I Have Seen the Elephant
In the middle of the 19th century, the popular phrase "I have seen the elephant" referred to overcoming the adversities and hardships in one's life. A fable revolved around a farmer who heard that the circus was coming to town. He had never seen an elephant, and headed to town with his produce to see the elephant. One the road, he encountered the elephant. Unfortunately, the farmer's horse had never seen an elephant, either. The horse spooked, upset the cart, and ran off, destroying the farmer's produce. Even so, the farmer declared "I don't care, for I have seen the elephant."
Most immigrants rushing to California by land or by sea had seen the elephant, "from the tip of his trunk to the end of his tail" by the time they arrived in California. For any who hadn't, two or three weeks in California were certain to bring on the vision.
Image: Seeing the Elephant, Collection of California Historical Society