Monday, April 4, 2016

The Most Famous Circus Fight In History - Jacksonville, TX

The Circus Fight
by Bob Bowman

What one historian has called "the most famous circus fight in history" unfolded in 1873 as Robinson's Circus was preparing to leave Jacksonville in East Texas.

Jacksonville was a fledgling community in those days. It had been founded with a post office in 1849, but moved to its present site in 1872 on the International & Great Northern Railroad.

The story of the fight first appeared in a Dearborn, Michigan, newspaper and was reprinted by the Jacksonville Daily Progress years later.

Here is what apparently unfolded.

Robinson's Circus of Cincinnati, Ohio, opened on a raw, cold day in November of 1873. 

The circus' hands had some words with a rowdy crowd of Jacksonville men before the show opened and, when the show began four or five local men plopped down in the circus ring where trained horses usually performed.

When the horses were brought into the ring, the local men stopped them, forcing two circus hands to remove the unruly group.

Later, the group went to the bars in Jacksonville, started drinking and decided they wanted to arrest a circus manager named De Vere. They obtained a warrant and went looking for De Vere. Circus officials, meanwhile, hid De Vere. 

Circus owner Jack Robinson, fearing something worse could happen, ordered his men to pack up their wagons and drive them to a railroad loading area. There, they were met by a Jacksonville mob.

As a circus employee was supervising the loading of the wagons on the train, a shot was fired and the powder of a pistol burned the face of a circus employee, touching off a melee of additional gun shots, fights and threats.

The circus employees chased the mobs into the town's business area, where they hid behind the barred doors of a store. When the circus hands battered down the door, the locals fled out the back door.

As the riot continued, a circus hand was stabbed in the back, a local man fired a shotgun at the circus men, but missed and killed a circus animal, and a circus employee poured a bucket of coal oil on a store and threatened to set it afire if the mob persisted in their anger.

As the circus train pulled out of town on its way to
Houston, more shots were fired. About a mile and a half out of town, as the train crossed a trestle, the Jacksonville mob mounted another gunshot battle, wounding a circus hand.

The mob then telegraphed Houston officials, asking them to arrest the circus, but the telegraph operator in Jacksonville never sent the message.

The Robinson Circus didn't return to Texas for years, but when a group of Texas lawyers came to Cincinnati, Robinson arranged for city officials to wine and dine the lawyers. One of the lawyers promised to help wipe out the charges against the circus in Jacksonville.

However, reports claim that when the Robinson Circus returned to Jacksonville years later, a circus man injured in the l873 riot killed a Jacksonville man.

After the passage of years,
Jacksonville forgot about the Great Circus Fight and settled down as a quiet, law-abiding community

Gabe Thornton inherits the Double Bar Ranch from good friend and neighbor Bill (Pappy) Thomas, but there are conditions.   Last Will and Testament states five hundred acres have been set aside for his only niece, or interested heirs.  The property must be lived on for a year or said acreage will revert back to Gabe.

Molly Blackburn shows up in Bastrop, Texas, to claim the land her great uncle has left her.  Though she knows nothing about cattle ranching, she has no other choice when her father passes away.
Gabe is sure she won’t last a month and he tells her so, but greenhorn or not, she swears she will be there till the bitter end, no matter what!  

Will she give up her land or will she find more than just a cattle ranch in Bastrop?


“I happen to also own a hand gun but..well I didn’t think to purchase bullets for it.”
“Perfect!” Gabe said, shaking his head.  “There’s also wood to be cut and hay and water to be hauled plus a million other things.”  He laid the gun against the wall, opening the door.  “You won’t last the week and if you had half a brain you’d know it!”
“Get out of my house,” she hollered.  He walked out into the cold morning but she was right on his heels, taking his coat off.  “Wait!”  He turned and she threw his coat in his face.  “Thank you for the use of your coat but I’ll thank you to stay off my property!”
Gabe advanced a step her way but a discreet cough stopped him.  There were his mother and sister, sitting on their horses.  He swung up on his horse, staring at his new neighbor.  “See if you can’t talk some sense into her!” he ground out before riding away. 

I write for all ages, from the early reader to adults.  My books range from pictures books for the little ones, to fantasy, time-travel adventures for ages 9 to 13. I also write adult stories, including a family drama and contemporary, paranormal and historical westerns romances, under P. A. Estelle.

I was a school secretary for 21 years.  My husband and I moved to our retirement home in Kingman, AZ, on very rural 54 acres, living on solar and wind only. 

For more information about me and my stories check out the following links:

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  1. What an intriguing story! Thank you. Your book has been on my radar for some time. This summer, providing things slow down ( I can dream can't I ) I hope to get it read. Angela/Doris

    1. Thanks Doris! I do know exactly what you mean!!!