John Robinson Circus in United States

John Robinson Circus
Tim Buckley on the horse in 1903, , the three small elephants at left would eventually become the Robinson Military Elephants "Clara", "Petite" (Pitt) and "Tony" the young tuskers are "Tommy" and "Basil" and the two big elephants are "Tillie" and "Queen". (<a href="">Buckles Woodcock</a>)
Tim Buckley on the horse in 1903, , the three small elephants at left would eventually become the Robinson Military Elephants "Clara", "Petite" (Pitt) and "Tony" the young tuskers are "Tommy" and "Basil" and the two big elephants are "Tillie" and "Queen". (Buckles Woodcock)


Owner -: Frank Robinson
-: Frankie Bailey
1856-1871: John Robinson Sr.
1871-1879: Gilbert Robinson
1871-1921: John F. Robinson Jr.
1901-1916: John G. Robinson
Closed down1931
Place Terrace Park
Country United States


Key People: Bert Noyes (menagerie superintendent)
-: Emma Louis Lake (animal trainer)
-: William Lake Jr. (animal trainer)
1923: Danny Odom (manager)
1924-1924: Clyde Beatty (animal trainer)
1928-1928: Mabel Stark (animal trainer)


Elephant department

Head keepers
of elephants
1921: Harry Mooney
(elephant trainer)
-: John Robinson IV
(elephant trainer)
1874-1875: Asa Buell
(elephant superintendent)
1901-1906: Tim Buckley
(elephant superintendent)
-1923: Clyde Baudendistle
(elephant trainer)
1923-1924: Cheerful Gardner
(elephant trainer)
-1931: Lawrence Davis
(elephant superintendent)

Elephant keepers 1923-1924: William Woodcock Sr.
1928-1928: Bill Emery
Record history
History of updates2022-10-03

Latest document update2022-10-03 10:32:29
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John Robinson Circus, in Terrace Park, Ohio, United States , was founded in 1856. John Robinson Circus closed down in 1931.

Comments / picturesThe founder John Robinson Sr. purchased Flagg & Aymar’s International Circus and started his own circus John Robinson Circus.

John Robinson Circus in United States United+StatesJohn Robinson parade at the corner of Market St. and Ellis in San Francisco ca. 1880's

Records about John Robinson Circus from Bob Cline
My records indicate the John Robinson Circus had one elephant from 1872 to 1875. It was a Male Asian called Emperor. In 1876 they acquired three more elephants named Mary, Princess and Chief. They had been on a show called the American Racing Association. I believe it was owned by Andrew Haight, George DeHaven and R.E.J. Miles. Princess has been mentioned as an Asian before, but I believe Ive found more mention that she was an African female instead. So, 1876 gave John Robinson two Asian males, Emperor and Chief, one Asian female, Mary, and one African female, Princess. 1877 remained the same then in 1878 they added another African male called Bismarck. (I have found two elephants mentioned in 1878 as Caliph and Woodah. Both were male Asians. Were these actually different elephants or nicknames for two they had, I don´t know.) 1879 remained the same then in 1880 they added another Asian male named Cinci. In 1881 they added another Asian female named Tillie which now made 7 elephants on the show. The Herd remained the same until 1886 when they added another Asian female named Queen. This Herd remained the same through 1890
Bob Cline, circus history message board, 24 Feb 2009

I once had an experience at Ashland, Kentucky, with the old John Robinson circus, which made me wonder if it is not rather because an elephant does not wish to leave his place than because he is not clever enough to free himself, that we find him patiently in one spot fastened only by a chain thrown around a stake. I came into the menagerie a short time after the parade and found Tillie, the largest member of the Herd, at a considerable distance from her place, quietly feeding on the rich, succulent grass with which the lot was covered. She very readily went back with me and I took a half-hitch about the stake. In less than five minutes I saw she was loose again. Thinking I had not fastened her securely, I brought her back and this time took extra care in chaining her. I then went out to lunch. When I returned, she was once more grazing. As I was bringing her back for the third time, the superintendent of the menagerie came in and said: “You might as well let her go; she wants to eat grass and it will not do any harm. When the people are in, she’ll stay in her place.” I then watched her. She took hold of her chain, but did not pull a steady pull, instead shaking and wriggling until she had lifted it up off the stake.

Like most animals, elephants are fond of rubbing against a tree, pole, or other object. But for such great beasts to rub against the menagerie center poles means disarranged lamps or even more serious damage, so they are commanded to stand by the poles and yet not to touch them. The latter part of the command is, of course, sometimes forgotten, and yet one is often obliged to marvel at their almost perfect memory and obedience. The following incident illustrates the Intelligence and keen comprehension of this interesting mammal:

As the elephant walks beside its keeper, it lowers its pillar-like legs deliberately as though conscious of the crushing force of their descending weight. Although the author has walked around the circus ring for hours with elephants in order to exercise them, he does not recall that one ever came into contact with his foot, and such an experience would indeed be unforgettable.

