Wabash Legends and Folklore
Modoc-The Story of an Elephant
*An advertisement in the Wabash Plain Dealer on November 12, 1942 read: "Two performances, a matinee at 3:30 o'clock and an evening program at 8 o'clock will be given by the Great American Circus at the Wabash Senior High School gymnasium Wednesday. This is the sixth year the circus has played Wabash for the benefit of the local school fund. Company leaders, however, point out this may be the last appearance of the outfit in this city for the duration of the war, because of tightening restrictions. Tickets may by obtained at Teel's Drug Store and Central Cut Rate Drug Store, or at the door."
Yes, the "most thrilling, most colorful" Great American Circus was coming to Wabash. On Armistice Day, November 11, 1942, one year after the United States entered World War II, Lyman Keyes was bringing animal acts to Wabash. The main attractions, which were being kept on the Terrell Jacobs' farm south of Peru, Indiana, were three elephants: Judy, Empress, and Modoc.
The big day finally came. People poured into the High School gymnasium. While the three elephants were tied to some posts at the north side of the building, the people waited patiently. Something happened, though, that Lyman did not expect. A group of barking dogs ran between the elephants' legs and made them very upset. I can imagine how horrified some of the onlookers were when all of a sudden, the trio jerked the stakes from the ground and started to run away. Garl Small's lawn was the first to be trampled by the three elephants.
Judy and Empress managed to stay together, but Modoc wandered away. Mrs. H.W. Reed, 142 Stitt Street was innocently entertaining some friends. She heard a commotion in her basement. She opened the door to see ...elephants! Judy and Empress had hot air pipes from the furnace scattered all over the floor. Mrs. Reed ran to the phone to call the police who rounded up the "dynamic duo," but Modoc was nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile in downtown Wabash, Mrs. Chauncey Kessler had just finished work and decided to stop at the corner drug store, Bradley Brothers, to have a snack. When she turned to enter the store, she saw something coming from the Telephone Company! An elephant? Mrs. Kessler was wearing a striped muskrat coat, and Modoc must have gotten the idea that Mrs. Kessler was a strange animal. Modoc started after her! "I read somewhere that elephants go in a straight line, so I ran for cover when I saw Modoc coming towards me." Modoc went by the store and must have smelled the peanuts, because she forced herself through the forty-two inch wide door. The clerk, Helen Myers, was flabbergasted. "I thought, 'My gosh, who's pulling a crazy stunt like that?' when I looked up and saw an elephant's face looking in the door." Modoc poked at the nut counter with her trunk, She also knocked over tables and chairs. Mrs Kessler was hiding behind the soda fountain. Modoc pushed the fountain twelve feet away from its base and picked up Mrs. Kessler with her trunk. She laid her on the floor and rolled her around and Mrs. Kessler blacked out. The next thing she realized, she was being examined by a nurse. As a result, her coat was mutilated, she had cuts on her chin and scalp, and ever since the experience, she has had a terrible nervous condition.
Modoc had had enough excitement at Bradley's. She squeezed through the back door, taking the frame of the door with her. As she walked on to Market Street, she sneaked up behind the unexpectant Ezra LaSalle and pushed him off the sidewalk. Deputy Sheriff Homer Williams said: "I saw Ezra LaSalle immediately after the elephant had brushed him aside and his eyes were big as doorknobs." Mr. LaSalle needed to recover from a hurt ankle, and he complained of side pains.
The crowds in town saw Modoc, but they thought she was some kind of circus stunt. As Modoc went by the Union Cigar Store, a man who had been drinking said: "That's my last drink!" Modoc then went along Market Street to the old vacant Country Club property and onto the north of Wabash. Later that evening on Highway 13, a ten year-old boy Zeke (Maurice) Goff was playing in his barnlot. The elephant came in. Zeke could hardly believe his eyes. He ran to the barn and tried to convince his father, who was milking cows, that an elephant was on their property, but his dad did not believe him. Zeke pleaded until his father took a look. There WAS an elephant in the barnlot!
