June 19, 2019

Wolves in Maine in the 1800s – Part IV (Community Efforts to Exterminate)

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

“Early Maine Wildlife” – Historical Accounts of Canada lynx, Moose, Mountain Lion, White-Tailed Deer, Wolverine, Wolves, and Woodland Caribou, 1603 – 1930 – by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving can tell us many things about how wildlife was perceived, treated, abused and misunderstood. From the early 1600s, it should really come as no surprise that settlers and commercial trappers and game harvesters thought of wildlife as an endless resource. We learned that was not true and it resulted in the formulation of a wildlife management scheme that has proven immensely successful over the past century.

Wolves in Maine, much the same as in many spots across the U.S., were seen as a useless animal, one that competed directly with the hunters and gatherers and as we learned in Part III, when available prey for the wolf diminished, attacks on humans and livestock became more common. As a result, demands from people grew to get rid of the wolf.

In most all of the previous parts of this serial examination, seldom was anything good about the wolf reported, other than perhaps their pelts made for good decoration and available cover to go on the back of the seat in a sleigh.

Our repeated history and education in this country has mostly been centered on the notion that it were hunters and trappers that bore the responsibility for the extirpation of the wolf countrywide. History has shown us this is not true. In addition, those whose interests lie in the over-protection of the wolf are unrelenting in their talking points that humans were unjustifiably frightened of the wolf, embellished through made-up scary tales, and that people simply misunderstood the animal.

I don’t believe any of that to be true at all. World history clearly shows that in those regions of the world were wolves were allowed to flourish, hundreds and even thousands of people were killed by wolves. I don’t know about you but if I lost a family member to a large animal predator, it would only seem normal to develop a fear, or at least a healthy level of respect for the beast, and would more than likely promote the idea to get rid of the darn things. This isn’t fairy tale stuff as some might believe.

People saw little or no real value in wolves and why should they have. They competed directly for the very same resources man wanted and needed to survive, they threatened livestock, which for many was their life line, carried and spread disease and became a real threat to the health and safety of humans. As such, efforts to rid the landscape of the varmints became entire community efforts.

In “Early Maine Wildlife”, the authors reference the writings of E.E. Bourne, in 1875. Bourne’s work is the telling of the history of the Wells and Kennebunk area of Maine. Bourne recalls this area as early as the early 1600s, when the people were obviously still under the rule of England. In 1640, wolves appeared to be most everywhere along the seacoast of Maine and settlers were anxious for the King to offer some financial assistance to the communities to rid the countryside of wolves. Here’s what Bourne wrote:

“The new Government, Gorges’ general court, being legislative as well as judicial in its action, did not confine itself to the moral improvement of the people only, but at the same time looked carefully to their physical economy. It may seem a small matter to have made any enactments in regard to wolves. But to settlers it was much more important that they should be extirpated than it has been at any time since that of salmon, shad, and alewives should be preserved from destruction, or that the agriculture of the country should be protected from the ravages of the crow. Wolves then [~1640] abounded along the coast…….Every settler was interested in their extermination, and at this court it was “ordered that every family between Piscataqua and Kennebunk River should pay twelve pence for every wolf that should be killed.” This, it will be seen, was in the whole a large bounty.

“In 1730, five pounds were paid; a few years afterward, eight pounds. In 1747, it was voted that eight pounds should be paid to every person who should kill one; if he killed two, he should have twelve pounds each; if three, sixteen pounds each….. The action of the town for the destruction of wolves continued till about 1770, after which the municipal war against them was abandoned.”

It’s important to note here that it appears from what is written that the people were a bit frustrated because efforts had been made to preserve the salmon, shad and alewives population, along with efforts to protect crops from crows, while nothing was being done to get rid of the wolf, a problem that obviously the communities saw as large enough to demand something be done to help.

So from what appears to be around 1640 until 1770, bounties were put together as an incentive for more people to kill wolves. Those bounties grew to be quite handsome. But mind you this was an entire community that was taxed in order that bounties be paid to rid the area of wolves. It must have been important to them in every way.

During that 130-year period of time, read what happens to the deer population.

Bourne writes: “Until about the commencement of the Revolutionary war, deer were very abundant in Wells. Herds of them, from ten to twenty, were very frequently seen. They were in the habit of visiting the marshes in great numbers……

“As late as the year 1770, a deer was started by a dog, and in chase he ran into the parlor of Joseph Storer in Kennebunk, and went out through the window.”

