Posts Tagged ‘Henry Wharton Shoemaker’

According to Henry Wharton Shoemaker, moose were once found quite far south in Pennsylviana.  In his Pennsylvania Deer and Their Horns (1915), he describes historical accounts of Moose in the Lehigh and Delaware Valleys and in the Alleghenies between Pittsburgh and Altoona.

Alces americanus Jardine as a frequent visitor to Pennsylvania until the beginning of the nineteenth century is now fully established. Many old hunters aver that it was a permanent resident until its extermination, although S. N. Rhoads, the authority on such matters, can find no supporting evidence. In Colonial times the moose was called in Pennsylvania the Black Moose, to distinguish it from the Gray Moose or Wapiti [what we call the elk], but quite a few hunters gave it the quaint name of “Original.” An aged Indian hunter, Tahment Swasen, who wasadmired by the gifted Thoreau, and who hunted in Pennsylvania, has explained the meaning of the name. The moose was supposed to be the ancestor or “daddy” of the entire deer tribe. Hence, was the original representative of the species on earth. This was proved, he said, by the fact that the Moose is found pretty much all over the Northern hemispheres of the world. De Kay says that Moose is a corruption of the Indian word mosee or “wood-eater.” Dr. Schoepf, the distinguished German traveler, mentions the Black Moose as occurring in Northampton County in 1783.It was also reported to him as being prevalent on the Alleghenies between what is now Altoona and Pittsburg [sic]. West of Fort Pitt it had lately been extirpated. H. Hollister, in his fascinating “History of the Lackawanna Valley,” mentions Black Moose being killed in the Capouse Meadows near the present city of Scranton during the last decade of the eighteenth century. James Hennessy, a farmer residing at the Tamarack Swamp in Northern Clinton County, dug up several pairs of fresh looking moose antlers on his property about fifty years ago, showing that the animals had ranged through that region in comparatively recent times.

A curious Indian legend recounted in “More Pennsylvania Mountain Stories,” by the author of these pages, explains the existence of Moose in the Tamarack Swamp. Before the white men came to Pennsylvania Black Moose doubtless bred in the State. They were found all over its extent, judging from accounts of reliable persons. They had their favorite paths, most of which led in a southwesterly direction across the State. They had favorite streams for bathing, like the elk. The Moshannon Creek in Centre County was formerly called Moose-hanne, or Moose stream. In its deep pools they were said by the Indians to perform religious rites when the moon was crescent shaped. There are two Moose Creeks in Clearfield County. They crossed the Delaware River from New York State, near, where the town of Narrowsburg now stands, for after the native stock had been destroyed they came as migrants from the North. “Driven thither by cold, dogs, or wolves,” says Rhoads. From the Delaware they traveled in a westerly direction to Moosic Lake, in Lackawanna County. Great numbers were killed by the first settlers on the slopes of Mount Cobb, or Moosic Mountain,—the “Imperial Moosic” of the poet Caleb Earl Wright. From that region they ventured further South through the Wind Gap in the Blue Mountains, where they were slaughtered by the German pioneers in Northampton and Lehigh Counties.

The name “Original” is remembered by old people along the West Branch of the Susquehanna in Clinton County, showing that they must have crossed that river in the vicinity of Renovo to Keating on their way to their favorite Moshannon. Mr. Rhoads says, that Bartram in his “Miscellanies” refers to the Wapiti as the Original. But it was the name mostly given to the Black Moose. Dr. Merriam, in his splendid “Quadrupeds of the Adirondacks,” a book which no nature lover or sportsman can afford to be without, states that the last Moose in the Adirondacks was killed in 1861. The height of this last specimen, which was a female, was seven feet at the hump and weighed 800 pounds. Among the last men in New York to kill a moose was Hon. Horatio Seymour, Governor of the State, and the antlers were much admired for many years at his home at Deerfield in Oneida County.

Verplanck Colvin in his report on the Adirondack Wilderness in New York, transmitted to the Legislature in April, 1874, says: “As a matter of zoological and general interest, I may mention that in a few of the most remote portions of the wilderness we have met with indications of the Moose, which, to some of the guides seemed unmistakable. This gigantic deer is, however, almost extinct in the Adirondacks, and I would suggest that it be made, in future, unlawful to kill or destroy the animal at any season.”

