Ghost Wolf And Snowdrift by Juanita Amero
As I sit to write this, winter howls at the windows. Thankfully inside the fire burns and sets the mood for the telling of tales.
We have visited a few other outlaws from different places, but this issue will take us to the state of Montana. In Montana two of these magnificent predators proved so skilled at avoiding hunters and feeding upon man’s domestic stock as to almost become immortal creatures, just as their brother outlaws had done. These two wolves became so famous; they were almost given the same attention as the human predators and anti-heroes of the day such as the Jesse James.
Just as with the other deemed outlaw wolves, it would seem that these two wolves had declared war on the stockmen who had been the driving force behind their species near extinction. These two wolves achieved such notoriety as to be given names. The first of these outlaws was known as the Ghost Wolf, the second was called Snowdrift.
In some accounts, the teller of the legend claims these wolves to be one in the same. However each carries with it a unique story as told by others. Some claim both to be male, while others say that Snowdrift was actually a bitch. Whatever they were, this is how the story goes.
According to local lore it was in 1920 that the Ghost Wolf turned outlaw and began raiding the ranches of the Judith Basin, pulling down cattle, sheep, and horses at will. By the mid-1920s, so feared and famed had this prairie pirate become, the Associated Press began to run stories on the Ghost Wolf of the Judith Basin. Local ranchers offered a $400 reward for his capture…. Wanted Dead or Alive! Traps were set in vain and remained empty, poison bait was scattered across almost the entire area of Central Montana. Actual posses were formed and men hunted the Ghost Wolf on foot, snowshoes, horseback, automobiles and airplanes. For ten years the Ghost Wolf evaded the best that these men had to throw against him and he continued to walk his home range unscathed.
In May 1930 the Ghost Wolf finally met his end. After being chased and pursued by the governments best, and those who claimed to be the best, it was Al Close, a rancher in the Little Belts who brought the outlaw “to justice.” He did this with the aid of Mike, his red Irish terrier, and Nick, his black and white sheep dog. This man and his faithful dogs tracked down the infamous Ghost Wolf of Montana and shot him dead.
This takes us to Snowdrift, who has been called Montana’s second great outlaw wolf. A creamy white color, she appeared in the Judith Basin of Montana in the 1920s also. She was supposed to have killed $35,000 worth of stock and was vigorously pursued. Hunters shot her in the hind leg, knocked her down, attempted to run her down by car, set traps all over the county, and were still unable to catch her. At one point she even outfought five imported Russian Wolfhounds.
Although the Snowdrift Wolf’s home range also included the Little Belt Mountains and Judith Basin, at times, this great predator roamed across the Missouri and into the Bear Paw Mountains. Having lost one toe on her left paw in a trap, Snowdrift left a distinctive calling card in the form of her four-toed track.
After eluding the usual posses for well over ten years, Snowdrift was finally ran down in the Highwood Mountains in May 1923 by Don Stevens, a government hunter, and Stacy Eckert, a US Forest Ranger. Stevens and Eckert succeeded in snaring Snowdrift in a leg trap. Catching the old outlaw in a trap did not, however, mean that this canine terror would meekly surrender and await her fate. Snowdrift wrenched the trap free from its anchor. The wolf, with her front paw still clenched in the steel jaws of the trap, managed to elude her pursuers for days. Finally, after four long days Snowdrift was cornered and shot. The photo seen with this issue is the alleged photo of Snowdrift as she was cornered for her last stand. “Alleged photo of the outlaw wolf Snowdrift caught in leg trap just before her death, from The Wolf Almanac by Robert H. Busch”
So you see, if one were to examine the records kept of the legends, whether is be true tale or tall tale, it soon becomes evident that man has always lived in fear and, equally so, in awe of the wolf. This is well portrayed in such a tale that was told by a famous ol’ mountain man named James (Jim) Bridger who was also known as “Old Gabe”.
Ol’ Jim was especially fond of telling this tale of an encounter with wolves in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. It was in 1829 as Bridger was setting his beaver traps that he was jumped by a pack of wolves. Bridger ran for his life and managed to climb to safety in a nearby tree. After milling about for a while, all the wolves but one, who stayed behind as a guard, departed? In an hour or so the pack returned with a beaver, which they forced to fell Bridger’s tree. When queried as to what happened next, the old mountain man replied, “Why they et me of course.”
I leave you with this and hope it brings a little smile or even a chuckle or two until we meet next time…right here…. where legends are remembered.