Perhaps you and your family are snacking on Thanksgiving leftovers today. Back in 1928, some of the citizens of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley tried a dish of a much more exotic variety.
They ate elephant.
And not just any elephant — the best-known pachyderm in this community’s history. Mary, the circus elephant who famously rampaged through the streets of downtown Lewiston on Aug. 8, 1928, before being shot dead by the town’s mayor, E.G. Braddock, ended up on dining tables around the valley a few days later.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Mary yarn for years but wasn’t aware of her ultimate fate until a few months ago when I stumbled upon a small item in the Aug. 11, 1928, edition of the Tribune under the headline “Elephant Steak Graces Menu in Lewiston Homes.”
The story reports that two “well-known cutters of meat,” W.D. Perkins and Oscar Farrell, were paid $5 to remove the remains of Mary, who was offed at the E.L. Elam Garage at 306 Main St. (where a plaque commemorating the event now hangs). The garage “had several calls for ‘elephant steaks,’ and in each instance the customers were accommodated,” the story said.
Clearly, this was a different era. If an elephant were killed in the streets of Lewiston in 2022, I just can’t picture the town’s citizens successfully acquiring hunks of meat from it. Wouldn’t a government agency or animal rights group or social media campaign step in to break up the elephant rump roast party?
The postscript to the Mary story had slipped mostly from our collective memory, though valley historian Steven Branting was familiar with it (of course). He provided a Tribune clip that said the steaks were “rumored to be tough.” Branting also pointed out that two of the steak buyers were Charles A. Lee, who started Lee’s Mensware, which he passed on to his son Jack, and P.R. Bevis, a real estate mogul, head of the chamber of commerce and uncle of Ray J. White.
I would appreciate it if, henceforth, we all make a concerted effort to include the elephant steaks in the Mary legend. And just in case you aren’t familiar with the tale, here’s the story as told by former Tribune Publisher A.L. “Butch” Alford Jr., now semiretired, in a 2018 article:
Belle-Floto Circus, at the time the second-largest traveling circus in the U.S., had performances in Spokane. The next stop was Lewiston. The 27-car train took longer than scheduled to travel to Lewiston, not arriving until nearly noon on a 101-degree day. The Belle-Floto elephant herd numbered 12, and they were transported in metal but ventilated rail cars. The Lewiston arrival was later than planned, delayed by “the heavy grades and turns.” The escape of the five elephants, and their escapades, as well as the late arrival, meant cancellation of the planned afternoon performance, but not the night show.
The “stampede” started at the Snake River Avenue unloading grounds. The departing five walked and ran down Snake River Avenue — the Tribune’s coverage called it “bolting down the avenue” — to downtown C Street, now Capital. They ran eastward to Fifth Street, then south down Main nearly to Tenth Street. There, the herd separated, the four larger “beasts continuing their march southward (and) through the residential district and finally back to the circus grounds.”
But Mary turned west at Tenth Street and “for half an hour or more charged up and down Main Street, breaking in store fronts, battering automobiles, charging the Elam Motor Co. garage where she was cornered and shot by Mayor Braddock.”
Mary briefly enjoyed the lawn at the then Whitman Elementary School, now the site of Public Health — Idaho North Central District at 215 10th St. From there she moved to Dreamland Park, directly across the street, and “took to the dance floor,” while “hundreds had followed in the animal’s tracks.” The dance floor’s north side railing was an “easy victim.”
It was then to the rear of the Lewiston Motor Co. at 1005 Main St. Mary pushed her head through the closed rear door “and crushed it like so much kindling.” A used car in storage in the garage, with hoof on the hood, was crushed in and she shoved the car 10 feet away. Next, it was into the Blackwell Motor Co. at Ninth and Main streets at full speed, crashing the heavy plate glass windows, smashing stored radiator pipes “with one step of its feet.” A young girl attracted Mary’s attention, and she fled through the Blackwell used car department entrance, throwing herself into the foyer, and Mary’s “trunk swept over the girl’s head and crashed through the plate glass window.”
Mary then assaulted a car across the street, with two women and two children inside it, “attacking with head and trunk.” Two plate glass windows at the C.J. Breier Co. department store, Seventh and Main streets, were knocked out. Next, “tone coating” was knocked off the wall at the Liberty Theater, and several sign displays were wrecked. In front of the Western Union office at 603 Main St., Mary threw a motorcycle against a post “and disdainfully stomped on it with her feet.” Then, two plate glass windows were pushed in at the Dave Shiffer Store. Next, a plate glass window at Beckman Furniture, 520 Main St., then charging at the windows (but stopping short) at the Baldeck & Co., clothiers, at 526 Main.
And then it was on to the E.L. Elam Garage, 306 Main St. That’s where Mary, finding a cooler temperature and pulling a water pipe apart in order to drink, was dispatched by the mayor.
The Tribune account estimated “several thousand” were gathered in front of the Elam garage. “The window of the garage was broken in by the pressing mob, and it was necessary for the police department to hold the crowd back with a stream of water.”
A second story quoted the circus show manager, Zack Terrell, as saying the shooting death “is not regretted by the Belle-Floto Circus.” Terrell said Mary, then 15 years old, was one of 11 baby elephants Belle-Floto purchased and then trained for six years.
The circus performance that night of Aug. 9, 1928?
The Tribune estimated the crowd at 7,000, an audience that “packed the large tent,” and a post-circus crowd assessment that the show was “the best ever witnessed in Lewiston.”
Princess the cat — still going strong at 22½
Every morning, Ed and Vivian Jasinski, of Lewiston, are woken up by their cat, Princess, who demands that her owners prepare her a hearty breakfast.
This pattern hasn’t changed in recent months, even with Princess reaching the age of 22 years old back in April. She is officially the oldest cat in Lewiston ... as determined by me.
“She’s still here,” Ed Jasinski said Friday. “I think she’s getting stronger.”
Princess, a fluffy black cat that was originally purchased in 2000 from Garden Square Nursery in North Lewiston by the Jasinskis’ daughter Holly, had some kidney issues recently. Her veterinarian put her on a special diet, which she didn’t like, but Ed found a different type of food she enjoys. She now eats a can or more of that each day.
Princess generally stays in her house, but will occasionally sun herself on the family’s deck. She avoids other cats and people, which might be the secret of her longevity, Ed said.
“You sort of wonder if she’s ever going to pass on,” Ed said. “I’m amazed that she just seems to keep going.”
The current oldest cat in the world is Flossie, a British cat who is almost 27, according to CNN. But the oldest cat ever was a Texas kitty named Crème Puff, who lived to the ripe old age of 38 until her death in 2005.
My family sadly said farewell to our geriatric cat, Eleanor, who died at age 21 on July 1. We now are experiencing the other end of the spectrum, getting used to life with our rambunctious orange kitten, Griffey, who we’ve decided was born July 1.
Life goes on.
Almost time to light the star
The Christmas star on the Lewiston Hill will be lit for the first time this season at 7 p.m. Friday, according to Ty Aiken of the Asotin Lions Club.
The Asotin club took over maintenance of the star and the cross last year, and is planning again to hold a lighting ceremony at Riverport Brewing in Clarkston on Friday evening. The event will also be part of the club’s diaper drive. All are invited to attend, Aiken said.
Bite Size Takes, which runs periodically in the Tribune, scoops up the news that almost didn't fit in print. If you have an offbeat but interesting tip you would like to share, contact Matt Baney, the Tribune's city editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2262, or on Twitter @MattBaney_Trib.