The Great Elephant Escape: Oklahoma author recalls the summer of ’75 in Hugo

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HUGO, OKLAHOMA -- Seeing an elephant up close, feeding them, touching their skin.

Only recently have caretakers at the Endangered Ark elephant sanctuary begun to offer regular tours.

It's a once in a lifetime birthday and experience for tourists like this family from Colorado who get much closer to these giant animals than they would at a normal zoo.

One of the last stops on this tour is to encounter two elephants, Isa and Lilly.

They're 44 years old now, but what guides only briefly confirm, these same two pachyderms were the subjects of one of the most publicized escapes in state history.

"The New York Times was here," recalls author John White. "Sports Illustrated was here, Dallas Morning News, Tulsa World."

To find the story you have to dig deep into the morgue at Hugo's Daily News.

Publisher Stan Stamper and an old friend, author John White, agree to guide us on a historical tour of the time Isa and Lilly wandered away from their enclosure at the Carson and Barnes Circus and disappeared.

"I was a photojournalist at the time," says Stamper of that summer in 1975.

"There was so much unimproved farm land down here, so much forest down here," recalls White. "You could literally be standing 20 feet from them and not see them."

It took nearly a month before they were found and recaptured.

By that time the escapees had become international celebrities, and Hugo famous in its own uniquely spelled manner.

"Indeed, the Sheriff himself had to endure a lot of jokes," says White.

John White was a college student at the time but remembered following the story.

His relatives were involved in the search.

he even bought himself a summer-house on Hugo Lake where Isa and Lilly hid out.

Eventually he found the time to write that history down in the form of a fictionalized account of the escape and hunt.

"I wanted to write it from the elephants' perspective," says White.

From his point of view, on a tour to look at retired circus elephants, John White is happier than just about anybody else to see these two animals still around, and roaming a smaller piece of the woods near his hometown.

"One Fell Swoop" by John S. White is available for sale at Best of Books in Edmond and also for order from

For more information on the Endangered Ark go to

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