resides in New Orleans.  It is said that he came near losing his life once or twice under “Gypsy’s” huge form, but was rescued.  It is also said that several times, while he was intoxicated,  the animal had picked him up and placed him in the car, and that on other occasions she has lifted him back on her head when he had fallen off.  The animal was very docile at times, but on other occasions she has been perfectly unmanageable, having been sentenced to death a half dozen times and each time given a lease on life because the means of killing her were so hard to obtain.

Dead Elephant Draws Crowd.

      The body of the elephant was buried a short distance from where she fell dead Sunday morning.  A half dozen horses were used to drag the remains to the grave, but they were unequal to the task and the body was finally cut to pieces with axes and moved a part at a time, four horses being used for the task.
    The dead elephant proved to be a drawing card for hundreds of people from this city, as well as the surrounding country.  It is estimated that fully three thousand people visited the place where she was killed to get a view of her huge carcass, many of these walking six or seven miles to see the sight.
      Mr. T. G. Powers, of the Harris Shows, one of the animal trainers, was formerly in charge of “Gypsy” and knows her history as well as any other living man.  He stated to a TIMES reporter yesterday that the animal was about sixty-five years of age and that  she was among the first elephants ever brought to this country.  She was imported by the O’Brien circus, which travelled through the country in wagons in 1847.   She has been owned by nearly all of the big shows in the country, each one of them disposing of her on account of her temper, though at fabulous prices owing to her wonderful intelligence.

Traits of the Big Animal.

      Mr. Powers stated that she had killed a half a dozen keepers in by-gone years and in each instance she had delivered the death blow only when she had every advantage of her keeper.  Like all other elephants, she never forgot a kindness or an injury.  She would harbor an unkind act for years and then avenge it after the one who did it had forgotten all about it.  Last year, in Chicago, she ran amuck and was conquered by Mrs. Harris, a delicate, frail little woman, who had nerve enough to rush at her with a pitchfork and defy her.  On another occasion she would have killed the same woman had not O’Rourke, who was killed Saturday night, run to her rescue.  Mrs. Harris remembered this act when she gave an order for a fine casket and for the dead man to be given a decent burial.
      Gypsy  is probably the only elephant of her size that has ever been killed by a rifle ball, and her death is a great advertisement for the Krag-Jorgensen army rifles, as well as for Chief Dampier who fired the fatal shot.  Only a could of weeks ago on of the Barnum Elephants was carried twenty miles to sea out of New York, and three or four tug boats were used to hang her and sink her remains into the sea.

The Story Will Live for Years.

      The killing of an elephant in the woods near Valdosta will be a story which will be told to generations yet unborn and it is highly probable that the veracity of many a truthful man will suffer from having repeated the tale.  Even now, it is almost hard to believe, but the bones and white ivory tusks will form relics that will be kept for years by many who desire to keep such trophies to substantiate the fact.
      There has been some talk of saving the skeleton of the big animal and mounting it for exhibition in this city.  If such a thing can be done, the people of Valdosta can afford to pay a good price for it.
      The death of Gypsy has given Valdosta more publicity than anything that has ever happened here, as there is hardly a paper in country that has not printed the story of Saturday night’s chase and its final results.

The Atlanta Constitution published  additional details of Gypsy’s final rampage at Valdosta:

The Atlanta Constitution
November 24, 1902

Infuriated Beast Tramples and Then Rolls on James O’Rourk’s Body.


Huge Animal Then Becomes Crazed After Shots Fired Into Its Body at Valdosta and Escapes.  Found at Daylight and Killed.

      Valdosta, Ga., November 23. _(Special.) Gipsy, the huge performing elephant of the Harris Nickel Plate Show, became unmanageable after the performance in this city last night and killed her keeper, James O’Rourk. Another member of the show was also injured in endeavoring to capture and chain the infuriated animal.
      The show people lost all control on the elephant and after terrorizing a goodly portion of the people on Toombs street, she made her escape to the country, where she was followed and shot to death near Cherry Creek, 6 miles north of the city, after an all night chase.
      The mad creature’s escapade created intense excitement, and although it occurred after 12 o’clock at night, a large crowd was attracted to the scene.

Gipsy Becomes Unruly.