One evening in the South I was pacing up and down in front of the Robinson Herd. The night was cold and I was trying to keep warm. Tom, a small bull with very long Tusks, began rubbing against a center pole. The lamps at once commenced to swing as in a crazy dance. I shouted, “Tom, that pole!” He started to get away, but he was very slow and deliberate in all his movements, especially in doing things you asked him to do. Queen, a big cow who stood by him, put her head against his flank and gave him a push that landed him well away from the pole. She was not very obedient herself, but she knew what I wanted him to do and saw that he did it.

With the Robinson show we had a small female known as Queenie. Tillie, the star performer of the Herd, was very much attached to Queenie, and if the latter made any noise while the elephant act was in progress, Tillie would break away and race back to the menagerie, with the whole Herd at her heels. At Cumminsville, a suburb of Cincinnati, we had such a stampede, and the people lost their heads and rushed down on to the hippodrome track. The whole Herd went through the crowd on the double quick without hurting a single individual, illustrating the exceeding carefulness of this, the largest of the world’s land mammals. Some big strong man with a tent stake always had to be set to guard Queenie and make all sorts of dire threats as to what he would do to her if she dared open her mouth.

We fed the Herd a mash of bran and oats once or twice a day, placing a pile of this food between each pair of elephants. Tillie and Queen, the two largest members of the Herd, stood together. Almost invariably Tillie would divide the pile, quite equally and fairly, pulling her share over closer to her. But when Queen was looking the other way, she did. not scruple to reach over and take a handful (or trunkful) off Queen’s pile.

Most of the elephants with the Robinson circus were trained animals and I have seen them in the winter quarters at Terrace Park, Ohio, going through their acts without any human assistance, apparently for the mere pleasure of the exercise or to relieve the monotony of life in the building. The elephant house was built against a low hill; the windows on that side were high on the wall. I have seen them get up on their hind Feet to look out of these windows.

When an elephant exerts his strength, even brick walls yield to his pressure. In a combat between two elephants housed in the Wallace winter quarters, one pushed the other through a solid brick wall fourteen inches thick.

W. Henry Sheak, The Elephant in Captivity, Natural History, September-October 1922

In 1900, five baby elephants were obtained from the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, Germany, increasing the Robinson Circus “herd” to 7. A female elephant “Petite” but nicknamed “Pit” was one of those five punks, which also included 2 other females “Tony” and “Clara”, and 2 males Tommy” and “Chief”.

Records about John Robinson Circus from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at Robinson Show bought four punks from the Hagenbeck Zoo "Tommy", "Tony", "Clara" and "Petite" (Pitt).
They were trained by Tim Buckley. After the show was sold the last three were retained along with old "Tillie".

Buckles Woodcock, Buckles Weblog 15 oct 2005
William "Buckles" Woodcock

Records about John Robinson Circus from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at
1911: when John G. Robinson (also called John Robinson III) closed the show in 1911, they retained the six elephants Tillie, Tony, Pit (Petite), Clara, Ella and Basil (male).
For reasons unknown to me they spent the next four years in the Selig Zoo in California.

William "Buckles" Woodcock

At its zenith, Robinsons Great Combination Show had the largest Herd in the captive world, but a bank panic in 1916 forced him to sell out to Ringling Brothers most of his equipment and animals, but Robinson kept four of his oldest elephants: Clara, Tillie, Tony and Old Pitt on his Terrace Park, Ohio, property, which had always served as their winter quarters. John Robinson Jr. died 1921, but his widow also kept the elephants for some years. One by one they died, and in the end, the last one, Old Pitt, was sold to Cole Brothers Circus.

Records about John Robinson Circus from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at
1916: The title was very well known, particularly in the South and several show owners lusted for it\'s use with such titles as "Don R. Robinson" and "Famous Robinson" the latter owned by Jerry Mugivan and Bert Bowers.
On March 6, 1916 Mugivan and Bowers finally succeeded in buying the show from the Robinson family and immediately sold the equipment to Ben Wallace since all they wanted was the legitimate rights to the John Robinson name,
They still owned the show in 1929, now the American Circus Corporation but by this time lacked the prestige of the Corporation\'s Hagenbeck-Wallace and Sells-Floto Circuses.

William "Buckles" Woodcock

Records about John Robinson Circus from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at
John Robinson Circus in United States United+StatesThree of the four punks delivered to the Gollmar Show in 1922 and now seen in parade with John Robinson in McCook, Nebraska on August 2, 1924. Note the saddles.

William "Buckles" Woodcock

1929: (Elephant boss: Lawrence "Larry" Davis) 12 Asian elephant cows.

References for records about John Robinson Circus

Recommended Citation

Koehl, Dan (2024). John Robinson Circus, Elephant Encyclopedia. Available online at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

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