Sunday, May 13, 2012

Circus Wapiti

 Folks have often thanked me for the "blog", and I am quick to point out it is a labor of love.  We have access to such an incredible source of knowledge in so, so many facet's of animal training and animal husbandry, that what is learned is wonderful.

A few weeks ago I posted the picture above of wapiti(I agree RJR, it is more appropriate then elk) in a circus wagon on the Cole Show.  It seemed like such an odd choice for a menagerie animal that I contacted King Turf, Richard Reynolds for his thoughts.  RJR knows more then just about anyone, about menagerie animals and zoo history.  If you want to feel real humbled get in a conversation with him about rhino's.  RJR will own you.

RJR sent my inquiry and his thoughts on to other folks, notably historian Richard Flint, who can tell you any thing about the early, early, early day's of the circus and live performances.  I you want to know what shade of blue the ring curb was in some amphitheater or hippodrome, Dick Flint has your answer.  Add Dave Price and Japanese zoo professional Ken Kawata into that mix, and school in now in session.


     I hope all is well.  Is it true that Sells Sterling had a family of gorilla's?   How long did Cole have elk in their menagerie?  Did any other show's exhibit elk?  I know Ringling had the Fallow Deer, but did any other show's attempt to exhibit antlered deer and how successful were they?

I appreciate your insight greatly,


Wade - -

I've never seen but one huge deer with large spreading antlers - - on a circus that is. That was the young moose Pat White had on Carson & Barnes in 1988.

As for wapiti (I prefer that name - -it is technically the correct common name. In Europe "elk" is the common name for moose). I have never seen one in a circus. Your picture shows them in an ordinary cage wagon - -

It is labeled Cole Bros and may be one of the cage wagons it obtained from the Christy Bros show ca. 1925. The carved sky board has that Christy look. There were several of them. He got all of them (I think)from RBBB where they were just surplus - - - stored and unused. Fred Dahlinger has the details, and may be able to look at the carved sky board and tell us which one this is.

The photo appears to show wapiti - - large white rump patch with the neck and head darker than the rest of the body. As you well know, large male wapiti can have very wide spreading antlers which they grow each year beginning in the spring until they shed them in winter. So, the antlers are there when circuses hit the road. I have seen adult males that would be a very tight fit for the typical circus cage wagon. A big rack of  antlers atop the raised head could be against the ceiling.
I think this may be a photo from when the wagon was on Christy. I have looked more of less carefully at Joe Bradbury's very comprehensive data in his monumental series on Cole in Bandwagon -- it began in 1965. I found no elk mentioned in the several listings of cage contents.   
Christy Bros. carried wapiti in the 1920s and used them in a hitch. See attachment.
I will send this to others who may have an interest.


I think this the old Ringling "hay animal" cage that Cole got with the Christy purchase, the date being early 1935, which is probably what you meant to say.  Apparently it didn't go out with the Cole show until 1937 as Cage # 10 carrying a gnu.
Regards dp

Given the mixed use of the terms moose and elk between Europe and North America and the propensity of showmen to take advantage of such ambiguity, I can’t comment much on the following so merely bring it to the attention of those interested.  During Cooper & Bailey’s 1877-78 Australian tour, and likely their South American as well, they carried an animal of that ilk.  During part of their Australian tour the animal was featured in the masthead of their two and four page programs (see attachment below).  Newspaper comments noted the animals exhibited included (emphasis mine) “an elk, whose horns are of such dimensions that they have had to be cut off, in order that the cage in which he is confined might not assume abnormal proportions.”  Another paper went on to say that “The elk is of Scotch extraction, and … is a deer.  He is in the habit of shedding his horns.  This one has done so, and they are hung up on the wall as a proof of the fact.”  Unfortunately, elk in the British Isles had already been extinct for a thousand years when Cooper & Bailey were traveling.  Only in this new century have a few been reintroduced to the Highlands.

Finally, as a side note, I’ll add that the redoubtable Dr. Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts, reported in his diary on November 17, 1800, of “A moose exhibited as a natural curiosity for 9d [pence]. Brought from the province of Maine.”

Dick Flint

The illustration from Dick shows a wapiti (elk in American term), not a moose.  Feeding causes difficulty in keeping moose in captivity although 'difficult' is a relative term, and it's hard to imagine if a moose was maintained an extensive length of time on exhibit, particularly in a traveling situation.  That reminds me of what R. Marlin Perkins said at a meeting.  He saw a French Canadian who would take a moose to events, walking it right into an elevator.  When Marlin asked how he could do it, the answer was something like it's hell of a lot easier than handling a French woman.  Ken   


Ryan Easley said...

I think we all just got "schooled." What a great group of scholars to associate with and learn from. Thanks for making us a part, Wade.

Wade G. Burck said...

It is a special day when knowledgeable folks share their knowledge. Learning something new is what life is all about.

Be safe,