Elephant Safari Begins in Decatur County

The Leon Journal-Reporter
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
date clipped off, Pages 1 & 7

About one year ago Don Young, a Decatur County history buff, learned of the burial of an elephant near Decatur, Iowa, back in the early 1900's. He began digging into the files at the Decatur County Museum, aided by Gretchen Miller and Loring Miller of the historical society. Gretchen found an article with a snapshot and gave it to Don. He investigated further and found that Darrell Young of Decatur had a bone from the elephant that his father, Arthur, had found.

On Monday of this week, Don, accompanied by Leon Chamber of Commerce President Doug Price, Cat Naylor of the Decatur County Development Network, Loring, Forest and Eleanora Miller, Dave Allen of the Lamoni Chronicle, Gary Lindsey of the Journal-Reporter, and Darrell Young set out on a safari to find the burial spot.

Darrell was born and raised just south of the long ditch that contains the remains of the elephant. Millsaps owned the land at that time.

Elephant Burial Ground
Darrell Young, foreground, gives details that were related to him by his father, Arthur, about the buried elephant that died in 1915. Arthur Young found a bone that was dug up by dogs or coyotes some years later. Others listening in are Loring Miller, Doug Price, Don Young, Forest and Eleanora Miller.

Mr. Young stated that his father, Arthur, [Page Seven] had found a bone believed to be from the elephant's ribs. Over the years until the bone was found, dogs and coyotes had dug up the shallow grave.

Elephant Burial Ground
Years ago a circus elephant was buried on the former Millsap farm, approximately two miles southeast of Decatur. The animal died while the circus was en route from Van Wert to Davis city. Surveying the site are from left: Doug Price, Don Young and Cat Naylor.

The following is a story told to a reporter many years later and was printed. Some of the names may be wrong, but those involved are no longer living.

The 1915 death of an elephant may be no "big" thing, but when it is in Decatur County then we have another first.

According to the story, a circus was heading for Davis City following a performance at Van Wert, when an elephant managed to break open a wagon loaded with freshly threshed oats. Needless to say the pachyderm gouged himself, and as it were, it caused him to "founder." Gradually losing his strength the beast finally gave out at the Clarence Millsap farm about 1 1/2 miles south of Decatur on the road to Davis City.

With a few tons of carcass on their hands circus officials quickly negotiated to bury the animal near the Millsap home. Because of the enormous size, it was agreed that it should be dismembered so that it would fit in a smaller hole. (Just try burying an elephant sometime!)

With their work completed and with two tusks for their trouble, the circus moved on . . . and one elephant found its way into a page of Decatur County history.

To add a bit of humor to the story, Gerald "Graves" of Leon said that years later he and Carl "Coffin" went to the site and exhumed one of the legs of the poor fellow and made cribbage boards.

Based on the information supplied by Mr. Graves and Mr. Millsap, the only elephant to be buried in Decatur County is still here . . . Just take the Davis City road south from Decatur for about a mile and a half. After you take the left fork and jog to the south, the plot will be located just off the road.

Both gentlemen state that it is near the vicinity of the farm pond dam just north of the former Millsap house. "You can't see anything, but rest assured."

Elephant Burial Ground
Perhaps somewhat exaggerated, but the elephants in the above picture appear concerned over the fate of their fallen comrade, who had just passed away as a result of over indulgence with some good Iowa oats in 1915. ~ Photo courtesy of the Decatur County Historical Museum.

Submission by Dave Dinham & Candace
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