Lobo, the King of Cumimpaw
Cumimpaw is a large cattle region in northern New Mexico. It is a land of rich pastures, of great flocks and herds, a land of running streams, which at last unite in the Currumpaw River. And the king of this whole region was an old gray wolf. Old Lobo or the king, as the Mexicans called him, was the leader of a pack of gray wolves. All the shepherds and ranchmen of Currumpaw knew him well, and wherever he appeared with his pack of wolves, there was terror among the cattle, and anger and despair among the ranchmen.
Lobo was a giant among wolves, and he was very cunning and strong. His voice at night was well-known. If an ordinary wolf howled all night, the shepherds paid little attention to it. But when they heard the deep roar of the old king in the valley, they prepared to learn in the morning that some of their cattle and sheep were missing.
Old Lobo's hand was a small one. Usually, the king of a band of wolves has many followers, hut perhaps other wolves were afraid of Lobo's fierce temper and kept away. However, the ranchmen and shepherds knew that Lobo had only five followers during the last year of his life. Each of these was a wolf of great size, but not one of them could compare with their leader in size and courage. One of the band was a beautiful white wolf that the Mexicans called Blanca. These wolves were well-known to the cowboys, the shepherds and the hunters. Every ranchman was ready to give a big sum of money for the head of any one of the pack, but Lobo and his followers defied all hunters, all poisons and all kinds of traps. For five years they continued to kill at least one cow a day. The band, therefore, killed more than two thousand of the best cattle, for the ranchmen knew too well that Lobo chose only the best.
The old idea that a wolf was always hungry and was ready to eat anything was very far from the truth in this case, for these wolves always looked Well-fed. In fact, they were very particular about what they ate. They chose for their daily food the meat of a young cow, not more than a year old, which they killed themselves and ate while the meat was still fresh. An old bull or cow they did not touch, and it was quite clear that they did not like veal or horse-meat. It was also known that they were not fond of mutton, although they sometimes killed sheep just for the fun of it. But they did not eat their meat.
These are examples of many stories which the ranchmen told me about Lobo and his band. Each year the ranchmen and hunters tried many new devices to catch or to kill Lobo, but all their attempts were in vain. Then the ranch-leader, always detected the poison and never touched it. One thing only this great wolf feared, and that was a gun. And knowing that all men in this region carried guns, he never attacked a human being. Indeed, Lobo and his band ran away as fast as they could whenever, in the daytime, they saw a man, even if he was a great distance from them. And since Lobo did not allow his pack to eat anything which they themselves did not kill, they were not afraid of any poison.
Here is a story that a cowboy told me.
One night the cowboy heard the call of old Lobo, which he knew so well. He approached very quietly, and found the pack of wolves in a hollow. In the hollow was also a small herd of cattle. Lobo sat outside the hollow on a small bill, watching, while the other wolves tried to drive out a young cow from the middle of the herd. But the cattle stood close together, with their heads outward, so that the enemy faced a line of horns, and could not kill the young cow that they wanted. It seemed that the king at last lost patience with his pack, for he left his position on the hill, and with a great roar, ran toward the herd of cattle. The terrified cattle began to run and Lobo sprang in among them. At once he seized the young cow by the neck and threw her to the ground. Then his followers fell on the poor cow and killed her in a few seconds. Lobo took no part in the killing, but only looked on, as if to say: "Now, why could not some of you do this at once and not waste so much time?"
When the cowboy now came near and shouted, the wolves ran away. Then he quickly took out a bottle of poison, which he had with him, and poured the poison on the body of the dead cow in three places. The cowboy thought: "They have killed the animal themselves and they will come back to eat it." Then he rode away. The next morning he returned, and expected to see some dead wolves. "But what do you think they did?" said the cowboy to me. "They ate the cow, but they threw away all the poisoned parts of the animal."
The ranchmen feared this great wolf. Each year they increased the sum of money which they have as a reward for the head of old Lobo. Soon a cowboy from Texas came to hunt down the wolf. He had the best guns and horses, and a pack of very large wolf dogs. He and his dogs were famous as wolf killers. "I am sure that in a few days I will have Lobo's head and the reward," said the hunter.
They began their hunt early one summer morning. Soon the dogs barked loudly to say that they were already on the track of the wolf pack. Then the pack of wolves appeared. The dogs rushed after them. The role of the wolf dogs was to hold the wolves at bay until the hunter rode up and shot them. This was easy on the open plains of Texas, but here rocky canyons crossed the prairies in every direction. The old wolf at once jumped across the nearest canyon, which the hunter could not cross. Lobo's band then ran away, each wolf in a different direction, and the dogs did the same. But the wolves united again, while the dogs, running all over the prairies, did not unite. Now the wolves attacked and killed those dogs that were near them; and then they killed or wounded the rest. Only six of the dogs returned, and these were terribly wounded.
