Of Wolves and Men…….

black-wolf-dominant retriever man dot com jpg

April 10, 2015

This was one of my first posts. It’s as timely today as it was almost six years ago.


September 2009

Nature Magazine examines reasons behind wolf hatred and the systematic campaign to remove them from the lower forty-eight. It merits repeating that for thousands of years Native Americans were able to live with wolves and bears, while settlers saw them as a threat. Even the famed naturalist James Audubon partook in torturing wolves, which was particularly shocking to learn.

As noted in Michael Robinson’s “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West”, the federal government became the wolf killing arm for the livestock industry.

By understanding the roots of wolf prejudice it’s clear to see why wolves have been demonized in American culture. The wolf has paid dearly for these attitudes. Even though the same outdated beliefs exist today, we are moving forward to a clearer understanding of the important role predators play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Man cannot continue to play god, deciding which animals are good or bad. Predators do not have ulterior motives, they hunt because that is what they are born to do and by so doing contribute to the health and stamina of their prey.

The nexus of wolf wars is the continuing presence of livestock on the Western range. This has been and will continue to be the reason wolves remain caught in the crossfire.


From Nature Online:

The Wolf That Changed America
Wolf Wars: America’s Campaign to Eradicate the Wolf

 Wolves have been feared, hated, and persecuted for hundreds of years in North America. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans incorporated wolves into their legends and rituals, portraying them as ferocious warriors in some traditions and thieving spirits in others. European Americans, however, simply despised wolves. Many, including celebrated painter and naturalist John James Audubon, believed wolves ought to be eradicated for the threat they posed to valuable livestock. This attitude enabled a centuries-long extermination campaign that nearly wiped out the gray wolf in the continental United States by 1950.

Origins of Wolf Hatred

In the New World, two top predators – wolves and men – that otherwise would have avoided each other clashed over livestock. In Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, Jon T. Coleman writes:

Wolves had a ghostly presence in colonial landscapes. Settlers heard howls, but they rarely spotted their serenaders. The fearsome beasts avoided humans. People frightened them, and colonists knew this: “They are fearefull Curres,” reported Thomas Morton in 1637, “and will runne away from a man (that meeteth them by chance at a banke end) as fast as any fearefull dogge.”

Because humans and wolves frightened one another, they logically avoided confrontation, opening space between the species. But that space closed when European colonists brought horses, cattle, sheep and pigs with them over the perilous journey across the Atlantic. Without these animals – sources of food and transportation for the European settlers – the colonies would have failed. But because most early colonial communities were small, livestock often grazed on the periphery of the settlements with little protection. Their pastures abutted and bled into the wild, exposing the animals to hungry wolves in search of prey. Wolves quickly learned that docile cattle and sheep made easy meals. Suddenly, colonists found their livelihoods in danger, and they lashed out at wolves, both with physical violence and folklore that ensured wolf hatred would be passed down from one generation to the next.

Amateur and Professional Wolf Baiting

The campaign to eradicate wolves in North America began with private landowners and farmers baiting and trapping wolves. Often, colonists turned wolf baiting into both sport and protection for their livestock. Jon T. Coleman describes an incident that took place in the winter of 1814 deep in the Ohio River Valley, in which John James Audubon assists a farmer as he mutilates trapped wolves.

During the fall, a pack of wolves had robbed [the farmer] of “nearly the whole of his sheep and one of his colts.” For him, it made sense to devote his winter labor to digging pits, weaving platforms, hunting bait, and setting and checking his traps twice daily. The animals had injured him, and “he was now ‘paying them off in full.’” Audubon’s reaction to the slaying of the wolves is less understandable … The ingenious pit traps amazed him, as did the fearsome predators’ meek behavior and the childlike glee the farmer took in his work. The violence Audubon witnessed, however, did not shock him. Watching a pack of dogs rip apart terrified and defenseless animals was a “sport” both he and the farmer found enjoyable.

