For years, Mary worked for the Sparks World Famous Shows traveling circus, where she entertained towns from coast to coast. One day, after years of being confined and abused, she struck back at a circus employee after he hit her with a sharp weapon called a bullhook — a cruel device that’s still used by circus employees to control elephants. Because she fought back, humans strung Mary up using a crane in order to hang her in public in Erwin, Tennessee. The first chain that was wrapped around her neck snapped, and she crashed to the ground, breaking her hip. During the second attempt, she was killed. This individual who longed for nothing more than freedom was tortured to death while crowds of humans looked on.
On September 12, 1916, a hobo named Walter Eldridge, nicknamed Red because of his rusty-colored hair, was hired as an assistant elephant trainer by the Sparks World Famous Shows circus. A drifter who had been with the circus only a day, he had no experience of handling elephants, but the only qualification required was the ability to wield an ‘elephant stick’ — a rod with a sharp spear at one end. Eldridge led the elephant parade riding on the top of Mary’s back; Mary was the star of the show, riding at the front. There have been several accounts of his death. One, recounted by W.H. Coleman who claimed to be a witness, is that he prodded her behind the ear with a hook after she reached down to nibble on a watermelon rind. She went into a rage, snatched Eldridge with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand and stepped on his head, crushing it.