Pawnee City, NE Circus Train Fire, May 1904


Pawnee City, Neb., May 5. -- The menagerie train of the Campbell Bros. circus caught fire here yesterday afternoon and amid the din made by the terror-stricken animals, the citizens of the town locked and barred their doors and refused to come outside for hours.  When the blaze was extinguished three elephants, a cage of monkeys, four camels, three water buffalo, two grizzly bears and numerous horses were found to have been burned to death.  Many of the cages were destroyed and the menagerie practically wiped out.

The circus was to have opened its season here, and everybody came to the railroad tracks to see the unloading.  While this was in progress a carload of hay in the center of the animal train too fire, and the blaze quickly spread to the other cars, containing the animals.  When the smoke penetrated the cages the animals became wild with fear and began making as much noise as possible.  The crowds remained until the elephants began trumpeting when everybody took to their heels. The roars of the lions and tigers added to their fears, as well as the pandemonium which reigned for more than an hour.  The elephants, which were in the car nearest the fire, attempted to beat down the sides of their car with their trunks, which could be heard as they crashed against the boards.  The animals were chained within and trainers were unable to get near them because of the flames.

As soon as possible the train was cut up and the blazing cars hauled to the yards, where the fire was extinguished.  It was then found that the menagerie was almost destroyed, but that the circus part of the show was uninjured. The loss will run far into the thousands of dollars.

The Durango Democrat, Durango, CO 6 May 1904