Thursday, June 14, 2012

Major Harry Cooley--O'Brien Circus 1872?

'Does anyone know who the beautiful male with the balls on his tusk's is?  This picture is dated 1872, yet is seems Harry Cooley was killed in 1870 by an elephant named Gypsy, who was actually Empress, the first elephant imported into the United States.'

Harry Cooley « Ray City History Blog

W. H. Harris had acquired Gypsy for the Nickel Plate Show around late 1885.
Purchased from the deep South’s W. W. Cole’s Circus, she  proved to be a huge brute that put fear into everyone. Charley Curran, the trainer, examined her tusk stubs and noting many notches there-on, exclaimed, “I knew it!, this is Pogie O’Brien’s notorious outlaw and as she has nine notches filed into her tusks, she has killed at least that many people”. “Well”, dryly commented Harris, “we bought her as Gypsy, so don’t anyone mention her bloody history”. – White Tops, April 1930, Col. C. G. Sturtevant.


Alexandria Post News,
Alexandria, Douglas County, Minnesota
Thursday, April 2, 1896, page 7, col. 5.


A Big Elephant in Chicago Kills
Her Keeper.

Frank Scott Pounded to Death—The
Animal Tears Down a Frame Build-
ing—Her Victims Now
Number Seven.

Chicago, March 26.—W. H. Harris’ big elephant Gypsy became unmanageable at its winter quarters on the West side Wednesday afternoon and before she could be gotten under control killed her keeper, tore down a frame building, and created general excitement, which drew thousands of people to the scene.

Killer Her Keeper.

Harris’ circus is quartered at the corner of Roby and Jackson streets in a six-story brick building and Gypsy occupies the greater part of the first floor. Her regular keeper is Bernard Shea, but Shea is at present engaged at the Ak-Sar-Ben music hall in Omaha, and the animal was temporarily in charge of Frank Scott, a lion tamer. Wednesday afternoon early Scott, against orders, took Gypsy out for a ride in the alley. Gypsy did not seem inclined to stop at the boundary of the alley and Scott gave her a jab with an iron hook. The beast became enraged, and, throwing her keeper from her head, where he had been riding, proceeded to pound him with her trunk and succeeded in killing him, knocking him through a board fence.

The elephant had her own way for about four hours, when she went back into her stall and allowed Orton to chain her. Harris has owned the animal for five years and has had no trouble with her before.

Her Seventh Victim.

Omaha, Neb., March 26.—Bernard Shea, the former keeper of Gypsy, the elephant which created so much trouble in Chicago Wednesday, will take the first train for Chicago to assume his old position. Mr. Shea has been Gypsy’s keeper off and on for the past ten years and says he has never had any troubles with her. In an interview he stated that Gypsy is only another name for Empress, the original old Empress, the first elephant imported into this country, and that the killing of her late keeper, Scott, makes the seventh victim of her vicious character.

THE FIRST WAS HARRY COOLEY, IN 1870, AT FOREPAUGH'S WINTER QUARTERS IN PHILADELPHIA;(my highlight) George West had the life crushed out of him in 1874, traveling on the road with Robinson’s show. “Jimmy, the Bum,” was the next man, at New Iberia, La., in 1882, followed by William Devoe, with O’Brien’s show at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1886. Patsy Hulligan was the sixth victim, and he had his arm torn out at Cincinnatti in 1894, and died two days afterwards.

Glad to See Him.

Chicago, Mrach 27.—Trainer Shea arrived in town last night and made haste to reach Gypsy’s quarters. The meeting between the two astonished those who beheld it. Shea patted the elephant as he asked: “How are you, old girl?” Almost instantly Gypsy wrapped her big trunk around the waist of her friend and held him firmly, yet tenderly, for many minutes. Then, receiving a reassuring kiss from Shea, the monster slowly lowers him to the floor. While her trainer remained in her quarters Gypsy trumpeted merrily, and it was not until the keeper left the place that the beast ceased these manifestations of her joy.

