WABASH, Ind. (WANE) — When traveling across northeast Indiana, people can expect to see a variety of animals including deer, raccoons and squirrels.
However, for five days in November 1942, residents possibly could have spotted an elephant roaming fields across Wabash and Huntington counties.
Nov. 11 marks the 81-year anniversary of Modoc the Elephant, an Indian elephant with the Great American Circus, getting loose and evading circus workers and police officers for five days before eventually being tracked down.
The bizarre sequence of events started in Wabash, where the Great American Circus planned to perform at Wabash High School for a Veterans Day fundraiser, which was known at the time as Armistice Day.
During the show, Modoc and two other elephants waited outside for their turn to perform, but when dogs started barking at the elephants, the pachyderms broke free from their restraints.
Although the other two elephants did not wander far from the traveling troupe, Modoc instead made his way to downtown Wabash and ransacked a drugstore for peanuts.
Chauncey Kessler, a resident who came face-to-face with Modoc while inside the drugstore, spoke with the Wabash Plain Dealer about her encounter in 1942.
“I read someplace that elephants go in a straight line, so I ran for cover when I saw Modoc coming toward me,” Kessler said.
Modoc then led circus trainers, police officers and former Indiana Gov. Henry Shricker on a five-day chase where Modoc crossed over the Wabash River and numerous farm plots before ending up in Huntington County.
Eventually, a circus trainer named Ezra “Corona” Smith succeeded in luring Modoc into a trailer using loaves of bread as bait, putting an end to the saga.
Terrell Jacobs, a Peru, Indiana native who worked with the Great American Circus as an animal trainer, calmed down Modoc with six quarts of whiskey, which Modoc chased down with 30 gallons of water and plenty of food.
In the five days Modoc spent running across northeast Indiana, the elephant lost 800 pounds.
According to another news article from 1942, Modoc had not been vicious toward anyone, but the elephant’s actions did leave Kessler with multiple bruises and cuts.
Kenneth Kindley, a farmer who tried to track down Modoc in Huntington County, suffered a fractured neck, a “severe” cut on the back of his head and paralysis in his arms and one leg after the elephant sat on him.
In the aftermath, people filed multiple lawsuits seeking money for damages due to Modoc’s actions, and Jacobs’ wife even filed a divorce petition seeking custody of Modoc, according to contemporary newspaper articles.
Although it has been over 80 years since a single elephant became the center of attention in Wabash, Modoc’s story still has a notable presence in the city.
The location of the drugstore is now home to Modoc’s Market, a coffee shop that pays homage to Modoc’s legacy while also telling the history of the elusive elephant.
Most of the history of Modoc can be found through old newspaper articles and Mike Beauchamp, the co-owner of Modoc’s Market and someone described by the Wabash County Museum as the “preeminent expert” on Modoc and Jacobs.
For the 75th anniversary of Modoc’s escape, Beauchamp and the Wabash County Museum collaborated on a 15-minute video detailing the life of Jacobs and the events surrounding Modoc’s escape, which can be viewed below.
Wabash County Museum and Mike Beauchamp present the history of Terrell Jacobs and Modoc the Elephant
According to Beauchamp and the Wabash County Museum, the series of events garnered national attention, with The New York Times and the San Francisco Examiner reporting on Modoc.
The video, along with photos and other artifacts of Modoc’s antics, can be found at the Wabash County Museum at 36 E. Market St. in downtown Wabash.