The Beginnings Of Another Outlaw by Juanita Amero
It was way back in the spring of a year not so long ago, when pelts were yet prime and the wolf bounties were high. Five dollars per head and double that for the females. A trapper who had been hunting wolves went down to the creek one morning, only to see a wolf drinking from the other side. Taking the easy shot with success, the trapper soon found it to be a nursing female. For the next couple of days he spent endless hours searching out her den, but never did find any clue to where it was and left it be.
A few weeks later while riding down a canyon close by, he happened upon another wolf coming out of a hole. Rifle at the ready, another ten-dollar pelt was added to the saddle. He dug up the den and found the litter inside. Not an ordinary litter by any means, but one that consisted of not the usual five or six pups, but a litter of eleven. Strange also were their two distinct sizes, with five of them being larger and obviously older. Two families with one mother, and as he added these pelts both large and small to the string, the truth dawned on the trapper. One family was that of the she-wolf he killed at the river weeks before. Her little ones, tired and hungry from waiting for her, had whined and fussed enough with their hunger pains, that the other mother in passing had heard and carried them to her own den.
Many trappers during these times had dug deep in such wolf dens to find absolutely nothing. Adult wolves often dug small side pockets for the little ones to hide in when an enemy was near. The loose earth would close behind them and create the perfect escape. And it was this very practice that fooled the trapper into thinking he had all the pups, when actually the biggest of all the cubs was still in the den.
As the sun started to fall, a small faint scratching could be heard on one side of the den. First frightened by the attack, now the pup looked around totally confused. He could smell his brothers and sisters, but something was repelling about the scent. He bolted for a thicket close by and crouched all night there. When morning brought vultures swooping down, he ran off deep in the thicket to seek cover in the ravine.
While scurrying in the ravine, he looked around and there she was… like his mother, yet different. Being the stranger, he instinctively sank to the ground as the old wolf charged him. She had taken the pup for some kind of prey but a quick whiff of him set her straight. He groveled at her feet and her impulse to kill died away. He smelled like a cub, but not hers that were of the same age. Her heart was touched as he put his nose up to hers. The pup followed her home.
As he entered the den with her own she snarled at this pup who was still a stranger, but he persisted. He was accepted and tolerated, but remained different by being marked on the neck and shoulders with what would later grow to be a dark mane.
He grew and learned with his new family until one day the she-wolf returned to their den acting strange. Frothing at the mouth and trembling, she fell in the doorway. Trying to lick the crowding pups, she instead bit her own leg to save biting them. She became very quiet for days but eventually recovered. The poison in her system spelled disaster for the brood. Only the strongest survived, the old one and the black maned cub. With this large pup becoming her sole charge and her strength devoted to feeding him alone, he grew and thrived.
The pup had been blessed with a foster mother that was wise and he was quick to learn. She taught him things, survival things, like the way to fight dogs is to fight while you run and make for the rough high country where horses cannot ride. He learned not to worry over the coyote who follows for easy pickings of your leftover kill. You can’t catch coyote, and he does you no harm anyway. He knew not to waste time dashing birds and to make a wide berth around the black and white animal with the long bushy tail. Not good to eat and very, very bad to smell. Poison, he would never forget that smell. He learned to attack a steer from behind, a sheep from the front, a horse in the middle and never, never attack man. He learned to never even face man.
All these things he learned from the old one. But the greatest lesson she consciously taught him was the secret of eluding traps. She had only lost one toe to the irons and spent many years fooling many trappers but as fate would have it, a trap was the very thing that ended her life. It happened when she was least suspicious. A hawk had come into some scraps left by the trapper and was caught in the trap by the foot. A lot of times a trapper would set up traps around a piece of cotton or even a feather and play on the curiosity of the wolf. This hawk flapping around in the trap seemed to the old one to be only wounded prey on the ground. Sun and sand had worn away the scent of man and iron…. there was nothing to warn her.
As she sprang on the wounded bird, the trap sprang high on her leg. She chewed, snarled and foamed. In her frenzy another trap caught her hind foot. She snapped wildly in the air, tore the hawk to shreds and roared the roar of a crazy wolf. She gnawed at her flank and chopped her own tail off in madness. Her teeth were splintered and bloody from chewing on steel. She finally dropped in exhaustion.
The cub hung around in too much fear to go any nearer. With the sun came the trapper to end it all for the old one. The pup scurried off into cover as he heard the crack of the gun. Thenceforth he must face the world alone.