So Many Wolves

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I instantly levelled my double-barrelled gun and killed both, one after the other. Some wolves were so daring that they came directly into camps. During the s traveler Rufus Sage recorded that wolves "proved a constant source of annoyance," running off with kettles, pans, and other camp paraphernalia. One "piratical pest" even made off with Sage's fur hat from his head while he was asleep.

In another instance, a companion, using his prized leather saddle as a pillow, awoke to find a wolf had filched the saddle during the night. After "gently drawing it from beneath the head of the unconscious sleeper," said Sage, the wolf "bore off his prize to devour it at his leisure.

Regardless, wolves gained a reputation for mischief. When Horace Greeley, famed editor of the New York Tribune , traveled across the West in the s, he described the wolf as an opportunistic "scoundrel," possessing a brazen cunning of "imposing caliber. Such boldness sometimes cost wolves their lives, although ammunition was in such short supply on the early frontier that most people refused to waste it on an animal they did not consider dangerous or of little value for fur or food.

No one shot them, said Oregon Trail traveler Lansford Hastings, because their skins "are entirely worthless.


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While wintering on the Oregon coast in , Lewis and Clark reported their not infrequent reliance on the flesh of dog and wolf. This may not have been as onerous as it sounds; many frontiersmen learned from Indians to eat dog and found it quite palatable. In near present-day Salmon, Idaho, several American Fur Company trappers recorded that "we killed a grey wolf which was fat, and made us a tolerable supper. Although frontiersmen are wolves as a last resort, such was not the case when wolves turned to humans for food.

Numerous records indicate that the predators readily fed on human corpses. Maximilian traveled west during the s in time to witness the results of a devastating smallpox pandemic among Native Americans. Thirty years later, the penchant of wolves for human cadavers caused difficulty for the United States Army.

Gray Wolf | Defenders of Wildlife

Soldiers assigned to Fort Kearney in central Nebraska reported that they had to bury their dead in deep holes, place heavy planks over the coffins, and then haul large stones to fill the graves in order to prevent wolves from disinterring the corpses. Without these precautions, they said, wolves almost invariably exhumed the dead. Wolves proved so deft at finding exposed or buried cadavers that many frontiersmen possessed a grim fatalism about the fact. In the mids, Lieutenant J.

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Abert was returning home from an exploration of the Southwest when one of his men grew ill and died during a snowstorm in eastern Colorado. Unable to bury the victim, Abert simply left him, declaring it was the man's "destiny to leave his bones on the desert prairies, where wolves howl his requiem.

Are We Back To Having Too Many Wolves?

Abert was not the first or last frontiersman to associate death with the howl of a wolf. Most listeners found the low, mournful quality of the sound unsettling. In fact the wolf's voice appears to have contributed greatly to many people's fear and dislike of the animal. Not everyone heard it that way.


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George Catlin thought that the soft and plaintive howl of a wolf was the sound of a "lonesome" animal who had become "lost in the too beautiful quiet and stillness about him. Maximilian was camped one night in along the Missouri River when a dozen wolves appeared on the opposite shore and "entertained us with a concert of their sweet voices.

It is remarkable, Farnham said, to realize that every morning precisely at daybreak, thousands upon thousands of wolves raise their voices in a symphony of sound that "swells along the vast plains of Texas to the sources of the Mississippi and from Missouri to the depths of the Rocky Mountains. After many years trapping in the Rocky Mountains during the early s, Osborne Russell maintained that wolves "are not ferocious towards man and will run at sight of him.

Yet in a candid moment Cox asserted that, unlike European wolves, "an American wolf, except forced by desperation, will seldom, or ever, attack a human being. But he soon learned that "instead of men being afraid of wolves, the wolves were afraid of men. Despite these and other steadfast disavowals of wolf attack, people who had little or no experience with the predators remained unconvinced.

Why should a wolf -- powerful and capable of killing prey many times its size -- not kill humans? Fear of attack was no small matter to those persuaded of the animal's murderous intentions. During the mids in southeastern Wyoming, John Steele was traveling alone when a pack of wolves began following him. As darkness fell, the animals came ever nearer. Unnerved, Steele shot the closest ones, then heard "awful sounds" that he identified as the dead wolves being "devoured" by their brethren. When Steele observed "their glaring eyes and saw how easily they might spring upon me, I realized, that like David, there was but a step between me and death.

As nineteenth-century wolf stories go, Steele's tale -- even his conviction of being at death's door -- is more believable than most. Whenever wolves followed travelers who were alone and unused to such behavior, the experience could be unsettling. Often such tales did not stop with a sleepless night, for few writers could resist the temptation to embellish the scene. The savage beasts killed and ate their companions, disemboweled their wives, and tore their children limb from limb in blood-drenched feasts of agony, gluttony, and gore.

Here was yet another reason to believe that wolves killed and at humans: such stories fulfilled people's expectations of what life on the wild frontier was like. Even if these stories were not true, they should be.

