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Wilson vs. El Tex, the Tiger


The death of Steve Irwin, better known as the Crocodile Hunter, was a shock to some, and the inevitable to others. But, before Steve Irwin, there were others who put themselves at eye level with dangerous predators, and one of them was Bert Wilson, the superintendent of Minot parks. Wilson, however, seemed to have less caution—and perhaps common sense—than Irwin when dealing with animals.

Wilson had already come face to face with a mountain lion in the Minot Zoo, and would have been killed if he hadn’t been carrying a hammer. When the lion attacked, Wilson defended himself with the hammer, knocking out three of the lion’s teeth. The next big cat Wilson fought, however, had a much worse fate.

Wilson’s next skirmish with a large cat took place today in 1926. While on a visit to Houston for the National Convention of the American Parks Executives, Wilson visited the Houston Zoo during an inspection tour. The tour brought him to the cage of El Tex, the tiger. Wilson entered the cage to inspect it, but El Tex stood in his way. Wilson must have thought he was in a position of authority, because Wilson slapped the tiger’s face and ordered it back. The orders seemed to anger El Tex, because he sprung at Wilson. Wilson, however, still didn’t back down, and punched the tiger, sending him into M.E. Irwin, the superintendent of the Tulsa zoo. This only deterred El Tex slightly, and he sprang at Wilson again. Knowing he couldn’t escape, Wilson clinched El Tex to him, while an attendant took aim at the tiger. The attendant shot El Tex in the heart and Wilson sprang back. El Tex took one last lunge at Wilson, catching his left leg before dying.

In the end, Wilson received 29 stitches on his leg, left shoulder, and face. But this was not all Wilson received in his battle. El Tex was skinned, with the possibility that it might be given to Wilson. Wilson also got the bullet that killed El Tex. Wilson reported he was going to have it gold-plated to carry as a watch charm.

It was later thought that the tiger’s reason for attack was the fact that Wilson had been carrying a pet rat in his front pocket, with which he was going to play a trick on a friend. How the rat fared in the battle between Wilson and El Tex, the tiger, was not reported.

By Tessa Sandstrom


“Pet rat caused tiger’s attack on Bert Wilson,” Ward County Independent. Nov. 4, 1926: 16.

“Wilson is injured by Bengal tiger in Houston, TX, zoo,” Ward County Independent. Oct. 28, 1926: 1.