The Circle G Ranch was a magical place for Donna Presley - and still is.
She spent many days on horseback riding all over the grounds, having cookouts at night, and picnics by the lake with her famous cousin, Elvis Presley.
Although Elvis’s other home, Graceland, is more famous, from February 1967 until December 1969, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll spent his weekends relaxing at the Circle G Ranch located at the corner of Goodman Road and Highway 301 in Horn Lake.
The ranch was only ten miles from Graceland, but Presley said Elvis used it as a sanctuary to get away from the pressures of being constantly in the spotlight, where he could enjoy the outdoors and spend time with friends and family.
“You can imagine being Elvis Presley and how hard it was just to do regular things,” Presley said. “They would ride horses and have cookouts, fish at the pond, and just do all kinds of regular fun things that normal people get to do.”
Last week, a historical marker was erected at the site to commemorate Elvis’s time at the Circle G. The sign was paid for by The Circle G Foundation, a non-profit organization made up of devoted Elvis fans from around the word, and is the first Mississippi state historical marker ever sponsored internationally.
Presley, who now lives in Wynne, Arkansas, said the recognition of Circle G is long overdue.
“It’s a beautiful marker, really a long time coming,” Presley said. “Elvis and the Circle G is definitely a part of the history of Horn Lake. It was a place that he loved. So for me, to see the sign is really wonderful.”
Elvis was driving back from a late night horse buying excursion with Priscilla, Jerry Schilling and his girlfriend, Sandy, and Alan Fortas, when he noticed a 55-foot illuminated cross overlooking a 14-acre lake.
He instructed Fortas to pull over and knock on the door of the small red brick cottage and make the owner an offer to buy the place. Elvis acquired the house, cattle, farm equipment, and 150 acres of rolling pasture for $437,000, using Graceland as collateral.
“It’s such a beautiful, serene, and peaceful place,” Presley said. “That’s what drew Elvis to it.”
Elvis then went on a buying spree, acquiring horses for everyone, riding gear, tractors, more cattle, and a fleet of pick up trucks with the Circle G logo, plus trailer homes for his Memphis Mafia friends.
“If he was going to do something, everyone was going to do it,” Presley said. “So everybody had to have their own horse, their own motorcycle, their own El Camino.”
Elvis and Priscilla spent part of their honeymoon in the small cottage at the ranch following their wedding in Las Vegas. Presley said she remembers the cottage as being very modest for someone as famous as Elvis, but very comfortable.
“It was like something out of House & Garden,” Presley said. “It was just adorable. It’s not a big place, but it was decorated so beautifully. It was a gorgeous home.”
Presley and her parents and sister moved into a trailer at the Circle G in March 1967. Her mother, Nash, was Vernon Presley’s sister. Her father, Earl Pritchett, served as the ranch foreman and later as groundskeeper at Graceland.
“I was 17 at the time,” Presley said. “We would see them any time they were there. And I could have friends over from school. It was a magical time. It was a great place to live.”
Presley said Elvis was very laid back and loved staying at the ranch, where he was surrounded by family and close friends. He bought eight trailers where his entourage stayed and spent peaceful days and nights riding horses, target shooting, frog hunting, and indulging in other fun.
Even though he and Prisicilla stayed at the cottage, Presley said Elvis later added a 60-foot, two-bedroom trailer for himself and Priscilla and would have cookouts around a brick barbecue pit which had his initials “EP” that was a present from the guys.
“He thought living in a mobile home was the coolest thing because it was a house on wheels,” Presley said. “So of course he had to have one and had it decorated for Priscilla.”
Elvis lost his wedding band while racing horses near a fenced area that had some bumpy terrain. He tied the ring onto a handkerchief around his neck which came loose and was never found despite everyone searching on their hands and knees.
By 1968, the ranch became a financial burden, and as Elvis became busier with movies, visits to the Circle G became fewer and fewer. The ranch was sold in 1969 for $440,000.
“I lived there from 1967 until he sold it,” Presley said. “Then when he sold it, my family and I moved on to the grounds at Graceland. My dad basically oversaw the grounds there and did any work that needed to be done at Graceland. I lived there until I married, and my parents lived there for a number of years after Elvis’s death.”
In the ensuing years, the property was used as a cattle ranch, Mexican restaurant, shooting club, and a flower shop inside the honeymoon cottage. It was purchased in 2012 by a group of investors who plan to restore the buildings and grounds and add an amphitheater and places for visitors to stay for music-related cultural events. And in a nod to Elvis’s Jewish heritage, the site will also include the Unknown Child Memorial, which commemorates the loss of millions of Jewish children during the Holocaust.
Presley said she would love to see the Circle G restored to its former glory for the public to enjoy and see another side of Elvis.
“I think it would be great if someone built that back up to the beautiful place that it is for fans from all over the world to see,” Presley said. “Maybe an amusement park or something along those lines, because Elvis liked to have fun and enjoy life. And he wanted everyone to enjoy life along with him.”