Further west, in Yellowstone National Park, wolf baiting and hunting had become a lucrative profession. Paul Schullery, in his guidebook to Yellowstone wolves (The Yellowstone Wolf: A Guide & Sourcebook), describes the profession and the devastating affect it had on the Yellowstone wolf population: “At least as early as 1877, ungulate carcasses in the park were poisoned with strychnine by free-lance ‘wolfers’ for ‘wolf or wolverine bait.’ By 1880, [Yellowstone National Park] Superintendent [Philetus] Norris stated in his annual report that ‘…the value of their [wolves and coyotes] hides and their easy slaughter with strychnine-poisoned carcasses have nearly led to their extermination.’”

In the Southwest, as settlers depleted bison, elk, deer, and moose populations – the wolves’ natural prey – the predators turned more and more to picking off livestock. In states like New Mexico where cattle ranching was big business, ranchers responded by turning to professional wolfers and bounty hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports, “To protect livestock, ranchers and government agencies began an eradication campaign. Bounty programs initiated in the 19th century continued as late as 1965, offering $20 to $50 per wolf. Wolves were trapped, shot, dug from their dens, and hunted with dogs. Poisoned animal carcasses were left out for wolves, a practice that also killed eagles, ravens, foxes, bears, and other animals that fed on the tainted carrion.”

Government-Sanctioned Wolf Extermination Programs   


Government Trapper

Towards the end of the 19th Century, wealthy livestock owners increased both their demand for wider grazing ranges and their influence over policymakers in Washington, D.C. In 1885, the federal government established the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, initially chartered to research insects and birds. However, the livestock lobby quickly diverted the Bureau’s attention to wolves. Stockowners complained that their land was infested with wolves, calling them “breeding grounds.” They demanded the federal government secure their land for safe pasturage.

In 1906, the U.S. Forest Service acquiesced to the stockowners and enlisted the help of the Bureau of Biological Survey to clear cattle ranges of gray wolves. In other words, the Bureau became a wolf-extermination unit. Bruce Hampton writes in The Great American Wolf:

That same year [1906], bureau biologist Vernon Bailey traveled to Wyoming and New Mexico to investigate the extent of wolf and coyote depredations. Upon Bailey’s return to Washington, D.C., President Roosevelt invited him to the White House to see what he had learned. Although there is no record of their conversation, immediately following Bailey’s meeting the President, the Biological Survey recommended that the government begin “devising methods for the destruction of the animals [wolves].”

By the middle of the 20th Century, government-sponsored extermination had wiped out nearly all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. Only a small population remained in northeastern Minnesota and Michigan. Yet the Bureau of Biological Survey was still disseminating anti-wolf propaganda as late as 1940. One poster from the time read:

According to estimates of stockmen [the Custer Wolf, pictured in the poster] killed $25,000 worth of cattle during the seven years he was known in the vicinity of Custer, South Dakota … A local bounty of $500 failed to secure his capture. A Department hunter ended his career of destruction by a skillfully set trap. Many notorious wolves are known to have killed cattle valued at $3000 to $5000 in a year. More than 3,849 wolves have been destroyed by the predatory animal work of the Department and its cooperators since the work was organized in 1915.

It was not until the late sixties, when a greater understanding of natural ecosystems began changing attitudes in the scientific community and the National Park Service, that the plight of wolves in North America began to improve.

In 1973, Congress gave gray wolves protection under the Endangered Species Act. According to Douglas Smith and Gary Ferguson, in Yellowstone National Park, where the last gray wolf was killed in 1926, “the entire [gray wolf] restoration program was guided by directives contained in the Endangered Species Act – a law created to ground a decades-old cornerstone of science that says the healthiest, most stable natural systems tend to be those with high levels of biodiversity.”

