Of all the collective nouns you've heard like: a parliment of owls or a murder of crows, I'm betting there is one you haven't seen and that is:"a profusion of pachyderms". I suspect the term was probably first coined back in the summer of 1926 out Cranbrook way. That’s when the famous Sells-Floto Circus came to town and 14 of its nervous gray giants caused a riot in the countryside.
Maybe it was the high altitude or smoke from forest fires or even some say a barking dog that triggered that famous stampede. What ever it was, it spooked those temperamental tuskers as they were being unloaded from their boxcars and thus began the Great Elephant Hunt.
The resultant melee paints a marvelous mental image. Fourteen wild eyed, trumpeting elephants charging down Cranbrook's streets in every direction, ears wide and flapping and trunks erect. I wouldn't be surprised if our old friend Disney picked up on this story some day and made a movie about it. Believe me, it had got all the elements for a box office hit.
Seven of those perturbed pachyderms were rounded up in short order, having found the Cranbrook cemetery a nice quiet place to hang out. The rest scattered and reports came in hours later about giant footprints as far away as Yahk. No doubt the CPR right-of-way made a pretty good highway for some of the fugitives. CPR issued a most unusual telegram message then. It read: "All trains east. Keep lookout for elephants on track; advise if sighted from first telegraph office giving location".
While the elephant's handlers and bystanders were relatively unscathed by the initial breakout some First Nation's types were not so lucky. A Ktunaxa (Kootenay Indian) man named Abel was summarily swept from his horse by a runaway that charged him from a thicket. I wonder if Abel's grandchildren would believe his wild tale of an elephant encounter years later?
Next on Dumbo's Ktunaxa hit list was a 60 year old named Mary Janet who was collecting apples in her little orchard. On looking up from her work she discovered the elephant cows Bessie and Virginia and the bull Cicero placidly watching her. Terrified, she scrambled up the apple tree where she sat and watched with no doubt unbelieving eyes as that hungry trio casually munched on apples. After awhile it dawned on Mary Janet to throw apples down further and further away from the tree thus leading the trio a safe enough distance away to allow her to climb down. She promptly beat a hasty retreat to her nearest neighbour, one Charly Sunrise.
Charly wasn't home and as it turns out was involved in a little pachydermal adventure of his own. Having spotted some enormous, odd shaped tracks and a wide swathe of torn up bush he had decided to follow, albeit nervously, the mangled trail. At some point he looked behind him only to find a cold and hungry elephant cow named Tillie charging him full bore, bugling in fury and quite enraged.
A little research tells me that elephants can reach 28 M.P.H. so it should not be surprising that despite Charly's terrified dash Tillie closed the gap between them rapidly. A quickly exhausted Charly came across a small ravine in a clearing that was spanned by a rickety footbridge. He dashed across it and collapsed on the other side, too exhausted to run anymore. Tillie apparently came to a halt at the bridge and gingerly tested it with her foot. Realizing it wouldn't hold her she charged down one side of the ravine and up the other only to find Charly had moved back onto the footbridge. She apparently tested it again and with an ear splitting scream charged back across the ravine once more. |This comical sparring match continued for some time until finally Tillie bellowed in anger and roared off into the trees. Charly then beat it into town where he told his wild story to the trainers and heard about Mary Janet's encounter. Virginia, Bessie and Cicero were found by the trainers still munching Mary's apples and quietly rounded up.
Next up was an incident with Charlie Buckbone who briefly experienced Tillie's wrath. She apparently turned on his horse and literally ripped the shirt from his back with her trunk. Eventually Tillie and another cow named Frieda were later coaxed into their boxcars by an imported expert elephant trainer by the name of "Cheerful Gardner".
That left only two recalcitrant pachyderms to be found; Charlie Ed and Myrtle. There was one more tusker attack on the Kootenay people before this debacle finally ended. It involved Salmon Jack and his family who were out picking raspberries. Their encounter with a starving elephant caused them to flee, raspberry baskets in hand, to their cabin. There they huddled in a corner whilst that hungry giant shouldered their cabin, rocking it every which way to get in at the berries. Eventually the elephant reached in a broken window and got a full force whack with an iron poker on his trunk whereupon he screamed and thundered off into the bush.
Myrtle was eventually found at the base of Moyie Mountain in terrible shape. All her toenails were worn off, her knees were badly bruised and she had 2 or 3 bullet wounds in her hip from panicked Indians. She was given a shot of morphine but died shortly after. Charlie Ed, Sells-Floto's most prized bull, was finally located at Smith Lake and recaptured with hunks of bread.
During the 6-week adventure the loss of Myrtle, cancelled bookings and the costs of compensation and rewards had cost the circus owner over $50,000. Despite that they graciously allowed Charlie Ed to stay on in Cranbrook for the last three days of the Fall Fair. Charlie Ed was renamed Cranbrook Ed in a ceremony later that week by Mayor Roberts thus putting a nice end to that bizarre pachydermal nightmare.