Those who have heard the old-timers speak of the Original in Pennsylvania say that it was a creature of appalling size. It stood close to eight feet at the hump, and bulls often weighed a ton. The spread of the horns was tremendous, but the creatures handled these appendages with great dexterity (pg. 36-39).

One should not assume that moose were just creatures of the boreal and mixed northern forests.

At one time they were found quite far south in Europe.  The only relict population in Central Europe is the population that is found in the southern Czech Republic, but they were once found throughout central Europe, including much of Germany into the Low Countries.

It would make sense that their original range in North America would have been much more southerly than it currently is. It would simply be fitting with what was once exhibited with moose in Europe.

Caribou were once found throughout Northern New England, as well as northern parts of New York State.  They were also found on Michigan’s UP and in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Today, their range in the Lower 48 is restricted to the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and Washington State.

Moose, like the caribou, could have lived south of where they currently range.

Shoemaker’s work is full of these little anecdotes that challenge conventional notions about historical biogeography.

One should take his work with a grain of salt, but one should realize that he spent a lot of time talking to old pioners in the mountains of Pennsyvlania– and not all of them were the grandaddies of all liars. Some of them certainly were, but others could have been telling accurate stories– well, accurate enough when one understands how limited their zoological knowledge actually was.

If moose lived this far south, they probably never will again.  Before Europeans came to North America, white-tailed deer were not the dominant deer species in Eastern North America. That title would go to the wapiti or “elk.”

Both moose and wapiti evolved in Eurasia and came across from the Bering Land Bridge into North America. Because they had to come so far north to enter North America, they spent generations evolving in environments without temperate parasites.  White-tailed deer were always living in these parasite ridden enviroments, and they carry a lot of deer-specific parasites now.

Wapiti eventually developed a resistance to the parasites, but moose never did.  Moose cannot survive very well in habitats that are full of white-tailed deer.

That area in Pennsylvania is now full of white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer now exist in numbers that far exceed their original numbers, and that means that moose will never be able to thrive in the region.


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The following description is of a giant gray lynx that was killed in Pennsylvania in 1874. It comes from Henry Wharton Shoemaker’s Extinct Pennsylvania Animals (1919) :

John G. Davis, old-time woodsman of McElhattan, Clinton County, gives the best description of a mammoth Canada Lynx killed by John Pluff at Hyner, in that county, in 1874. Pluff, who was a noted hunter in his day, died in January, 1914, in his 74th year. One evening, when Pluff was at supper, he heard a commotion in his barnyard. Taking down his rifle, he hurried out, only to notice a shaggy animal moving about among the feet of his young cattle. Courageously driving the steers into the barn, he came face to face with a gigantic Canada Lynx, or, as was called in Northern Pennsylvania, a “Big Grey Wild Cat,” or catamount, to distinguish it from the smaller and ruddier Bay Lynx [bobcat].

Taking aim at the monster’s jugular, Pluff fired, killing the big cat with a single ball. The shot attracted the neighbors, among them Davis, and they gazed with amazement at the giant carcass, the biggest cat killed in those parts since Sam Snyder slew his 10-foot panther on Young Woman’s Creek in 1858. The Canada Lynx measured 4 feet, 10 inches from tip of nose to root of tail—(the tail measured 4 inches)—and weighed 75 pounds.

The next day being Thanksgiving, it was supplemented to the turkey feast, and all enjoyed the deliriously flavored white meat more than the conventional “Thanksgiving bird.” This lynx was probably a straggler from the Northern Tier, as none of its kind have been about Hyner since. At the same time, the Canada Lynx has been killed in many parts of Pennsylvania, as far south as the Seven Mountains and Somerset County, some claim, but never frequently. It hangs close to the main chain of the Allegheny Mountains, if it can make a living there (pg. 183-184).

Now, this story should be taken with a grain of salt.

Exaggerated sizes for large predators are almost de rigueur for frontier stories.

But I don’t dismiss it out of hand.

The typical Canada lynx is big at about 40 inches in length, and it weighs only 18 to 24 pounds.  They are rangier than bobcats, but they will weigh less than the biggest bobcat.

This 75- pound  “lynx” in Pennsylvania doesn’t sound like a Canada lynx to me at all.

The truth is we really don’t have a good handle on the native mammals of North America that lived before the modern conservation movement.

I think it is very possible that there were very large lynx in the United States. This animal could have been a very large gray bobcat, for bobcats are well-known to vary greatly in size. Canada lynx actually don’t. Throughout their range, they are essentially the same size– 18-24 pounds.