Since then, wolf populations throughout the country have increased. In 1995 and 1996, researchers in Yellowstone National Park released 31 Canadian gray wolves back into the wild. The event was hailed as a testament to the conservation movement’s efforts to revive wild wolf populations in America. Yet anti-wolf attitudes persist. Shortly after the release of the Yellowstone wolves a hunter shot and killed Wolf Number 10. Smith and Ferguson write about the incident: “As disturbing as the shooting itself was, more unsavory still was the reaction of a handful of locals who cheered the killing, calling it an act of heroism.”

The Wolf That Changed America


Photos © Arizona Historical Society


Coleman, Jon T. Vicious: Wolves and Men in America. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2004.

Hampton, Bruce. The Great American Wolf. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997.

Robinson, Michael J. Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West. University Press of Colorado, 2005.

Schullery, Paul. The Yellowstone Wolf: A Guide & Sourcebook. Worland, Wyoming: High Plains Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.

Smith, Douglas W. and Gary Ferguson. Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2005.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Gray Wolf Fact Sheet. [updated January 2007; cited November 2008]



Top Photo:  Courtesy retrievermandotnet

Photos: Nature Online

Video: Courtesy YouTube PBS

Posted in: Wolf  Wars

Tags:  gray wolf, wolves or livestock, wolf intolerance, Nature Online, The Wolf That Changed America, PBS

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reblogged this on hocuspocus13 and commented:
    jinxx ♣ xoxo


  2. Let’s not forget, that Aldo Leopold in the early days of the last century, witnessed an ecosystem die in the absence of her wolves. Leopold is considered the father of Ecology and his seminal treatise, “A Sand County Almanac” was the bible of the environmental advocacy. When he witnessed an ecosystem die a century ago without her wolves, he set the pace and the science. I think his A Sand County Almanac the greatest words ever put on paper. Everyone should read, “Thinking Like a Mountain”. He cautions everyone, to think like an ecosystem; think like Earth; what is Earth’s opinion of her wolves! Didn’t Earth select wolves for America? Did not Earth always get it perfect?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aldo Leopold was not above killing wolves to begin with. He describes the time he shot an old female wolf and got to her just in time “to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.” That made a big impression on him and changed the direction of his thinking of wildlife and wolves.


      • Thank you, ahimsa, for clarifying what Leopold did. I am not much for making heroes of these past wolf killers, including Ernest Thompson Seton, who was also a wolf killer in New Mexico, (killed an alpha male and his mate, using traps, with the beautiful male finally caught in 4 traps, one on each leg.), and who is now some kind of environmental hero. Why not instead make environmental heroes of those who have not carried and used guns and traps on wild animals? Yes, these guys got some conscience, but not until after the slaughter. I think we just make too darn much of them.


      • Rosemary, I recall a Wyoming (Montana?) wolf called “Rags” and his killer called himself the wolf’s “master” after torturing him with traps for days. The wolf was very old and worn down, and the sick freak simply said “You poor murdering devil” to the dead wolf at his feet. He finally gave up, walked up to the hunter with traps on his feet and was shot with the hunter patting himself on the back for it. It’s like some freakish form of masturbation.


  3. No thoughtful comments right now. …this SAYS IT ALL. .

    ………I’d love to go back in time and show them how a real SLAUGHTER would look like. .


  4. Nabeki, I hope that this isn’t as timely 50 or 100 years from now.

    There’s a book I have (fiction) called ‘The Loop’. I get to a certain page and just cannot get beyond it – where so many wolves were killed that streets were paved with their bones. We do that in my neck of the woods with seashells. I just want to throw the book down and rage at human stupidity.


  5. Nabeki, of all things – this book was reviewed by Ralph Maughan over at TWN. I had no idea. I just happened to look up the book online. I own it in hardcover and paperback – it’s like a treasure to me, but I can’t get through it. I do hope to push through it someday. 😦

    The wolf bone-paved streets is true. Blech.



