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Sunday, January 03, 2010


Dear folks,

There is nothing odd about wolves in North America with black coats, but a particular wolf shot in the Boise National Forest in early 1909 did cause surprise, according to The Standard, Ogden, Utah, April 8th 1909. (This blog continues the series I began a few days ago with my survey of on-line United States provincial newspapers which can be found on http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/)

The story goes like this: (The headline is 'Freak Wolf is a Rare Specimen – Officials of Biological Survey Express Opinion – Strange Creature of Enormous Size and Curious Appearance – Not a Hybrid')

'The district forest officers have received confirmation of their belief that Forest Supervisors E.Grandjean`s freak wolf which he recently shot within the Boise national forest and subsequently forwarded to the biological survey at Washignton DC is indeed a rare specimen of quadruped.

'The strange creature was of enormous size for a member of the wolf family, with its back and other portions of its body covered with a heavy growth of black hair, resembling somewhat the coat of a Newfoundland dog, except that it was heavier and coarser.

'The most curious feature in connection with the animal`s appearance was the fact that it was “bob-tailed”. Old hunters and trappers in that part of the country, who examined the beast, stated that they had never heard of nor seen anything like it in all their experience. Even the Indians in that region were unfamiliar with the species.

'It will be recalled in connection with the early reports published upon the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition,that Captain Clark mentioned several times the discovery of rude Indian drawings upon rocks and ancient skins of well known animals of the Rocky Mountain region, also a few that were not known to people of that time. Among these was a giant dog-wolf of ferocious appearance and enormous size. A curling shaggy mane was represented as extending down the back of the animal and in one instance it was pictured bearing a young deer in its jaws, illustrative of its size and strength.

'It is possible that the specimen mentioned above is one of the rare descendants of an almost extinct species of wolf which once infested the Rockies terrorizing the Indians and remaining long in their traditions and picture records.

'The officials of the biological survey at Washington DC express their opinion that the animal who`s skin and skull was sent by the supervisor of the Boise forest, was not a hybrid and state that the only specimen that resembles it at all closely is one which came from the Priest river forest in northern Idaho. They are anxious to secure further skulls and pelts and offer a good price for same.' (1)

Another website; Howling For Justice, Blogging for the Grey Wolf, Black Wolves Result of Long Ago Tryst With Dogs says 'Between 12,000 to 15,000 years ago wolves bred with their close relative,the dog,who passed on to them the black coat color mutation. Black wolves are almost exclusively unique to North America. The black mutation is not present in Europe or Asia,ecept for a recent Italian hybridized wolf/dog'. (2)

1 The Standard,Ogden,Utah, April 8th 1909
2 Howling for Justice web-site. Downloaded January 2nd 2010.

Steeleeye Span Female Drummer

I was brought up in Yorkshire and when I was sixteen
I walked all the way to London and a soldier I became
With me fine cap and feathers,likewise me rattling drum
They learned me to play upon the ra-ba-da-ba-dum
With me gentle waist so slender,me fingers long and small
I could play upon the ra-ba-dum the best of them all

And so many were the pranks that I saw upon the breech
And so boldly did I fight me boys although I`m but a wench
And they buttoned them up me trousers so up to them I smiled
To think I`d live with a thousand men and a maiden all the while


Dale Drinnon said...

This is interesting, are there any further reports of the Bobtailed wolf? It sounds like the sort of thing that would inspire ghost stories told by campers around the campfire.

I had separately heard legends of a gigantic lynx that used to prey on bison and which is supposed to be depicted in rock art as well, but it was supposed to have been a great cat and not a dog: furthermore despite its charicterization as a "Lynx" the part about the tail being bobbed off does not seem to be exactly specified by my information.

It seems to have been called "Buffalo cat", or rather that is the English equivalent.

Marcy said...

This wolf sounds like a shunka warakin.

Retrieverman said...

Some observations:

Wolves vary in appearance as much as dogs do. This could be a very unusual wolf.

The distinctions of dog and wolf are not clear-cut as one might assume. There are doggish wolves and wolfish dogs.

