Kansas Wolf Hunts
Were There Really Wolf Hunts in Kansas?
Early explorers noted wolves widely distributed across America in the 1600's. They ranged across forested areas and also the plains. On the prairies, the wolves hunted buffalo. My older cousin remembered "wolf hunts" from his teen years which roused my curiosity. Did Kansas actually have wolves at one time? How was a wolf hunt held? Who participated?
I went on my own hunt in vintage newspapers to find out all I could about Kansas wolf hunts. Below are the answers to the questions I had about these and what the thinking was at the time.
The Disappearance of the Gray Wolf in Kansas
"During the 1800's, gray wolves ranged over the North American continent as far south as central Mexico," according to a 1944 report by Young and Goldman. As farms and ranches were established in the Midwest there were increasing efforts through shooting and the use of traps and poisons to eradicate the wolves.
By the late 1800's and early 1900's, the population remained in Canada but were gone from most of the U.S. There were reported sightings as late as the 1920's in Nebraska just north of Kansas.
Reasons for the Wolf Hunts: Livestock Losses
Farmers organized the hunts in the early days to protect their livestock. This Leavenworth Times news article describes the problem.
"Gov. Elder who has a hog lot in the edge of the timber about a mile west of Ottawa, says that he has lost over one hundred pigs this summer from wolves. Some thirty or forty sows have had pigs, but out of the entire lot, he only has five or six pigs left.
The wolves have become so bold in the woods west of the city, that nearly all the farmers living in the river bottom are complaining of loss of stock and poultry. When a man loses a thousand dollars worth of pigs, as Gov. Elder has, it is about time that something was done to prevent future losses. The Republican suggests a big, organized wolf hunt, sometime during the later part of this month, which will be the best time, as the young wolves will be more easy to catch than any other time. Let owners of hounds from all parts of the county meet at Ottawa, on Monday, August 1st, and with two or three hundred mounted men, the timber on and bordering the Island can be surrounded, and the wolves, wild cats, and other noxious animals be destroyed. Let us hear from those more directly interested and if this plan meets with their approval, bills can be got out announcing a grand wolf hunt on that date, and circulated over the county."
The Leavenworth Times
18 Jul 1881, Mon • Page 4
1912 Map And Instructions for the Hunt
Instructions for an 1887 Wolf Hunt
"The Next Wolf Hunt. Circulars were sent yesterday with regulations for the wolf hunt next Friday. They were drawn up at the meeting held at Barker schoolhouse, at which R. W. Corrill was president and M.Titterington secretary, and are as follows:
The center shall be on Walter Pontius' farm south-west of J. Howell's house. The east line shall extend from Brackett's schoolhouse north to the river, Captains H. B. Rodgers and Geo. McCreath. The south line extends from Brackett's schoolhouse west on the California road to a point south of Lecompton. Captains, W. W. Randolph and Nate Longfeilow. The west line shall extend from the California road north to the river. Captains, Wm. Nace and Milton Winters. All lines to start at ten a. m. sharp. No dogs to be turned loose, till the signal is given, nor shooting in the circle when lines approach the rounding-up farm. Come everybody and bring your guns and use as ordered by captains. Wolves sold at auction to pay expenses Captains will meet at J. Gladhart's, Saturday, February 26, at 1p. m. to arrange in detail."
Source: The Lawrence Weekly Journal
03 Mar 1887, Thu • Page 7
Sometimes the Words "Coyote" and "Wolf" Were Both Used in Describing a Hunt
"Four Coyotes Killed in Wolf Hunt"
A big wolf hunt was pulled off northeast of Marysville and almost 1000 townspeople and farmers participated in the chase. Several wolves were routed from their lair, and four of them were killed.
The hunters took lunch along and hot coffee was served at the round-up. The hides of the wolves killed were sold at auction and each bought close to $4.
Of particular interest in this news report, is the number of participants. The 1910 census only shows 2,260 people living in Marysville, so either half the population of the town came out or the farmers came from miles around to help in this event.
