DONORS:
James Roush, DVM and the Elgin family
Bob and Morticia, a golden eagle
A Biography – Bob Elgin
Charles Robert Elgin (Bob) was born in Centerville, Iowa on May 21, 1921 to Rae Ursula BeauSeigneur and John Robert Elgin. As a young man, he
immersed himself in the woods and valleys of Southern Iowa. He captured and trained a wild Cooper’s hawk, sparking an interest in raptors. He contacted
Colonel Luff Meredith and the two became fast friends, with Meredith mentoring Elgin in the noble sport of falconry.
During World War 2, Elgin was a commended Non-Commissioned Officer for the Air Force. Enthralled with things that flew, he honed his interest in
airplanes while in the military and after the war he owned his own plane.
At 36, Bob married Jane Hill and the couple lived in Chariton, Iowa, above the clothing store owned by Bobs father. They soon moved to Avon Lake where
Elgin worked for United Federal. Known as Ranger Bob, he traveled with his raptors to lecture to service groups. Often called Iowas first falconer, he
mentored many others on the sport.
An adventure Bob loved to recall took place in the spring of 1964 when he, Jim Roush and Jim Kimsey traveled to Wyoming to search for Prairie falcons.
Using an extension ladder and a frazzled hay rope, the three ascended into eyries high in the rugged cliffs. One site contained babies too young to take.
Another held two young males that bolted when Roush appeared, precariously suspended on the frazzled rope. But a pair of females remained, backed
into a corner and ready to fight. Jim captured one. They left a baby in each nest so the adults could finish their reproductive cycle and be more likely to
occupy the site again. By the end of the trip, all three falconers proudly held a downy Prairie falcon in their arms. According to Roush, “With Bobs help we
were able to train and fly them, and it lives in my memory as the trip of a lifetime.
In 1967, Elgin became director of the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. He educated himself on the care of exotic animals and built the zoo into a well-
respected facility with a large collection of big cats, canines, reptiles, ungulates, elephants, primates, and raptors. Bob practiced adaptation training on
these animals, using techniques similar to those he learned in falconry.
Elgin was often featured in newspaper, magazines, and on television shows. He appeared with a jaguar on the Kennedy and Company show, and on the
Regis Philbin show in New York City. His handling of many species demonstrated the power of a gentle touch, patience, and understanding.
There were challenges as well. In 1969, Huff, a six foot-long cobra, bit Elgin, nearly killing him. A 160 pound chimpanzee, jealous over Bobs attention to
a lion, bit off two of his fingers on Christmas day in 1973. Despite the difficulties, the years Elgin spent as zoo director were some of his happiest. His wife
Jane, sons Rob, Joel and Bruce, and daughters Beckie and Shelly, worked alongside him, making the zoo a family affair.
After retiring in 1984 Elgin kept a black wolf named Taurus at his home. Next, came a lovely gyr/peregrine falcon named Girl Bird. He also imported
Schutzhund trained German Shepherd dogs that he and Jane bred and trained for many years.
Elgin was a skilled fiction and non-fiction writer. His article on falconry appeared in The Saturday
Evening Post in 1961. Gourmet magazine published his piece “Hawking Party, about falconry in the
Middle Ages. In 1961, Catholic Rural Life wrote a story on Elgin and falconry. He developed a popular
treatise, “On the Psychology of the Goshawk, in 1959. He also wrote and produced several films on the
zoo and falconry. His two books, Man in a Cage and The Tiger is My Brother, discussed his life at the zoo.
A true Renaissance man, Elgin was passionate about opera, philosophy, politics, good food, an occasional
cognac, and most of all, his wife Jane, an artist still residing in Iowa. He stayed in close contact with fellow
falconers, including Jim Roush and Jack Stoddard. Granddaughter, Hannah Hartsell, carries on his love
of raptors through her work at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon and at Tuscons Arizona
Sonora Desert Museum.
A loving husband, father, grandfather and friend, Bob is dearly
remembered for his wisdom, honesty and devotion to the humans and
animals in his care.
Ode to a Falcon
Rest, fair falcon, on your high reck
Safe from the yellow-eyed eyes of night.
Then, when the sun ascends to greet you
Rouse, rouse in your splendor
Cast into the wind
And ring, ring high into the sky
To where your tiercel waits-on
With pulsing wings.
