The forgotten towns of East Texas got their names from a varrity of ways--from people, places, events...even geological landmarks
But Jumbo, in Panola County, is the only town to be named for an elephant.
The town was settled by cotton planters before the Civil War years, but it wasn’t until 1885 when James C. Brady established a cotton gin, a general store and a grist mll, and the community began to grow.
In 1888, Brady secured a post office for the expanding community and the community began to think about a name.
Remembering P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus, which made a tour in Panola and surrounding counties between 1882 and 1885, someone suggested that the community be named for one of its star attractions, Jumbo, an elephant billed by Barnum as the largest African elephant in captivity.
In the l800s, the circus would have traveled in East Texas on the old Houston, East and West Texas Railroad, sometimes called “Hell Either Way Taken,’ after the line was built from Houston to Shreveport in the early l880s. The tracks ran through dozens of small towns not far from the Jumbo community, such as Timpson, Tenaha, Bobo and Blair.
Barnum, bought Jumbo from the London Zoo for $10,000, an enormous sum of money in the 1880s. Standing twelve feet high and weighing six and a half tons, Jumbo quickly became a huge attraction.
In 1888, as would-be town namers in the little community near the Panola-Rusk county line suggested names, Jumbo would have been fresh on their mind because of the circus’ visit and, more importantly, because of Jumbo’s untimely death in 1885.
A tragic accident in Ontario, Canada, ended Jumbo’s life when an unscheduled freight train hit him while Barnum’s circus was loading in the freight yards.
The collision derailed the freight train and 150 people were required to haul the elephant’s body up an embarkment. Jumbo’s hide was given to Tufts College, stuffed and mounted, and put on display in the Barnum Museum at the college, now Tufts University.
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of over 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)