Wolves Strengthen Ungulates

So many patently false wolf attack tales circulated throughout the nineteenth century that it is difficult to sort out those that may have been authentic. George Bird Grinnell -- competent naturalist and keen student of the American West -- believed few stories about wolf attacks. Nonetheless, one that seemed plausible to him involved the eighteen-year-old daughter of the famous western trapper and scout, Jim Baker. In Baker's family was homesteading in northwestern Colorado when his daughter went out one evening at dusk to herd some cows home for the night.

She shouted to frighten it away, and when it did not move, took up a stone and threw at it. The animal snarled at her call, and when she threw the stone, came jumping down the hill, caught her by the shoulder, threw her down, and tore her badly on the arms and legs. She screamed, and her brother, who happened to be near and had his gun, ran up and killed the wolf.

Another convincing chronicler was Josiah Gregg, an early trader and frequent traveler of the Santa Fe Trail during the s. Once while traveling through Missouri, Gregg spotted a wolf and gave chase on horseback. After overtaking the exhausted animal, he struck it over the head with a wooden club, but the club broke in two. The wolf then attacked and bit his horse; it reared and Gregg toppled off. My ruse had the desired effect, for after springing at me a few times, he wheeled about and trotted off several paces, and stopped to gaze at me.

In both these instances the attacking animal was provoked and may be seen as defending itself. At the very least, these accounts suggest that not all wolves were as meek and docile as observers In light of his experience, Gregg doubted that wolves preyed on humans, "though they probably would if very hungry and a favorable opportunity presented itself. Alleged wolf attacks sometimes had another source: hydrophobia or rabies Wolves occasionally became infected At the fur trappers' rendezvous on the Green River in western Wyoming, a white rabid wolf wandered into camp during two different nights and bit numerous people and stock animals.

Exactly how many victims died as a result is unclear, but one account claims at least thirteen people, along with a prized bull, which was being herded west as a nucleus for one of the first Oregon cattle herds By the time the rendezvous ended that summer, several victims had developed symptoms of hydrophobia -- irrational behavior, fearfulness, foaming about the mouth, and inability to consume water -- and died shortly afterward How much fear of bodily harm exacerbated the dislike many people already felt for wolves is difficult to assess, but it probably played no small role in further darkening public opinion of the animal.

Opporbrious references to wolves surfaced in everyday western speech. By mid-century wolves were often compared to those other troublesome western inhabitants whom many newcomers came to fear and loath -- Native Americans After the Sioux rebellion in Minnesota in in which some four hundred settlers lost their lives, citizens Those Indians who were elusive and difficult to engage in battle were often called "cowardly wolves.

Before the great herds of hoofed wild animals began their precipitous decline after the middle of the nineteenth century, early travelers recorded much about the relationship and their prey Wolves killed a variety of large wild ungulates, but as William Clark observed in , they mainly followed "the large gangues of Buffalw," feeding "on those that are killed by accident or those that are too pore to keep up with the gangue. Most frontier accounts agree with William Clark's observation that when wolves hunted buffalo they selected primarily the young, weak, sick, or disabled. How many actually fell to wolves can only be estimated.

Reports of the number of buffalo during the early nineteenth century vary widely Plains Indians told frontiersmen that wolves took as many as one-third of each year's calves. What actions could she take? When would the wolves start exhibiting hunting behavior?

List of gray wolf populations by country

Vardaman knew conflicts over wolves were imminent, and that a working relationship with ranchers would both minimize cattle predation and the chance of wolves being killed in retaliation. Owens and a ranch apprentice, Brykelle Lang, set out electrified wire to protect livestock from mountain lions and coyotes. It suggests a suite of non-lethal wolf deterrents, including fladry small red flags and flashing lights, which can startle predators, and guard dogs. It teaches tactics such as bunching cattle together and rotating them around grazing areas, which not only keeps wolves at bay, it also better allows grass to regenerate.

And it trains and funds range stewards, who spend time in the field with cattle, observing how best to manage the herd and protect it from predators.

The question could not be more pressing: the new California pack, the Lassen pack, now consists of at least two adults, two yearlings and five pups, and has killed at least four calves since July. Todd Swickard suffered one such depredation. On 19 September, one of his ranch hands found a partially consumed calf, which state biologists confirmed was killed by a wolf.

Area livestock producers feel their hands are tied if wolf numbers continue growing. Federal and state laws prohibit lethal recourse against wolves. With lethal action off the table — at least legally — ranchers are slowly coming to the realization they must try other methods. Owens spends a good deal of time meeting with ranchers in the area to educate them about Working Circle services.

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Despite work that might be seen as advocacy for wolves, Owens is ambivalent about their presence. Her efforts are grounded as much as anything in the realization that wolves are not going anywhere.

How many cows are we going to lose? How many wolves are we going to lose? Below left: Wolf pups from the Wenaha pack. He checks a network of 14 trail cameras in the area, one of which snapped a photo this summer of OR, one of two lone wolves ranging through California. Top: Owens drives around her ranch in Los Molinos. Below left: Metal posts are used to hold electrified wire. No other pack has established itself. I asked Sumner how seeing the wolf made him feel, and it took him some time to elaborate.



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