The Runaways

No, that isn’t me. And no, that isn’t my pet elephant.

On the other hand, it could have been me and it could have been my elephant, or so I imagined as a toddler when a serious infatuation with Dumbo led me to run off to join the circus. I’d forgotten that sudden childhood impulse until I came across the story of Lilly and Isa, a pair of  elephants who traveled years ago with the Carson & Barnes Circus.

I first heard of Lilly and Isa when I visited the circus’s winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma.  As young elephants, they became famous for running away from the circus, not toward it.  Still, there were similarities in our experience. Neither of us had a clear destination in mind when we decided to make a break for it, and neither of us had a real plan. We simply saw our chance and took it, hot-footing it down the road for all we were worth, determined to outrun our pursuers and evade capture. Lilly and Isa were more successful when it came to long-term evasion, but by the time it was over I suspect all three of us had decided that one escapade was enough.

On the day I effected my own escape, I was very young – old enough to outrun some adults but too young to be in school – and my memory of the day is no more than a few disconnected images – turning to taunt my mother, giggling at her frustration when she finally caught up with me, heaving clods of dirt from atop a construction-site fortress. I’m told there were tears and a bit of a pout after Mother marched me home and applied a few whacks to my bottom, but I don’t believe it. If there had been tears I surely would remember them. Today, only the giggles remain.

What I remember best is going as a family to our little theater on the town square and watching the Sunday matinee showing of Dumbo. Somehow, I came to believe that he and his circus were camped in our town, and I was determined to find them.

On Monday, while my less-than-usually-attentive mother busied herself at the clothesline, I wandered away from my sandbox to stand on the sidewalk and gaze toward the end of the block. “Where are you going?” she asked. I don’t remember answering, but many years later she told me I said, “Go see Dumbo”. By the time she looked up, I was in front of the neighbor’s house, heading east, and the chase was on.

I ran around the block, my route constrained by my knowledge that I never, ever was to cross the street. It took some time for my mother to catch up with me, constrained as she was by her own belief that a flat-out run would be unladylike. By the time we confronted each other, I was on top of a pile of dirt left over from a basement dig in the lot next to us and I was flinging clods of dirt with the enthusiasm of a pitcher who sees a scout in the crowd.

“What in the world’s gotten into you?” she said. At that point, the sheer audacity of throwing dirt at my mother began to overshadow my enthusiasm. “Get down here. Now!” I climbed down off the hill and the event was over. 

At the supper table that evening, Daddy asked how the day had been.  When I didn’t answer, he cast a quizzical eye at my mother. “Oh, Linda ran away to join the circus and find Dumbo, and ended up next door throwing dirt at me. But I don’t think she’s going to do that any more.”  They both turned to look at me. I said not a word, but shook my head, “No”.  I wasn’t going to do that again.

Isa and Lilly received their own version of a smack on the behind at the end of their great adventure.  Whether this is Lilly or Isa I can’t say, but she certainly isn’t dead. She’s only having a little well-deserved nap, compliments of the tranquilizer dart that interrupted her flight. At this point, she’d confounded Oklahoma authorities for nearly three weeks, and her friend still was roaming the countryside.

The saga of Lilly and Isa began in Hugo on the very day Wade Burck arrived back at winter quarters with the elephants in tow.  Writing in his blog, The Circus No-Spin-Zone, Wade tells what happened next.

“When we arrived in Oklahoma to water and off load the equipment that had been put in the truck to be returned to winter quarters, Isa and Lilly had pulled so hard on their chains they were “locked” through the ring and I couldn’t get them out. I off-loaded the other three [elephants] and put them on the picket line that had been strung between two semi tractors and took the chains off of Isa and Lilly and brought them out.
As I was putting new leg chains on them there was a loud crashing and banging as [workers] threw some tent poles out of the truck. The three elephants on the picket line screamed and lunged forward, jerking the bumpers off the two tractors the chain was attached to. The picket chain hit me in the back of the legs and knocked me down and in an instant it was “off to the races,” two elephants loose and three on the back leg chain dragging the bumpers, with me in hot pursuit.
We ran for about a half a mile and as they were running down a hill, one of the elephants on the picket line (Margaret) fell, and I was able to grab a bumper and a bit of chain and wrap it around a tree, securing them. As I rolled over and got back to my knees I looked up just in time to see Isa and Lilly’s butts as they went down a ditch, through a barb wire fence and across the interstate. That was the last time I saw either one of them, until about 15 years later, when they were all grown up.”

A few other people saw Isa and Lilly sprint off. One was truck driver Dixie Loter, a woman who’d made a career of driving elephants around for the fellow she always referred to as “Mr. Miller”.  D. R. Miller happened to be the owner of the circus and its elephants, each of which was valued at about $10,000.  Needless to say, he wanted his elephants back.

No one outside Hugo thought finding a couple of young elephants in the brush around Hugo Lake was going to be much of a problem. The locals knew better. With over a hundred miles of shoreline and acres of bottomland hardwood, the old hickory forest was thick and dense. As a member of the Corps of Engineers said at the time, “You could miss someone, even an elephant, standing 25 feet away.” Beyond that, the area contained enough poison oak, bois d’arc, copperheads and water moccasins to make searching difficult.

After a few days, Isa and Lilly still were missing and the Hugo Daily News announced a reward of $150 for anyone spotting the runaways. At that point, the town was overrun by folks who imagined finding a pair of elephants in Oklahoma would be easy money.

Perhaps to get away from the crowds, the Sheriff and his posse changed tactics and began following a trail that turned north off Highway 70, then west. Crossing Dry Creek, they saw elephant droppings, a trampled barbed-wire fence, signs of wallowing and trees that had been rubbed clean of bark. Greatly cheered by their discoveries, the sheriff intensified the search, but the elephants seemed to have vanished without a trace.

Throughout the process, experts of every stripe weighed in, and opinions on what was happening varied widely. Veteran animal trainer Bob Jenni, interviewed by The Daily Oklahoman a week or so after the elephants took off, said, “Like children lost in the woods, they would undoubtedly wander around and play at first before they realized they were lost. And then they probably would trumpet from a profound loneliness and insecurity.” On the other hand, Jenni admitted, they might not. “If left to themselves, they might not make any noise at all.” 

