Gored to death
An avid promoter of western Kansas, H. Bull established a 10-acre elk sanctuary of sorts near his town, said local resident Homer Smuck, also one of Alton's ministers.
"He was a really community-minded man," Smuck said. "He was interested in growing his town and was doing anything he could to make it an attractive place for people to move."
The sanctuary, as Smuck put it, was sort of an early zoo where Bull kept tamed wild animals like elk, buffalo and antelope - all inside a tall, white picket fence.
Rothenberger said the male elk was a special pet that Bull had raised by hand. It was a favorite of the children who loved to hand-feed it.
But everything changed on Oct. 12, 1879.
On that day, hired man Robert Bricknell went to care for the animals when he noticed the male elk was hostile and seemed unusual in appearance. He informed Bull, who said he could subdue the animal.
The elk, which was in rut, charged at the men, striking Bull and knocking him down. He then drew back and made a second attack on Bull, with one of his antlers piercing Bull through the breast. The elk then tossed him into the air and threw him over his head before turning to attack Bricknell.
George Nicholas witnessed the attack and tried to fight the elk with a heavy club.
However, the elk caught the club in its antlers, making indentions in it and rolling it on the ground with great force, according to Rothenberger.
A third man, William Sherman, also tried to help but was tossed over the fence.
"Mrs. Bull was meanwhile a horrified spectator of the terrible tragedy and, wild with grief and terror, ran to the village crying for help," the Osborne County Farmer, reported Oct. 16, 1879.
Bull, Nicholas and Bricknell all died, Rothenberger said. The elk was caught and tied by a couple of ropes to a tree. Mrs. Bull at first didn't want it killed, noting it was an expensive animal worth at least $500.
However, Rothenberger said, once she had calmed down, several men later took the elk and killed him.
The news was reported across the nation. The Osborne County Farmer on Oct. 13, 1879, reported it as an "awful tragedy."
"Gen H.C. Bull, our Honored Representative, gored to death by his pet elk," the headline read.
In 1885, a Mrs. Clark from Alton, Ill., decided Bull City needed a name change, telling residents such a name was vulgar and no one would want to move to such a city. Residents, loyal to their former leader, weren't supportive.
Clark took matters into her own hands. The names were cut off a road petition and pasted to a change-of-name petition, which was sent to the U.S. Postal Service. Soon, the city was notified its post office was Alton.
It didn't go over well, according to a story by Kansas historian Leo Oliva. Some offered to move their businesses and residences to a new town in Rooks County if the town would be named Bull City.
It was instead named Woodston after a Stockton businessman who offered to donate $500 to a school if the town was named for him, Oliva wrote.