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Is the story of Modoc as reported in the recent book by Ralph Helfer, true? Are any parts of it true? I’ve tried to find information about Modoc (elephant) and haven’t turned up anything.

Thanks

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I am so sad to think this may not be all true I enjoyed it as we discussed on the tele. I will continue to research and will keep you posted. Dr woods ordered more blood work and needs to see me on Friday.

Gerry

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I just finished the book, and am irritated that it is identified as “nonfiction.” One does not even have to do research (although I did try, and found nothing to verify key facts) to realize that most of the details of this book are made up. I read the book to learn more about the intelligence and capabilities of elephants, but now feel I wasted my time hoping to find those things in “Modoc.” Has anyone challenged Ralph Helfer about what he states as ‘facts’ in this book?!

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I hope some of you will take a look at my book, Ballet of the Elephants, which features Modoc in a starring role as a dancer in the Ringling Bros. 1942 show. She danced to Stravinsky’s “Circus Polka,” with choreography by Balanchine. The book is nonfiction, completely supported with extensive notes, published for young people by Roaring Brook press to great reviews, including one from the New York Times. I’d love it if circus historians and fans would take a look at it.

Thanks so much, Leda Schubert

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This subject has been extensively discussed over at bucklesw.blogspot.com. Go to that web page, then check out the archives of November 2005 there, once there scroll down, and you will see numerous old photographs of “Big Modoc”, The Dancing elephant of the Ringling Bros Show circa 1930, which is the most famous of all Modoc’s.

Rufus Ledbetter

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Go back to the original question. It asks if the book is true? NO! Are parts of it True? Yes, very teeny parts of it are true. Buckles Woodcock provided the life history of the Modoc that Ralph Helfer owned in the first reply. Mr. Woodcock and his father trained and performed elephants over a span of almost eighty years. Both are highly regarded as the greatest elephant historians this country has ever known. I too have her recorded death as July 19, 1975. She would have been about 55 years old and owned by Ralph Helfer for three years. I also heard talk about the movie a year or so ago but haven’t heard anything from the people that have elephants involved in studio work.

Bob Cline

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Have you found out more about Modoc, and the truth about the story? I’ve read thay Kevin Costner is now filming MODOC, and I really looking forward to see the movie. Perhaps we can find out more about this story after the film has been shown. The interest ought to be bigger then.

Anette

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I have recently read the story of Modoc, and am being plagued by the same questions. Have you managed to find out anything further? If so would love to hear about it.

Kind regards, Craig Ludwig, Denmark

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I, too have been looking for info on the elephant. Did you get any more responses on your inquiry? I noticed that the pics in the book showed an elephant without tusks and in his last performance they said they put the golden tusk covers on him.

Love any info you have come up with, Sherrie B

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There were quite a few elephants named Modoc. In fact Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus had three elephants with that name in the 1939 herd. Big Modoc, Little Modoc and Wallace Modoc. This last elephant is the one Helfer had, she was blind in one eye and usually referred to as One-Eyed Modoc. A harmless old gal but not much of a specimen. Modoc (Wallace Show Modoc): 1922 – Gollmar Bros. Circus, owned by American Circus Corp., Peru, IN, approx. age 4; 1923-24 John Robinson Circus; 1925-34 Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus; 1935-38 Al G. Barnes Circus; 1939 Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus; 1940-41 Surplus Ringling elephants at 1000 Oaks, CA; 1942-48 Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus; 1949-50 Biller Bros. Circus; 1951-62 Memphis, TN Zoo; 1963-69 Africa USA, Saugus, CA; 1971-72 Africa USA, Fillmore, CA; 1972 Anderson Animal Farm, Buellton, CA. Approx. age at death 55.

The book shows a number of photos of a big, beautiful elephants performing in the spotlights at Madison Square Garden, this is Big Modoc. Unlikely Helfer ever set eyes on this elephant unless he bought a ticket to the show. In 1933 the Ringling Show celebrated their Golden Jubilee Season in which Modoc was occasionally painted gold and featured in the show’s opening “Spec.” The third elephant Little Modoc never grew very big and was originally imported to Ringling Bros. Circus in Baraboo, WI in 1897. I have seen a number of press items of her early career in Baraboo and appearantly Helfer did too and assumed this was his elephant. Both these elephants died in Sarasota Quarters. Big Modoc in 1957 at age 57 and Little Modoc in 1943 at age 50.

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