Descriptions of Wolf Hunts Over the Years
1896 Morrill, Kansas - The big wolf hunt, to have been Wednesday, resulted in something of a "water haul" as the final closing up only disclosed the presence of one lone jack rabbit. The trouble, however, lay in the fact that the wolves were not there to be captured. The lines were all well formed and perfectly closed up by about 700 men and boys, but the territory selected proved to be a fruitless one as there were no wolves on it. (The Morrill Weekly News - Morrill, Kansas - 31 Jan 1896, Fri • Page 5)
1912 Abilene, Kansas - The wolf hunt Thursday resulted in a very successful round, speaking from the standpoint of the wolf. It was severely cold, several faces and hands being frostbitten, the hunters enjoyed the trip and were recompensed by the sight of one wolf which made a successful getaway. (Abilene Weekly Reflector, Abilene, Kansas, 18 Jan 1912, Thu • Page 5)
Photo of a 1908 Wolf Hunt in Kansas
$1 Bounty of Coyotes in 1913
Between 300 and 400 men in the Prescott neighborhood rounded up nine wolves and successfully captured two of them.
The men in the section between Mapleton, Prescott, Blue Mound, and Mound City and (sic) a big wolf run-up last Wednesday, and were successful in bagging two of the animals, which was considerably better than they did in a similar hunt several weeks ago, when they failed to get even one wolf.
The start was made Wednesday morning, crowds of men starting out from Mapleton, Mound City, Blue Mound, and Prescott, toward a point about eight miles west of Prescott. In all, there were between 300 and 400 men in the hunting party, and each was armed with a shotgun. Each party strung out in a long line, lengthening until it came in contact with another line, and thus a huge circle taking in about ten miles was formed. The circle was strong except for one part where the men were some distance apart: and it was on account of this that the party did not get more than two wolves.
They rounded up nine wolves altogether, but all except two of the animals managed to get through the line where the men were farthest apart. The wolves killed were of the coyote variety. The men of the hunting party are not feeling so disappointed, however, that they did not get more than two wolves for it has only been a few weeks since a party of about 500 men who went on a wolf hunt in the same vicinity failed to get even one wolf.
In last Wednesday's hunt, Will Davis of Mapleton, headed the party, from that town. and Roll Cair headed a party from Mante. The wolf hunts in the north part of this county, and the south part of Linn County are a result of the fact that tho (sic) wolves are numerous and bold, and frequently kill and eat poultry whenever the opportunity Is presented, and occasionally even steal a young pig. there is a bounty of $1 on every wolf scalp, which, gives some additional incentive for killing them.
Over 300 Men in Wolf Hunt in Prescott, Kansas in 1913
By the mid-1900's, the "wolf hunts" were usually organized as a fundraiser.
1923 Accidental Death at a Wolf Hunt
Mahaska Man Killed at Wolf Hunt
Mr. Worman was fatally shot by a man named Laky at a wolf hunt near Mahaska a few days ago. Laky thought the gun unloaded and threw it over his shoulder which exploded the shell. Mr. Worman was standing behind him and received the charge in his side, causing his death."
(Note: I investigated further to see if there was an obituary for Mr. Worman or if any charges were brought again Mr. Laky, but found nothing.)
People Remember the Wolf Hunts Today
I raised the question on several Kansas history groups on Facebook, and it surprised me that some people remembered and had even participated in some. Here are their comments:
Phil R. - I went on a few back in the late 40s and early 50s in Osage County. Killed lots of other game in the effort, unfortunately.
- James Q. - I went on one in the 1950s in Mitchell County. No coyotes were shot, only jackrabbits. The only purpose was a fundraiser for some local organization. Innocent wildlife needlessly suffered.
- Rosie B. - I recall "Coyote Drives" into the '60's and '70's. That was when there was a bounty on coyotes and the pelts were worth some money. At that point, they had firmly established themselves as a pest and farm animal problem. They are getting to that point again over here in Neosho County.
I went on a few of those during the 1960's. Some high-school aged friends and I were among the younger hunters but there were lots of dads, uncles and older friends. A good-sized hunt would bring out 50 to 100 hunters who loaded up in stock-racked farm trucks and headed for the country. The trucks dropped us off, one or two at a time, around a section — large groups around two sections. We spent an hour or so working our way to the center of the section and then it got real:
- As we moved to the center coyotes started flushing from the grass and brush and the shooting started,
- It occurred to us that most of those older guys, with shotguns loaded with 00 buckshot, also had a pint of whiskey in their overalls.
I don't recall anyone getting shot.
© 2018 Virginia Allain