Vicki Captured After Chase Lasting 11 Days

The elephant who went out like a lion came in like a lamb.

And in the end, it was the amateurs who did it. Veteran elephant hunters Louie Reed (Ringling Bros. Circus) and Smoky Strickland (Airport Park) rested in a jeep on Wilmont Rd. yesterday, while a group of 20 high school players and volunteer firemen tussled Vicki to a standstill.

That's the way 11 days of kudzu-chomping, earth-stomping came to an end for Charlotte's AWOL elephant.

Vicki in shackles was a different animal than the sapling-snapper she was in the woods. She marched the last mile back in Airport Park with her head down, her trunk swinging sadly. She walked through the park gates, entered her old stall willingly and submitted to photographers' flashbulbs going off in her face.

She was dirty and tired, and swilled buckets of water as fast as handler Thomas Seeley could bring them to her.

Owner Jack Partlow said Vicki will spend a couple of days in seclusion and then she'll go on exhibition again. A veterinarian paid her a visit this morning, administered a few shots for protection against any malady she may have picked up in the woods, and mended her ear where an elephant hook did slight damage yesterday.

Vicki's captors pursued her doggedly all yesterday afternoon. They were amateurs who had been asked to stay out of the chase for fear of "frightening" Vicki.

They surrounded the elephant at 6:20 p.m. in a clearing halfway between Wilmont Rd. and the disposal plant on Yorkmont Rd. They circled around her with ropes, "like a spider catching a fly," said Francis "Pickle" Moore, one of the hunters.

Then Moore got a hook behind her ear and the terror of West Mecklenburg became a kitten.

"Soon as I got that hook in there," Moore said, "she calmed right down. I patted her on the snoot and that was that."

Smoky Strickland, who commanded the hunt more of the time since Vicki tore away from a handler and bolted to freedom Sept. 11, had the pleasure of leading Vicki home.

The elephant loped along at a comfortable walk, ropes around each ankle, with old-timer Strickland hanging on to one ear and taking into it calmly. It seemed all a matter of course to Vicki that she should be coming home again.

The caravan back to the park was joined by about 20 policemen and sheriff's deputies. The 20 young conquerors of Vicki led her out on Wilmont Rd., walked her past Jackson Homes on to Harlee Ave., the back road from the airport to Airport Park.

It took two and one-half hours to bring Vicki home. She was led through the park gates at exactly 9 p.m.

Much of the credit for the successful elephant campaign was given three men who contributed their dogs, as well as themselves to the last hunt, Monroe Hines, Andrew Beatty and Ed McCullough.

"Whenever we'd lose her, the dogs would find her for us," hunter Earl Daniel said.

Others known to be in the amateur roping brigade were 20-year-old Bobby Hunter, son of Mecklenburg County Sheriff, J. Clyde Hunter; Jimmy Rowland, former Harding High football star; C.P. Brown, Roy Lambert and Richard Fisher.

A crowd of about 30 closed in after these shock troops got Vicki under control.

"Almost as much fun as the night we beat Central," Harding's Rowland whooped.

Only casualty reporter was a broken arm suffered by Woodlawn's Volunteer Fire Dept. Assistant Chief Tyler L. Garis when he fell into a hole trying to get out of Vicki's way before capture.

"And it could have been a very serious thing," Owner Partlow said. "I'm the happiest man in Mecklenburg County . . . these police officers who worked with us are the finest in any country . . . and these boys (the captors) were wonderful, just wonderful . . . "

The day's last hunt began on the same unpromising note of the dozens preceding chases. But by mid-afternoon, Vicki was surrounded. After that, it was just a matter of time until the elephant wore down from runnning, submitting to capture.

Photographers and reporters who stalked through the woods for days hoping to be in on the kill were all disappointed.

They had all left the day before Vicki was finally captured.

But Charlotte photographers didn't have to go far to get to the scene. The local Press Photographers Association was scheduled to hold a meeting at the Airport 77 Restaurant. Instead, members grabbed their cameras to join Vicki's last walk home.

Many people, out for an evening of fun on the amusement park rides, remained unaware that Vicki was being brought in the back way. Another crowd, held back by state highway patrolmen, gathered at the gate to watch.

A sign tacked to a telephone pole 50 feet from Vicki's stall proclaimed, "Vicki is here!"

For the first time in 11 days, it was right.

Charles Kuralt's People (Kenilworth Media, copyright 2002)
ISBN 0-9679096-1-9 | Hard cover | 384 pages with photos | $25.95