"The Iron Elephant"  
Analog May1986.jpg
Author Harry Turtledove
First Appearance Analog
Series A Different Flesh
Publication date May 1986
Preceded by "Around the Salt Lick"
Followed by "Though the Heavens Fall"

"The Iron Elephant" (originally published in Analog, May 1986) is the fourth story chronlogically in a A Different Flesh. The story is set in 1782 in the Federated Commonwealths of America, and chronicles a race between two trains, one drawn by hairy elephants (mammoths) and one drawn by a steam-powered engine. The story is a variation on the John Henry story.

As with the other stories, the mock excerpt that opens the story reveals a fair amount of this timeline's history. The railroad system came about much earlier because mammoths were used as beasts of burden. Naturally, this technology has pushed other technologies forward, most notably the steam-engine.

The story appears to be set in what would be the state of Illinois, although that name (an Algonquian word) is never used, as no Native American languages ever existed in this timeline. (For the same reason, the Mississippi River becomes the "New Nile".) It is unclear if this is part of a larger Virginia, or a separate commonwealth.

The story is interesting in that it features some inconsistencies with what has been chronicled in the collection. The central character, Prem Chand, reflects that the Federated Commonwealths have been independent for a generation in 1782, suggesting that they'd become independent in the 1760s. However, in subsequent stories, we learn that the Federated Commonwealths became independent in 1738.

Another interesting twist is the presence of inventor Richard Trevithick, who shares a name and field of expertise with a historical person who was very important to development of the steam-power. In OTL, Trevithick was a child in 1782. Moreover, Trevithick was born and raised in the United Kingdom, whereas in this story he is from Plymouth Commonwealth, i.e. Massachusetts. Admittedly, the course of events in England were dramatically different in this timeline, which probably accounts for this change to the Trevithick family's genetics and migrations.