Does any of this relate to modern times?

But I don’t believe it was simply the efforts of communities and governments to pay bounties and put out poison that led to the extirpation of the wolf. Even utilizing all of those and other tools to achieve that goal, it is still a daunting task to actually completely rid a state or country of a species. I would also suppose that disease, along with changes in the prey base for the wolves and changes in climate, population growth and destruction of habitat all played a factor.

Share

Wolves in Maine in the 1600s – Part II

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

As I wend my way through the book, Early Maine Wildlife – Historical Accounts of Canada lynx, Moose, Mountain Lion, White-Tailed Deer, Wolverine, Wolves, and Woodland Caribou, 1603 – 1930 – by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving, I found some rather bizarre, yet fascinating writings that I would sooner categorize as tall tales and damned lies, than I would give much credence to actual historic events. However, I am willing to keep an open mind.

The original recordings were done in 1674 by a John Josselyn, found in Colonial Traveler: A Critical Edition of Two Voyages to New England. The authors of this book, Early Maine Wildlife, point out that Josselyn may have been confused by his use of terminology of the creatures he witnessed. For example, in the very first paragraph, Josselyn describes what he believes to be a “Jaccal” (jackal), which according to earlier European accounts and those of the American Indian, a jackal was commonly referred to as a coyote. So, this “Creature much like a Fox, but smaller”, we might only guess – wolverine?, muskrat?, bobcat?

The authors also warn their readers that Josselyn’s “terminology sometimes is misleading and his descriptions frequently fantastic”; or a kind way of saying the guy was mostly a damned liar and wild storyteller, as you will see in the below account.

Which brings us to his accounting of wolves he dealt with in his travels throughout Maine and probably parts of New England. As you will see, as you begin to read, the spelling is atrocious, the sentence structure abysmal and it all makes it difficult to comprehend and follow, but enough to realize how outlandish his story is. I did the best I could to present it exactly as it was presented in the book.

I’d call it tall tales and damned lies and laugh exceedingly over it as great entertainment.

~~~~~

Jaccals there be abundance, which is a Creature much like a Fox, but smaller, they are very frequent in Palestina, or the Holy-land.

The Wolf seeketh to his mate and goes clicketing at the same season with Foxes, and bring forth their whelps as they do, but their kennels are under thick bushes by great Trees in remote places by the swamps, he is to be hunted as the Fox from Holy-rood day till the Annunciation. But there they have a quicker way to destroy them. See New England’s rarities [footnote omitted]. They commonly go in routs, a rout of Wolves is 12 or more, sometimes by couples. In 1664, we found a Wolf asleep in a small dry swamp under an Oake, a great mastiff which we had with us seized upon him, and held him until we had a rope about his neck, by which we brought him home, and tying him to a stake we bated him with smaller Doggs, and had excellent sport; but his hinder legg being broken, they knockt out his brains. Sometime before this we had an excellent course after a single Wolf upon the hard sands of the Sea-side at low water for a mile or two, at last we lost our doggs, it being (as the Lancashire people phrase it) twilight, that is almost dark, and went beyond them, for the mastiff-bitch had seized upon the Wolf being gotten into the Sea, and there held him until one went in and led him out, the bitch keeping her hold until they had tied his leggs, and so carried him home like a Calf upon a staff between two men; being brought into the house they unbound him and set him upon his leggs, he not offering in the lease to bite, or so much as to shew his teeth, but clapping his stern betwixt his leggs, and leering towards the door would willingly have had his liberty, but they served him as they did the other, knockt his brains out, for our doggs were not then in the condition to bait him; their eyes shine by night as a Lanthorn: the Fangs of a Wolf hung about children’s necks keep them from frighting, and a very good to rub their gums with when they are breeding of Teeth, the gall of a Wolf is soveraign for swelling of the sinews; the fiants or dung of a Wolf drunk with white wine helpeth the Collick.

Share

Wolves in Maine in the 1600s – Part I

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

I am just getting around to reading a book I bought a few weeks ago – Early Maine Wildlife – Historical Accounts of Canada lynx, Moose, Mountain Lion, White-Tailed Deer, Wolverine, Wolves, and Woodland Caribou, 1603 – 1930 – by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving.

The book appears to be a great research tool because the authors have done much of the legwork for those interested in research of the subjects listed, and the geographical region. The majority make up of the book contains excerpts from writings, logs, and journals that date back as early as 1603. These excerpts are provided the reader in chronological order.

Below are fragments of the whole entries given by the authors about wolves. Although the parts I have selected are only portions of the log provided by the authors, the pieces are not taken out of context. Also, bear in mind that the age of writings can present some challenges with spellings and use of words. I have presented them exactly as found in this book.

This particular presentation I have chosen, comes from work done by a W. Wood in 1977, New England Prospect. The writings were dated 1634. I believe the 1634 author was a Thomas Cotes of London.