High above the clouds,
On his blue wings,
The tiercel luffs into the wind
To greet you
And you dance with him
Pirouetting, falling, lancing high
Through the vastness of Being,
Knowing in your joy
A oneness with the sky
And the endless, eternal
Love of living.
by Charles Robert Elgin, a Scottish Falconer
Bob was known
as the “Father of
Iowa Falconry
bob made many contributions to our sport.
In the early days, he established connections with European
falconers, was able to import hoods and bells from Richter in
Germany, and ultimately created avenues for the importation of
European Goshawks for American falconers.
THE JOURNEY WEST
AFTER FALCONS
Sometime around 1964, another young falconer, Jim
Kimsey, and I made plans to go on a falcon acquisition
expedition to Wyoming. We were very happy our mentor,
Bob Elgin, was going to accompany us.
Jim had bought Prairie Falcons from a character named
“Doc Groom from Lame Deer, Montana. They were quite
expensive, a whole fifty bucks. Kimsey did some research,
and discovered that there was a nesting population of
Prairie Falcons near the Wyoming/Colorado border west of
Pine Bluff, Nebraska. One fine spring day, the three of us
piled into a car, with ropes in the trunk and an extension
ladder on the top, and headed west.
We followed the Platte River across Nebraska, the route of
many pioneers. There are stories of the pioneers moving
westward along the south bank, followed by Pawnees on the
north bank. The Pawnee would occasionally “moon the
interlopers, an insult quite tame compared to what was to
follow for them. But for us, in the late 20th century, it was
smooth sailing along a good highway without a Pawnee in
sight.
Spirits were high. There was much camaraderie and talk
of hawks, falcons, and the old days when falconry was
just beginning in America. Bob, our mentor, told us stories
about his mentor Col. Luff Meredith. He told us about the
split between the old falconry club and those members who
formed the new one, and the fiery passions involved with
deciding the future of falconry in our country.
We watched the country change from corn, to wheat, to
sagebrush as we finally arrived in southern Wyoming,
where we were to search for Prairie Falcons. The country
was one of flatlands, with mesas and buttes which had steep
cliffs between thirty and a hundred feet high. It was on
these cliffs where we searched for falcons.
Our strategy was to split up, each walking along the rubble
at the base of a cliff, looking for the telltale “whitewash
(aka bird poop) streaking down from a ledge or pothole.
Upon finding this, we would then observe, quietly, for the
appearance of a bird of prey. If it proved to be a Prairie
Falcon, we would re-convene and discuss our finding.
We were able to locate a number of active eyries. We found
one which seemed safe for us to climb into with ropes, and
another which was accessible with an aluminum extension
ladder. By the time we had located the eyries, it was getting
toward dusk, so we decided to camp overnight and go out
in the morning.
Sunrise found us trekking across the prairie, two guys
carrying a ladder and one carrying an old frazzled hay rope
we brought from a barn in Iowa (a modern rock climber
would shudder at the thought).
Jim Kimsey, who had the courage of a lion and the strength
of a gorilla, climbed down the rope into an eyrie, and
discovered that it had baby Prairies, but they were much
too young for us to take; we were looking for large downies.
So he left them in place.
At the next eyrie Kimsey lowered me on the hay rope into
an eyrie with large downies in it. In fact the male babies
were able to fly, and they bolted out of the pothole when
I showed up. The females were backed into a corner, and
clearly ready to fight for their lives. A female was taken from
here.
We then located an eyrie which was accessible with the
ladder, somewhat unstable and the top swaying around in
the wind. We were able to get a couple of young falcons
from there.
Bob, being the senior member of the expedition, and
having a lot more brains than the two young goofballs he
was with, kept urging us not to take such chances. We of
course were too dumb and impetuous to listen to his voice
of reason.
We made sure there was one young left in each eyrie, so the
parents could finish their reproductive cycle by fledging
young, and so be more likely to occupy this site next year.
With a downy Prairie Falcon chick for each of us, we
made our way back to the car, after an encounter with an
extremely miffed rattlesnake.
The trip back to Iowa was triumphant. There were no
known falcons nesting in Iowa at that time, and we later
found out that Peregrine Falcons were nearly extinct
throughout most of their range, so our new babies were
very prized by us. With Bobs help, we were able to train
and fly them, and it lives in my memory as the trip of a
lifetime.
Jim Roush