October 17, 1929.
In twelve days the door would slam shut on the roaring twenties with the crash of the stock market. The Great Depression was nigh, but there was no precognition in the crowd that day in Kenedy that day, just blood lust.
Legs shackled and chained between two mesquite trees, the condemned stood with his back to his executioners. The thirty-one year-old was about to pay for his crime with his life. No fear could be seen in his dark features. He may have even welcomed what was about to happen.
There was no doubt he was guilty. Everyone on the street in Corsicana the previous Saturday had seen him beat the life out of Eva Donohoo.
In a fit of rage he had picked her up and slammed her to the ground. Bystanders tried in vain to pull her away from him and twice succeeded, but twice he pulled her back and continued his assault. No man in Texas could have stopped him.
He was nine feet tall.
He weighed nine tons.
He was a bull elephant called Black Diamond.
His rampage happened during the parade of the Al G. Barnes Circus into Corsicana.
After Black Diamond was calmed and confined to his train car, the circus folks were at a loss as to what they should do. The beast had previously killed two trainers and it was now dawning on them that displaying him might constitute poor judgment.
So they telegramed John Ringling, who with his brothers had just purchased the Barnes outfit.
The word came back: Put him down. But be humane about it.
Given the ideas for doing the deed that were floated, you have to wonder if anyone had checked the definition of humane.
First they considered an offer from the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce that was Caligulan in its creativity. They proposed to turn Black Diamond’s death into publicity for their recently opened port.
The Associated Press reported: “The chamber’s plan was to have the animal’s car switched to the wharves, to tie 30 tons of lead to his feet and to have two tugs drag him into the bay.”
Rejecting that kind offer, the circus folks next considered strangling him with chains pulled in opposite directions by the remaining Barnes elephants. Fine family entertainment.
But it was finally decided that poison was the gentlest way to send Black Diamond into that good night.
A druggist prepared twenty-two one ounce capsules filled with cyanide. Each was inserted into an orange, Black Diamond’s favorite food. He sniffed at them, but refused to cooperate in making them his last meal.
So they next day, his trainer gave him the parade command. He stepped out of his car and was chained between his docile female companions, Babe and Ruth, in order to keep him calm.
Followed by most of the population of Kenedy, they trekked out to a pasture on the E. C. Bain place, where a massive grave had been dug.
The big bull was secured to mesquite trees with chains that hardly seemed up to the task.
Hans Nagel, director of the Houston Zoo, was on hand to supervise the killing.
The AP reporter who witnessed it stated: “The first burst of lead fired into the body of the nine ton pachyderm seemed to puzzle the animal. Another burst made him groggy. He rolled over slowly and took another fusillade in the body.”
106 shots had been fired.
There is some controversy over who fired the 107th, the coup de grace, between Black Diamond’s eyes. Some sources say it was local undertaker Eugene Eckols. Others say it was zookeeper Nagel.
What is certain is that Nagel had brought with him A. R. Hines, curator and taxidermist of the of the Houston Museum of Natural History. Hines removed head and hide from the departed.
Black Diamond’s mounted head and skull where displayed by that institution for two generations. They are now in a private collection in Corsicana. Undertaker Eckols made one of Black Diamond’s massive feet into a stool, which is now in the Karnes County Museum.