When elephants roamed the hills

Part II in a 4-part series looking back on the great elephant hunt of 1926.

The Sells-Floto Circus advertised its spectacle in local papers before its ill-fated arrival.

The Sells-Floto Circus advertised its spectacle in local papers before its ill-fated arrival.

Cranbrook had its 15 minutes of fame back in 1926, when three elephants ran away from the Sells-Floto Circus on August 6 while it was stationed at the Cranbrook railyard.

The stampede captivated people all over North America, and it wasn’t over yet.

One week later, the three elephants are still at large. Tillie has been seen near Perry Creek; Charlie Ed and Myrtle are hanging out off Hidden Valley Road, visiting Pyatts Lake to drink.

The circus is losing money; they have to pack up and leave. Circus manager Jack Terrell puts Cranbrook’s train master A.J. Ironside in charge of the hunt and leaves two elephant handlers, J. Dooley and Cheerful Gardiner.

“The circus men are anxious for the safety of the elephants, fearing the effect chill nights will have on their health. Elephants, the circus men have stated, though thick skinned, are susceptible in the extreme to any sudden drop in temperature,” writes the Courier on Aug. 12, 1926.

The Herald of the same day says “many of the citizens of Cranbrook and district” are engaged in the hunt.

“The experience of some of the amateur hunters is enough to dissuade the minds of any who believe that the elephant, particularly those of the circus variety, is a docile animal.”

On Sunday, August 15, nine days after she escaped, Tillie is captured near Perry Creek. She was found by Ktunaxa trackers: Terry Timothy, Seymour Williams, Michael Michel, Chris Joseph, Abe Sebastian and Gus Williams.

The circus’s elephant handlers slowly reeled Tillie in using loaves of bread. It took a day and a half to get her to walk 12 miles. Once back at the CP stockyards, Tillie’s sore feet are wrapped in gunny sacks, and boys from the town visit her with gifts of apples.

The circus manager took the opportunity to claim that reports the elephants had been mistreated prior to their flight were false.

“The Calgary Herald stated that the animals had been drugged prior to their leaving Edmonton, said drugging being attributed to spite work on the part of circus employees. Neither story bears the slightest semblance to fact. Nor is it true that the keepers of the elephants are cruel in the extreme in their handling of the animals. As a matter of fact they dare not be. Elephants as is well known respond to kindness rather than cruelty and are quick to resent ill treatment. The memory of an elephant is proverbially long,” wrote the Courier on August 19, 1926.

Read tomorrow’s Townsman to find out what became of Myrtle and Charlie Ed.