Transcribed from microfilm copy of newspaper at Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, MN.

New York Clipper Excerpts 1872-73 - Circus Historical Society

From the Elephant database:

Species: Asian elephant
Sex and age:Female, unknown years
Dead date:
Death reason: euthanised: shot, agressive
Facility:Harris Nickel Plate Shows
ArrivedHarris Nickel Plate Shows 1892-00-00
from Clark Brothers Circus
Clark Brothers Circus 1890-00-00
from Forepaugh & Samwells
Forepaugh & Samwells 1887-00-00
from OBrien Circus
OBrien Circus 1886-00-00
from Grand Circus Royal & English Menagerie
Grand Circus Royal & English Menagerie 1881-00-00
from Great Inter-Ocean Shows
Great Inter-Ocean Shows 1879-00-00
from Campbell's New York and Philadelphia Zoological and Equestrian Institute
Campbell's New York and Philadelphia Zoological and Equestrian Institute 1878-00-00
from Dan Rice Circus
Dan Rice Circus 1873-00-00
from OBrien Circus
Born: wild
1867-1891: Killed 4 people.
1896: killed Frank Scott
1902: killed James "Whiskey Red" O'Rourke.

Records about Empress (Gypsy) from Bob Cline
Female Asian 1870 - sold at Auction to John "Pogey" O'Brien for $5,000 in November
1871 - Pogey O'Brien Circus
1873 - Dan Rice Circus
1878 - Campbell's Great New York and Philadelphia Zoological & Equestrienne Institute
1879 to 1880 - Great Inter Ocean
1881 to 1883 - Grand Circus Royal, English Menagerie Consolidated with the Great Astley's Museum & Aquarium Caravan

1885 - Killed Robert White on October 12th
1886 - Pogey O'Brien's Show
1886 - sold to John B. Doris
1887 to 1889 - O'Brien's and the Forepaugh & Samwells' show
1890 to 1891 - Clark Bros. Circus
1892 to 1902 - Harris Nickle Plate Shows renamed Gypsy
1896 - killed 3rd victim ( Trainer Frank Scott )
Died - Nov. 24, 1902 ( Executed by gunshot. )

1888:"(Clarks broters) in 1888 purchased some of the Pogey OBrien show equipment and the elephant "Empress." This bull was a bad one and was known to have killed four men. George Hartzell, a well known clown of that period, and the elephant man, along with a few others from the OBrien show, went with the Clarks. Hartzell stayed with the Clark show five months.

1896-03-25: While with W. H. Harris Nickel-Plate, Frank Scott was killed by the elephant Gypsy in winter quarters, Chicago, March 25, 1896. Had recently taken charge of the animal, formerly named Empress, which had always been dangerous. This was her 3rd victim. Scott had been connected with this circus for the last 6 years.
Olympians of the Sawdust Circle, William L. Slout and Circus Historical Society

When the Clark Brothers went broke, the elephant, Empress, was sold to the Harris Nickle Plate Shows, where she was heavily billed as Gypsy. Bill Woodcock said, a short time before he died, that Walter Jennier had told him about being on the Harris show as a child. Jennier reported that Empress had killed a handler, James ORoark (Jimmy the bum), while being loaded to go to the Harris winter quarters in Valdosta, Georgia. Mrs. Harris ordered her executed and she was taken into the swamps and shot. Jennier remembered the crowd cutting off pieces of her anatomy for souvenirs."

Homer C. Walton. Bandwagon, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1965, pp. 4-11.

Records about Empress (Gypsy) was updated
2010-09-26: prev locations

Sources, among others

  • Bob Cline, Cheraw, South Carolina, United States.
  • Page 87 Elefanten in Zoo und Circus, Dokumentation 2 Nordamerika, 1997, by European Elephant Group: Haufellner, Schilfarth, Schweiger

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