~~~~~

They [deer] desire to be near the sea, so that they may swim to the island when they are chased by the wolves. It is not to be thought into what great multitudes they would increase were it not for the common devourer, the wolf.

The wolves be in some respect different from them in other countries. It was never known yet that a wolf set upon man or woman. Neither do they trouble horses or cows; but swine, goats and red calves, which they take for deer, be often destroyed by them, so that a red calf is cheaper than a black one in that regard in some places. In the time of autumn and in the beginning of spring, those ravenous rangers do most frequent our English habitations, following the deer which come down at that time to those parts. They be made much like a mongrel, being big boned, lank launched, deep breasted, having a thick neck and head, prick ears, and a long snout, with dangerous teeth, long-staring hair, and a great bush tale.

These be killed daily in some place or other, either by the English or Indian, who have a certain rate for every head. Yet is there little hope of their utter distruction, the country being so spacious and they so numerous, traveling in the swamps by kennels. Sometimes ten or twelve are of a company. Late at night and early in the morning they set up their howlings and call their companies together – at night to hunt, at morning to sleep. In a word they be the greatest inconveniency the country hath, both for the matter of damage to private men in particular, and the whole country in general.

~~~~~

If I may point out a few things that should help people to understand wolves, their habits and their ability to adjust their behavior to their surrounding circumstances.

The first paragraph should be analogous to accounts we are hearing on a daily basis in areas where wolves are prevalent in the U.S.. In this case, in 1634 Maine, the “deer” are being driven to the sea (Southern coast of Maine) and that these “deer” swim onto the islands to escape the wolves.

I have put “deer” in quotes in order to point out that in this writing, the author describes three kinds of deer – whitetail deer, moose and caribou, and these three species are generally referred to as “deer”. Therefore, in the context of the entry, the description of the “deer” moving to the sea and onto the islands, we can assume means all three species.

In the second paragraph, take notice that the author describes the wolves he finds in Maine to be different from those he’s familiar with in other countries. We know not specifically what “other countries” the author is speaking, but he notes that, to his knowledge, he knows of no incidences in Maine were any human has been attacked by wolves.

It may be reasonable to conclude that the author acknowledges there are wolf attacks on humans in other countries and probably numerous enough that it would give him reason to take notice of the differences.

Also described is the prey wolves seem to be more interested in at that time; swine, goats, calves, deer, etc., and yet points out they are not bothering the horses or cows. Again, can we conclude that the author assumes, from his own experiences that wolves regularly attack and kill horses and cows, “in other countries”?

What are the differences in the wolves that the author is noticing a distinct behavioral pattern from wolves of his past experiences? Size? Availability of prey? Availability of desired prey? From this entry we really can’t answer that question.

In the final paragraph, the author describes the wolves as being “killed daily” and having a bounty of some amount as well, but points out there is little danger of their “utter destruction”. Of interest to me was when the author tells that the wolves “be the greatest inconveniency the country hath, to private men in particular, and the whole country in general.” Also notice the author asks the question; “what great multitudes they [deer] would increase were it not for the common devourer, the wolf.”

In another portion of this book, a different writer describes Maine’s wolves as being timid and leery of humans. This should not come as a surprise, as history has taught us that any wild animal that is harassed by humans becomes more distrustful of them, making them quick to escape and more difficult for humans to spot. From that same history, we have learned that when people have no means of protection, i.e not allowed to have guns, and the animals are protected, large predators such as wolves soon learn there is little to fear from humans. This habituation can present serious problems for humans especially when wolf numbers continue to increase and the prey base vanishes. Hungry wolves need to eat.

As I continue through the book, over 500 pages, I hope to find other interesting pieces of discoveries to share.

Share