  6. Idalupine: I read the “Loop” too. If my memory is correct, they told how the Blackfeet Native Americans believed, all of these wolves didn’t die but found a high mountain very far away and were hiding there until the white man fell extinct. When the white people were gone, the wolves would come down the mountain and go home, at last.


  7. Just a note on JJ Audubon: He also shot immense numbers of birds of all species, to mount and paint.
    He was a bit egregiously overzealous, beating even most “naturalists’ and other scientists of his time. (I will not here sicken you with the methods of research on wolves – just let suffice to say that they differed not from JJ, who strongly appears to me to have been quite enamoured of “collecting.”

    As you know from Yellowstone research of recent decades, wolves actually have a protective effect on birds. Reducing excessive mesopredator populations is vital to migratory and nesting species.
    I never inhibited a hunter I knew from taking the human-assisted cats, when the opportunity arose; it was his nature, to be the Balancer of the Earth.
    Makuyi is the Blackfeet name for Brother Wolf, I have borrowed it from my great Visitor to say some things for him.

    I have also long found it oxymoronic that the Mexican Wolf, gets its unique subspecies name, baileyi, from one of the most effective Euroamerican wolf-haters. While difficult, taxonomic names can be changed…

    In recent news, we find some indication that Idaho agencies may have inflated surviving wolf numbers, in order to continue the pursuit to extinction (I’m typing next to a complex book about modeling (measuring and predicting) effects that endanger species, sending them repeatedly toward extinction).

    Guns, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation (Building logging roads, particularly, and failing to close public lands exploitation roads to the public), failing to add or include wildlife passages across highways; these are practical targets to help Wolf come home.

    A new book on finding resonance with the larger sympathetic public for environmental concerns ( of which the lives of every single wolf are deeply a part, #1 to me) came out by John Meyer of Humboldt State. Since the wolf is primarily a communicator (I have profound reason fro saying this), the lesson of their kind to us could be that we need to increase our skills to help them.
    If any of you are unsure of your direction in life, do as my Brother used to: test all things – those things will tell you if you can catch them…


  8. Reblogged this on Exposing the Big Game.


  9. It breaks my heart to see these pics of wolves hung up in rows. I hate the thought of any animal being killed, but understand the need for food. Wolves aren’t a food animal though. They are a wondrous gift from Him. They should be treasured not trapped, studied not snared, and not said to be monsters. They are beautiful, family loving, caring animals that we could learn so much from. I abhor any law that says or implies otherwise. Idaho is by far the worst State of all when it comes to slaughtering these magnificent animals. I’ve watched films/documentaries about people who live with wolves, and the way these animals interact with the humans is truly amazing. I love wolves, always have and always will. I STAND FOR WOLVES.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Back in 1970, David Mech described how to deal with the wolf haters: “These people cannot be changed. If the wolf is to survive, the wolf haters much be outnumbered. They must be out-shouted, out-financed, and out voted. Their narrow and biased attitude must be outweighed by an attitude based on an understanding of natural process. Finally, their hate must be outdone by a love for the whole of nature, for the unspoiled wilderness, and for the wolf as a beautiful, interesting, and integral part of nature.” Okay, it’s now 45 years later, and the haters are still outnumbering, outshouting, out-financing, and out voting us. And the wolves die.
    L. David Mech, The Wolf (1970), p. 348


    • It doesn’t help when there are so-called wolf advocates telling us all to shut up and compromise.


  11. Going to reblog this over on Learning from Dogs.


  12. Did you guys hear about that new wolf poll in Idaho?

    * http://www.kmvt.com/news/latest/New-Poll-Most-Idahoans-Dont-Want-Protections-For-Wolves-299775441.html
    * http://idahopoliticsweekly.com/politics/237-poll-idaho-residents-don-t-want-protections-for-wolves

    I’m really hoping that these results are due to skewed data (either through the small sample size, or the selection of survey participants, or some other statistical mistake), but regardless of how skewed the data is the poll results are extremely disturbing!


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