Three Toes by Juanita Amero
As spring slowly but surely approaches, so does another issue of Water and Woods Online Magazine. I hope the winter has weathered you well as it most certainly has been a wild and white one here in my corner of the world. This issue had been pegged as a follow up on a previous article on the young man Kenton who was killed by wolves. The inquiry into his death was scheduled for the second week in February 2007, but was postponed till a later date. So that topic will be for another time.
Digging through my thoughts for this issue has led me down a wayward trail following a set of unique tracks, the tracks distinguished from the others by one paw print having only three toes. He was called Ol’ Three Toes as were many in the time of outlaw canines feasting on cattle and sheep. He was a product of surviving a close encounter with a leg hold trap. Close enough to lose one toe. There were coyotes and wolves alike nicknamed Ol’ Three Toes, but the legend I speak of today was one of questioned breeding. Some say he was a super coyote, others a wolf, and even a few swore him to be a wolf-coyote hybrid. Whatever he was, everyone agreed he was of a superior breed.
The very methods designed by government trappers for there undoing, actually developed a cunning breed of predators that continued to elude their captors. Three Toes and his co-killers were most certainly a hard-boiled lot, with Three Toes, the strongest and fleetest, being the leader of the clan.
Three Toes had become a household name in this Oklahoma community as an extra large coyote or wolf who had been chased by dogs and at anyone time had at least 50 traps set out for him. His tracks were large with one toe missing on the right fore paw. Predatory animal inspectors had brought in a trained $1000 pack of stag hounds that succeeded in catching some of the predators, but ultimately failed to bring them all under control. With all the weaker specimens being captured and killed by the dogs, the survivors who were the largest and strongest animals reproduced a super canine race, not leaving time for the weaker ones to breed their inferiority.
For a period of six years, they spread destruction and carnage among the herds and flocks in Caddo County, Oklahoma. Only the fittest survived as trappers and hunters waged war on the pack of killers. A special project was put together by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A press release by this agency was published on April 14, 1922 and was appropriately named “Ol Three Toes Turns Them Up”. It was stated in this report that they believed the culprit to be a wolf or coyote-dog hybrid, and that no matter what he was; they expected his capture any day. In January of the following year, what the hunters had finally accomplished was detailed here in the final report.
“Twenty-nine days of strenuous activity were devoted to the Caddo County project, which resulted in a total bag of 19 coyotes, practically all of them large, rangy old sinners that had outrun the dogs, refused to be enticed with bait, and committed depredations against live stock to the extent of at least $10,000.”
The man responsible for the actual demise of Three Toes was a hunter by the name of Mr. Mullins. The following is a part of the actual letter that Mr. Mullins wrote to some of his fellow hunting companions that had previously left the chase.
“It is too bad that you could not have stayed another day and had a good look at Old Three Toes, who hit the two traps with the short stakes we set together. The very last night he roamed the woods was the night you left. He was not a wolf or coyote-dog hybrid as had been rumored, but an extra large coyote, as was indicated by his tracks. We did not weigh him until Saturday evening, when we took him to town to give the people a chance to see him; that is, the few who had not heard of his capture and come to our camp. There has been a crowd here ever since he was caught, one-person coming 17 miles. Five days after his capture Old Three Toes weighed exactly 39 pounds, which means that he must have weighed at least 45 pounds after caught. There is no doubt in the minds of the people here that he is the offender they have been chasing all over the county for the past six years.”
Another outlaw had fallen. Thought to be a wolf, but in the end he turned out to be a really big coyote. A coyote worthy to claim the same legendary fame as one of “The Outlaws”. This trail I have taken to remember the legend of Ol Three Toes has left me with a twinge of sadness for the bristly beast that fell after many years of cunning and outwitting our human race. I guess that’s what makes the telling worth the effort. While walking of the trails of our past, we are remembering the stories of the wild outlaws. With their haunting howls still whispering in the trees and their ghostly paws still rustling the fallen leaves, they leave us entertained in keeping their legends alive.