Red Dirt Diaries: Author Recalls Elephants' Adventure

Friday, September 8th 2017, 6:57 pm
By: Karl Torp

Forty two years ago, Oklahomans and folks around the country were paying extra attention to the southeast corner of a state.

That's where two circus elephants escaped their enclosure and went on the lam for nearly a month.

“You could arguably say it was the greatest escape of the 20th century,” says author John White, who lived in Hugo in the summer 1975.

“They were baby elephants, a little over two years. Elephants live into the sixties. You are talking about infants out there,” says White, who wrote about the search for the two elephants in his book One Fell Swoop.

The piece of historical fiction details the adventures of Lily and Isa, through the elephants’ eyes.

Their ability to elude capture became a national story and was covered by many publications like the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

“There were in a real dire situation. They were too young and too stupid to know,” says White.

One Fell Swoop not only details what the elephants encountered, but the entertainment they provided by fleeing search crews.

“In a state known for chickens and pigs, why can't you find two elephants?” asks White who also touches on the local Sheriff, who became the butt of a few elephant jokes.

“Freedom was so important to them that they were willing to do anything possible they had to do in order to keep moving,” adds the Edmond resident.

A horse-mounted posse finally caught up with Isa and Lilly about 20 miles from where they escaped. White says it’s believed the animals traveled some 80 miles in nearly a month.

Lily and Isa are now living out their days at the second largest refuge for Asian elephants in the United States in Hugo. The facility is run by the Endangered Ark Foundation.

“I would think every day of their life they remember every minute of what they did out there,” says White.

One Fell Swoop is available at Full Circle Books in OKC, Best of Books in Edmond and on