This particular cat– if it did weigh 75 pounds– probably wasn’t built like the rangy Canada lynx we know today. It would have had to have been a particularly robust creature.

Or it could have been a unique species of lynx that we never were able to document before it became extinct.

There is the persistent story of the Ozark howler, a giant black bobcat that lived in the mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, and I think it might be possible for European man to have made it impossible for large lynx and bobcats to survive.

After all, a farmer is much more likely to tolerate a 25-pound bobcat than a 75-pound bobcat or lynx.

Eurasian lynx to reach this size, and they are very effective predators of deer.

And it is well-known that bobcats and Canada lynx evolved from the Eurasian lynx.

Traditional accounts say that the bobcat became diminutive to avoid competition with already extant large predators in North America, and the Canada lynx invaded the continent in a later wave, where it became established in the Northern part of the continent as a snowshoe hare specialist.

But could there have been large lynx-type cats in North America in modern times?

I don’t know how good the evidence is, but we do have these tantalizing historical accounts that make us wonder.

Maybe there were large bobcats and/or undocumented lynx species in North America during an earlier time, and these animals were wiped out because of the potential threat they posed toward livestock.

Again, I am very skeptical that this cat was a Canada lynx. Canada lynx are actually quite poor at preying upon livestock and deer. Bobcats are actually much better at it.

The size of this animal could be a mere exaggeration, but we do have Eurasian lynx that are that size.

So it’s possible.

But what it exactly was is still a unanswered and unanswerable question.

It’s fun to speculate, eh?

I can’t decide whether it’s a mere exaggeration or if there actually was a lynx or bobcat of that size.

It’s up in the air for me!

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Ch. Ramsden Rex was an imported Russian wolfhound that Shoemaker owned. Shoemaker wanted to restore the wolf to Pennsylvania in order to develop a cottage industry of wolf coursing in the state.

The wolf was extinct in Pennsylvania by 1917, but Henry Wharton Shoemaker thought that the wolf should be restored to the Commonwealth to restore an ecological balance and to provide sportsmen with a big game species to hunt.

The idea was something of a radical idea in those days, for it was considered progressive and even conservation-minded to want wolves to disappear.  The US Forest Service and the USDA were working together to kill off the last wolves that ran in the cattle and sheep ranges of the West, and even in Yellowstone National Park, rangers were waging a war to see that wolves no longer molested the herds of ungulates.

This conservation ethic came from Britain and Germany, where gamekeepers and foresters often worked hard to keep predator numbers down in order to keep high populations of game species.  Most of these early conservationists were ardent hunters, and most hunters today have certain amount of the conservation ethic. Butt in the nineteenth century, it was customary for hunters to be profligate with the game the killed. North America seemed to have an limitless supply of game species, so it was just assumed that one could kill as many animals as one wanted.  By the turn of the century, sportsmen realized that killing so many animals so wantonly was not a wise endeavor, so they became conservationists. Ted Roosevelt was among the most famous proponents of this sort of wildlife conservation.

Shoemaker was also in this vein, but he was radical for the time because he extended this conservation ethic to wolves. Wolves could be preserved and managed as a game species.  Not someone who resisted romantic notions, he postulated that Pennsylvania wolf hunters could hunt them in the way wolves were hunted in Ireland and Russia– with big coursing dogs!  Shoemaker owned a champion Russian wolfhound (borzoi), and he thought the Pennsylvania wolf hunters could cross them with Irish wolfhounds to make a superior Pennsylvania wolf coursing dog.

This text comes from an edition of Shoemaker’s Wolf Days in Pennsylvania and is dated to 1917:

