17 November 2020

The Custer Wolf

Some notes I jotted down years ago while reading Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery (Steve Nicholls, University of Chicago Press, 2009).  A marvelous book, BTW - read my previous excerpts.

During the settlement of the American west, wolves were systematically eradicated.  One of the last survivors was dubbed the Custer Wolf.  He was reputedly responsible for killing five hundred horses, cows, and calves worth $25,000 and seemed unstoppable.  A $500 bounty on his head drew many eager hunters, including professional hunter Harry Percival Williams.
“Williams went to enormous lengths to fool the Custer Wolf.  He boiled his traps for half a day then buried them in cow manure for several days to mask any human scent.  Once prepared they were stored in cowhide bags, and when he was setting them he was careful to first throw down a cowhide before dismounting, so he didn’t leave any scent on the round.  He also sprinkled the area with female wolf scent.

The Custer Wolf ignored all these traps… Nothing Williams tried seemed to work, though he often caught glimpses of the wolf trailing him along a parallel ridge, stopping when he stopped.  If Williams reached for his tobacco pouch, the wolf watched with interest, but if he reached for his rifle, the Custer Wolf simply vanished.  

The wolf was sometimes warned of Williams’s presence by a pair of coyotes, so to even up the sides a little, Williams shot the coyotes.  Since he didn’t want to let old Custer know that his early warning system was no longer operating, he tossed the bodies of the coyotes into a deep ravine, only to return the next day to find their bodies dragged back to the top and left in plain view for Williams to find.”

Later, Williams found the Custer Wolf feeding at a carcass so he set his elaborately prepared traps around it.  But more often than not, the wolf just pulled the carcass across the traps to spring them.”  
I'll defer adding the end of the story, which isn't pleasant for the wolf.  You can read the outcome at Wikipedia.

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