By Nancy Johnson
For the Deming Headlight
Anyone who believes that a buffalo in the bullring was as far afield as human imagination could go hasn't heard many yarns. For weeks after that fiasco (see last week's column) aficionados in every bar in El Paso and Ju‡rez speculated about the possibility of matching an elephant against a Mexican fighting bull. And for a long time it was just speculation. Where could one find an elephant in the area in 1907? A few months later they had an answer. Posters advertised a small circus and M.L. Clarke's wagon show in El Paso would soon visit El Paso. Ned, the elephant took up most of the space on the poster.
Owners of El Paso's Coney Island Bar again contacted their friend Robert Felix, matador and manager of the Ju‡rez Bullring. They managed to persuade him to plan another extravaganza despite the fact that their previous program of a buffalo bull versus Mexican bulls hadn't turned out exactly as expected. The men then persuaded Mr. M. L. Clarke to allow Ned to fight Mexican bulls in Ju‡rez.
Few people realize that despite their ponderous size and plodding gait on tray-sized feet, elephants are surprisingly agile and they are very fast. They swing their feet more effectively than they swing their trunk.
On the appointed day Ned plodded across the border to Mexico. Crowds lined the streets and the bullring was filled to capacity. (Before the story continues, the uninitiated should know that seat prices vary. The most expensive are box seats on the shady side; the cheapest are at the top of the grandstand on the sunny side.) Ned was led into the center of the arena where the crowd clapped and whistled their welcome.
The gate opened and the first bull came rushing into the arena. The sight of such a strange animal infuriated the bull and he immediately charged the elephant; just as quickly he found himself kicked sprawling across the arena by the surprised elephant. The crowd booed their disapproval of such treatment of their prized bull.
Felix, cognizant of the recent buffalo fiasco dared not make another mistake. He announced to the crowd that the next time the gates opened three prime Mexican fighting bulls would be released all at once. The mollified crowd cheered.
All three bulls came roaring into the arena and immediately charged Ned. One bull managed to prod him with a horn. The enraged elephant trumpeting for help and fighting for his life began kicking, pushing and finally tossing one bull into the box seats on the shady side. There was pandemonium as the rich and dignified scrambled for their lives. More bodies, bovine, equine, and human ended up in the stands and all had injuries. Within minutes Ned had the entire arena to himself. Oddly all the damage occurred in the best seats on the shady side.
The Mexicans were furious and immediately placed a $500 attachment on the elephant. Only later did they realize that they had no one trained or brave enough to care for the beast so they closed the great iron gates, fastened the big locks and left him alone in the arena overnight while they pondered.
In the wee hours of the morning when the town was dark and the streets were deserted the young son of Ned's owner made his way to the gates and called to Ned. The elephant, no doubt happy to hear a familiar voice, chirruped in response. The boy called softly again. "Come on out, Ned." And Ned did just that. A section of one gate rattled with each step for about a block until he managed to rid himself of the load. Then the two friends walked together across the border to the American side.
Ned was never quite the same after that experience, so he gave up performing. He eventually ended up in the Seattle Zoo where he was contented to spend the rest of his life in pleasant surroundings.
Nancy Johnson is a local columnist. Her column appears in the Deming Headlight on Wednesday.