The Great Cranbrook Elephant Hunt

Charlie Ed

Bald Mt. Where the Elephant Hunt Took Place : This is believed to be a view of the area where "Charlie Ed." was captured on September 14th, 1926,
Bald Mt. Where the Elephant Hunt Took Place

Charlie Ed. was also an Asian elephant, Elephans maximus, born in the wild in 1910. He came to the Sells-Floto Circus from Hagenbeck in 1922, then to the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus in 1933 where he was one of 31 bulls. When Hagenbeck-Wallace closed in 1934 he was sold to the Al G. Barnes circus and then quickly went to Baldwin Park in California where he starred in the movie 'Clive of India'. In March of 1936 Charlie Ed. finally came to rest at the Fleishbacker Zoo in San Francisco, where he was re-named Wally.

Charlie Ed. was named after Charled Edward "Chad" Ballard, son of Ed Ballard who was a co-owner of the American Circus Corporation. The American Circus Corporation owned the Sells-Floto Circus. Charlie. Ed was "small" elephant and earned his living doing tricks.

When the elephants burst out in Cranbrook on August 6th, 1926, Charlie Ed. headed for the tall timber. Everyone thought the bulls would bunch up and travel in herds. Charlie Ed. proved them all wrong. There were sightings everywhere and, in fact, people were afraid to drive for the first while for fear of running into an elephant. Charlie Ed. was the grey ghost, a very large (although small for an elephant) specter drifting through gardens, fields and forest at will.

It is said by elephant trainers that the Indian elephant is smarter than the African counterpart, and certainly Charlie Ed. was no shrinking violet when it came to smarts. When Charlie Ed. hit Cranbrook the district forests were on fire with large fires burning in the Gold Creek and Kootenay River areas losing 2,000,000 feet board measure and the Yahk valley 3,500,000 f.b.m. No rain had fallen and the air was redolent with pitch and the sky grey with smoke. Some experts say these conditions caused the Cranbrook stampede, but whatever the cause Charlie Ed. didn't stop running until he was buried deep in the forest.

Capture of "Cranbrook Ed" : The Great Elephant Hunt - capture of escaped bull elephant, Sept. 1926. Photo by V.C. Russell.
Capture of

By Mid-August only Myrtle and Charlie Ed. were on the loose, and there were consistent reports of the two travelling together. The Jap Lake area southeast of town seemed to yield a lot of sign and Cheerful Gardner and his crew camped out there determined that they would capture the wily little trick elephant. It may be that the wilderness weighed heavier on the trappers than it did on the quarry. Whatever the case, new men were brought in to help with the hunt.

The circus people began to float the idea that Charlie Ed. was either hopelessly lost or dead in the woods. They said he was showing signs of emaciation when last sighted near Jap Lake. The nights were getting cooler and it was thought that Charlie Ed. would not leave the wilderness alive. 'Cheerful' Gardner, the imported elephant expert extraordinaire, returned to join the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in Greeley, Colorado.

"Charlie Ed." at Time of Capture : "Charlie Ed." on September 14th, 1926 at point of capture near Jim Smith Lake,approx 6 km SW of Cran

A.J. Ironside, running the elephant hunt for the circus, enlisted the help of the Cranbrook Fall Fair Board in a systematic search for the lonely clown elephant. He proposed the formation of bands of district farmers that would scour the country. His promise for payback was that Charlie Ed. would be put on as a feature of the fair during its run from September 16th to 18th.

Finally, on September 12th the B.C Spruce Mills office at Lumberton received a phone call from one of its flume reservoir attendants high above Lumberton, stating that an elephant, the truant 'Ed.', had been spotted in the neighbourhood. The call was relayed to Cranbrook and Monday morning a party of ten mounted elephant hunters passed through Lumberton on their way to Fish Lake.

"Charlie Ed." and Circus Staff : The last of the escaped Sells-Floto cirfcus elephants, "Charlie Ed.", at point of capture near Jim S

On September 14th Charlie Ed. was finally captured near Jim Smith Lake, about four miles southwest of Cranbrook. Finally, 39 days after the stampede, the last of the recalcitrant circus elephants had been captured. It wasn't without trouble, however.

The circus version is that Charlie Ed. recognized the voice of his own trainer, Charlie Morgan and, whimpering a little and exhibiting signs of friendliness, was coaxed along with bread to the point of capture. Orville F. Stewart, assistant Sells-Floto manager and expert elephant man supervised the capture, and Spot Griffith were also mentioned as part of the group responsible for Charlie Ed's containment. Things were, perhaps, a little more dynamic than the circus management let on.

The Cranbrook Courier report of September 16th, 1926, is much more vivid and, belatedly, gives the Ktunaxa hunters and guides some of the credit which had up to that point been suppressed by the demand to uphold professional circus reputations:

"Cranbrook Ed." : 'Cranbrook Ed." after baptism, in Cranbrook with the mayor, and getting ready to depart for San Fran
"Certain it is, Charlie Ed was in no wise minded to leave the woods when trailed down by his keepers and their Indian assistants [we know who really did the 'trailing']. He put up a fight. Charlie 'Frontdoor' Morgan and Spot Griffin have testified to Charlie Ed's pugnaciousness and are carrying bruises to support their evidence [Morgan's shoulder was hurt and Griffin had rib damage]. The little elephant promptly knocked his keepers down when they approached him to fetter his feet. His eyes blazed with the light of battle. But the men had had experience in their chase of the ill-fated Myrtle. They took no further chances. And the Indians who had guided them to Charlie Ed's hideout were well versed in the ways of wild things. The Indians constructed a snare in a jiffy. Getting directly in front of the little elephant, they dared him to come on."
"Charlie Ed came on the run. His trunk was upraised to strike. Fair into the waiting noose he ran. Two stout and springy tamarack saplings to which the rope was attached bent to the elephant's mad rush. But just so far. Green growing wood has a deal of resiliency. Charlie Ed was jerked back: the cord about his neck tightened as he plunged and threshed about. Time and again he was thrown back on his haunches by the spring of the trees. The hard cord noose bit deeper into his neck, choking him down."

Then the circus men slipped on the steel hobbles and on September 15th Charlie Ed trailed back into Cranbrook with a keeper pacing on either side of him. He arrived just in time for the Fall Fair exhibition at what is now Rotary Park. The "Great Cranbrook Elephant Hunt" had officially come to a close. Many a sigh was heard and the relief must have been palpable, between circus and townsperson alike.