From the number of hunters who took out licenses in 1916—upwards of three hundred thousand—it would seem that they formed an important part of the population of Pennsylvania. When it is considered how small a return they received for their efforts, their spirit and enthusiasm for the chase seems all the more commendable. Despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Kalbfus, there was very little found to kill during the various “open seasons” which came to an end on the first days of 1914, 1915 and 1916. It is to be doubted if two thousand deer were killed in the entire Commonwealth during these three seasons. With such meagre results the time is bound to be at hand when a strong demand will be made to re-stock the forests with game worthy of the name. Civilized men are beginning to find that killing rabbits, quails .and squirrels is little better than a barnyard slaughter, that they do not furnish the excitement expected. Intelligent hunters read of struggles with wolves and mountain lions, of coyote coursing, and dispatching grizzlies in the West, and compare it to the feeble pastime of slaying a few mangey rabbits at home, to the disparagement of the home sport. A strong demand will be made to stock the Pennsylvania wilds, not with more rabbits, quails, ring-neck pheasants and squirrels, but with savage beasts, such as panthers, red bears and wolves. Deer and elk are here already, but without the so-called predatory beasts to harass them, they are sure to deteriorate. Wolf and panther hunting can be made the royal sport of Pennsylvania. Wolves, unmolested, except at certain seasons, could soon make themselves at home, and would prove a great benefit alike to sportsmen and to the game animals and birds. As far as damage to sheep is concerned, it would be less than is now done by dogs. As to the best variety of wolf to introduce, the Black Wolt seems to have been able to adjust itself to conditions; it was the last to be exterminated. As far as known, the Eastern black wolf is now extinct. The Western timber wolf requires a wider range than Pennsylvania could afford. The grey Pennsylvania wolf is gone, but its congeners in the West Virginia wilds might be introduced with advantage. The brown Pennsylvania wolf is probably extinct, as its relatives in North Carolina and Tennessee has been recently killed to the last specimen by professional hunters. The Western coyote might adapt itself, and could be introduced if no other varieties were available. This animal, as already stated, resembles the Pennsylvania brown wolf in many respects. It affords sport wherever it is known, and is hardy, is game and resourceful. However, it is too prone to degenerate into a mere poultry thief to make its introduction popular. The methods of the old Pennsylvania bounty hunters would not be used by the sportsmen of the future. These included trapping, snaring, pitfalls and poisoning. The wolf hunting as practiced in Ireland in the eighteenth century, and in France today, would be best suited to present-day needs in the Keystone State. Years ago in England the open season for hunting wolves was between December 25 and March 25. It furnished ideal “Christmas” sport. A wolf hunt in France is described as follows: “An open spot is generally chosen at some distance from the great coverts where the wolves were known to lie, and here, in concealment, a brace—sometimes two brace—of wolf hounds were placed. A horse was killed and the fore-quarters were trailed through the paths and ways in the wood during the previous day, and back to where the carcass lay, and there they were left. When night approached, out came the wolves, and, having struck the scent, they followed it until they found the dead horse, when, of course, they began to feed on the flesh, and early in the morning, just before day-break, the hunters placed their dogs so as to prevent the wolves from returning to cover. When a wolf came to the spot, the man in charge of the wolf-hounds suffered him to pass by the first, but the last were let slip full in his face, and at the same instant the others were let slip also; the first staying him ever so little, he was sure to be attacked on all sides at once, and therefore the more easily taken.” This is similar to the methods followed by the Grand Dukes at Gatchina, in Russia. This aptly portrays a sport of the future for Pennsylvania gentlemen. Could anything be more blood-curdling or inspiring? In Ireland the wealthy gentry hunted wolves on horse-back. The animals were baited to come into the open, and then mounted men and wolf-hounds made after them, the effort being put forth to prevent them from getting back to cover. The huntsmen were armed with spears, and pinioned the fierce beasts to the earth from their galloping steeds. In our Western States, coyotes, and occasionally timber wolves, are coursed on the open plains by Russian wolf-hounds, followed by mounted hunters. The wolves, if run down, are killed by the pack of dogs or elses shot by the hunters. This is often done on the Russian Steppes, by a stronger race of wolfhounds than has been developed as yet in the United States. In an effort to arouse interest in a better type of wolf dogs, the writer of these pages offered two special prizes at the Dog Show of the Westminster Kennel Club, held in New York in February, 1914, for Russian wolf-hounds which had actually coursed wolves, or were kept for this purpose in a wolf country. At present the Irish wolf-hound looks to be more capable of running down wolves than the Russian variety, which is called the Borzoi. The breeding and sale of wolf dogs would add greatly to the income of Pennsylvania mountaineers. A comparison of the different varieties of wolf dogs can be gleaned from the following, which is quoted from the New York “World”: “Several years ago General Roger Williams, of Lexington, Ky.,was a judge in a wolf hunting contest in Colorado, in which Russian wolf-hounds and Scotch deer-hounds contested. Under the stipulations only two dogs could be turned loose on one wolf. Among the Russian dogs was one which had won the gold medals in a wolf-killing contest at St. Petersburg, offered by the Czar, and his owner claimed that he could kill any American wolf. But the Russian dogs failed, so did the Scotch dogs. One of the latter quit fighting for a moment and its owner pulled a revolver and shot the dog dead, saying he would not have a dog which would quit fighting.” A letter from California states that Russian wolf-hounds are a failure on ranches where they have been installed for the purpose of killing coyotes and wolves, and do as much damage to live stock as the wolves. The writer of this article is a lover of the Russian wolf-hound, and has bred the dogs since 1906. But he believes the race will have to be strengthened by actual contact with wolves, or it will deteriorate into a mere showy house-pet. In 1908 he obtained two coyotes and a Bosnian wolf for a chase at McElhattan, Clinton County. The wolf-hounds did not seem inclined to course the animals, so the chase was never held. The coyotes are now in the Reading Zoo, and the wolf was sold to a traveling showman. According to the newspapers this animal broke out of the wagon somewhere near Rochester, N. Y., bit a cow which was pasturing peacefully by the road side, and also frightened a little girl. The Russian wolfhound is a beautiful and intelligent animal, and has been justly called the “aristocrat of the dog kingdom.” Perhaps a cross between this breed and the Irish wolfhound would produce the right sort for Pennsylvania wolf hunting. With all these prospects there is a glorious vista ahead for dog-lovers and true sportsmen, if only we can get the right kind of wolves again! (pg. 87-91 ).