Just when it seemed the town of Hugo would have to make do with a surfeit of elephant jokes rather than an elephant homecoming, the long hunt came to an end. After eighteen days of freedom, the girls were found and escorted back to their tent. They appeared to be unscathed, but keepers who were watching noted they seemed happier than usual with their canteloupes and sweet hay.

After visiting Hugo, hearing the story of Lilly and Isa and following the progress of retired elephants Rosie and Opal as they traveled to Maine for rehabilitation and care, I’d been determined to go back to Hugo to see the circus’s end-of-season performance.

Much to my surprise, a sign appeared in the window of a local restaurant in early April, announcing that the Carson & Barnes Circus would be performing in San Leon, a little bayside town only fifteen miles away.  There would be no need for me to travel to see the circus. In one of those remarkable mountain-to-Mahoumet moments that make life interesting, the circus was coming to me.

I bought tickets online, then spent some time exploring the Carson & Barnes website. I was intrigued by aerialist Franchesca Cavallini, a young woman intent on pursuing a singing career in addition to her work with the circus. Her signature song, I Am The Circus, is part of every performance. I was pleased to see profits from her CDs being used to help support elephants through the Endangered Ark Foundation, but I was astonished to discover her circus performances of the song are done in the company of her favorite elephant – an elephant who just happens to be named Isa.

For days, I piled up questions, my eagerness to see the performance suddenly eclipsed by my desire to meet Isa. Could she be my young runaway, all grown up? Was she a daughter of the younger Isa I read about in the paper?  If not, why were there two Isas? And was Lilly with her?

On the day of the performance, it wasn’t hard to find Isa. She was with her keeper and trainer in her own fenced-off area, happily munching on hay. Threading my way through the small crowd, I came up to the fence and asked the fellow, “Is that Isa?”  He allowed as it was. “Is she the same Isa who ran away with Lilly back in the 70’s?” That got his attention. “You know about that?”

I explained that I’d been to Hugo and had heard some old stories, including the one about the Great Escape. He laughed, then told me the younger Isa had retired, and the elephant currently named Isa is no relation. In fact, the majority of Asian elephants in the Carson & Barnes circus are named after circus family members. When D.R. Miller purchased a string of baby Asian elephants from India, the first was named after his wife, Isla Marie. The rest were named after her sisters: Isa, Margaret, Viola, Alta, Lilly and Opal. An exception was made for the latest baby, who was named, appropriately enough, Hugo.

Completely entranced, I stood looking at Isa, a bit of circus history on the hoof. She seemed perfectly placid, perfectly at ease. Her trunk swung gently over the pile of fresh hay in front of her as she shifted her weight just slightly from one foot to another.

“You’ve got awfully tiny eyes,” I said. She turned at the sound of my voice and gave me the once-over. “You know they twinkle, don’t you?” She raised her trunk in assent. “You know, Isa,” I said, “I think you and I could go places”. 

I swear I saw her smile.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And please – no ReBlogging. Thanks!.
For more on Hugo, elephants and the Endangered Ark Foundation, click to read my previous post, “Victor, Hugo & the Elephants”

95 thoughts on “The Runaways

  1. Oh my gosh, how delightful! I’ve been in the worst temper today and your wonderful story made me smile in spite of myself. I, too, have an elephant story and somewhere, lost in the shoe box, was a photo of my older brother and me sitting atop that elephant when it came to town one day! How in the world my mother ever decided to let us do that is beyond me. I wish I had asked her before she left this earth! Loved, loved, loved this story, Linda!!!

    1. Bayou Woman,

      It was fun watching the kids have their elephant rides at this circus – and big people, too. What fun that must have been for you and your brother.

      I’ve known some people who used to go down to the train station here in Houston when the circus came to town, to watch them unload the animals and equipment. As I recall, you could get nice “organic material” for your garden after they left, too. It required a little composting, but I hear it was great for veggies!

      It just seems to be a fact of life – we’re all walking around with questions we wished we’d asked when we had the chance. Ah, well. There still are the memories.

      I’m glad to provide a smile – it certainly made me smile to remember all this!


  2. I love your story of how you ran away to meet the elephants, but your post is eclipsed for me by the fact that any circus is still using animals in its act. Sorry.

    1. Val,

      I know some people are completely opposed to animals in the circus. Others are ambivalent – even I have some questions. But there have been many changes over the past years, and Carson & Barnes has done good work on behalf of the elephants.

      If you haven’t read the post I linked to at the bottom, it gives an overview of the Endangered Ark and a new program in Maine for aging elephants. I’m hardly an expert in gene pools and breeding programs, but it’s undeniable that Carson & Barnes has had success in breeding as well as encouraging other groups to provide the best life possible for the elephants we have, including life enrichment, more spacious environments and so on.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for expressing your opinion!


    1. Zeebra,

      A friend and I were talking last night about those childhood movies – “Dumbo”, “Bambi”, “Fantasia”, “Pinocchio”. Yes, they could be scary. Yes, there was tragedy. But like Grimm’s fairy tales, they helped us cope with life rather than escape it. When I try to think of modern analogues, I can’t get much past the Harry Potter series – but I’m sure they’re out there.

      I did love Dumbo. For one thing, if I could fly on his back, I wouldn’t have to worry about all those rules about crossing the street!


      1. The only nightmare I remember having was the night after I first watched ‘the wizard of oz.’ I remember awakening with true terror and telling my mother that the witch was trying to get me!

        That was the first time I had ever witnessed ‘a bad person’, which made quite an impression on my idyllic childhood!

        Yes, we learned valuable lessons; as in red riding hood, there are wolves not only in sheeps’ clothing but also grandma’s!


        1. I can’t remember “The Wizard of Oz” ever bothering me. Maybe it’s because I was a little older when I saw it, perhaps it was because we watched it so often I practically knew the lines. Besides, we had lots of relatives in Kansas and went there often. I just knew nothing really bad could come from Kansas!

          You’re got a point, though. Those wolves are showing up everywhere these days!

