Today is the 109th anniversary of the Riverside Elephant Stampede. This story was put together using multiple news articles and witness statements following the incident.
By Samuel Hicks
WILD STAMPEDE RESULTS IN THE CRUSHING DEATH OF A LOCAL!
“… as Snyder charged up present day Mission Inn Avenue, three shots rang out altering his course, swerving enough to enter the Glenwood Mission Inn grounds, he crushed a woman against a wall, gored and trampled her with his 6,000 pounds of crushing muscle…”
The Sells-Floto Circus visited Riverside on April 16th 1908. The circus proudly advertised their two herds of elephants, 30 clowns, a “congress” of beautiful women, and rare wild beasts from around the world. The real story came after the end of the show.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, a fire that had already begun spreading across the Standard Oil Company’s Third and Blaine Street location, reached the companies oil tanks.
One after another the oil tanks exploded “with cannon like booms” and mountains of smoke, Standard Oil driver L.G. Worsely was killed instantly in the first explosion.
Strong Santa Ana winds stoked the fire, growing it quickly. Red hot embers rained down on the circus tents, causing the crowds to disperse.
Animal handlers and circus employees quickly worked together to lower and bring down the tents. The elephants who were brought out to assist in the work became excited by the panicked crowds, falling embers and hazy smoke.
In the panic, the circus animals became spooked and ran.
All animals, both scared and confused were returned to the circus grounds, with the exception of the four largest elephants. Additional explosion set off the elephants causing them to become uncontrollable and charged through the east side of Riverside.Bellowing thunderously and swinging their trunks, they ran towards box springs. The largest of the elephants, Snyder, stopped in downtown Riverside. The other three elephants were found along the Gage canal, in one of the orange groves, one of them eating and enjoying the Washington navel oranges that made Riverside famous.
A crowd gathered and assisted in herding the three elephants back into town. Meanwhile Snyder headed past a gathering crowd and made it into Riversides business section.
As Snyder approached 7th street (modern-day Mission Inn Blvd) and Orange Streets, throwing bystander Frank Bird to the ground. One of the circus keepers ran up and fired three shots at point blank range, hitting Snyder in the neck, causing him to spin around and stop his attack on Mr. Bird, leaving him with a broken leg.
Snyder then approached Fourth and Mulberry streets, where he cornered Miss Ella Gibbs, a Missionary to the local Japanese community as well as a local church Deaconess.
Snyder pinned Miss Gibbs against a nearby home and between his tusk, threw her to the ground, trampling her with his 6000 pounds of crushing muscle. Snyder proceeded into the courtyard of the Glenwood Hotel (name later changed to Mission Inn Hotel) with panicked guest running indoors. D.F. Chapman, a guest at the Inn, attempted to steer Snyder out of the courtyard.
Mr. Chapman was knocked down and given several broken ribs for his trouble, before Snyder could inflict anymore damage to Mr. Chapman, the elephant keeper that never stopped chasing Snyder finally arrived and immediately fired the four remaining bullets from his revolver, Saving Mr. Chapman from certain death. Snyder, Turning his attention from Mr. Chapman and focusing on the single elephant keeper, standing alone in the courtyard, empty revolver in hand, as by standers looked out their windows with breathless concern, waiting. Then it happened. Snyder charged, the elephant keeper was gored by the elephant, lacerations to his leg, flesh torn and from his hand. Alarmed Riversiders begun to run into the streets, armed they fired shots the elephant.
Snyder turned back towards the Glenwood Hotel, knocking down one of the hotels laundrymen, Mr. Gin Ung, causing nothing more than a broken rib. At this point hotel guest Eva Howe sitting in a swing remained motionless when the elephant keeper yelled at to sit still and not to run, Snyder slowed down, but left her unharmed, giving her no more than glance. Another person to escape injury was actor and vaudeville star Wilton Lackaye, who was, as he put it “scared out of a years growth”, as the window near where he was sitting was shattered by Snyder.
Snyder then charged onto the Glenwood patio and crashed into the door, and calmly walked though the barber shop, onto main street. Snyder quickly crossed the street and crashing though the heavy plate glass window into a store, and continued moving on, one of the elephant keepers attempted to subdue Snyder but was snatched up by Snyder’s massive trunk and thrown over a nearby fence, sustaining injuries.
The chase ended when Snyder ran into the stables on 6th and Main Street (owned by Franks Millers brother, Edward Miller) and circus staff were able to chain Snyder in place, they gained no real control over him until four other elephants were brought in to calm snyder down, finally putting an end to his terror.
Word was slow to spread throughout the town that Snyder was actually caught, it was noted that women from the east side refused to come out of their homes and venture onto the streets out of fear that the elephant herd had not been captured.
Injured that day in Riverside were Four bystanders and two Circus Trainers.
Killed were L.G. Worgley, the standard oil driver from the initial explosion and Miss Ella Gibbs, who died later that night from her wounds.
One of the non-tragic stories to come from this was told by Reverend Robert Fisher, When he spoke to his church members. He explained that he fenced off a portion of his backyard containing elephant tracts; Reverend Fisher charged ten cents for a tour of his yard.
The funeral for Miss Ella Gibbs was held at the home of C.B. Brenneman (Miss Gibbs Brother in law), conducted by Reverend J.H.McLaren of the First Congressional Church of Riverside, the same church Mss Gibbs was a deaconess.
Ella Gibbs body was taken back east by her sister and brother in law, and buried at bunker Hill, Illinois. The Circus paid all damages caused thought out the city. The family of Ella Gibbs only request for money was for funeral and burial cost.
This Story finally ended twelve years later when Snyder, described as “crazed” and “berserk” charged a crowd in Salina Kansas, This time a group of cadets from a local
military academy Armed with rifles shot Snyder dead.