About that elephant near Hartsville in 1914 …
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
To understand the story about what happened with the elephant near Hartsville in 1914, you need to understand how much times have changed since then.
In the early 20th century, elephants weren’t endangered, legally protected animals; they were hunted for sport, or for their tusks. Back then, probably no one in the Pee Dee area had ever seen an elephant except maybe in newspaper photos. No movies, no television, no “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”
Also, most people then would have assumed that any big, wild animal was dangerous, maybe even deadly. Throngs of people would not have gathered around for selfies and live-streaming video, as they would today.
So people’s reaction when an elephant got loose in the Patrick community outside Hartsville around March 1914 was mostly fear, and it all ended badly … especially for the elephant.
Most of what we know about the incident comes from a detailed newspaper account in The Manning Times dated March 18, 1914.
The main headline was: ELEPHANT AT PATRICK
Below that headline: EXCITED PEOPLE FORM POSSE AND KILL BIG BEAST
And below that headline: “Animal is slain after much shooting – Axes help bring brutal death quickly.”
According to the story, an “exceedingly robust” female elephant somehow escaped from a wagon that was part of a circus that had just performed at McBee in Chesterfield County and was bound for another stop in or near Patrick.
It didn’t take long for word to spread that a big, wild animal was loose, but it’s not clear how big the elephant might have been. “Exceedingly robust”? If the escaped elephant was an adult, she might have weighed 6,000 to 8,000 pounds, according to Internet data.
We’re not sure how old she was, but according to the newspaper account, the animal’s previous owner claimed that the elephant was “perfectly gentle” and “would have followed a dog or horse about, and would have harmed no one.” He said the elephant was worth $6,000 – very, very serious money in those days.
But residents in the area had no way of knowing the elephant’s value or temperament. The Manning Times said: “The most violent excitement followed the announcement that a member of the jungle’s royalty was at large in the neighborhood. … The animal created great excitement.”
A posse – at one point reaching as many as 500 men – assembled to hunt the animal, according to the newspaper. It’s not clear how long the hunt lasted, but the newspaper estimated that up to 6,000 bullets were fired during the hunt. Out of that, the newspaper estimated that about 100 bullets actually hit the elephant.
The action mostly happened in the area where what is now Bay Road meets Highway 102 just above Hartsville, according to the Darlington County Historical Commission and Museum. The elephant was buried under a big oak tree in the area.