ELEPHANTINE AGRICULTURE

From: Struggles and Triumphs or Forty years' Recollections of  P. T. BARNUM written by himself 1873

 As our agents were unable to purchase the required number of elephants, either in Columbo or Kandy, the principle towns of the island, (Ceylon) they took one hundred and sixty  native assistants and plunged into the jungles, where, after many most exiting adventures, they succeeded in securing thirteen elephant of a suitable size and for their purpose, with a female and her calf and her "baby" elephant, only six months old. In the course of the expedition, Messars. Nutter and June killed large numbers of the huge beasts, and had numerous encounters of the most terrific description with formidable animals, one of the most fearful of which took place near Anarajah Poora, while they were endeavoring, by the aid of the natives and trained elephants, to drive the wild herd of beasts into the Indian Kraal.

  They arrived in New York in 1851 with ten of the elephants, and these, harnessed in pairs to a chariot, paraded up Broadway past the Irving House, while Jenny Lind was staying at the hotel, on the occasion of her second visit to New York. Messrs. Nutter and June also brought with the elephants a native who was competent to manage and control them. We added a caravan of wild animals and many museum curiosities, the entire outfit, including horses, vans, carriages, tent, etc., costing $109,000, and commenced operations, with the presence and under the "patronage" of General Tom Thumb, who traveled nearly four years as one of the attractions of "Barnum's great Asiatic Caravan, Museum and Menagerie," returning us immense profits.

At the end of that time, after exhibiting in all sections of the country, we sold out the entire establishment -- animals, cages, chariots and paraphernalia, excepting one elephant, which I retained in my own possession two months for agricultural purposes. It occurred to me that if I could put an elephant to plowing for a while in my farm at Bridgeport, it would be a capital advertisement for the American Museum, which was then, and always during my proprietorship of that establishment, foremost in my thoughts.

So I sent him to Connecticut in charge of his keeper, whom I dressed in Oriental costume, and keeper and elephant were stationed on a six-acre lot which lay close beside the track of the New York and New Haven Railroad. The keeper was furnished with a time-table engaged in his work whenever passenger trains from either way were passing through. Of course, the matter soon appeared in the papers and went the entire rounds of the press in this country and even in Europe, and it was everywhere announced that P. T. Barnum, "Proprietor of the celebrated American Museum in New York" -- and here is where the advertisement came in -- had introduced elephants upon his farm, to do his plowing and heavy draft work. Hundreds of people came many miles to witness the novel spectacle.* Letters poured in upon me from the secretaries of hundreds of State and County agricultural societies throughout the Union, stating that the presidents and directors of such societies had requested them to profound to me a series of questions in regard to the new power I had put in operation on my farm. These questions were greatly diversified, but the "general run"  of them were something like the following:

    1. "Is the elephant a profitable agricultural animals?"

     2. "How much can an elephant plow in a day?"

     3. "How much can he draw?"

      4. "How much does he eat? -- this question was invariably asked, and was a very important one.

      5. "Will elephants make themselves generally useful on a farm?" I suppose some of my inquiries thought the elephant would pick up chips, or even pins as they have been taught to do, and would rock the baby and do all the chores, including the occasional carrying of a trunk, other than his own, to the depot.

      6. "What is the price of an elephant?"

      7. "Where can elephants be purchased?"

Then would follow a score of other inquiries, such as, whether elephants were easily managed; if they would quarrel with cattle; if it was possible to breed them; how old calf elephants must be before they would earn their own living; and so on indefinitely. I began to be alarmed lest some one should buy an elephant, and so share the fate of the man who drew one in a lottery, and did not know what to do with him. I accordingly had a general letter printed, which I mailed to all my anxious inquirers. It was headed "strictly confidential," and I then stated, begging my correspondents " not to mention it," that to me the elephant was a valuable agricultural animal, because he was an excellent advertisement to my Museum; but that to other farmers he would prove very unprofitable for many reasons. In the first place, such an animal would cost from $3,000 to $10,000; in cold weather he could not work at all; in any weather he could not earn even half his living; he would eat up the value of his own head, trunk, and body every year; and I begged my correspondents not to do so foolish a thing as to undertake elephant farming.

Newspaper reporters came from far and near, and wrote glowing accounts of the elephantine performances. One of them, taking a political view of the matter, stated that the elephant's sagacity showed that he knew more than did any laborer on the farm, and yet, shameful to say, he was not allowed to vote. Another said that Barnum's elephant built all the stone wall on the farm; made all the rail fences; planted corn with his trunk, and covered it with his foot; washed my windows and sprinkled the walks and lawns, by taking water from the fountain-basin with his trunk; carried all the children to school, and put them to bed at night, tucking them up with his trunk; fed the pigs; picked fruit from branches that could not otherwise be reached; turned the fanning mill and corn-shelter; drew the mowing machine, and turned and cocked the hay with his trunk; carried and brought my letters to and from the post-office (it was a male elephant); and did all the chores about the house, including milking the cows, and bringing in eggs. Pictures of Barnum's plowing elephant appeared in illustrated papers at home and abroad, and as the cars passed the scene of the performance, passengers' heads were out of every window, and among many and varied exclamations, I heard of one man's saying:

"Well, I declare! That is certainly a real elephant and any man who has so many elephants that he can afford to work them on his farm, must have lots of wild animals and curious 'critters' in his Museum, and I am bound to go there the first thing after my arrival in New York."

The six acres were plowed over at least sixty times before I thought the advertisement sufficiently circulated, and I then sold the elephant to Van Amburgh's Menagerie.

 Editor's note: Not so long after this men spoke of being in battle for the first time as "Seeing the Elephant"

 

 

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