  3. Oh, so sweet! My husband and I rode elephants in Thailand, through a lush forest, across a muddy river. It was a wonderful experience…there is something mystical and endearing about these animals. I think there is a children’s book lurking around inside your story!

    1. Monica,

      There certainly is a children’s book lurking here, and it was written by an Oklahoma author named Una Belle Townsend. The title is “The Great Elephant Escape”, and yes, ma’am, it’s about Isa and Lilly. You can see some photos of her, the book and the Endangered Ark in Hugo here, and a couple of clowns from Carson & Barnes for good measure!

      What an experience you had. It must have been wonderful to take a real ride on an elephant. One of my favorite travel authors, Paul Theroux, has an article about traveling by elephant in the April issue of “The Smithsonian Magazine”. It’s available online here.

      “Endearing” is a perfect word. They are marvelous creatures.


    1. kayti,

      I confess – I peeked! And I see that you’re as delighted as I am when something new lands on the doorstep. It’s one reason I enjoy blogging so much – I can move from subject to subject without apology.

      This was, in fact, my first time at a circus. I’ve been told that for a “real” circus these days it’s better to go to Vegas, but I’ll take the conversation with a fellow repairing one of the trucks over spectacle any day.

      Thank you so much for visiting, and for your gracious comments. You’re welcome any time!


      1. I remember how exciting it was when the circus came to town. All the kids roamed around the grounds and pestered the workers till they threw us out! The only “real” circus I ever went to, with big-top and all, was when I took my kids much later, and it was in a huge convention center instead of outdoors.

        1. The one thing I missed this time around was the putting up of the Big Top. The next time I get within driving distance of a circus, I’m going to be sure to see the men and the elephant work together to raise that tent!

  4. I wondered if you made it to the circus. You are so right – moms never ran back then. (Older brothers did, though…I never made it off the front porch.) I never liked the Dumbo movie – the circus elephants made me sad.

    Really enjoyed the elephants’ tales…and speaking of twinkling eyes, yes, ya’ll could!

    1. phil,

      Mom always said she would have kicked on the afterburners if it seemed I was in any real danger. What irritated her most is that I’d stop just long enough for her to almost catch up with me, and then I’d take off again. Repeat as needed, around the whole block. Clearly, I saw it as a game.

      Dumbo’s separation from his mother was sad, as were some other aspects of his treatment. On the other hand, that little mouse was quite something, and a terrific friend to Dumbo. I liked that.

      Say… you don’t suppose he was a philosophermouse, too?


        1. Speaking of mice – you’ll never guess what showed up in my search term list tonight. “Maribelle Miss Wharf Rat”. Talk about a blast from the past!

  5. What is it about the wonderful elephant? I too rode them as a child. Looked at their little eyes and equated this with stupidity… I’m the stupid one!

    1. mrscarmichael,

      Not stupid. Naive, maybe – or just inexperienced. Your comment reminded me of how easily I believed for years that birds were “just birds”, and that bird-brain was justified as a description of low intelligence.

      Then, I met a cockatiel named Nikki, and every assumption I’d made about birds was overturned. I could tell stories forever, but I’ll just mention one of his most appealing characteristics. He’d spread his wings, flap them wildly and shout, “I’m an eagle! I’m an eagle!”

      I still laugh to think about it.

      Lucky you, to have ridden an elephant, too. They are wonderful creatures, for sure.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting. You’re always welcome!


  6. I wanted to be a trapeze artist when I was a girl. There was some old movie I loved… Maybe “The Greatest Show on Earth”? In any case, the circus–elephants and all–always seemed magical to me. Entertaining and informative story, Linuda, as usual!

      1. Emily,

        I love watching the trapeze artists, but my goodness – they scare me to death! And of course in person it’s so different from watching in a flim or on tv. If you’re interested, there’s a nice clip of Francesca Cavellini’s family “at work” with Carson & Barnes here.

        As you say, it’s all entertaining, magical and breath-taking. I had to laugh – in the post I linked to (“Victor, Hugo and the Elephants”) there’s a 1952 photo of the Erie theater in Hugo, Oklahoma showing – what else? – “The Greatest Show on Earth”!

        Now that you mention it, “The Flying Linudas” does have a bit of a ring to it, doesn’t it?!


  7. Oh, I smiled at the thought of your escape plan foiled by rules about crossing streets! Loved the story of Isa and Lilly’s adventure. The elephants I’ve seen seem so placid, it’s hard to imagine them sprinting anywhere on a lark.

    1. nikkipolani,

      Isn’t that funny? However my folks did it, they successfully instilled the rules that helped keep me safe as a child, and I followed them. One I got a little older, it got more complicated, but that’s true for everyone.

      It’s funny – today there are so many people trying to enforce so many rules, and we had so few. Don’t cross the street. No snacks before dinner. Come home when the street lights come on. Don’t interrupt. Say “please” and “thank you”. What a great life it was!

      One thing I’ve learned about elephants is that they’re easily bored. There are a lot of people in the world who spend a lot of time making sure that placid exterior is happiness and not boredom. That makes me happy.


    1. Judy,

      Well, let’s face it. If we’re tempted to run away, Gramma’s isn’t the worst place to head. A couple of times after this little episode I “ran away” to our next-door neighbors. Why not? She’d give me pie and read me a story. So would Mom, of course, but it was somehow more thrilling next door.


  8. Knew you’d love this: Gregory Colbert

    Elephants are such astonishing creatures. They are so much more intelligent than we give them credit for, and so much more feeling. My heart breaks to see them chained and caged, but at the rate poaching is decimating their numbers in the wild and destroying elephant families and culture, captive elephants in zoos and circuses may be the species’ only hope.

    I didn’t run away, I gave chase, aged about three, enraged that the ice cream man in his little tue-playing truck had given me a Dixie cup when I wanted an Eskimo Pie. Hell hath no fury. I chased him three blocks. I don’t ever remember ever wanting to actually physically run away, either to or from, but I did run away into books and the worlds they opened up to me, and to a fantasy world where I could be the tomboy I was, without censure or restriction.

