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Trunk Tale

That time when unruly elephants stampeded through Idaho Falls

Published online: Jun 04, 2019 Articles, Looking Back Jeff Carr
Viewed 2717 time(s)

It’s not just you. Studying the history Idaho Falls, one can’t help but notice that a number of significant stories across the decades feature the same shifty character: wind.

It was a windstorm that blew down and destroyed the Union Pacific Railroad’s roundhouse in 1886, where ten locomotives could be stored. Rather than rebuild, the railroad decided to move its facilities to Pocatello (partly to punish striking workers), hollowing out and nearly killing Eagle Rock overnight.

Conversely, we have wind to thank for some of the beautification of the downtown and historic districts. When Kate Curley moved to town in the early 1890s, she immediately noted that there were no trees, which allowed dust storms to blow back and forth with wild abandon. Inspired in part by this, Curley founded the Village Improvement Society in 1898, which cleaned up, organized and beautified the frontier town, including shipping in 20,000 mature trees and seedlings to line the streets.

Perhaps most importantly, it was also wind that caused elephants to stampede through the streets of Idaho Falls. It was about 1905, and the circus was in town – a major event drawing visitors from miles around. During a show, a high wind collapsed the circus tent, pitched on the west side of the river, and knocked over several nearby buggies. The audience made it out safely, but the commotion startled the show’s elephants, who were drinking from the Porter Canal. The elephants broke free from their handler and most charged for the river, which was narrower and shallower at the time. Some elephants swam, squealing and blowing, to the east bank, where they stampeded through downtown and overturned buggies. Handlers eventually got control of the herd after riding some of the calmer elephants around and attempting to coax the more skittish ones out of the water, off the streets and back to safety.

Wind may not be our most popular natural phenomenon, but it does make things interesting.

Photos courtesy Museum of Idaho

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