Modoc did not stop. She went toward Lagro. Search parties were scattered in the fields and along the road. The following is a conversation that took place between a female passerby and a searcher on Highway 24:
"What's going on?" "There's an elephant loose in the fields", volunteered one of the watchers. "All right, smart aleck, if you don't want to tell me, you don't have to," she replied indignantly.
Many people felt that Modoc should be shot, but Jacobs, the owner, claimed she was worth more than five thousand dollars alive. He already was afraid she would catch pneumonia by crossing the river, because the November air was very chilly. Early Thursday morning, many farmers called the Police Station. The elephant had frightened their livestock and broken their fences. The news of Modoc was front page news from the Atlantic to the Pacific, even men at sea heard the story. On the second day of the chase, a bulletin was placed on the front page of the Wabash Plain Dealer:
State police and local authorities set up a blockade of a mile square about three miles east of Wabash in preparation for another effort to recapture "Modoc", fugitive female elephant. The chase was suspended for several hours to allow "Modoc", who was resting in a thicket along the Salamonie River on the Jake Schmalzried farm, to quiet down before owner Terrell Jacobs approached her. A cordon of officers was thrown around the area to prevent anyone else from entering and disturbing the weary and frightened "Modoc".
After the searchers had let Modoc rest, two men tried to catch her by putting an animal hook through her ear; but she became angry and flung them into the river. On Friday morning, which was the third day of the safari, Roy Bare reported that an elephant was in his garden. Sheriff Vear Howell was relieved when Modoc crossed the county line into Huntington County. At that time, Governor Henry F. Shricker had a speaking engagement at Manchester College, and he wanted to "look over" the situation. Even though this "situation" was very serious, it did seem comical. The Sheriff of Huntington County, Marvin Idle, said: "This is a heck of a place for a Democratic Governor to be chasing a Republican elephant." When Modoc was on the Glenn Burnett farm close to the junction of Highways 124 and 105, Jacobs decided to try to capture her by using the other two elephants, but too many spectators scared her away. Jacobs claimed that the elephant was harmless, but Modoc almost caused a fatality. That Friday, Modoc was on the Roscoe McDaniels' farm nine miles south of Andrews. Thirty-eight year old Kenneth Kindley tried to help capture the huge, one thousand-nine-hundred pound creature. Modoc struck Kindley with her truck and sat on him. As soon as the party could get to Kindley, they rushed him to the hospital. The doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of surviving. Modoc still did not stop. She went to Monument City. When Harvey Gass, owner of the store at the junction, heard that the animal was coming, he closed his store. By Saturday, Modoc had at least crossed the river five times and was now at the Claude Krieg farm. This is the place she stayed until her capture. On Sunday, the last day of the rampage Krieg said: "She came within twenty feet of the house during the night. We didn't get much sleep, I can tell you."
From South Carolina came a six-foot, seven-inch Negro called Corona (Corrine). His real name was Ezra Smith, and he had heard about the big chase. He had worked with a circus and talked elephant "mumbo jumbo", so he felt that he could help. He spoke to Modoc and held out loaves of bread to her; it took ten loaves to lure her into a truck. At 6:10 p.m. when she was finally in captivity, she gobbled down twenty more loaves and drank thirty gallons of water. Then, Jacobs gave her six quarts of whiskey to clear up her cold. When they took her back to Peru, she ate hour after hour; after all, she had lost eight-hundred pounds during her five-day rampage.
What excitement for Wabash County! As a result, there were several law suits that dragged on for years with nothing definite ever being settled. Meanwhile, by Christmas, Modoc had gained back eight-hundred pounds, and she seemed to be content. Quoting her owner: "Modoc is contented and glad to be back with the other girls. It's nice to see her become a nice fat girl again."
*The above story was taken from a pamphlet: "Mighty Modoc on the Loose" written by Phyllis Cramer a senior English student of Mrs. E.K. Jones at Wabash High School and was published by the Wabash County Historical Society in 1971.