      The elephant went through her usual performance in the ring in an apparently docile manner, but became unruly before the tents were struck. It was the last performance of the season, the show going into winter quarters at Pane park, near the city. After the show O’Rourk started with the elephant to the park, riding on her head. He is thought to have been under the influence of whisky and is said to have left the show ground scolding and prodding the already maddened creature. Near the Baptist church the keeper fell off the elephant, striking the ground almost in front of her. All the evil in her huge body seemed aroused when the man struck the ground and before he could make a move to save himself she placed her ponderous feet on his body and crushed his life out. She knelt on the body and then rolled the insensible and dying man along with her trunk for 75 yards.

Former Keeper Injured.

       Only a few people witnessed the killing, but a considerable crowd soon gathered. Other members of the show attempted to secure and chain Gypsy, tossed the dead keeper’s body aside and went to eating the grass along the side of the street, A former keeper, to whom the animal once seemed greatly attached, called her name several times and went up to her. With rare cunning she allowed him to approach within arm’s length, when she threw her trunk out with lightning rapidity and knocked him half across the street, afterwards continuing her way out to the northern part of the city.
A crowd followed her out to the park, where an effort was made to kill her.  Several shots from pistols and a mauser rifle were fired into her body, but their first effect only seemed to enrage her, and with vicious lunges she scattered the crowd, and then mashing the park fences made her escape. The pursuit was kept up but the crowd lost sight of the huge creature in the dark. She was easily tracked however, and a number of places were found where she had lain down, the shots from the rifle evidently having begun to take effect. About daylight the crowd came up with the sorely wounded elephant 6 miles from town, and another shot from the mauser rifle in the side of the head rolled her over dead.

With Show Twelve Years.

      O’Rourk, the dead keeper is said to have been from New Orleans, though his people live in San Francisco. He had been with the Harris show for ten or twelve years and had charge of Gipsy for the greater portion of this time.
      The elephant was one of the largest in the country and weight about 12,000 pounds. She had a bad record, having killed ten men previous to her break last night. She was splendidly trained, and notwithstanding her unenviable reputation was a very valuable animal. The Harris show is said to have refused an offer of $6,000 for her.
Mrs. Harris, the owner of the show, begged that Gipsy’s life be spared, but is said to have expressed herself as greatly relieved when informed of the elephant’s death this morning.
      O’Rourk’s body was interred at the city cemetery this afternoon.

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Bloody History of Gypsy the Elephant

Ray City Carnival Photos


The case of Joe Wilmot

In January of 1911, word came of bloodshed at the  West Bay Company near Chipley, Florida.  The first mention of the violence was in the local paper:

The Chipley Banner, January 12, 1911

A Mr. May at a turpentine still at West Bay was shot and instantly killed Monday by a negro.  Another man was also wounded. We have been unable to hear any of the particulars.

The company was described by The  Americus Times-Recorder in 1907   as  “the West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida, the syndicate which recently bought from the J. P. Williams Land Company, of Tallahassee, 44,000 acres of virgin pine and cypress near St. Andrews.  The syndicate is largely composed of Georgia men. ” Headquartered  in Florida, the West Bay Company  was “one of the most extensive timber companies in the South.”

West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida

West Bay Naval Stores and Lumber Company, of Florida

Valdosta resident Dr. Elbert Pinkney Rose  was a prominent timber man with business interests in the Chipley, FL area.   His involvement in the story  which was reported in The Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
January 17, 1911  Page 5


One of Them Locked Him in a Room to Whip Him When he Drew Gun and Fired.

Dr. E. P. Rose returned on Saturday morning  from Point Washington , Fla., where he has been for a week or more looking after his interest in that section.  Dr. Rose was in Point Washington when R. S. Mays, of West Bay, and a bookkeeper for the West Bay Naval Stores Company, named Gooding were shot to death by a negro named Joe Wilbur.

       The tragedy occurred at West Bay some distance above Point Washington.  It seems that there were three or four negroes working for the West Bay Naval Stores Company,  who were going to move to Point Washington and work  for Rose and Dasher.  Mr. Mays went to Point Washington to see Dr. Rose about transferring the hands and Dr. Rose paid him the amount that was due his company by three of the negroes.  Mr. Mays told Dr. Rose not to pay him Wilbur’s  account until the wagon was sent to move the negro, as Wilbur was a married negro and Mays said that he could keep matters straighter by settling when he started to move.  A day or two later a wagon was sent to West Bay to move the negroes.  A white man named Postell was in charge of it. After settling with Mays for Wilbur’s account, May told Postell that he wanted to see Wilbur, who at that time was at his shanty packing up his effects.  Postell told Mays that he thought Wilbur was afraid of him and that he didn’t want to come about him.  It is said that Mays became angry and told Postell to move out as quick as he could and not to feed his horses around there.  Mays then started down to the shanty where Wilbur was, the bookkeeper for the West Bay Company following him and begging him not to get in a fuss with the negro or any one else, as he might get hurt.  Mays is said to have remarked that he would look out for that, and went on to the shanty.

      When he reached the shanty he walked in and closed the door behind him and began to strike at the negro who was packing up his goods.  The negro drew his revolver and shot five times, either one of four of the bullets being sufficient to cause death.  The negro then reloaded his revolver and pulled open the door.  Gooding was standing on the steps and fired at the negro, but the negro returned the fire inflicting a wound that caused Gooding’s death.  Gooding was paralyzed by the first shot and in trying to shoot the negro again his pistol fired aimlessly,  the bullet hitting a mule in the thigh.   The animal did not appear to be very badly hurt, but died before reaching Point Washington.  The negro who did the shooting fled from the scene immediately afterwards.  Dr. Rose does not think there would have been any trouble at all if Mr. Mays had not gone to the shanty and began fighting the negro.

An article in the May 18, 1911 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported on the arrest of the fugitive Willmont at Ray City, Ga.


Willmont Shot Overseer Who It Was Said Was Trying to Whip Him.

Valdosta, Ga., May 17. -(Special.)- Joe Willmont, alias Will Nelson, a negro, charged with the murder of two white men near Chipley, Fla., is in jail here. The man is charged with the killing of Superintendent Mays, of the West Bay Naval Stores Company, of West Bay, Fla., and another employee of the company, a Mr. Goodwin, who were shot to death by the negro last January. Immediately after the tragedy Willmont or Nelson made his way to this section of the state and has been working for a turpentine operator at Ray’s Mill, Ga., for several months. The killing of Mays and Goodwin came about as a result of a whipping Mays tried to administer to the negro when he learned that Willmont was going to quit the employ of his firm. Goin to the negro’s cabin, Mays let himself in and locked the door, when he was shot to death. Goodwin was killed as the negro threw the door open and fired at him.

Sheriff I. C. Avera

Sheriff I. C. Avera

The Valdosta Times gave a more detailed account of the arrest.  After informants reported the whereabouts of the fugitive to Valdosta Chief of Police Calvin Dampier,  Willmont was apprehended in Rays Mill, GA by Berrien County Sheriff I.C. Avera. Willmont was working in Rays Mill in the employ of turpentine operator David Asa Sapp.

The Valdosta Times
May 20, 1911  Page 9


 Negro who Killed two White Men in Florida is in Prison in Valdosta

       Locked in prison here is a negro murderer for whose arrest a reward  of $500 is outstanding.
      The negro is charged with killing two white men, R. S. Mays and D. J. Goodwin, of the West Bay Naval Stores Company, near Chipley, Fla., early in January.   The news of the tragedy was published in the Times at the time and is remembered by the readers of this paper.
      The negro’s name is Joe Willmont, but he has been going by the name of Will Nelson in this section.  He was located at Rays Mill last Friday or Saturday by Chief of Police Dampier.  He was driving a wagon for a turpentine operator, Mr. Sapp, and he was located by accident, though Chief Dampier has received a number of letters in regard to him from Sheriff C. G. Allen, of Chipley, Fla.
       Last Friday Chief Dampier sent a “spotter” to Rays Mill to see if he could not locate a negro who was accused of reckless shooting in this city and who, it was hoped, could by landed in time for the grand jury  to consider him after Recorder Varnedoe finished with him.   This negro could not be found, but the chief’s “spotter” told him that he saw a negro there who was a fugitive from Florida.  The “spotter” knew his name as well as his alias.
      Chief Dampier looked in his “rogue’s gallery” and found the descriptions, as well as the letters which he had received from Florida in regard to the negro.  He then telephoned Sheriff Avera, of Berrien, and asked him if he would not catch him and bring him to Valdosta.  The sheriff replied that he would be glad to do so, as he had business that day at Rays Mill.
     Yesterday morning the Berrien sheriff dropped off at Rays Mill, found Willmont driving a wagon and took him in charge.  Arriving here the sheriff was told who the negro was and what he was wanted for, and that there was a reward of $150 for him, that being the amount which the state of Florida had offered.  Chief Dampier immediately wired to Sheriff Allen and informed him of the negro’s arrest.  The sheriff wired back that the reward for him was  five hundred dollars and that he would come for him at once. 

