Black Diamond the Elephant
 in Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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Black Diamond
by By Mrs. Fred P. Hodge,
Reprinted from the Navarro County Scroll, Volume XIV, 1969
Printed with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

Forty years ago Saturday, October 12, 1929, was a crisp, sunshiny day in Corsicana, Texas.  There was a hustle and bustle, for it was circus day; a large crowd had gathered to see the unloading of the animals.

There had been a bounteous cotton harvest, nimble fingers of young and old, black and white, had picked the fluffy bolls of cotton.   Money jingled in every pocket.

The circus coming from the east on the Cotton Belt railroad was behind a wreck and was late in arriving.  In fact, it was almost parade time;  performers had to be ed and animals at least watered.

In one of the metal-bottomed elephant cars was "Black diamond", the huge thirty-one-year old, nine-ton Indian elephant, believed to be the tallest in captivity, and at that time, owned by the Al G. Barnes Circus.  He had been a dependable creature, working and performing without any difficulty.  He had fits of temper.  This reputation had caused Black Diamond to be chained to two docile female elephants whenever the circus paraded down the streets of a town.  In addition, his tusks were sawed off in 1927, and an iron bar had been placed across to limit use of his trunk.  He had been bought for three thousand dollars because he was known as a "Runaway" elephant.

A trainer, H. D. (Curley) Pritchett, had known him for twenty-eight years and trained him for seven years before my aunt Eva Speed Donohoo, had hired him a year and a-half before, to oversee animals on "Shoestring" Plantation near Kerens, Texas.

Mrs. Donohoo was a writer, and a sister of C. D. Speed, of Corsicana.  She had been society editor of The Houston Post and a public stenographer in the Rice Hotel, Houston, Texas.  She was  widowed and had a daughter to support.  At her father's death, she inherited part of the plantation and moved there to continue her writing of articles for newspapers under the name of E. S. Donohoo.

She had hired Mr. Pritchett, who said he and his wife were tired of traveling, while Black Diamond swayed back and forth munching his hay.   Mr. Pritchett had not seen the elephant again until he helped take him out of the boxcar in Corsicana, and he vowed Black Diamond hugged him with his trunk and shed tears on his head.  Black Diamond had always been jealous of him, and would not allow his wife to lay her coat on his bunk.

That particular day, my aunt was standing between the parked cars on First Avenue, where the School Administration building is now located.   The circus lot was north about where the Navarro Mall is located.

On that fatal day Black Diamond spied my aunt, tossed Mr. Pritchett over a car breaking his arm, and chewed his had, then striking my aunt knocking her to the street and butting cars over her body; he did not trample her.   Three times she was pulled away, only to be dragged back by the elephant.   Pandemonium reigned with all the circus hands and a man trying to save her.   The superintendent of elephants galloped up on horseback, bringing a third female elephant to chain to Black Diamond.  Finally he was subdued.

My aunt was laid on the lawn until the ambulance came to take her to Corsicana Hospital, on Sixth Avenue, where she soon expired.   Meanwhile Black Diamond, escorted by the three elephants and circus attendants, was taken to the lot, watered and returned to the boxcar and chained.  He rocked the car, and trumpeted for hours.  Finally he quieted somewhat, but refused food and water.

Townspeople demanded his death, but circus officials demurred, saying he was still in a rage and dangerous to handle.  The largest crowed ever to that date attended the two performances and were disappointed that the elephant that killed a woman was nowhere to be seen.

Four days later, the Ringling Brothers, who were buying the Al. G. Barnes Circus, decided to kill Black Diamond, but how?  Corpus Christi offered to drown him in the Gulf of Mexico.  Circus officials thought of putting a circle of chains around his neck and having six elephants, three on each side, tighten chains and choke him to death.  They used 1,200 grains of cyanide and a crate of oranges, his favorite food, and in peanuts.  He touched neither.  They decided he would have to be shot.

At Kenedy, Texas, October 16, 1929, he was given circus parade call; he got in formation, and led by the three female elephants, was taken a mile west of town and was chained to three huge mesquite trees.  A block was placed, and he put his forefeet thereupon; they were chained, and then the hind feet were chained.  Sobbing circus people and a few townspeople stood nearby.

Five expert marksmen sprayed 155 shots into him; he slumped, then one marksman put one shot into a vital spot, and he toppled and died, at 2:15 P.M.  A huge hole had been dug, but tractors could not budge the 18,000 pound elephant.  A man began to strip hide and sell it; a veterinarian from Houston, Texas, severed the head, mounted at the height Black Diamond stood, in the basement of the Museum of Science in Houston's Herman Park with the Notation "Black Diamond, circus elephant killer of a woman at Corsicana".  She was his fourth victim.

In Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana on the Speed lot, there is a simple marker "Eva Speed Donohoo 1877-1929, Killed by Al G. Barnes Circus Elephant".  Her daughter, (Louise Mahan) is dead.  The daughter's son, W. D. Mahan, is a Judge at Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  He had several children.  Mr. Paul Moore wrote articles for The Daily Sun.

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Local businessman Carmack Watkins displays the remains of Black Diamond, which he acquired over the years. Watkins was a 5-year-old boy attending the circus when the elephant went on a rampage in Corsicana. DAILY SUN
photo/SCOTT HONEA

KILLING RAMPAGE:

Man Marks 70th Anniversary of Circus Elephant's Wild Run

By DARREN VICTORY/DAILY SUN STAFF

Originally published in the Corsicana Daily Sun
October 13, 1999

Reprinted with permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun
www.corsicanadailysun.com || Articles Index || Article Usage

All rights to this story reserved. Copyright Corsicana Daily Sun and Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc,. Content  may not be archived, retransmitted, saved in a database, or used for any commercial purpose without the express written permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun and CNHI.



Carmack Watkins was 5 years old when the circus elephant shoved its tusks through a parked vehicle, injured its trainers and mauled a Kerenswoman to her death.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of Black Diamond's rampage through the streets of Corsicana. Hundreds of spectators witnessed the elephant attack and kill Eva Speed Donohoo of Kerens at the intersection of West First Avenue and 13th Street. The elephant destroyed at least two cars and injured several men who were attempting to free Donohoo.

Donohoo was taken to what was then called Navarro Clinic. She died shortly after.

H. D. "Curley" Prickett of Kerens, an animal trainer who tried to rescue Donohoo, suffered a broken right wrist and other minor injuries. He was treated at Corsicana Hospital and Clinic and released.

Watkins acquired the partial remains of Black Diamond several years ago. Showcased along with the original stake with which Black Diamond was bound, the collection will be available for public viewing this week in the trophy room at Watkins Construction during regular business hours.

Watkins said the history which accompanies this tragedy makes its preservation all the more important.

"I've always been interested in it, and I think there are a lot of other people who would also be interested," he said. "People can come out, take pictures. I'll be glad to talk with anyone about it."

According to a Daily Sun report published Oct. 12, 1929, the animal's trainer got Donohoo away from the animal, but the elephant again took Donohoo from her rescuers. Black Diamond then grabbed the trainer around the neck with his trunk. After a lengthy struggle, the trainer freed himself from the animal's grasp, according to the original report.

A car near where Donohoo was standing was said to be "a total wreck," with the sides of the car crushed and other damage caused by the elephant.

The elephant also picked up another trainer and threw him several feet, according to the original report.

Watkins remembers the day well. His parents had taken Watkins and his brother, Tommy, to what Watkins called "the big event of 1929 - to see elephants and the circus come to Corsicana."

Watkins and his family were standing behind the massive elephant, about 60 to 70 feet away, when the rampage began. After turning a car on its side, Watkins said, the elephant turned its attention on a second vehicle.

"It put its tusk into a car on his right and pushed it over into another car," he said. "People were screaming and running away, and you couldn't get anywhere because it was such a big jam-up."

W. M. Cannon was one of several men who tried to free Donohoo from the elephant's grasp, according to original newspaper reports. Cannon was lauded as a hero for his actions on that day.

"The elephant grabbed Mrs. Donohoo from my arms on two occasions after we had rescued her from his grasp, fighting madly, and the third time I was successful in getting out of his reach," Cannon said in a 1929 Daily Sun interview.

The circus crew finally regained control, and Black Diamond was chained. Four days later, when the circus was in Kenedy, Texas, owner John Ringling issued his verdict: "Kill Diamond in some humane way."

A firing squad, manned by eager volunteers, unloaded 50 bullets into Diamond while he was chained between some trees.

Donohoo's tombstone stands in Oakwood Cemetery. It reads: "Eva Speed Donohoo, Nov. 18, 1877 - Oct. 12, 1929, Killed By Al G. Barnes Circus Elephant."

That day forever left a powerful impression on Watkins. And after years of remembering the tragedy, an opportunity to preserve the animal's remains was found in an unexpected place - Houston.

Watkins and faculty of Navarro College found part of Black Diamond stored in a basement at Houston's Harris County Museum of Natural History. After more than two years of negotiations, the elephant was moved from its dusty crate and returned to the place it so long ago found an end to its circus career.

Black Diamond is believed to have been the largest elephant in captivity at that time.

Throughout the years, Watkins has heard several explanations for Black Diamond's behavior on that day.

Some say the animal was struck by its trainer for making too much noise. Others believe years of captivity, with the elements of summer and winter beating down on Black Diamond's box car, had taken their toll. Still others say the elephant finally got frustrated by the chains that held its head and tusks in a continual downright position.

But according to Watkins, the elephant simply had lost its natural home.

"All of those things indicate to me that he was not in his natural environment, and that might have added to it," Watkins said.