    Curiously enough, a very famous newspaper cartoonist worked as an animator on Dumbo, one Walt Kelly, of Pogo fame. If you can ever get your hands on any of the Pogo books, they are beautifully drawn, wonderfully whimsical, and hilariously illogical. Kelly is also noted for his razor sharp political satire. LBJ was thinly disguised as a longhorn cow (the Loan Arranger”), Spiro Agnew as a hyena, and Nixon as a spider with a tea kettle for a body. His satire of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev is as funny as it is sobering. Having cut his artistic teeth as a Disney animator, Kelly was a master of body posture and facial expression and his strips had “pizazz” in more ways than one.

    1. WOL,

      I was just speechless when I opened that link. I couldn’t stop looking and looking – such magical images of those magnificent creatures, and such a tender view of their relationship to humans. That’s art, at its best.

      From what I’ve read, zoos and circuses are getting smarter about the needs of their elephants – for space, for friendship with others of their species, for stimulation and play. People far smarter than I am are doing a lot of work with breeding, too – a difficult process but apparently necessary for the health of the gene pool.

      You are a woman after my own heart. Ice cream is worth a little extra effort, and it that means you have to run down the ice cream man, so be it. As for running away into books – it’s a fine flight for a child, and just as fine for adults.

      Pogo? Are you kidding? Pogo was running in the newspaper when I was a kid! It was a family favorite – so much so that, when Christmas rolled around, we alway added that marvelous carol to our celebration:

      “Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
      Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
      Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
      Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!”

      My mother loved that song, and would go around the house singing it over and over until my dad would say, “PLEASE! STOP!”

      We could use Kelly in these “we have met the enemy and he is us” days.


      1. I have all the Pogo books I can get my hands on, and practically have them memorized. Kelly’s widow, Selby, (inspiration for Mam’zelle Hepzibah) was reprinting the books, but they’re out of print again. Fantographics has published some of the strips, but their two volume set is a bit pricey at $70.

  9. Oh, my goodness! How funny! I can’t read the whole thing now but I’ll come back tomorrow and finish it up. What I did read was hilarious. You really ran off to find Dumbo and then threw dirt at your mama? LOL

    1. Gué,

      I spent more of my childhood than you might imagine vacillating between being the perfect child and pulling unimaginable tricks. Remember that little girl, who had the little curl…? Yep. That was me. I’ll say this – one of the most exciting things about starting school was getting to cross the street by myself!


  10. I found a penny at about that age and figured it would buy all I wanted so I started up the street. I think my older twin sisters were likely tasked with keeping an eye on me but somehow or other – maybe because I was not rebellious at all, simply on a mission in a sleepy little town where everyone knew everyone – I got to the store a few blocks away. One penny bought three “Jaw Breakers” or “Jelly Beans” in those days and I was completing my first business transaction when the sisters stormed in.

    The elephants in RSA Game Parks did not look to me like they would put up with much toting of people and in Thailand and Siem Reip we generally had a car or a motorcycle. Now I wish I had paid more attention to the elephants.

    Good for you completing the circle here. I would not be surprised if there are more circles with Isa and Lilly in them.

    1. Ken,

      Love that story, especially since I remember those days when a penny or two was all we needed for our sugar rush! And isn’t it true that quiet and sneaky purposeful can serve perfectly well? No need to announce all our plans to the world.

      Personally, I was fond of the root beer barrels (two for a nickel) and licorice whips (a penny each). I liked Necco wafers, too, but they were a dime, and usually out of reach.

      I think you’d really enjoy Paul Theroux’s article on elephant touring. I thought about having an elephant ride at the circus, but going in a circle around the paddock seemed somehow like a Sunday afternoon on Galveston Bay. It’s sailing, all right, but not the sort of thing to make the heart leap.

      There is one more little story to tell. It’s more about people than elephants, but there are elephants lurking about. I do love my elephants.


  11. What a great story, and so well told! I have always admired and respected elephants and think they could be very good friends, but I never had the chance. I can’t stand to think how they have been and are being mistreated in some places!

    1. montucky,

      It’s such a shame – everything in the world seems to have been mistreated at one time or another. Even your beloved mountains, now that I think about it. Still, people can learn, and a lot of people are learning how much beauty and joy the natural world can offer.

      If you’ve not seen Gregory Colbert’s work, take a look at these photos. Another commenter posted the link just above, and his work is absolutely stunning. I’ve never seen such photos of elephants!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. It was good fun writing it.


  12. Here’s an interesting tidbit from Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett, published in 1848:

    “TO SEE THE ELEPHANT, is a South-western phrase, and means, generally, to undergo any disappointment of high-raised expectations. It is in fact nearly or quite synonymous with the ancient ‘go out for wool and come back shorn.’ For instance, men who have volunteered for the Mexican war, expecting to reap lots of glory and enjoyment, but instead have found only sickness, fatigue, privations, and suffering, are currently said to have ‘seen the elephant.’ I do not remember having ever fallen in with a good origin for the term in this employment of it. [Inman.]” (That entry was written by John Inman, Esq., editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, and a friend of the author.)

    Indeed, it’s not clear why seeing an elephant would have disappointed people. You certainly weren’t disappointed to see yours.

    1. Steve,

      Initially, I confused this John Bartlett with that other John Bartlett – he of the quotations. In the process of sorting that out, I discovered John Russell Bartlett and I share a birthday – a fun bit of trivia.

      I’ve never come across the expression, “to see the elephant”. It’s really quite colorful, and makes me think that the “Dictionary of Americanisms” would be nice to have around. I suspect it’s as much fun to “just read” as to use as a reference book.

      There was a little surprise tucked into the middle of the quotation – the suggestion that it’s “nearly or quite synonymous with the ancient ‘go out for wool and come back shorn.’” Alexander Carmichael, who collected traditional Celtic prayers, invocations and blessings between 1855 and 1899, included this clipping blessing in his “Carmina Gadelica” (Gaelic Songs). It’s an interesting reversal of going for wool and coming back shorn:

      Go shorn and come woolly,
      Bear the Beltane female lamb,
      Be the lovely bride thee endowing,
      And the fair Mary thee sustaining,
      The fair Mary sustaining thee.