Charges Against the Negro.

     The negro admits that he shot both of the men and also that he killed Mays, but he does not know whether Goodwin died or not.  He says that Mays came to his shanty, and locked the door on him for the purpose of whipping him and that he shot him because he had done nothing to be whipped for.  He says that he was going to leave Mays employ, but that it was satisfactory to Mays, he thought, but when the wagon came to move him Mays seemed to get mad and decided to beat him.
      At the time of the tragedy The Times learned that the negro had been working for the West Bay Naval Stores Company under Mays, who was superintendent.  Rose and Dasher made a trade with the West Bay people under which several hands were to be exchanged, Willmont being among the number.  Several days after the agreement was made Rose and Dasher’s wagon went over to the West Bay quarters to get Willmont and his effects.  Mays , it is said, wrote them a letter showing that the transfer was all right, but stated to the driver of wagon that he wanted to give Willmont a “beating before he left.”  Mays is said to have gone to the negro’s  house and locked himself in it with the negro. The shooting followed and Mays was killed.
     The negro  ran from the house and Goodwin fired at him, the bullet hitting the door.  The negro shot him down and continued his flight.  Goodwin died a few days later.
     An officer will come from Florida as soon as requisition papers can be secured for the fugitive.  The negro shot him down and continued his flight.  Goodwin died a few days later.
     It is said that the slayer has been living in this section ever since then, though the fact was not known until Chief Dampier got onto him last Friday.
     An officer will come from Florida as soon as requisition papers can be secured for the fugitive.  The negro is between twenty-five and thirty years of age, is of medium size, black, not bad looking, but is said to be desperate.  He does not like the idea of going back to Florida, as he is afraid of being lynched.

Sheriff Charles G. Allen, of Chipley, FL, came to Valdosta to take custody of Willmont.

The Chipley Banner., May 18, 1911

Sheriff Allen left last night for Valdosta, Ga., to get Joe Wilmot, the negro who murdered Messrs Mays and Godwin, at West Bay, a few months ago.

The Valdosta Times
May 30, 1911  Page 3


Sheriff Allen Came up Today and got the Murderer of Mays and Gooding.

 (From  Fridays Daily)

       Sheriff Allen of Washington county, Florida, reached this city [Valdosta, GA] this morning with requisition papers authorizing him to get Joe Wilmont, the negro who is wanted for the murder of R.D. Mays and D. J. Gooding, near Chipley, Fla.
      Sheriff Allen says that it is a very small county, but that this negro makes eight murderers in jail there to be tried at the next term of court.
      He also says that from what he understands the killing of the two men was  almost unprovoked and that there is a serious case against the negro.
      It is learned from another source that the reward for the negroe is about $500 of which $200 of the amount was offered by the widow of the dead man.  The company for which he worked also offered a reward and the state offered a reward of $150.
      It is said that May had $5000, accident insurance on his life, but the company will not pay the claim until the negro has been tried and it has been proven whether or not the killing was due to recklessness on the part of Mays or was a case of pure murder.  If the evidence shows that Mays was murdered the Company will be liable for the insurance, but if it is found that he was killed by the negro in self defense it will claim that it is not liable.
      It is said that the negro shot Mays three times after Mays had fallen to the ground.  The negro does not claim that Mays  tried to whip him but he says that he thought Mays was going to try it and that is the reason that he killed him.

The trial of Joe Willmont was not concluded until March of 1912

The Chipley Banner
March 28, 1912 Pg 8

Joe Welmont, the negro who murdered Mr. Mays on West Bay about a year ago, was convicted of murder in the first degree last week and will probably be given a life sentence.

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