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Riverside, California Historical Events



1908, April 16
Circus Elephant went on fatal rampage in 1908
This article ran in the Press-Enterprise Newspaper on Sunday, March 20, 2011. The article was written by Nita Hiltner who is a Press-Enterprise correspondent. The article is quoted in its entirety.

"A circus coming to town in the early 1900s was always a joyful event. However, a catastrophe occurred April 16, 1908, when a Sells-Floto circus elephant killed one person and injured several others in Riverside while on a rampage. The Sells-Floto Circus combined the Floto Dog & Pony Show and the Sells Brothers Circus and featured Buffalo Bill Cody's show, which performed throughout the country in the early 1900s before it was bought out with several other circuses for $1.7 million by John Nicholas Ringling in 1929. With that purchase, the Ringlings owned almost every circus in America.

It is not clear from a newspaper account the exact progression of events that day, but it began with an explosion in the Standard Oil Company tanks that spooked the circus elephants. The herd charged through the east side of town, causing property damage before their keepers rounded them up. But one elephant continued his charge into downtown. At Seventh Street (Mission Inn Avenue) and Orange Street, the elephant threw Frank Bird to the ground, as the elephant keeper came upand fired three shots into the animal's neck. The elephant swerved around, stopping his assault, but Bird had already sustained a broken leg.

The elephant entered the Glenwood Hotel courtyard (Mission Inn) and pinned Ella Gibbs, a deaconess in the First Congregational Church, up against the building before he trampled her. She died at 9:45 pm of her injuries. The animal then entered the hotel, where it knocked down D.P. Chapman, breaking his ribs. The keeper had followed him to the hotel and fired four more shots into the animal. The elephant turned from Chapman to the keeper and ripped open his pant legs and lacerated his leg and hand. At some point, one of the hotel guests went unmolested as she sat in a swing. The elephant keeper yelled at Eva Howe to sit still and not run when the elephant charged her. She did as he said and the elephant rushed past her. Another person who escaped injury at the hotel was Wilton Lackay, an actor, who was sitting beside a window shattered by the elephant.

The animal went through the barbershop before heading out to Main Street, crashing through the window of another store. Another man was trampled and gored. Finally, the elephant was brought under control at a downtown stable by the use of other elephants, but not before one of the circus attendants was bruised and hurt. Another person who died from his injuries that day was L.G. Worsley, a driver for the Standard Oil Company, whose wagon caught fire from the explosion."


This page is for perpetual written accounts of historical events that have occurred in the city. Anyone who feels they have pertinent information may submit it. This includes all people in or out of Riverside and could involve any interested adults or children with events or items that are of interest. Items may be submitted for publication on this page where they will remain as part of a historical archive for the city. Items of interest may include noteworthy events, special events of historical importance, information about area growth that pertains to the history of the city, and other pertinent notes. We hope to establish a large data base of information about the history of each city. Historical Societies are encouraged to open their own page on Key to the City for more extensive historical information.


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