      Now I wonder which came first, since Inman also called his reference “ancient”. And, I wonder how that reversal came about.

      You’re right, though. I wasn’t disappointed in any way by my elephants – not even the imaginary one named Dumbo.


      1. Fortunately you can have Dictionary of Americanisms around you, virtually speaking:

        It’s interesting to see which of those expressions have disappeared, e.g. Adam’s ale, and which have become regular parts of our modern language, e.g. accountability (though accountability in government seems largely to have disappeared).

        As for the adage about wool, my guess is that the one Bartlett refers to came first. Here’s some more information about it:

        1. I really enjoyed my quick browse through the Americanisms, though I never got beyond “B”. I did find an expression I’d forgotten – to “bark one’s shins”. My grandparents used that a good bit, especially when we kids were around, barking our shins on everything in sight.

          I was curious about merrycoz and went there as well. I clicked on the link for adult literature, and found the first of the “Short Pieces” was titled, “Some Oddments”. More serendipity.

          I get irritated with Google’s tracking sometimes, but when I went to the page for the adage about going for wool and coming home shorn, I had to laugh. One of the ads that popped up was for a mortagage company willing to help out with home foreclosures.

          Many thanks for the links. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be pursued there.

  13. Wonderful story, and the pictures were amazing. I have mixed feelings about circus animals–when I was ten, a friend and I saw a sick zebra put down, and it wasn’t done well–but your post had me smiling at all the great details. Thank you.

    1. Marylin,

      That’s a hard experience for anyone, let alone a child. Whether it’s a pet, a farm animal or your zebra, it’s just a difficult situation.

      That said, I’m glad I could give you a smile with the story, and I’m happy you liked the photos. As for details – I don’t know how anyone could write about the circus as a whole. There was so much to see, and so much going on – it makes sense to me now that people who write about “the circus life” often focus on one area, like the elephants, or trapeze artist familes, or the complexities of moving a circus around the country.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your gracious comment. You’re welcome any time!


  14. Curiosity is surely one of your greatest gifts to us, your readers. I’ve heard it said, just recently, that curiosity is one of the most important elements of a life well lived. I reckon that fits you Linda, to a T. :-)

    1. eremophila,

      I believe what you say about curiosity, absolutely.

      Your comment reminded me of a post I wrote just three months after I began blogging. Someone on the WordPress forums had asked, “Is there any easy way to find something in a normal day to make interesting and into a blog?”

      Part of my answer was, “Open your eyes and your ears. Be receptive to what you see around you, and what you hear people saying. Look for the odd, the unexpected, the commonplace that isn’t even seen any longer because it is so common. There’s enough in the world to keep us all going for lifetimes.”

      How I managed to say that, I don’t know – it has a bit of an “out of the mouths of babes” flavor to it. But now, after five years of trying to live up to my own words, I see how right I was.

      After all, curiosity can be nurtured as well as any other human quality. Thanks for reminding me of that truth with your comment!


  15. Well, Linda… you certainly can weave a tale. It kept me going right to the end. The closest I came to elephants when I was growing up was Tarzan… but I was a devoted Tarzan fan, so I guess that counts for something. As for running away, I tried that once as a young child. I must have walked a couple of hundred yards and hid. When no one came looking for me after an hour or so I went home. End of story.

    1. Curt,

      Oh, am I laughing. I can just see you tucked under a tree or kicking your heels against a playground wall, waiting… The one time I announced to my grandmother that I didn’t want to be at her house, that I was tired of visiting and was going to leave, she made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, threw it into a bag with a cookie and sent me on my way. I made it about two houses down, sat down on the neighbor’s steps,ate my lunch and then headed back to the land of milk, honey, peanut butter and jelly.

      I’m not sure why I don’t have any memory of Tarzan. The books obviously were around. Honestly, it probably was that girl/boy business of the late 40s and 50s. While you were reading about Tarzan, I was deep into the Bobbsey Twins and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

      I suppose one of the most interesting differences between childhood and adulthood is that we move from running away to running toward. Today, we call it travel.


      1. I didn’t get a peanut butter sandwich and a cookie, Linda… sigh.

        I like the running toward vs running away analogy. I have often thought of it. Mainly I have ran toward but a couple of times it was running away.

        As for Tarzan, he was my reward for going to church. (grin) We were a bit on the rambunctious side and our reward for an hour’s good behavior on Sunday morning was a stop at the grocery store after church for a soda and a comic book. It worked.


  16. Another wonderful Linda story. How could two elephants have hidden from all those searchers for 18 days? I love all the photos – especially the one of little Linda running away.

    Did you ever see Paul Theroux’s article- in the Smithsonian – on the elephants at Abu Camp in Botswana?

    1. rosie,

      You know, I’m not sure anyone ever truly understood how those two elephants managed to evade capture for such a long time. On the other hand, they were smart, they had plenty of food and water available – and they were kids!

      I’ve had Theroux’s article open in a tab for some time – I’m still not all the way through it, but I’m working on it! His writing is wonderful. I read “Mosquito Coast” first, and it was long after that I discovered he’d done travel writing, too. I learned the expression, “Walkabout in Woop Woop” from him – from his book “The Happy Isles of Oceania”.

      Some day I’ll run away and visit you – I want to try that gelato, too!


  17. Elephant stories always make my heart ache. Circuses are no longer allowed to have them in NZ. I believe that, apart from anything else, traveling in those trailers makes them feel travel sick.

    The final one who was rescued was completely traumatised and terrified of everything. It took over two years for her to calm down, but she’s still a nervous frightened girl.

    1. valeriedavies,

      It does require tremendous resources and attentiveness to properly care for circus animals. As I understand it, that’s one reason that circuses like Carson & Barnes travel with far fewer than in the past.

      When I was looking at their schedule, I thought it was interesting that their bookings are so close together. Eventually, I discovered why that’s so. They don’t like to travel more than sixty miles in one day, precisely to avoid the kind of effect on the animals you speak of. They aren’t forced to endure hours-long rides in their trucks, but spend only a couple of hours on the road before they’re back in the sunshine and fresh air.

