Monday, August 20, 2012

Old Pitt

Happy Monday, history buffs. Today's post might be my favorite story from all of Montana history.

John Robinson III at one time had the largest elephant herd in captivity. From the 1880s until the 1910s, he trained and traveled with his pachyderms, known as the Military Elephants for the military-themed act that made them famous. Financial hardship forced Robinson to sell several elephants to Ringling Brothers in 1916, but he kept the oldest ones with him at his farm outside Cincinnati. Neighbors got used to seeing them lumbering down the road, pulling wagons, and grazing. After Robinson’s death in 1921, one by one the last three elephants succumbed to old age until the fourth, Petite, nicknamed Pitt, was the last survivor. She was more than 100 years old when Robinson’s widow gave her to the Cole Brothers Circus in 1942.
 
The three elephants on the left became Robinson's Military Elephants, Clara, Petite (Pitt), and Tony.
Photo from Elephants Encyclopedia
The next year, 1943, the circus was traveling across Montana playing one night engagements. They stopped at Dillon to do a show. The crowd thronged into the exhibition tent to marvel at the elephants’ performance. The animal exhibition was just over and the crowd had gathered under the Big Top to enjoy the main show. A storm came up suddenly, and a bolt of lightning hit the exhibition tent striking Pitt. The 102-year-old veteran died instantly. The other elephants and circus owner Zach Terrell were stunned but recovered. Old Pitt had a fine funeral and was buried on the Beaverhead County Fairgrounds. A year later the Cole Brothers Circus again performed at Dillon. Circus folk gathered silently around a granite marker they had paid for. Its careful wording tells Pitt’s story and ends with this: May God Bless Her. Today a white fence in the middle of barren ground surrounds the lonely marker. A recently-planted sapling inside the fence, evidence that someone still cares, will hopefully grow to someday shade Old Pitt’s final resting place.

Photo from RoadsideAmerica.com

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