The hunter made two more attempts to kill Lobo, but these also were not successful. So he gave up the chase and went back to Texas. Lobo was now again the king of the whole region.
Next year, two other hunters came to hunt down the wolf and to get the reward. Each believed that he could kill this famous wolf, — one by means of a new poison and the other by poison together with spells, for he believed that Lobo was a man-wolf, and that ordinary devices could not kill him. But Lobo paid no attention to the poisons or to the spells and had his daily feasts as before. In a few weeks these two hunters gave up the hunt and went away.
In the spring of that year something happened which showed that the big wolf laughed at his enemies. The farm of one of the hunters was in a beautiful canyon near the Currumpaw River. And among the rocks of this canyon, not far from the farm, Lobo and his mate found a den and raised their family there, and laughed at all the hunter's poisons and traps.
"That wolf lived there all summer," said the hunter, "and I couldn't do anything."
All this I learned when I came to New Mexico for a rest on the ranch of a friend of mine. I was a wolf hunter, and when my friend asked me to try if I could do anything with the pack, I decided to make the attempt. It became quite clear to me that dogs and horses were of no use if I wanted to catch Lobo, so that poison or traps were the only things that might give results. Now we had no traps large enough, so I began with poison. I used a hundred different devices and tried different kinds of meat as bait, but all my attempts were in vain. The old king was too clever for me. In fact, his cunning and intelligence were wonderful.
He usually sniffed the bait, detected the poison, and did not touch it then. However, one day a bait was gone, and I felt happy. "Now," I thought, "I have him, I shall find his dead body near the next bait." But the second bait was also gone, and the third. When I came to the fourth bait, everything was clear. "Look," I said to my companion, "look what he did. He took the three baits and placed them together with the fourth, and then he threw dirt over all of them, as if to show that he defied us." We saw the tracks of the wolves on the ground, with Lobo always as the leader. It was easy to find his track, because it was much larger than that of an ordinary wolf. An ordinary wolf's forefoot is 4 1/2 inches long, but Lobo's forefoot was 5 1/2 inches from claw to heel. Afterwards I found that he was three feet high at the shoulder and weighed 150 pounds.
At this time Lobo took part in another incident which showed his great cunning. As I have already said, Lobo and his band sometimes killed sheep for their amusement, but they did not eat the meat.
The ranchmen usually keep sheep in flocks of from one thousand to three thousand, with one or more shepherds. Sheep are very foolish creatures and are easily frightened, but they have one strong weakness, — they follow their leader. The shepherds, therefore, put a dozen goats in the middle of the flock of sheep. When Lobo and his pack appeared, the sheep crowded round the goats, who were neither fools nor cowards. But the clever wolf knew as well as the shepherds that the goats were the moral force of the flock of sheep. He quickly ran over the backs of the sheep, fell on the goats and killed them all in a few minutes. The sheep ran away in a thousand different directions. For weeks afterward we found dead sheep everywhere.
At last we received the wolf traps, and I worked a whole week to set them up along the tracks of the wolves. I used every device I could think of to conceal the traps carefully so that Lobo could not find them. But he detected them each time. On the ground I could read the whole story of what happened. When he found the first trap, he slopped the pack. Then he threw aside the dirt and everything else that covered the trap, and left it open. Then he went to the next one and did the same. He opened up more than a dozen traps. Once he almost fell into a trap, but his cunning and intelligence saved him. He stopped in time, put each paw carefully in its old track, and so walked backwards until he was off the dangerous ground.
I changed my devices, but I could never deceive him. However, like other great heroes whom no one can conquer when they are alone, Lobo made an alliance that at last ruined him.
Once or twice I noticed the trail of a smaller wolf, who ran ahead of the leader. This I could not understand, until a cowboy explained it to me. "I saw them to-day," he said, "and the wolf who runs ahead is Blanca." Then all was clear to me. Now I knew that Blanca was a she-wolf, and Lobo's mate, because no leader of a pack allows another wolf to run ahead of him; he kills him at once. Lobo would kill at once a he-wolf who behaved in this way.
So I made a new plan. I killed a young cow and cut off the head. Then I concealed two powerful steel traps near the head, and poured some fresh blood from the cow over the ground. After that I set up two more of my best traps and attached them to the head. Usually, wolves come near the dead body of an animal and examine it. I built my hopes on this habit of theirs.
Next morning I went to look at the traps, and there, oh, joy! were the tracks of the pack. The head and the traps attached to the head were not there. What happened was clear. Lobo detected my device at once and did not allow the pack to touch the cow. But the head lay some distance further, and one, a small wolf, went on to examine it, and walked into one of the traps.
