Elephants in Appalachia – What?

ethelene dyer jones

“When I was a child, my father took me with him to the Jeptha Souther Mill about a mile from our house. Jeptha, the miller, was my father’s cousin. He ground both cornmeal and flour–on different stones, as I remember. It was a water-powered mill, with water coming to the mill from–yes–a pond on Choestoe Creek! And one time, so the story goes (sometime before my day) when Barnum and Bailey Circus came to Blairsville, the elephants were being driven by the mill and the millpond, and those big mammals got loose from their tenders and got into the Souther Millpond. So the story goes, they like never to have gotten the elephants out of the millpond! (And yes, as far-fetched as it seems, this was a true story that happened in the mountains of North Georgia at the old Souther mill!).”

Ethelene Dyer Jones November 2012



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  • Reply
    Ida-Lynn Wallace
    February 27, 2020 at 1:38 am

    I recall my Grandma (1908-1996) talking about the circus coming to Blairsville at some point in her youth. She told me a story about an elephant dancing on a dish pan.

  • Reply
    October 4, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Loved this post! Reminded me of when elephants escaped the circus in SE Oklahoma in 1975. This link to a story includes info. on it: (you can skip to pages 8-10, if you don’t want to read the whole article)
    A fellow I know helped ‘capture’ the final of the two escapees with use of a dart gun. He still brags he’s the only person to ever ‘hunt’ elephants in Oklahoma!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 1, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Apocryphal is a word I have been searching for for many years. Thanks George!

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    October 1, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Lovely lady with a funny story. Elephants do LOVE their baths though, so it’s totally believable.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 1, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Elephants in the pond must have been a site to see!

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    October 1, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Ed Ammons’ well-turned phrases bring to life the tale of Uncle Wayne’s White Elephant and the Great Chicken Massacre. And I like the fine distinction that the Ford was a 1963 1/2 model.
    Here’s an apocryphal and maybe dubious elephant tale, told to me as a teen.
    In the 1960’s, cross-country truck drivers often used the stimulant Benzedrine (amphetamine) to help them stay awake during long stints behind the wheel. Benny, as the truckers called it, also produced hallucinations.
    An elephant got loose from a circus and wandered onto the highway, where a big rig ran smack into it at full speed. The investigating officer wanted to know why the driver didn’t see a large elephant standing in the middle of the road. “Oh, I saw it,” said the trucker. “But I thought it was just Benny. I’ve driven through lots of elephants.”

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    October 1, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Tipper, Mom told you the ‘short version’ of this story. I can send you the ‘long version’ sometime if you’d like. Also the story of how the county engineer was threatened with a shotgun by the mill owner if he used dynamite on a stump near the mill’s new shake roof…

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    After reading Ethelene’s story
    today, I’m reminded of another
    school teacher. She’s 110 and
    Miss Jean Christi lives in the
    Assistant Living Facility on Kent
    Street, across from the old
    Magnavox empty building. Way back
    yonder I think I had “study hall”
    with her. But my older brothers
    really admired the way she taught.
    I bet Mr. Roy Pipes remembers her
    since he taught at Andrews High
    for many years…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 1, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    My uncle Wayne owned a 1963½ Two Door Ford Galaxie 500XL Fastback. It was pearlescent white with a red interior. The seats and door panels had custom fitted clear plastic covers. The floor mats were red shag carpet that matched the interior. That car was his pride and joy and he kept it spotless. His boys called it “The White Elephant.”
    Uncle Wayne also had a bunch of free range chickens running around his place. One day several of those birds took a notion to see the world from atop the White Elephant. Wayne just happened upon the scene. He shooed them of and began inspecting his trophy for damage. Unfortunately one of the chickens had deposited something on the car and it wasn’t an egg.
    Wayne was usually in full control of his emotions but that day I think he had visited his secret stash and partaken of a glug or three. He didn’t know which hen had done the do but he was bound and determined to make sure it didn’t happen again. He went inside the house, came out with a .22 rifle and proceeded to put down poultry.
    Uncle Wayne had spent 6 years in the Army during WWII, much of it in the European theater and knew what a rifle would do. His legs were a little unsteady but his aim was straight and true. Soon there were no chickens. Even the roosters were executed for not controlling their harem.
    Wayne’s next priority wasn’t the disposal of his former flock, it was to see to the needs of his White Elephant. He dragged out the hose, got a bucket with warm water and soap and made her whole again.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 11:58 am

    We have a similar story about hippos getting loose. The story is such an important part of local lore that when came time to name a mascot for the school district in those parts, they chose “hippos” as their school mascot.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Soon as I started reading today’s
    blog, I thought of Ethelene Dyer
    Jones. She mostly tells “true-life”
    stories of childhood and I like
    I can just see those elephants
    having a good time, splashing in
    the Millpond…Ken

  • Reply
    Melissa P (misplaced Southerner)
    October 1, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Well, now, I’ve heard of white elephants, seeing pink elephants, or the elephant in the room; but never the elephant in the pond! What a sight that must have been.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 1, 2015 at 9:39 am

    I could imagine being a child and my Father telling of elephants in the mill pond. I would have been so excited thinking and day-dreaming that maybe the next time the circus was in town they would tether-out or drive the elephants near the pond again. Everwhen, and then I could see the bathing of elephants with my own eyes!
    Don’t you know those elephants were having a big time in that pond. Trunks waving in the air, shooting water on their own backs as well as on the other elephants. Their skin is so tough and dry and it was probably a summer visit by the Barnum Baily Circus and very hot…I am sure it felt so good to them…and I am sure they never forgot their visit to Souther Mill Pond, at least I hear that ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET!
    Thanks Tipper…
    for sharing one of Ethelene’s storied memories from her Father and her childhood!
    PS…Ethelene, I would hate to burst your bubble, but do you think that the “drivers” of the elephants deliberately let those tired and thirsty elephants in the pond on purpose?…and the truth was kept secret from the public which might be shared by the grapevine or papers!

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 9:19 am

    When I read the title before reading, I thought I was going to hear that the circus was in town, not that elephants were having a splash party in the pond. This must have been a real hoot!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 1, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Reminds me of the expression of someone saying they ‘had seen the elephant’. I think it was used by Civil War soldiers after they had been in their first battle.
    Somewhere I have a reproduction of a handbill about seeing the elephant for fifty cents.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 1, 2015 at 8:32 am

    I hope they got themselves out eventually

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    October 1, 2015 at 8:00 am

    Well, this post is NEWS to me!It was probably an unforgettable event for those who ‘witnessed’ the event!
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 1, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Thank you, Tipper, for posting my account of “Elephants in the Millpond.” That was one of my favorite “real life” stories my father told me when I was a child. The adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction” sometimes holds for the stories of life as it was when our ancestors were young. So many stories from our mountains are yet to be told.

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