I have not heard of the French using sight hounds to hunt wolves, but I did know that they sometimes used the large pack hounds to run wolves down in a very similar manner to the way the English used foxhounds to run down foxes. I have heard of people using dead horses a bait for wolves, and it still sometimes used by people who illegally bait in black bears. I remember coming across a story of some bear baiters in West Virginia who were caught setting out a horse carcass filled with jelly doughnuts. I guess they thought the bear needed some dessert with its final meal.

I also think that Shoemaker may have missed out on an important fact about sight hounds. Sight hounds cannot be used in densely forested areas. Most of the places he was writing about were heavily forested regions in very steep, mountainous terrain.  Sighthounds are much more effective in open terrain, where they are less likely to run into a tree and hurt themselves. The can handle mountains, but the Allegheny Plateau is just so choppy and steep that it would be very hard for a sight hound to get going at top speed for any great distance. In the flatter and more open parts of Pennsylvania, they might have some utility, but in the mountains, this is a flight of fancy.

One must keep in mind that Shoemaker’s taxonomy of Pennsylvania wolves is a bit screwy. I do think there is some merit to the possibility that the coyote did live in the Eastern US, and this “small brown wolf” was the original Eastern coyote. However, the black and gray wolves appear to have been the same species, though likely of different subspecies. It is of note that he mentioned that large gray wolves were living in West Virginia, which contradicts the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s assertion that only “red wolves” lived here. The modern red wolf is a recent hybrid between several wolf subspecies and the coyote.

Shoemaker claimed that wolves were living in West Virginia at this late date, which is a definite possibility. The WVDNR states the wolf was extinct by 1900, but there are so many remote areas where a wolves could hide out for many years.

The notion of preserving wolves for hunters isn’t all that foreign to me.

My mother said told me that during the 60’s, when fur prices were quite high, my grandfather, an ardent fox hunter and hound enthusiast, cursed the profligacy of trappers. The trappers reduced fox numbers, and because he was really a fox chaser and not a fox hunter, he hated what it was doing to red fox numbers.

He preferred that foxes be around in relatively high numbers so that he and his friends could chase them. In this part of the world, foxes are not hunted with riders following the hounds. And the foxes are virtually never driven out to be shot. They are simply chased for the sport of it– to test the stamina and scenting powers of individual hounds and to have some bit of community, which is a rapidly vanishing commodity in this country.

I think that Shoemaker’s heart was in the right place, but it is obvious that whatever ideas he might have had about conserving wolves as game animals has largely fell upon deaf ears.

Hunters who live in wolf country want them controlled, if not extirpated from the countryside once again.

And then, there is large sector of wolf advocates who oppose killing any animal for any reason.

Of course, the more balanced view that Shoemaker and others may have espoused largely get ignored in the dichotomy of the extremes.

Wolves haven’t been reintroduced to Pennsylvania, but if the “little brown wolf” is what Shoemaker though it was, part of his dream of reintroducing wolves may have already come to pass.

