Thursday, February 11, 2016

The great Russell "wolf hunt" of 1910

A substantial percentage of Lucas County's menfolk went nuts during 1910 for one reason or another, grabbed their shotguns and upon multiple occasions headed for specified townships to form huge circles around big chunks of territory, march toward each other and then, perhaps, shoot a "wolf" (while somehow managing not to shoot each other).

These were the great "wolf hunts" of 1910 --- one round in March and early April and another during December. The photo here, from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, shows participants in one of the Washington Township hunts, but I'm not sure which since there were at least three hunts in the territory around Russell that year, one in early March, another on April 5 and a third in early December. I'm guessing that the photo was taken (by Robert Crowley) at the end of the early March hunt. Other hunts in Warren, Benton, English and Lincoln townships were reported upon in the Chariton newspapers, too --- and there probably were more.

The estimated number of participants in these hunts ranged from 100 men to 800. There was one major ground rule --- shotguns only, no rifles or other "high-powered" weapons. Each hunt resulted in the deaths of at the most three unfortunate "wolves" and during some, none were sighted. The Chariton Herald reported on December 8, 1910, for example, that "the big wolf hunt in Washington township was a great success, socially, but no wolves were caught or even sighted." I'm guessing that, at the most, two dozen of the critters fell across the county during that banner year.

Keep in mind that Lucas County's great white hunters actually weren't stalking wolves --- the Great Plains wolf, which once roamed the western two-thirds of the state, had departed with the buffalo. There may have been a few gray (timber) wolves still around in northeast Iowa, but if so their numbers were very small. The hunters actually were after coyotes, which some called "prairie wolves."

Iowa settlers had hunted both wolves and coyotes aggressively from the start --- viewing them as major threats to smaller livestock, principally sheep. At the time of the 1910 hunts, there was a $5 bounty per coyote carcass. Only the coyote, smaller than the wolf and in many instances smarter than those who hunted him, survived in Iowa --- and still does.


The bounds of all three Washington Township hunts were the same --- the state road (now U.S.34) on the north, the Monroe county line on the east, the Benton Township line on the west and the Chariton River to the south. Each line of march had several captains, in charge of seeing that the troops were efficiently deployed. On at least two occasions, a lunch wagon was deployed near the point of convergence to feed the hungry hunters. If you look carefully at this photo (right-click and open in a new window to view), at least one coyote carcass is on display. At ground level, those may be dogs --- or they may be carcasses held upright.

We even have a tongue-in-cheek report of that March hunt, datelined Russell, headlined "At the Call of the Wild," published in The Chariton Leader of March 10, and signed "Sport." Here it is:

Out of the east rose a big red sun, as glorious as ever graced the landscape in old Iowa, and that's saying a plenty. The air was motionless, crisp, electrifying. A calm, clear March morning. It is the day of the big wolf-hunt.

The Big Wolf-Hunt --- what an epoch in the history of Lucas county that phrase is destined to mark! In our mind's eye we glimpse the future, and with the mind's ear we hear our grandchildren reuminating like this: "Let me see, Cy Larkin has lived right thar fer jist forty years --- I know 'cause he bought that place the year of the Big Wolf-Hunt, and that was in 1910." This event, too, we surmise, will simplify the problem of "how old is Ann" for the coming generations. Open the Good Book and read from the pages of the family record, "Anna Jones, born three years after the Big Wolf-Hunt," etc., Oh it was great!

At eight o'clock men were associating the fact of the great hunt with their pecuniary interest in lambs, turkeys, pigs, calves, etc. At half past nine such trifles were completely eliminated from the psychology of the throng that formed itself into a human cable twenty miles long and encircling an area of thousands of acres. Now it was wolves, simply wolves, and the spirit of adventure shot round that ring in telepathic waves.

From somewhere way down the line came the cry: "Lookout, lookout, he's coming east --- tighten up the line --- bang, bang, bang, bang." We glimpsed him for one supreme moment, then he dropped out of sight into the great interior. But he was within the circle, and the word persisted in coming to us from both right and left that the line was tight the entire way around. If not before, then certainly at the finish he would have to give an account of himself.

Slowly but impatiently we advanced through timber, underbrush and across the prairie. Sometimes we would rise to a high point, a meadow or a cornfield, and always the human dragnet stretched away unbroken until it disappeared beyond a hill or into the woods. Ever and anon, too, we would glimpse a section of the line, two, three, four miles away, and coming toward us, their gun-barrels glistening in the sunlight. Rabbits were literally kicked out of the way, and quails looked like pesky flies against the larger perspective.

At last, nigh upon noon, there is a sound as of cannonading, and the word comes rolling in that our neighbors a mile to the right have killed a wolf. No sooner have we swallowed the lump in our throats than another bombardment takes place to our left, followed by a "Lookout, lookout down east --- he's coming east." Guns are raised along our quarter and after the clickety-clack of preparation there comes a moment when the air is tense with the hush of expectancy, followed by a babble of excitement as the wolf rounds a point three hundred yards toward the center and speeds straight toward us. Our turn has come. Bang, bang, bangety-bang. A hundred volleys tear up the ground 'round about him. He turns and shoots like an arrow at right angles with our line and vanishes behind a clump of brush, unharmed.

By this time the ring is less than a mile across and things are happening fast. Way down on the bottom at the southwest extremity of the circle we catch glimpses of a conflict between a monster wolf and a long-eared hound. Along a grassy slope to the north speeds another wolf with a dog at his flank. The sport gets so thick that we can't see it all, much less relate it. Oh, you should have been there!


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the location of the farmstead in the picture? Linda Goltry Secor

Carson Haring said...

There is a photo in the bank building museum here in Cambria of the local wolf hunt also, held north of Cambria, near what is now Wolf Creek