      Around here, the animals that are truly suffering often aren’t related to circuses at all, but belong to people who think it’s “cool” to keep large cats and other exotics. They often live in deplorable conditions, and sometimes seem to be discovered almost by accident – although I like to think I might know if a neighbor had a cache of lions, bobcats or whatever in the backyard!


  18. Delightful! So many memories were relived while reading your story, Linda. My Grandmother used to tell of the time Buffalo Bill Cody came to town and she marched in and found him to sign up…

    She may have been 14, I don’t recall anymore, but he chastised her and “:..sent [her] along home!” (lucky for me!) ;)

    As for myself, I was a sneaky runner, and kept my mother on constant alert. I remember distinctly several instances where my being off to see the world had my mother in a panic and a fury. I have to say, my favorite and most vivid one was when I ran off to go to school. The office secretary took me from room to room asking, “Is this your room?” Until finally there was a room with a little girl painting at an easel. “This is my room!” I told her. The tragedy for me was when the teacher told me I couldn’t paint until I did my “work” and then I began to argue and cry. It seems in my mind that it didn’t take any time at all for my mother to show up and claim me.

    Poor mom.

    1. Lynda,

      You got Buffalo Bill Cody? My goodness! My grandparents only could tell me about the time the Harlem Globetrotters came to their little town. I found a little newspaper clipping about it. Seems their model A broke down on the way, and the game was delayed for a day.

      What did your Grandmother want to do? Did she have something specific in mind, or was she only enticed by “the romance of the road”? It amazes me that there were so many traveling shows back then. We never had a circus, but the carnival come every year, and it was just as magical for a kid.

      What a story – about you running off to school. When I hear you tell about being taken from room to room until you found one that suited you reminds me of the story of The Three Bears. “This room is too quiet, this room is too crowded, but this room is JUST right!”

      Not being able to paint until you get your work done is akin to “no dessert until you’ve finished your dinner”, isn’t it?

      Did your mother have a clue that you’d run off to school? I suspect that would be the last place most of today’s parents would look.


      1. I only wish I could answer your questions, but I haven’t a clue as the answers are now lost to time now. I do like your comparison to the Three Bears! So funny!

        As for Mother, well, somewhere in all those cobwebs in my cranium I seem to recall BEGGING her to let me go to school, and her telling me, “You’re not old enough.” So I presume it was simple arithmetic for her:

        2+2= Lynda at school? ;)

  19. Linda; How wonderful to finally get to read the much anticipated “elephant blog”. Like you, I’ve always had a soft spot for elephants. The more I learn about them, the more intrigued I become. Your beautifully crafted blog is heart-warming and perfectly captures all the colorful excitement of circuses, and runaway tots and elephants. What could be more fun? :-)
    ~ Beth

    1. Beth,

      There are plenty of things that could be as much fun, but more fun? I’m not sure. The only disappointment I had was that the cotton candy I saw was wrapped in plastic. I’m sure that’s due to some regulation or other, although I didn’t search out where they were making it. Perhaps I could have found some fresh-spun there.

      There was great disagreement among the family members sitting next to me about the proper way to eat the stuff. One took my approach, letting the fine strands just dissolve on the tongue. The others were given to wadding it up into little clumps and then eating it. Life’s little controversies!

      I’ve been told the spectacles like “Circus, Circus” are much “better”. I’ve no doubt they’re more spectacular, but I enjoyed the old-fashioned, approachable feel of this one. It was as much fun to talk to the mechanics, trainers and such as to see the performance. The animals are wonderful, but the people count, too. They get their turn next!


  20. Linda, your story hit me with two memories. One was from my earliest years when I went to the circus with my family. It was the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The venue was the Sam Houston Coliseum and our seats were up in the nose bleed sections.

    What I remember most about sitting there looking the trapeze artists straight in the eye,wasn’t the lions or the elephants, it wasn’t the clowns or the bareback riders…it was how they had a net and I didn’t. The rows of seats to my young mind were almost straight up and down… And it was a long, long way down to this little boy.

    My second memory is form much later in my youth. Sometime in the late 60’s a farmer out around Hungerford in Wharton County had somehow acquired a couple of elephants and had a holding pen built not far from the road that ran by his place. Every time we would be visiting relatives in the country we would pass by and hope to get a look at them.

    By the way…The way you weave a tale is captivating.

    1. Gary,

      I’ve heard some longtime Houstonians talk about going to the circus at the Coliseum, and how special it was. By the time I got here in 1973, it was on the downhill slide, but there still was a great deal of affection for it.

      It was nerve-wracking enough for me to watch the trapeze artists from my nice, safe seat on the ground. I was greatly comforted myself to see them put up the net for the aerialists and wire-walkers – one of whom made good use of it. I can only imagine what it was like from your height. I’ll bet you didn’t lean forward very far!

      As for elephants in Wharton County – no kidding? I’ve never heard about that. I’ve seen some interesting things farther west – buffalo, llamas, antelope, zebra – but never elephants. I think there still are camels around, too, but I haven’t found them. One of my summer projects is a trip to the area around Vanderpool, where the army had their camel corps. Apparently you still can see the remains of the caravansary there.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. It was wonderful fun to put together. I thought it was going to have to wait until next fall, when the circus came home and I trekked up to Oklahoma. So nice that they came here!


        1. Oh, my. That is interesting. I know the road pretty well, and know exactly where that location would be. What’s most interesting is the mention of the Sklars. I knew some Sklars who farm around Victoria. It’s a close-knit farmily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they know the ones mentioned in the article. More exploration is called for.

          Wouldn’t you have loved to see that dude driving his elephant around in convertible?

  21. Linda, Thanks again for your well-woven tale. Mondays must have universally been laundry days back then. These days we just throw in a load whenever we want, willy nilly. We’ve lost some of the rhythm of the olden days and ways. I may have wanted to run away, but I never did, neither during my childhood nor as an adult. Wonder where I’d run away to these days?

    1. Rosemary,

      Where would you go if you ran away? I’d say, “Let me count the destinations”, but of course travel and running away aren’t the same thing.