Shoemaker thought the little brown wolf was the same species as the coyote of the West. He also thought that the brown wolves of the South were also coyotes, which might explain why John  Smith wrote that that wolves of Virginia were much smaller than those of Europe. They weren’t wolves at all. They were coyotes living in the East.

This notion that coyotes may have always lived in the East is very controversial, but I think the bulk of the historical record shows that there were small wolves in the South that were different from the gray and black wolves, which were probably actual wolves. The unfortunate thing about these coyotes is they were deemed “red wolves,” a species that never existed until after colonization.

The Western coyote colonized the land that was left unoccupied when the wolves and the original Eastern coyote were extirpated. It crossbred with wolves and possibly remnant Eastern coyotes to form the modern Eastern coyote. The so-called red wolf of today is just a modern Eastern coyote with a bit more wolf in it than one normally finds in Eastern coyotes. That’s what the most sophisticated genetic analyses have found, but it’s not a finding that is all that well-received for obvious reasons.

Shoemaker provides one of the most detailed accounts of what wolves were like in the Eastern United States, but much of his writing on the subject has largely been ignored.

This is unfortunate, because I think he may have had some insights from the mountain people of Pennsylvania that one might not find in the peer-reviewed journals of today.  Or on the blogosphere with its denizens of self-styled experts.

I don’t think his plan to return wolves to Pennsylvania for the purposes of using borzoi was probably not feasible.

Pennsylvania just doesn’t have steppes.

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The Kentucky frontier wasn’t the only place that wolves were used as hunting dogs. Wolves were also commonly used as hunting dogs on the Pennsylvania frontier. They were also crossbred with “improved” Western dogs to make superior working animals, but the practice was largely discontinued when it was decided that every farm ought to have a “purebred” collie or shepherd.

Henry Wharton Shoemaker was a polymath of sorts.  He was a Columbia graduate, who worked on Wall Street and for the US foreign service before moving to Pennylvania to work as a newspaper publisher. He became well-versed in the folklore and local history of the mountainous regions of Central and Western Pennsylvania, and it is from his writings on this subjects that we can find out what the original settlers thought of different animals. He was an ardent conservationist, and he worked as writer for Gifford Pinchot’s campaigns for the US Senate and for governor of Pennsylvania.

His interests as an historian, conservationist, and folklorist brought him to write two volumes on the history of the extinct animals in Pennsylvania. One volume would cover wolves and “panthers” (the creatures also known as cougars/pumas/mountain lions/catamounts), and another would cover the other extirpated species.  These two volumes are often compiled into a single volume called Extinct Pennsylvania Animals, which is traditionally the name for the second volume. The second section of the first volume is called Wolf Days in Pennsylvania, and it was originally published in 1914.

Through his research and interviews with those who had first hand accounts with these animals, he found that the settlers believed that there were three kinds of wolf in Pennsylvania.  There was a large gray wolf and a large black wolf, but these appeared to breed true, even though it wasn’t unusual for a black wolf to whelp a gray pup. And there was a small brown wolf, which sounds suspiciously like an account of the existence of an eastern population of coyotes. I think the corpus of the evidence– particularly the genetic evidence–suggests that coyotes did exist in the East, but they were extirpated with the wolves.  As the larger wolves were removed from other parts of their range, the smaller coyotes were able to file back into the East again. (The so-called red wolf is largely a fictional animal.)

The settlers in Central and Western Pennsylvania considered the black wolf to be a separate species from the gray.  The gray and “small brown wolves” were easily killed, but the black ones were much more cunning and wary.  In what might sound like a contradiction, it was very common for these black wolves to be socialized to people and then used as hunting or working dogs.

Shoemaker writes:

As far as intelligence went, the black wolf was far the superior of the others. It was susceptible of domestication, and would have made the ideal hunting dog of Pennsylvania….Dr. W. J. McKnight, in his “Pioneer Outline history of Northwestern Pennsylvania,” states “the pioneer hunter would sometimes raise a wolf pup. This pup would be a dog in every sense of the word until about two years old, and then would be a wolf in all his acts.” Audubon in his “Quadrupeds of North America” says: “Once when we were traveling on foot not far from the Southern boundary of Kentucky, we fell in with a black wolf, following a man with his rifle on his shoulder. On speaking with him about this animal, he assured us that it was as tame and gentle as a dog, anr) that he had never met a dog that could trail a deer better. We were so much struck with this account and the noble appearance of the wolf, that we offered him one hundred dollars for it, but the owner said he would not part with it for any price.” What was the case in the West, was equally true in the Seven Mountains and in Clearfield and Jefferson Counties. One or two of the earliest hunters trained black wolves to act as hunting dogs and companions. These and wild black wolves bred with dogs owned by pioneers, producing a really worthy progeny. St. George Mivart has said “hybrids between the dog and the wolf have proved to be fertile, though for no long period.” The writer remembers that in his early boyhood about twenty years ago he saw several of these wolf-dogs. They were intelligent and kindly, and highly prized by their owners, farmers in some of the valleys adjacent, to the Seven Mountains. The craze for handsome sheep dogs or collies which struck the valleys about this time resulted in ending the breeding of the wolfish clogs, which to those not in sympathy with them, were technically mongrels, and they eventually disappeared. There are probably few of them now in existence. Their owners declared that they never showed the slightest tendency to revert to a wild state. In September, 1898, the writer visited a farmer, who tilled some back lots at the foot of the mountains on the South side of Brush Valley not far from Minnick’s Gap. This old fellow, Abe Royer by name, kept some turkeys, half wild, which were the result of his tame turkey hens crossing with wild gobblers which lived on the mountain back of his cabin. He had preserved several wild pigeons until 1895, to be used as “stool pigeons” in the event of the great flocks “returning.”

He also kept several wolf-dogs. These animals had dun and grey coloring not unlike collies, but had the shorter hair and longer legs of wolves. There was no trace of black in their coloring, although their owner stated that their grand-sire had been a black wolf which coupled with a shepherd bitch some ten years before when he was lumbering for Ario Pardee in High Valley. He said that neither turkeys nor dogs had the least inclination to revert to the savage proclivities of their ancestors. If the grey wolves and the brown wolves had any of the admirable characteristics of their black relatives, the old hunters sayeth not. “Crafty and mean” is the general verdict expressed about the grey wolves, “nasty like little cur dogs,” is the general run of remarks relative to the brown wolves. Doubtless these uncomplimentary characterizations are unjust to the animals, but they were certainly not up to the standard of the black wolves. If all are of one variety these attempts at specialization are hardly worth the time to read. At the same time it may show that color in animals has much to do with habitation, character and disposition. It may help to reveal the secret of why some men are blonde and others dark (pg. 24-25).

The black coloration in North American wolves is thought to have originated through crossbreeding with Native American dogs, but the dog ancestry in these wolves probably wouldn’t have been a high enough percentage to have affected their temperament. Modern black wolves are, for all intents and purposes, very much wolves.

The black coloration is a simple dominant trait, so it is possible that certain populations of wolf in the Eastern United States were consisted of almost of nothing but melanistic individuals. This dominant black trait in dogs, wolves, and coyotes comes from a mutation that controls the protein beta-defensin 3. This protein does regulate the amount of melanin that appears on the dog, wolf, or coyote’s coat, but it also is associated with immune response.  Having this particular mutation might provide the wolves with some advantages  in fighting off viral and bacterial infections, which may have been more common in the temperate and subtropical forests of North America.

I don’t think these black wolves were a different species at all, but for whatever reason, this particular type of wolf was easily domesticated. It may have been that this was a sort of intermediary animal that included the genetics of both wolves and domestic dogs, and there was some continual hybridization between the two forms. And that might be why these wolves were so easily domesticated.

It is possible that the black coloration could have been associated with a tendency toward domestication. A very similar finding was found with black deer mice, which were found to be more docile than the more common agouti deer mice.

But black deer mice have a different genetic basis than black wolves or dominant black dogs, so one should be careful about making generalizations from that study and trying to apply them to the tame wolves of the Pennsylvania.

These domesticated wolves appear to have been very much a part of life in America in the early days of settlement.  These settlers of the Pennsylvania mountains didn’t have access to the best lines of Western hunting dogs, so they improvised. They found that the black wolves were a good outcross to their curs and shepherds.

So here we have another account of modern people keeping wolves as working and hunting dogs.

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Aaron Hall

Aaron Hall, "the Lion Hunter of the Juniata" and founder of the legendary strain of Pennsylvania panther dogs.

I came across an account of an unusual breed of hunting dog that was developed in Centre County, Pennsylvania. This account comes from Extinct Animals of Pennsylvania by Henry Wharton Shoemaker. The text was originally  published in 1907, but the actual account comes from period between 1845 and 1869 in which a legendary cougar hunter named Aaron Hall was said to have killed fifty “panthers.”