Now we followed the trail of that wolf, and found that the unlucky wolf was Blanca. When she saw us, she ran away, but she could not run very fast, because she could not get rid of the cow's head and traps, which held her fast. She was a very beautiful wolf, and her fur was nearly white. We overtook her and she turned to fight, giving a long howl. From far away came the cry of Lobo. But that was Blanca's last call. Each of us threw a lasso over her head, and soon she fell down dead. We carried the dead wolf home on a horse and were happy, for this was our first victory over the Currumpaw pack. From time to time, as we rode home, we heard the roar of Lobo, who searched for Blanca. He did not really desert her, but he knew that lie could not save her. And then there was his great fear of guns when he saw us.
All that day we heard him, and when evening came his voice sounded nearer. All night he looked for Blanca. At last he found the trail. And when he came to the place of her death, — her blood covered the ground, — his voice was so full of sorrow that we even pitied him. Then he found the trail of our horses and followed it to the ranch-house. I don't know whether he hoped to find Blanca there, or whether he came to take revenge. Near the house, he fell upon our watch-dog and killed him at once.
He did not seem to care what happened to him. He came alone, for I found only one trail the next morning. Now I knew that I must catch him while he was still in this mood. So I set up some traps on the ranch. He fell into one of them. But so great was his strength that he broke the trap and escaped. I believed that he would remain in the region until he found Blanca or her body, so I decided to make another attempt — the last one — to catch him before he left.
I took all the traps I had, one hundred and thirty strong steel wolf-traps, and set them in groups of four in every trail that led into the canyon. We concealed and covered them so that no eye could detect the work of human hands. Then we dragged the body of poor Blanca over-each place where the traps lay, for I knew that Lobo would follow the scent of her body. I used every device known to me, and then went to bed at a late hour. Once during the night I thought I heard old Lobo's voice. In the morning I went to look at the traps, but there was nothing. However, when I approached the canyon on the afternoon of the next day, a great form arose from the ground, and before me stood Lobo, King of Currumpaw, now a prisoner in the traps.
Poor old hero! The search for Blanca brought him to his end. Now he lay, helpless, in the iron grasp of all four traps. All around were the tracks of cattle, who came now to insult the fallen king, but they did not dare to come near him. He lay there two days and two nights, struggling to get out. When I came near him, he rose up and with all his strength tried to get at me. All in vain. Each trap weighed three hundred pounds, and he was powerless. Once he raised his voice and called to his band for help, but there was no wolf to answer him. His eyes were green with hate and fury as he tried again and again to reach me and my trembling horse. But he was worn out with hunger and struggling and loss of blood, and he soon sank to the ground.
I felt something like pity when I looked at him. "Brave old bandit, hero of a thousand fights, in a few minutes you will be dead. It cannot be otherwise." Then I swung my lasso, and it whistled over his head. But before the rope fell on his neck, he seized the noose, and with one fierce bite of his teeth cut the thick rope in two pieces, and dropped them at his feet.
I had my gun, but I did not want to spoil his hide. So I rode back to the ranch and returned with a cowboy and another lasso. We threw to our prisoner a stick of wood, which he seized in his teeth. Before he could drop it, our lassoes whistled through the air and the nooses were round his neck. Yet, when the light began to die from his fierce eyes, I cried, "Stop, we will not kill him; let us take him alive to the ranch."
He was so powerless now that it was easy to put a thick stick in his mouth and then bind his jaws with a rope, which we fastened to the stick. Now he did not struggle any more, but looked at us calmly, as if to say, "Well, you have got me at last, do as you like with me." We tied his feet, but he did not growl or even turn his head. Then we put him on my horse. His eyes now were bright and clear, but he did not look at us. His eyes were fixed on the great canyons far off, on his lost kingdom.
When we came to the ranch, we put a collar on him and a strong chain, and then took off the ropes. I put some meat and water near him, but he paid no attention to them. He lay quietly and gazed with those yellow eyes of his far away over the plains — his plains, and did not move even when I touched him. When the sun went down and night came, he did not call his band again. He had called once, and nobody had come; he would never call again.
A lion without his strength, an eagle without his freedom, or a dove without his mate, all die, it is said, of a broken heart. Who can say that this fierce bandit did not die of a broken heart too? This only I know, that when morning came, he still lay there in the same position. His body was not wounded, but his spirit was gone, — the old King-wolf was dead. I took the chain from his neck. A cowboy helped me to carry him to the shed where Blanca lay. As we laid him beside her, the cowboy exclaimed, "There, you wanted to come to her, now you are together again."