It was Sunday February 17th, 1907, and following days of publicity and advertising, a huge crowd of San Antonio spectators turned up to “Electric Park” to witness “The Great Carver” show.

Photo: San Antonio Daily Light

“Electric Park” was an amusement and baseball park on what is now the VIA Maintenance facilities on the corner of W. Myrtle and N. Flores Streets, just near San Pedro Park.

Photo: UTSA Digital Collections

Photo: Map of “Electric Park, San Antonio…

The “Diving Horse” show was staged by “Doc” Carver, who had earned a reputation for his touring Wild West shows in the 1880’s with Buffalo Bill Cody. However, they had a falling out, went their separate ways, and remained bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.


William “Doc” Carver earned his nickname after earlier becoming a dentist, and had since become a very accomplished marksman. Following the Cody breakup, “Doc” Carver created another touring show featuring his shooting exhibitions and a number of trained performing animals. The act that gained the most attention, and notoriety, was the diving horse performance, and Doc Carver’s “Diving Horse Show” had now come to San Antonio for a one month season.

In the show, a rider would lead a horse up a ramp to the top of scaffolding. Forty feet below was a 14’ deep pool of water. Once the rider and the horse reached the top of the tower, the rider would climb onto the horse and then position the animal on a platform.

On command, the platform would be lowered, and the horse and rider would “dive” into the pool below.

Photo: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Photo: Pinterest

The Sunday before, February 10th, the grandstand at “Electric Park” was filled to overflowing, and the program of events delighted the crowd. There were bucking horses with riders hanging on grimly to win prizes, Carver’s rifle shooting exhibition, and a fox terrier who stunned everyone by climbing the tower that the horses used, and then plunging into the pool below.  Of course the diving horses were the main attraction.

February 17th, 1907 was a hot day in San Antonio with the temperature nudging 85 degrees. This did not deter the throngs who turned up to the park after all the hype and publicity from the previous weekend, paying 50 cents for a ticket ( today this is about $15.00 ).

The two and a half hour show began with “Doc” Carver showing off his marksman skills. This was followed by the bucking horses with names like “Sunflower,” “Man Eater,” “Little Cupid,” and “Funeral Wagon”. There was also “Bossie,” a bucking cow, and that day it was ridden by 19 year old Oscar Smith, a native of Colorado. You can see his name in the newspaper advertisement above. “Doc” Carver was very proud to have young Oscar in the troupe, and often referred to him as the “Champion Boy Rider of the World.”

The audience was then treated to Billy Robbins together with his high-diving fox terrier, and applauded loudly as the little dog took the plunge from the top of the high tower.

But the crowd had come to see the diving horses. Three horses had already plunged successfully into the pool below, when 19-year-old Oscar Smith took “Little Powder Face” to the platform at the top of the tower. Oscar was a promising up-and-comer in this field of entertainment, and this day, he was making his first dive in San Antonio, filling in for “The Girl in Red,” Lorena Lawrence, who was “indisposed.”

Upon reaching the top of the tower, Oscar saluted the crowd before taking the leap. According to eye witnesses, the horse then “made a beautiful dive” and the crowd cheered as the horse and rider hit the water and plunged into the pool. However, their cheers turned to gasps of horror as the horse came to the surface without any sign of young Oscar Smith.

Men jumped into the pool and brought up Oscar’s lifeless body. When he was brought from the pool, upon examination, a large bruise was found over his left eye. It was assumed that the injury had been caused by a kick from the horse. However, “Doc” Carver maintained that it was impossible for the horse to have struck him, and he claimed that Oscar Smith had died of a heart attack in the air while plunging into the pool.

There was an “investigation” into the tragedy, and both “Doc” Carver and a doctor gave their differing opinions. Carver stuck to the theory of heart failure; however, the doctor had a different diagnosis.

Photo: San Antonio Daily Light

There is no record of the results of an autopsy. “Doc” Carver arranged for Oscar’s body to be transported back to his auntie and sister in Glenwood, Colorado, and amazingly, the show went on within days, without any reference to the tragedy from the weekend before.

Photo: San Antonio Daily Light

Over the years there were reports of other divers sustaining injuries like broken limbs and even blindness; however, Oscar Smith is the only known casualty of the Carver “Diving Horses” Show.

Photo: Oscar Smith’s grave in Colorado…Find a Grave

Additional stories:

  • Oscar Smith had met President Roosevelt in Colorado before joining the Carver show. The photographer who snapped the last photo of Oscar Smith as he plunged towards the pool, and which had appeared on the front page of the sold out newspaper the next day, sent a copy of the photo to the President.

Photo: San Antonio Daily Light

  • The newspaper was very grateful to their readers for buying volumes of the edition about the tragedy.

Photo: San Antonio Daily Light

“Memories of San Antonio” has chosen not to publish the photo of young Oscar Smith in the death plunge.

Sources: Mike Cox

“The Last Diving Horse In America”  Cynthia A. Branigan

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