Hall’s legendary status had left him with the sobriquet “Lion Hunter of the Juniata.” He had styled himself as the central Pennsylvania version of Davy Crockett.

And like any great hunter of those days, he had a pack of hunting dogs that helped him pursue his quarry.

Unlike any other hunter of that day, though, he had bred a rather unusual strain of cougar hound.

His massive dogs were run in pairs that then pursued the cougar until they could catch it by the ears– one dog on each ear, very similar to how hog catch dogs are used. It is also very similar to the way that the borzoi caught wolves.  The borzoi would grab the wolf by the sides of the neck, usually two dogs on either side.

The dogs were said to be the result of breeding old-type bulldogs, mastiffs, Newfoundlands, and bloodhounds together to produce a superior cougar hound. They dogs were said to have been so large that a former Pennsylvania game commissioner was able to ride one of them.

I have some issues with the veracity of these claims, but it is known that the mastiff-type dogs can be used to hunt large cats. Fila Brasileiros were used to hunt jaguars and South American cougars, and the Dogos Argentinos were also used to hunt cougars in their native country. Newfoundland dogs were very common in America at the time and were considered an appropriate dog to use for hunting various species of game, although waterfowling was their most common purpose. Bulldogs were probably chosen for their tenacity and ability to grip recalcitrant and powerful quarry, and bloodhounds have legendary noses. The mixture makes sense.

However, the story about the dogs grabbing the cats by the ears is a bit too far fetched for me to accept. A cougar is a very strong and agile animal. If cornered by dogs, it is going to fight very hard. Because its ears aren’t that large, my guess is that the dogs would have a very hard time holding the cats by the ears. They would simply be clawed to pieces, even if they did manage to get them by the ears.

Keep in mind that a cougar can kill a lone wolf, and it wouldn’t have very much trouble killing a domestic dog of any size. (There is a very good account of a cougar killing at captive wolf in Jim and Jamie Dutcher’s Wolves at Our Door.) Most modern cougar hounds tree the cats or hold them at bay. Very few of them engage in mortal combat with the cats. I seriously doubt that any dog would be able to fight a cougar until it was able to grab it by the ears.

Unless Hall or Sober were very small men, I seriously doubt that he could ride any dogs resulting from his crossbreeding. The biggest mastiffs have exceeded two hundred pounds, but if you’re crossing in smaller bulldogs, bloodhounds, and the slightly smaller Newfoundland of the day, it is very unlikely that anyone would be able to produce animals of that size.

Shoemaker wrote a lot about the folk culture of rural Pennsylvania, and theis story sounds a lot like mountain person’s tall tale. Mountain culture in Pennsylvania isn’t that different from mountain culture here, and I can tell you that telling stories like this one are almost de rigueur, especially when someone starts talking about his hunting dogs. Maybe Shoemaker was playing around with this lore, or maybe someone was playing a trick on him. After all, he was an outsider, a graduate of Columbia and a native New Yorker who had grown up in India. Such outsiders are very often told tall stories, for nothing can make a rural person with limited educational and economic opportunities feel better than when he or she gets some outsider to believe some outlandish story.

He does mention that many people of this region were keeping cougar dogs, but most of the dogs used to hunt cougars were “fices” or “whippets.”

One of the great ironies about cougars is that they were known for having a great deal of fear of dogs. Although they were capable of killing a dog easily, they normally would run if pursued by a pack of them.

Normally, these pursuits end with the cougar a tree and dogs barking at them. My guess is that if a cougar had found itself being chased by Hall’s cougar dogs, it would have run for the nearest tree before the dogs could even get close to it. This would have meant that it would have been next to impossible for the dogs to grab them by the ears. (Unless those horse-sized curs could also climb trees.)

I particularly like the story about the Pennsylvania panther dogs, but I am very skeptical that this story is real. Maybe Hall really did have big cougar hounds, but they didn’t hunt in exactly in the way described. Maybe they held the cats at a bay or pushed them into the trees. Some of them were probably much larger than the typical hunting dog of the region, and thus, they were given such an outlandish size.

Hall’s strain of panther dog went extinct shortly after his death in 1892. We can never really know for sure, but I think the chances of these dogs hunting in the way described are not very good.  I can’t imagine that a cougar would allow itself to be held by the ears in such a fashion.

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