I have several true life accounts of pet wolves that were as easy to handle as the average Labrador, and my grandfather had a dog-- half Norwegian elkhound and toy collie (not a Sheltie)-- that might as well have been a wolf. Unlike either of his parents he didn't bark. He was tolerant of other dogs until they challenged him, and then he was a fierce. He could be petted but if you stepped on his toes by accident, he would bite. (Normal domestic dogs put up with this.) I've seen photos of him. He looks like a coyote with a white ring around his neck. He was not a coydog, for there were no coyotes in my part of the country at the time.

The skull and skin examinations could only tell you the preponderance of its heritage. The wonderful discovery that black wolves and coyotes got their coloration through hybridization with domestic dogs shows these distinction are rather muddled.

It's also worth checking out the story of the last wolf killed in Scotland. Apparently this was an unusual black wolf with a penchant for attacking children-- a well-known wolf hybrid behavior. A huntsman named MacQueen of Pall à Chrocain. MacQueen's long dog (probably a cross between a greyhound and deerhound, long dogs are crosses between sight hounds) caught the wolf or wolfdog and MacQueen cut its throat. That was the last wolf of Scotland.

I classify dogs as Canis lupus familiaris, just as the domestic cattle of European ancestry are classified as Bos primigenius taurus, conspecific with the Aurochsen. The only dogs that have been proven to have golden jackal and coyote in them are those that have actually been bred in capitivity, like the Sulimov dog and the some of the so-called Spirit dogs from the American West that have been crossed with coyotes.

shiva said...

How did they know the wolf wasn't a hybrid? They just state that without evidence. It sounds like a hybrid with its dog genes coming from a very large breed of dog (eg. the Newfoundland(?) from Jack London's "Call of the Wild") to me. The tail could easily have been lost in an accident or a previous failed attempt to shoot or trap it.

The "gigantic lynx that used to prey on bison" sounds a bit like a late-surviving Smilodon - weren't they fairly short-tailed and more lynx-like than lion- or panther-like in limb/body proportions?

Retrieverman said...


One of the names of the Canada lynx in the early days of colonization was called the "loup cervier." The name is still used in Francophone Canada.

The name means "deer-like wolf."

Anglophone Canadian thought that they were referring to the term "lucifer," and it's still a common name for the animal, which has tufts on its ear and kind of looks a bit like the devil.

It would not be surprising that a large black wolf with very coarse hair would have its tail removed. When wolves "war" with each other over territory, one of their common tactics of combat is to grab their adversary by its tail. This is such a common tactic, that virtually all livestock guardian dogs in wolf territory are docked. A wolf can grab a dog by the tail if the dog has no tail.

I think what we have here is a very unusual wolf-- perhaps with some distant dog heritage.

Retrieverman said...

The cryptid "wolf" that has captured my imagination is none of these animals. The Andean wolf enigma has still not been answered. It could have been a sheepdog. It could have been a pet or zoo wolf that went wild or was released into the mountains. It could have been a descendant of a vestigial population Dire Wolf. However, it was black, and my guess is that Dire wolves were not black in color.

Retrieverman said...

Found something interesting:

Late 1700’s, Western Hudson Bay – “the Dog… resembles the wolf, but in size is greatly inferior… They run and bite in silence, never barking but sometimes howl egregiously… It is usual for our [Newfoundland] dogs and also the native breed to copulate with wolves, and the offspring retain the moroseness of the latter.”

Williams, G. ed., intro by R. Glover. 1969:33. Andrew Graham’s Observations on Hudson’s Bay, 1767-91. The Hudson’s Bay Record Society, Vol. XXVII, London


European traders, explorers, and trappers almost always had Newfoundland dogs. Newfoundlands varied a lot in appearance, but very few were the great big mastiffs that currently make up the breed. That is mostly a creation of dog dealers in the nineteenth century. The original Newfoundlands varied from the short-haired dog that looked like a Labrador to a larger black and white dog that could haul. These dogs could haul, hunt, and retrieve shot game. All dogs we call retrievers are derived from "Newfoundlands." (The smaller short-haired ones are extinct-- or rather disappeared into the Labrador retriever. We now call the breed the St. John's water dog.)


Buck, the dog in Call of the Wild was a cross between a St. Bernard and a "Scotch Shepherd"-- what we call the rough collie today.