Rabbitbrush Rambler: Read a great book

I have just read a fascinating new book about wolves that is sure to be popular among many of the Valley’s recreational enthusiasts, environmentalists, biology students, farmers and rancher, and wildlife managers. It came in my mail just a few days before Christmas with a request for a book review — too late to recommend it as a gift — but curiosity led me to take a peek, and I was hooked. The title is “The Last Stand of the Pack.”

I dropped everything else when I should have been getting Christmas cards addressed and tending to other normal activities, and many of our local readers will feel the same way if they see it. It will be of interest on one hand for anyone who detests wolves because they used to slaughter game and livestock, and on the other hand for anyone who believes that wolves should be reintroduced because wilderness is incomplete without the wolves that control wildlife populations and just have a natural right to exist besides.

All will devour the first 200 pages of this book, provided that they have a strong enough stomach, and also the second group will feel edified by continuing with the informative 100 pages that follow. In fact, I myself was very glad to have read the entire book about the natural world that so many of us treasure.

The volume’s first part was originally published separately in 1929, with the same title that this new volume has, “The Last Stand of the Pack.” It was written by Arthur H. Carhart with the collaboration of Stanley P. Young.

In the 1920s Young headed the Colorado office of the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey with the mission of exterminating wolves and other predators. Carhart worked for the U.S. Forest Service for a time, and he increasingly espoused wilderness and developed an enthusiastic cadré of admirers of his fine writing about the outdoors. In this book Carhart at time digresses from his main subject of hunting the destructive wolves to show what their remarkable intelligence and their family lives were like.

Reading like an adventure book, “The Last of the Pack” vividly describes the careers of several renegade pack leaders — Unaweep Wolf, Rags the Digger, Phantom Wolf, Bigfoot, Lefty, Gray Terror, Greenhorn, Whitey, and Three Toes — and the federal hunters whose job it was to eradicate them. The Greenhorn wolf, said at the time to be the last in this state, was a frequenter of the nearby Huerfano and Greenhorn area, but she actually was not quite the last in Colorado. A handful of others remained until mid-century, and a couple of migratory wolves have appeared around the Valley’s edges in recent years.

The reader will learn not only about activities of notorious wolves with grisly habits, which are described in unsparing, bloody detail, but will also learn about some of the federal hunters who worked for the Biological Survey. These hardy individuals knew firsthand the habits and idiosyncrasies of the cunning wolves they were tracking and had the Bureau’s science, traps, poisons, and pay besides.

Although the majority of events that are described in this book occurred in western Colorado, three episodes took place in Las Animas, Huerfano, and Pueblo counties, where the carefully planned work of the government hunters was sometimes complicated by freelance trappers who stole federal traps and engaged in other troublesome activities to make a few dollars. No love existed between these two groups in a region where the federal hunters had considerably more expertise but the hardscrabble farmers and their destitute families needed money (and perhaps fun, too). 

By the 1890s cattle and sheep had become a major part of the landscape and the economy, while wildlife had been greatly reduced. By the 1920s the state legislature, cattle men, sheep men, and investors promoted a campaign to eliminate the wolves. With wolves destroyed, ranchers could relax, but wildlife rebounded in excessive numbers in many instances.

Some familiar names in both ranching and political life here were Headlee and Gotthelf who are mentioned in the second part of this volume. Another of the big names was Thatcher of Pueblo with ranching and banking interests.    

In this new edition of Carhart’s mesmerizing text is followed by new essays by other writers. The principal essay is “Wolf Reintroduction: Historical and Current Issues,” with a history of wolves in Colorado and information about laws and programs, followed by several pages of useful endnotes and bibliography. A few other essays offer opinions, pro and con, and more information about policies advocating or opposing the reintroduction of wolves. 

The editors of this new volume are Andrew Gulliford, who wrote the historical section, and Tom Wolf, who wrote the introduction. Gulliford is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College, while Wolf has taught at Brandeis University and Colorado College. Each has authored several books, one of which is Wolf’s “Sangre de Cristo Mountains.” 

“The Last Stand of the Pack” has now been published by the University of Colorado Press and should soon be available from your favorite bookseller or at your library. It is available to buy for $24.95 for paperback or $19.95 for Ebook.