      I don’t know if the housework schedule was universal, but it certainly seemed so in our neighborhood. Monday – laundry. Tuesday – ironing. Friday was baking. There was a rhythm to it, but it was easy and unforced. If the ironing wasn’t finished by Tuesday afternoon, there always was the refrigerator. Sprinkle it, roll it up and tuck it away for Wednesday or Thursday.

      Now and then, women would tuck those dampened clothes into the freezer. Maybe it was their way of running away.


  22. Please tell me you will send this somewhere. SOMEWHERE. It deserves a far bigger audience than any one blog could offer — even yours! Oh, my — how I love your family, how I love how they handled all that. How I love the idea that you’d run to find Dumbo. And then to hear of the escape of the elephants and it coming full circle years later, just like your posts. Oh, Isa’s eyes aren’t the only ones twinkling right now. Mine are, too!

    1. jeanie,

      I can’t think of anything better than putting a twinkle in your eye! You’ve had too few twinkles lately, that’s for sure. I’m really glad you enjoyed the story.

      All this talk about circus animals got me thinking… At Carson & Barnes there were trained Appaloosas, elephants and dogs who performed, and camels and llamas and miniature horses, but I’ve never in my life heard of a circus cat.

      I went looking, and discovered that, once again, I’m behind the curve. You might show this to Lizzie Cosette. Who knows? Maybe the two of you could run off to join the circus!


  23. I love that (1) you ran away on a mission (2) that many years later remembering the story of the Great Escape and those elephants’ names, you followed up at the circus performing not far from you. The way life works, I am thoroughly surprised that today’s Isa wasn’t your 70’s Isa or a relation. Still, that they shared the same name is a delightful connection.

    We took the girls to the circus when I noticed how excited my mother was that Barnum & Bailey usually comes here in July. I had never been to a real circus, yet I knew I wanted our girls to experience “this greatest show on earth.” And I was glad to take my mother to something she clearly enjoyed as a child.

    1. Georgette,

      I love that both Isas were named after Isa-the-sister. All these sisters with elephants named after them remind me of a bit of Texas history – like the railroad towns along highway 59 near Victoria. Inez and Edna were named after the daughters of Joseph Telferner, who built the railroad, and Louise is named after Telferner’s partner’s wife.

      Decades of naming their elephants after family members surely attests as much as anything to the affection the circus folk have for the creatures.

      I love thinking about you taking your mother back to the circus. No matter how old we are, there ought to be room for enjoying those simpler pleasures of childhood. I had to wait sixty-six years to get to the circus for the first time, but it was worth the wait and it was fun watching the children who were there – children of every age!


  24. Great story! I didn’t see the circus until I was an adult. I also have no memories of wanting to run away as a child, but your telling of the tale drew me in. I especially like the image of the circus running to you: a lovely image of our dreams carrying us when we have given up on the power of dreams.

    1. Allen,

      I’ve decided it’s a great truth of life – we’d better keep our eyes open, because we never know what great improbability is going to show up in our back yard.

      You raise an interesting question. I wonder if circus people ever want to run away? Perhaps not, since they’re always on the run. From the time the season begins, their life is a strange combination of constant movement and unalterable routine. Still, the fact that so many of them are second, third and even fourth generation performers suggests that they like it well enough.

      There are some interesting families, too. I just laughed and laughed when I found out that a lovely lady who told fortunes and handled snakes fell in love with and married the sword swallower!

      Dreams, indeed. Perhaps that’s why we love circuses as we do – going to one is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole, or into a Thousand and One Nights.


    1. Susan,

      I can’t really answer that question, because as a young girl it was more about the elephants for me than the circus – Dumbo, particularly. I’m not sure why we never went to the Shrine Circus in Des Moines. It was only a hour’s drive, and it certainly was publicized. But the interest just wasn’t there. My folks didn’t suggest it, and I didn’t nag. ;)

      If the anthology ever gets put together, you could be the one to do the article on circus music. Some of it’s so familiar, and yet I didn’t even know the name of the selections. I’m especially fond of Julius Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators”!


    1. Martha,

      You know what’s amazing to me? The elephants’ affection for each other – and the obvious affection and care offered them by those who are responsible for them. I’m not so out of touch that I don’t realize there are people who don’t give them the respect they deserve, but everyone I’ve talked to acknowledged that their situation is improving. I certainly hope so.


  25. What a delightful story, Linda. You were quite the adventurous sort from a very young age, weren’t you? Bet your mama has some interesting memories of that time in your life! Thank you for sharing this circus story. I’m glad you didn’t mention clowns, though, which I’ve been afraid of from my own youth!

    1. Debbie,

      Funny that you mention being afraid of clowns. I used to be a little nervous around them, myself. I think when I was younger it was a combination of my shyness and fear of the unknown. Those danged clowns always want to pull you into the action, and who knew what they were going to get up to!

      I was more adventurous when I was a child. Then, I pretty much lost all of that, for a number of reasons. The combination of braces and pink plaid eyeglass frames contributed. I grew terribly shy and risk-averse, and developed a firm conviction I couldn’t do anything well. Eventually, that changed. ;)

      But, yes – there were plenty of stories. Some of them I enjoyed telling, some my mother and dad enjoyed telling, and some we all just agree to forget!

      But the story of run-away me was one of our favorites. I’m glad you enjoyed it!


  26. Who could resist Dumbo? I’ve always had an affinity for elephants, too. They seem like gentle giants, and they are very intelligent.

    I believe you were a bit of a wild child. :) It does not surprise me that you started spreading you wings at an early age.

    Such a fun story.

    1. Bella Rum,

      You have to look at these photographs. A reader up above brought them over, and they just are magnificent. Mysterious. Mesmerizing.

      Actually, I was a very Good Girl. I loved everyone, would go up to anyone, and would say anything. But as I mentioned to Debbie, above, I started out fearless, learned various kinds of fear, and then had to overcome them. If I’m lucky, by the time I die I’ll be living as a three-year-old again and all will be well!


  27. Oh, what fun!

    I’ve been having some issues with my glasses again, so have not wanted to get anywhere near a computer after I escaped from the one at work. Which is why it’s taken me so long to get back.

