Raggs The Digger by Juanita Amero
The rifle fired on the third try, and Raggs the Digger died with his muzzle almost touching the end of the trapper’s boot. Stroking the pelt of the shaggy wolf he’d pursued for months, the trapper said, “You poor, lonely old murdering devil!”
This is the confrontation that ended the murdering career of the outlaw wolf Raggs the Digger. Raggs was what they had named him. His matted shaggy coat and astonishing ability to discover hidden buried traps and dig them up, won him the name of Raggs the Digger. He seemed to be flaunting his hate for the trappers pursuing him as most of the last standing wolves did. Trapper Bill Caywood finally found a way of using that one habit Raggs was known for to his advantage. He lured Raggs into a double set that succeeded in clamping two big leg-holds on him, one on each front foot. Raggs dragged the traps through heavy brush for an astonishing distance, leaving a trail that left Caywood in awe. Impressed not only with the physical determination of the canine but by the courage of the old wolf. When hunter met quarry, and Caywood got off his horse to confront Raggs, the wolf stunned him by turning and meeting his gaze with yellow piercing eyes.
The wolf unhesitantly began walking toward him. Caywood’s rifle failed to fire twice in his sweaty trembling hands. Caywood wondered if the wolf was going to attack him. As he became almost mesmerized by the wolf’s oncoming stare, he pondered for a quick moment if Raggs might actually be seeking his help in getting the traps off. Raggs kept limping closer….and closer.
As the hammer fired down for the third time, the rifle fired. Then, it seemed, all was silent for a moment with the passing of another outlaw wolf.
We can only imagine the feeling of relief as Caywood looked at the wolf lying dead at his feet. His last wild breath felt on the leather of the trapper’s boot. I would think one would want to check their pulse rate and their drawers too. Caywood calling him a “poor old devil” certainly implies a bit of a bittersweet ending to Ragg’s long vocation of eluding all men before him.
A lonely old murdering devil he was, as were his comrades of the time. In an age when it was almost a miracle for any wolf to escape death, outlaw wolves often lived longer than normal wolves. Most of the last wolves were white, but few had been white their entire lives. Their color was usually due to old age. Under natural conditions in the wild today, a wolf rarely survives more than a single decade. Many of the last wolves, however, were said to have lived considerably longer. Raggs the Digger was fourteen years old and another known as Ol’ Whitey of Colorado lived to be the ripe old age of fifteen.
Perhaps the oldest recorded in history was the “White Wolf” of Montana, who is said to have lived for eighteen years and caused $35,000 worth of stock loss to ranchers before it was finally killed in 1930. Mounted by a taxidermist, this eighty-three pound old fella still snarls at those who pass him by from a glass case inside a county courthouse. Another mounted white wolf remains on display also in Montana at the Stanford Trading Post. Ironic that today the school mascot in the area is a white wolf… inspired by this same legend that held a reign of terror on cattle and ranchers for over 15 years.
Older wolves, with teeth worn to the gum line and missing their piercing canine fangs, hunted by strangling their victims. This was witnessed by those who found the perished livestock with a crushed and saliva covered throats. Trappers of the day referred to such wolves as “gummers.”
The wisdom that comes with age is no doubt what kept these last wolves alive for so many years. With every passing season, as they continued to elude hunters and trappers, they learned more about their environment, home territory and the behavior of man. I believe this most certainly assisted in extending their years. The great measure of their intelligence is what hunters and readers find most outstanding about the last wolves. Even as the outdoorsmen of that time pursued the wolf, many considered the outlaws to be possessed of near human intelligence. Wolves “at times caused the greatest wonderment.” As quoted by Stanley Young, who spent a great deal of his life studying them.
Today, the most we can say with certainty is that some of the last wolves appeared to have lived to be remarkably old. But it is not only wisdom that comes with age. With age comes the breakdown of physical condition and endurance. This for sure played a factor in them finally being killed.
It was “the result of our continual warfare against them.” Seton, an author who wrote extensively on some of the outlaw wolves, was quoted: “By declaring bitter, exterminatory war, we have evolved a creature that for long has defied us.”
One frustrated Colorado rancher in the early 1920s has been recorded as saying: “Wolves have been trapped, shot at, and poisoned so long that they can damn near speak English!”
Of course wolves have yet to verbally speak to us in our own language. However, I believe in an unrefined way, we have begun listening to theirs.