No one knew it at the time, but a group of barking dogs and three elephants brought nationwide attention to Wabash County in November 11, 1942. For it was on that day that the Great American Circus came to Wabash to stage a fundraising event for Wabash High School. Among the acts in the circus was famed animal trainer Terrell Jacobs and his three Indian elephants, Empress, Judy and Modoc. The animals were tethered outside the big top when barking dogs spooked the animals, causing them to break free and begin what would be a five-day
rampage through Wabash and Huntington counties.
Judy and Empress wandered the nearby neighborhood, but Modoc bolted toward the downtown area. As the 12-year-old giant elephant strolled downtown, it startled those who were tending to their daily routines in the business district. As Modoc neared the Bradley Brothers Drug Store, a patron opened the door, and the scent of
roasting peanuts soon attracted the 1,900-pound beast.
Michael Beauchamp co-owns Modoc’s Market with his wife Angie. The now coffee shop is located in the former Bradley Brothers Drug Store. Beauchamp has researched the life of Jacobs and the story of Modoc. He even
impersonates Jacobs, complete in animal tamer uniform, telling the tale of Modoc to area groups.
According to coffee shop’s webpage, Modoc “chased Chauncey Kessler, who wore a long muskrat coat, through the 42-inch door on Miami Street and using her long trunk rolled Mrs. Kessler onto the floor, all the while flabbergasting pharmacy clerk Helen Myers into shear fright behind the soda fountain.
“Modoc knocked over the peanut roaster and scared up her fill of the little shelled delicacies, and then bidding adieu, she smashed through the back door, frame and all, of the New Bradley Building onto Market Street.”
The elephant stopped at a business across the street, the Union Cigar Store, but then continued on down the street. Today, the Market Street Grill is located in the former cigar store.
While Judy and Empress were quickly caught by circus personnel, Modoc managed to evade captors for five days. The animal wandered through Wabash and Huntington counties, reportedly crossing the Wabash River five times.
A posse made up of circus officials, Wabash Police, and the sheriff’s departments from Wabash and Huntington counties hunted for Modoc over those five days. Meanwhile, the adventure attracted headlines in not only the local newspaper, the Wabash Plain Dealer, but in newspapers far and wide across the country. It even drew the attention of Indiana Gov. Henry F. Shricker, who joined the posse and tried to capture Modoc as she rambled across the countryside.
Modoc was eventually captured thanks to the services of “Corona” Ezra Smith, a circus trainer from the Carolinas. According to the Modoc’s Market webpage, “Smith finally lured Modoc onto her trailer chanting his elephant ‘mumbo jumbo’ and dispensing twenty-six loaves of bread like doggie treats.”
Jacobs reportedly treated the elephant’s nerves and a cold it had caught during her adventure with six quarts of whiskey. It also drank about thirty gallons of water and ate continuously throughout the night in an effort to gain back the 800-plus pounds it lost on its journey.
Known as “The Lion King,” Jacobs was born in Grant County and worked for 16 different circuses over his 40-year career, including the Ringing Brothers – Barnum and Bailey Circus. He also owned his own circus for a point. Jacobs died on Dec. 24, 1958, at his home in Twelve Mile, Ind. He is buried in Wabash’s Falls Cemetery.
–Story: Joseph Slacian
–Photo: Wabash Plain Dealer