Sep 9, 2013

The Custer Wolf

Biography of an American Renegade
by Roger Caras

In the 1920's (and surrounding decades, as far as I understand) regular war was waged between ranchers and wolves, to the point where wolves in North America were pretty much exterminated. Poison, baits, traps, dogs, shooting- whatever it took. People were eager and passionate about killing off these intelligent predators. Quite a number of individual wolves gained notoriety with the public as being regular killers of livestock- not just for sustenance but large numbers of animals being found dead and just left there. Whether the wolves were actually responsible for wanton killing of cattle and other livestock remains a question in my mind, but this animal certainly got blamed for a lot of it.

The Custer Wolf, also called Lobo, became legendary for how much livestock he supposedly killed and for his ability to escape all attempts by man to kill him. The first part of this book describes the wolf's early life, patterned after wolf behavior the author observed first-hand when he spent time with a captive pack and also viewed films made of young wolves being born and raised by their parents. This part was enjoyable reading and reminded me a lot of how White Fang commences, with the unfolding of the young wolf's awareness, its learning through instinct guided by the parents, its experiences encountering other wildlife and exploring the world. The white wolf soon meets with mankind and witnesses the death of both its littermates and parents until it remains a solitary animal and eventually becomes known as a killer of livestock and hunted down.

The firsthand accounts of people actually witnessing this wolf destroying livestock were nil, a few people glimpsed the animal briefly, and stories of its size and ferocity were greatly exaggerated. It mostly gained fame from being able to avoid traps that took hundreds of wolves and other wild animals in the vicinity. When the Custer Wolf was at last shot, men were surprised at its relatively small size. The author was careful in his account to point out which stories were probably fabricated and which had shreds of the truth. He also includes a lot of native american folklore that praises the wolf, as well as recounting ancient cultural fear and loathing of wolves that people brought with them from Europe when they came to America.

It was interesting reading for me, and reminded me of why I enjoy reading these kinds of books.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 175 pages, 1966

more opinions:
John Vernon's Reviews
Society and Natural Resources


Susan said...

Oh, I need to get this book to read. I love wolves, and have been known to get into dialogues (read rants!) with people when they start saying wolves are killers. They're not. So for me, and my daughter, I will be looking for this book. Thanks for a lovely review, Jeane. It's hard to find genuinely open books about wolves. I find they are still misunderstood and the fear of them still lingers even though they don't come into the city.

Jeane said...

If you love positive books about wolves, you absolutely must read Lois Crisler's books Arctic Wild and Captive Wild. They are among my favorites and I would love to have someone to discuss them with.