    I can’t recall ever running away from home, like you, and some of the other here, did. I do, however, have a running away from home story.

    I remember Mama telling me this. I can’t remember now, who it was. Either her brother or one of her male cousins. They’d done something and had been told they were going to get a spanking.

    Like a flash, off they went.

    After a while, it started to get dark. So, they climbed a tree. It got darker. They came down from that tree and then climbed a one closer to home. It got darker and a tree even closer seemed safer. The darker it got, the closer to home they’d climb a tree until the miscreant reluctantly dragged themselves to the back door and inside. Only to get the promised spanking, much delayed.

    We had a local heffalump: Suzy Q. She was owned briefly by a local TV station in the late 50’s and early 60’s. She was bought as a publicity stunt to lure viewers from the other TV station here. Every now and then, she’d get loose and wander the neighborhood. I believe she was sold around ’63 but where or to who, I’m not sure. I hope it was someplace nice.

    1. Gué,

      Oh, i’m sorry to hear about those glasses. I hope they just need fitting and it’s not the prescription. I’ll stop by later and get caught up on that.

      That’s a wonderful story. For some reason it reminds me of camping in the back yard. All those strange noises can be unnerving, after all. It always was good to be close enough to the house to be able to make a run for it if things got too sketchy – although it could seem like miles, sometimes.

      Once upon a time a certain pet squirrel ran away from home. He ran straight up the pine tree he’d be born in, but he never had been out tree climbing, he’d never been that high and he certainly had no idea of how to get home. Finally, as it started to get dark, we had to pull out the extension ladded, take a flashlight and go after him. The flashlight wasn’t to shine on him, it was to shine on our faces so he could recognize us. Limb by limb he came, until he finally jumped on me, chattering a mile a minute. When bedtime came that night, he was ready!

      Isn’t that just like the late 50s? Need more viewers? Get an elephant! Of course, animals were big then. Remember J. Fred Muggs, who was on with Dave Garroway in the morning? And Zoo Parade, with Marlin Perkins? My, we did love those shows!

      Of course, the funniest thing about your story is that your elephant probably could do as well with the news as some of the humans we have these days. She’d be more entertaining, that’s for sure. I hope she found a nice home, too.


  28. I do not have an elephant story but I sure enjoyed yours. You wild child!
    Thoroughly enjoyed your story, and I absolutely love the photo of the pretty little child who happens to be you.

    1. Maria,

      I wasn’t so wild, but I was impulsive. When we had to go somewhere different, Mom was cautious, because I thought everyone was my friend, and I’d say anything to anyone.

      She had some real tales to tell of our trips to the big city. The first time I saw a black lady, I proceeded to ask her why she was a different color than I was. Mom said the woman was completely gracious – she just said God made her that way and I accepted it – but poor Mom was dying of embarassment. When I think about it now, I realize she probably was nervous anyway, just having to travel to the “city”. (Des Moines) Why we were there on our own I haven’t a clue.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. It was a lot of fun to write – maybe almost as much fun as it is for you to tell the stories of your grandkids!


  29. I think my favourite line is ‘At that point, the sheer audacity of throwing dirt at my mother began to overshadow my enthusiasm.’ :) this captures that change from childish glee to worry perfectly.

    In the wild elephants roam for miles, I wonder if captive elephants are able to get enough exercise? Do they have elephant treadmills I wonder?!

    I saw Bambi as a child, it totally traumatised me! Though this may not have been a good film to see when family relationships were breaking down. I remember I went with my older siblings and was probably just too young. But I used to absolutely love the Babar the Elephant books. I’m sure you’re familiar. Cornelius was my favourite, with that wiggly outline to suggest great age.

    1. thinkingcowgirl,

      The move from enthusiasm to “Oh, no! What have I done?” is one I know well. As I matured, I learned to fend off criticism of impulsivity by calling it “intuitive planning”, but even in my most cautious years I still was capable of throwing a dirt clod or two.

      Space for elephants is critical – that’s why the design of zoos and habitats is changing. They don’t just like to walk, they need to walk to maintain health. In fact, the Hope Elephant facility in Maine (where Rosie and Opal went) is run by a fellow who’s intent on designing a workable elephant treadmill. Heavy-duty’s the first requirement, I suppose. He thinks it will be helpful not only for general health, but for treating their arthritis. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out.

      Bambi was rough. no question. I did come to the point where I wanted to see it again, but it took a while. What’s funny is that I’ve never read a Babar book. I have no idea how that could be – unless it’s a function of age. They were available when I was a kid, but they may not have become popular over here until I was older.

      I was planning a trip to Half-Price Books this weekend – maybe I’ll stop by the children’s section, pull up a stool and have a read!


  30. I now have two images playing in my head, like a cross-cut scene from a movie. One has the elephants tearing through the forest, changing direction through whim or necessity. The other has young Linda, driven by a similar force, but circling the block because she’s not allowed to cross the street. It also reminds me of our cats who, trapped in a room, see the house as freedom. But when that front door opens, the house becomes the trap.

    1. Charles,

      I love the juxtaposition of the images. Seen that way, a question that’s implicit here becomes more acessible: is there a way to run toward a goal that allows for impulsivity and delight as well as a sense of purpose? We certainly know what it looks like without such qualities: the word “plodding” comes to mind.

      As for the cats – well. I suppose you’ve seen this, but if you haven’t, you must. If you have, it’s worth another look. ;)


  31. Ha ha… A lovely intertwining of stories here, Linda! I really did think that was you with your pet elephant before I read you saying that it wasn’t.

    I wonder what kind of blog you’d be writing now if you really had run away with the circus!

    1. Andrew,

      Oh, I would have given anything for a pet elephant like that! We would have been such good friends.

      That’s a funny question – although, I must tell you, for most of her life my dear mother did feel as though I had run off to join the circus. Sometimes I’d see her looking at me sideways, as though I had a python around my neck.

      From what I’ve seen of the circus life now, I must say – I’m not sure I’d be willing to work that hard! There’s an off-season to recover, but when those folks are on the road, it’s tough. But the ones I’ve talked to love it and wouldn’t change for the world. All the better for us!


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