Shortly after the incident a circus manager told the Daily Sun that the tragedy was the only unusual incident involving his circus animals. But Watkins said Black Diamond had killed at least three other people before arriving in Corsicana.

So why display such an item?

"I think because it happened so early in the century in Corsicana that it's important for us to preserve," Watkins said. "It's a very interesting story that happened here."


EVA SPEED DONOHOO

donohoo.jpg (8291 bytes)

EVA SPEED DONOHOO
NOV. 18, 1877
OCT 12, 1929
KILLED BY AL BARNES CIRCUS ELEPHANT

Oakwood Cemetery - Corsicana, Navarro Co., TX

 More on the Black Diamond Saga

As a native of Corsicana, Texas, and an aficionado of Black Diamond, the allegedly 'rogue' elephant who killed Eva Speed Donohoo in 1929, I would like to add a detail to your information.

Ms. Donohoo was not in fact merely an unconcerned bystander at the circus parade in which Black Diamond went 'berserk.' She had, there in Corsicana a year and a half previous, hired the elephant's long-time trainer away from the circus to oversee her plantation and its animals. What's more, she had negotiated his employment while standing in front of Black Diamond, who was eating his daily hay. More than a year later, the trainer returned to town from the plantation beyond the outskirts and helped to unload the circus animals, at which time he was reunited with Black Diamond who, he said later, seemed very moved to see him again (they'd known one another for 28 years).

It was when the elephant spotted Ms. Donohoo in the crowd and recognized her that he broke loose from the procession, seeking revenge for his trainer's defection. One very smart titan. [Carol Dawson, 1/28/00]

Other References


12/21/2003 GUEST COMMENTARY: A Diamond in the Rough?

If you live in Corsicana or the surrounding area and have not visited the Trophy Room at the Watkins Construction office, you have missed a treat. It is a "diamond in the rough," so to speak.

The diamond that is referred to here is that of "Black Diamond," a circus elephant of the 1920s era whose head hangs on the back wall of the museum. The history behind Black Diamond was written and published in the Daily Sun a few years ago. Black Diamond's notoriety comes from the time the elephant charged and killed a local woman while the circus was visiting in the city.

The museum has many interesting things for the young and old to see. One will find murals painted on the walls of places the owner, Carmack Watkins, has visited. He has traveled far and wide about this world that we live. If you are lucky to find Carmack in the office you will be treated to many interesting facts and stories based on what you see in the Trophy Room.

I know that there will be some whose feelings are disturbed by the fact that so many animals were slain in order for their remains to be mounted in the room. It might help to know that the natives of the land in which these animals once lived took the meat to eat as soon as the animal "hit the ground." Carmack even explained that the bones of the animals were taken and used as tools (broom handles, axe handles, etc).

In the Trophy Room one can find scenes that reenact nature's fierce battles between the inhabitants of the land. One such mounted treasure shows a king cobra locked in an embrace with a mongoose. It appears that the cobra is getting the better hand, but Carmack assured me that almost always the mongoose is the winner.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Not just any bear can be found, but polar, grizzly, black bears, you name it. All of these and many more can be found in the Trophy Room. Black rhinos, alligators, musk ox, leopards and even the skin of a huge anaconda can be found there.

The Trophy Room was visited by several of my science classes while at Rice ISD. The students were studying about various food chains and the adaptations of the animals to acquire their prey and feed upon it. Carmack shared his knowledge of the animals in this respect. Students as well as their instructor learned of things not taught in text books. Carmack shared with the students how caribou used their rack to find food in the snow in extreme cold regions. He told of the adaptations of the caribou to survive the freezing cold in that area. He shared stories of the alligator and its adaptation for the water and its "special lures" that drew in the unsuspecting prey for his "chicken" dinner.

One other story that Carmack shared with the students was of the difference in the ears of African elephants and the ears of elephants from India. He explained that the ears of the elephant are "radiators" that regulate body temperature. But wait, there's no reason for me to tell all this to you. Go see for yourself. It is worth the trip, believe me.

Oh, the price? I forgot to tell you, didn't I? It is all for free. Mr. Watkins would appreciate it if you would sign the register as you enter, or leave, the museum.

The Trophy Room is open during the work days of the week. It is a great family outing. You can go by yourself, but it is more fun to go with someone. The Trophy Room can be found where South 15th Street joins with Interstate 45.

For more information on Black Diamond: Please go to "Black Diamond (elephant)" or "Trophy Room of Carmack Watkins, Corsicana, Texas" on the Internet. Several items are written about this elephant's rampage in Corsicana in 1929. A tombstone in Corsicana's Oakwood Cemetery reads: "Eva Speed Donohoo, Nov. 18, 1877-Oct. 12, 1929, Killed by Al G. Barnes Circus Elephant."

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Raymond "Bud" Osborne is a resident of Corsicana.


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox