Wolves and Were-Wolves By C. F. Gordon Cumming 1891
Never, probably, has any encounter with wild beasts excited such widespread sympathy as that which, a year ago last Winter, brought to M. Pasteur's care, in the Ulm Street laboratory in Paris, twenty-six Russians who were so fearfully lacerated by the tame wolf which, having been bitten by a mad dog, had itself developed the dread symptoms of hydrophobia. And rarely has a more suggestive subject offered itself for painter or poet than that of the group of terror stricken, wolf-bitten Russian peasants, well-nigh as shaggy as the foe, and of that brave Moujick coachman, a man of most noble appearance and quiet, resolute bearing, who, arriving just in time to see the rabid brute spring on a woman, rushed forward, although unarmed, to seize it by the scruff of the neck; knowing that, by so doing, he would divert its fury from that victim to himself.
He counted on being able to hold it in such a manner that it should not be able to bite him till farther help should come. But the wolf was too quick for him, and caught him by the left arm. Seizing it with the right hand, and getting astride of it, he exerted his whole strength to hold it down till he could plant one knee firmly on its loins, and thus obtain a secure mastery over it: though all this time his left arm was held, as in a vise, by the teeth of the mad wolf.
Catching sight of a hatchet, he called to the owner of the brute, bidding him bring it, but the wretch refused, knowing that a blow from the hatchet would involve the destruction of the skin, which he still hoped to sell to advantage!
In the effort to reach the hatchet by stretching out his own hand the gallant hero was obliged to relax the pressure of his knee, and so the wolf got partially free; and, turning, seized the right arm, leaving the left cruelly lacerated. Nevertheless, though in terrible pain, and weak from loss of blood, he contrived to regain the mastery; and, after a terrible struggle, secured the wolf between his knees and held him there by main force, while, with the wounded left arm, he not only contrived to reach the hatchet, but to deal such a blow across the shoulders of the grim brute as effectually clove its body asunder. But it was a dearly bought victory, for by this time his right arm was so fearfully lacerated that the flesh was hanging in ribbons.
Never, perhaps, in the days of knightly chivalry had wounds so hideous been received in defense of any woman; but this brave Russian peasant seemed all unconscious of having done anything worthy of notice. Indeed, if we may judge from this story, and from one reported by the Odessa correspondent of the Daily News, such magnificent heroism seems by no means a unique instance. The writer tells of a visit to the Bacteriological Hospital at Odessa, where, during the previous twelve months, 519 persons had been treated on the Pasteur system; the patients having come from all parts of Russia, Roumania, Servia and Bulgaria. Among these were five peasants who had just arrived from the district of Ismail, having all been bitten by a mad wolf. One was a powerfully built old man, who related how, a few days previously, while working in his farmyard in the gray of the early dawn, suddenly something sprang on his back and fell off. Turning sharply round, he found himself face to face with a savage-looking wolf in the act of crouching to renew the attack. The lead and jaws of the brute were all bespattered with foam, and it was unmistakably rabid. One glance revealed the full horror of the situation; but, without one moment's hesitation, the brave old peasant threw himself on his assailant, thrust his left hand into the wolf's open mouth and seized it by the root of the tongue, while with his right hand he strove to strangle the powerful foe. A fearful struggle ensued; the wolf's fangs met through the man's hand, holding it like a vise. Although suffering excruciating torture, the farmer held on for ten minutes ere calling for help. Then throwing himself bodily on the brute, he wrestled desperately with it, till several neighbors came to the rescue and dispatched it. So firm was the grip of those powerful jaws that even, in death they never relaxed, and the lower jaw had to be sawn off ere the man's lacerated hand could be released. With a smile, recalling the prowess of younger days, and of many a hard-fought victory, the old man told his visitor that "it was the first time that a sneaking dog of a wolf had proved a match for him, but he was not so young as he used to be, and had somehow lost the old grip."
During the abnormally hot Summer of 1887 hydrophobia in Southern Russia increased to a very alarming extent, and mad wolves claimed an unusually large number of victims. Of forty-seven patients who within ten days were brought from various parts of the country, to be treated at the Pasteur Hospital at Odessa, fifteen from Podolia had been bitten by a rabid wolf, and twelve Montenegrins had likewise been attacked by mad wolves. There were at the same time in hospital fourteen Caucasians who had all been bitten by one rabid she-wolf. Three of these died, and the doctor in charge of the hospital stated that although the virus from a wolf-bite is not more virulent than that from the bite ot a rabid dog, yet its action in the blood is so much more rapid that he could feel no confidence in the treatment of any wolf-bitten patient who did not reach the hospital within three days, which of course would be impossible for peasants in the remote districts where wolves most abound.
These Russian stories suggest one point in which, whatever may be the disadvantages of the nineteenth century, It certainly excels the days of old, in that it is at least freed from one dread danger which must have imbittered many a mother's life, namely, the presence of savage wolves such as haunted the gloomy forests, endangering the lives of the people and decimating their flocks, but affording to brave men of the Hereward type such ample opportunities for valor as ennobled sport.
In the days of King Edgar of England the lives of criminals were sometimes spared on condition of their devoting them to this good warfare, and periodically producing a given number of wolves' tongues. Several estates, in what are now called the Midland Counties, notably in Derbyshire, were held on this tenure. In various parts of Britain local names still recall the spots once specially wolf-haunted, such as Wolferton near Sandringham, Wolferlow in Hereford, and Wolvesey, near Winchester, where the Welsh used to pay their annual tribute of wolves' heads.
Here and there, in the sparsely peopled districts mostly infested by wolves, there were erected places of refuge in which travelers might seek safety when hotly pursued. Such a one is known to have existed at Floxton, in Yorkshire. Those who know the dreary loneliness of the bleak Yorkshire wolds, even in the present day, can vividly realize the sinking of heart with which the belated wayfarer, on wold or moorland, must ofttimes, with keenly quickened ear, have caught the first distant notes of the dismal, prolonged howl, drawing nearer and nearer, while, fear conquering weariness, he hurried on toward the refuge where albeit tireless and supperless, and serenaded by his baffled, hungry toes, he might at least rest in safety, though the said serenade was scarcely a lullaby calculated to induce sleep.
General U. S. Grant has left us an amusing record of his first impressions of such wolf-music. He and a companion were riding through tall prairie-grass on the Mexican frontier, when they were startled by the most unearthly howling of wolves right in front of them. It seemed to young Grant's unaccustomed ear that such a chorus must surely indicate the presence of a large troop, and when his friend, to whom wolves were familiar game, asked him now many he supposed there were. Grant felt certain he was greatly understating the number in suggesting about twenty. His companion smiled, and silently rode onward toward the noise. In another minute they came upon the source or the music. There were only two wolves sitting close together, and howling in concert:
Apparently midwinter was the time when the mediaeval British wolves asserted themselves most savagely; so at least we may judge from the fact that our Anglo-Saxon ancestors bestowed on January the name of "Wolf-month." An outlaw was described by them as a wolf's-head, in token that his life was forfeit, and that should his captors fail to secure him alive his head might be brought to the King, and the reward thereon claimed, as though he were in truth only an evil beast!
Notwithstanding the royal edicts of King Edgar requiring payment of wolves' heads as tribute, and also as a commutation for sundry offenses, the uncanny race had toward the close of the thirteenth century increased and multiplied to such an extent that Edward I appointed special officers to organize their systematic destruction.
By dint of ceaseless warfare they seem to have been pretty nearly exterminated in England by the close of the fifteenth century, but in Scotland they found safer haunts, and continued to ravage the flocks fully a hundred and fifty years later. Here, as in England, various local names confirm the traditions of their presence, as, for instance, Clais a Mhadidh —"The Wolf's Hollow"— where a too presumptuous wolf received his deathblow in a most humiliating fashion at the hands of the goodwife of Loch-an-bully, who, being attacked by the ugly beast whilst going about her household work, snatched up her gridiron and smote him so vigorously that he fell dead at her feet.
We may be very sure that the story of Red Riding-hood had a painfully realistic interest for the children who first heard it. and to whom the pathetic fate of Llewellyn's hound was a recent event—the noble Welsh deerhound which, having been left to guard the cradle where slept his master's baby, went forth all blood-stained to greet that master on his return from the chase. Llewellyn rushed to his house to find the cradle overturned, and no sign of the child: and in the first delirium of anguish, the hasty fool, distrusting the dog's loyalty, assumed that it had devoured the child, and so slew it—then too late discovered his laughing child beside the carcass of a murderous wolf, slain by the faithful Gelert.
As a painful parallel to that pathetic tale of old Welsh life comes a story from the monks of the Mont St. Bernard, who have to mourn the loss of one of their noblest hounds, trained to rescue travelers lost in the snow-drifts of the wild mountain passes. One of these wise creatures, bent on his mission of mercy, had far outrun the good father whose constant companion he was. Scenting a half-smothered traveler, the brave dog bounded forward—alas! onlv to receive a fatal shot from the man he sought to save, who in his terror had mistaken him for a wolf, and had aimed, alas! with too grievous precision. With an aching heart that good searcher for the lost arrived to receive the latest breath of his faithful friend, which might never more bear him company on the bleak mountains; and hard indeed must have been the task of rescuing the slayer, and welcoming him to the hospitable shelter of the Hospice.
Many a time in my childhood have I listened, with ever-new interest, to the thrilling story of the death of the last wolves which haunted the forest around my ancestral home in Morayshire. So vigorously had the wolfish tribe been hunted down that only one couple survived, but these had contrived to elude all pursuit, and had established their den in a deep, sandy ravine under shadow of the Knock of Brae Moray, near the source of the Burn of Xewton, which is a tributary of the lovely River Divie.
Great was the anxiety of the dwellers in many a lonely cottage when it became known that thii evil pair were rearing a strong brood of cubs; and many a mother's heart rejoiced when two brothers—strong, active young men—resolved, at all events, to effect the destruction of the cubs. The only possibility of so doing lay in surprising them during the absence of the parents, so they agreed to watch till they had seen these start in quest of prey; then one brother was to scramble down the ravine and crawl into the den to dispatch the cubs, while the other, remaining above, was to keep watch lest the wolves should return, and sound the alarm to give his brother time to get clear of the den, and, if possible, of the ravine, ere the bereaved animals discovered the fate of their young.
Having found a secure point from which to overlook the corrie, the brothers kept anxious watch till they saw the dog-wolf emerge and go his way, shortly followed by the mother. Then, throwing off his heavy plaid, and armed only with his dirk, the elder brother rapidly descended, and disappeared in the wolf's burrow. The parent wolves must have scented danger, for in a very few moments they were seen returning, though without prey. But the watcher sounded no alarm. Panic-stricken, he fled, and never halted till he had crossed the River Divie, at a point fully two miles from the spot where his elder brother was struggling for his life.
According to one version of the legend, the younger brother was overcome by a swift, terrible temptation to abandon the cider, whose heritage would thus fall to his lot, and who, moreover, had crossed him in love. Whether this deeper guilt, or only abject cowardice, was his motive, none can tell; but when at length he staid his headlong flight he began to consider how he was to appear before men and answer for his betrayal of his brother. First, then, he inflicted on himself divers wounds, which he trusted might be mistaken for those of a wolf's fangs, and then he made his way home, and told how the wolves had surprised both him and his brother in the den, and that he alone had escaped, as if by a miracle.
Then from far and near strong men assembled, resolved to avenge the dead, and, if possible, recover his remains, and give them reverent burial. But what was their amazement, and what the dismay of the conscience-stricken wretch who accompanied them, when on reaching the Hill of Bogney they caught sight of their friend, terribly mangled, painfully tottering toward them!
In a few moments they learned how he had successfully dispatched the cubs, and was just preparing to crawl out of the den, when the light was darkened, and in a moment the she-wolf was upon him. Happily his first thrust of the dirk inflicted a fatal wound, and left him free to face the dog-wolf, which quickly followed. In one respect the narrow space was in his favor, for the body of the she-wolf formed a barrier, from behind which he was able in a measure to defend himself; nevertheless he was terribly lacerated before he succeeded in dealing the death-stroke to his furious foe. At length, when well-nigh exhausted, he contrived to push his way past the corpses, and, with infinite pain and difficulty, had clambered up the ravine.
On hearing this story, and recognizing the dastardly treachery of the false brother, the people turned upon him and straightway dragged him to the presence of the laird, who possessed the curious right of summarily condemning offenders to the gallows; and never was this more justly exercised than when, an hour later, this miscreant was hanged on Thomas the Rhymer's Hill, amid the execration of his fellows.
Wolves seem to have continued to find secure haunts in Ireland long after they had been exterminated in the Sister Isle, for there are records of wolf-hunts in the Emerald Isle so late as 1710.
In Scotland the honor of slaying the last wolf is contested by Clan Cameron and Clan Mackintosh, the former attributing it to Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, who killed his wolf in A.D. 1680, while the Mackintosh recalls how, when about that same period the huge primeval forest of Duthill was destroyed by fire, all the surviving wolves sought refuge on one wooded knoll, which somehow escaped the general conflagration, and were thence driven out and slain by the people all save one very large, gaunt, gray wolf, which escaped and fled across the hills to the neighborhood of Moyhall. On his way thither he encountered a woman with two little children, both of whom he killed, and the wretched mother, half head with terror, fled, while the monster was devouring his prey.
Great was the alarm throughout the district, for the wily wolf eluded every attempt to circumvent him. Then Mackintosh summoned his clansmen and vassals to combine in hunting down this murderer: so, from far and near, they assembled in the gray dawn. One only failed to appear, but that was one on whom the chief specially relied. This was Macqueen of Polloc-haugh, a small property at the Streens—-a wild glen above Dulsie Bridge, on the Findhorn River. Macqueen was a powerful and gigantic man, said to have been nearly seven feet in height, and possessed of amazing strength and energy. After some delay he appeared, considerably disheveled. The chief received him with words of reproach as a laggard, whereupon the stanch, rugged Highlander advanced, and, throwing back his plaid, revealed the bleeding head of the grisly brute, which he laid at the feet of his chief, saying: "It would have ill become Clan Mackintosh that more than one man should be required to dispatch one wolf; and that as he had chanced to foregather with the beast on his way, he had buckled wi'him, and just dirkit him, and syne whittled his craig, for fear he might come alive again." The fact that Macqueen was still alive in his old house at Polloc-haugh just a hundred years ago brings the incident and the wolf's presence in the Province of Moray strangely near to us.
From so picturesque a scene it is grievously unromantic to turn to one so prosaic as an auction at the London Museum, in April, 1813, and there, in the catalogue of Mr. Donovan's sale, find: "Item: Lot 832. Wolf-—A noble animal in glass case. The last wolf killed in Scotland, by Sir Ewen Cameron." How such a trophy came to pass from the hands of the Camerons of Lochiel does not appear.
Another poor wolf in a glass case adorns the dining-hall at Badminton. He is a French wolf —a great gray brute, brought down by the Duke of Beaufort's hounds when they went wolf-hunting in the Pyrenees, which are still haunted by wolves, both brown and black. The latter are very large, strong animals, which cause, many an anxious hour to the muleteers as they drive their long strings of mules through desolate mountain passes, where many a bleached carcass tells how the wolves have feasted, and suggest their readiness to repeat that enjoyment.
In the wolf-haunted districts of France, the honored British Master of Fox-hounds is (or was till quite recently) replaced by a Louvetier or official Master of Wolf-hounds, his pack consisting of strong, rough-haired dogs, bony and long-legged, suggestive of Snyders's pictures. Popular tradition affirms that those big, wiry-haired limiers have a strain of wolf-blood; but, if it be so, they bear no love to their remote kindred. Though so powerful and so resolute that they will not hesitate to attack a wolf when they get the chance, they are deficient in the power of following scent, and it has been found necessary to keep up the quality of these French packs by frequent importation of drafts from celebrated British packs.
In point of fact it was whispered in Brittany that the Louveterie, or State Pack, with its picturesque mounted huntsman, its piqueurs and gardes de chasses, was really kept up simply in order to perpetuate a most exciting form of sport, and that the extermination of wolves was the very last object it had in view. Of course the keenest Louvetier dared not preserve young wolves with the openly avowed tenderness bestowed in Britain on litters of fox-cubs; but all the same, a wolf must have distinguished himself somewhat seriously before his death-warrant was signed. Then he was safe to afford his executioners a very fair run, for without appearing to go very fast, he canters on at a steady, unflagging pace, which he can keep up for an almost incredible distance, growling as he goes, and often fairly tires out the pursuing pack.
If they do overtake him, the chances are that several of their number will suffer more or less severely — some probably will fight their last battle ere the gaunt wolf lies low — indeed, few of these hounds are free from scars, which tell how gallantly they have fought. Yet sometimes after a grande chasse the trophies of the day may number some half a dozen dead wolves; and these ugly corpses are heaped on one of the primitive Breton carts; and are thus triumphantly dragged through the streets of some town or village, amid the acclamations of the people, suggesting to the unaccustomed stranger a dream of the Middle Ages. Such a sight may still be occasionally seen at Quimper, in the district of Cornouaille, or at Carhaix, that ancient Celtic city situated at the junction of the three Departments of Cotes du Nord, Morbihan and Finisterre, and when seen, carries the imagination back through the mist of centuries.
A few years ago bitter complaints, especially from the peasants of the Vosges and the Meuse, reached the French Government, on the subject of the supineness of the Louvetiers in the matter of dealing a outrance with the foe. It was shown that, though the wolves might disappear in Summer, they were always sure to make their presence felt so soon as a bitter Winter set in, when they attacked the flocks and herds, and sometimes even proved dangerous to human life. The Minister of Agriculture accordingly issued more stringent instructions, urging the official wolf-slayers to greater vigilance, and offering pecuniary rewards for every wolf slain by any person whatsoever.
Under this new stimulus the wolves stood a very poor chance, and so vigorous was the onslaught on their fastnesses, that in the following year (1883) government rewards to the value of $20,650 were claimed on 1,308 grisly heads. The tariff is graduated. A sum equal to $40 is paid for every wolf which has attacked a human being— of these, nine were slain in the Central Departments. It speaks volumes for the honesty of the peasants that a larger number of wolves were not credited with the aggressive tendencies which double their value, for the regular rate of payment for a commonplace wolf or cub is $20: and the year's return showed 774 old wolves and 493 cubs—not a bad clearance for one year. Thirty-two she-wolves with young were also slain, and on these $30 each was paid.
An official report was issued showing the number of wolves killed in each Department. The Eastern Departments were proved to be most seriously infested, 131 having been slain in Dordogne. Next ranks the Meuse, which claims rewards on 122; the Haute-Meuso follows with 89. Meurthe-et-Moselle yield 81; the Vosges and Haute-Vienne each yield 71; Charente, 66; Correze, 58; Creuse, 43; Aube, 40; and the other Departments follow with gradually lessening returns.
According to the Petit Journal of Paris, the government paid premiums upon 505 wolves killed in the year 1888, and 515 in 1889.
It is evident, however, that enough still remain to afford very exciting sport to any Englishman who can be content to look for it so near home as within twenty-four hours of Southampton. Such sport in the heart of scenery so picturesque as that of Brittany and the Vosges is not to be despised, especially when combined with the hearty welcome of peasants who hail all wolf-hunters as deliverers, and are ready to afford every aid in their power. Sturdy, short-legged horses are recommended as essentials.
Where so real a danger still lurks in the lonely forests, we need not wonder to learn that the simple Breton peasants still firmly believe in the existence of the Loup-garou — the demon Werewolf which figured so prominently among the superstitions of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, and in Norse and Icelandic Sagas, and still continues to exercise its influence of haunting fear among the simple peasants in various parts of Northern Europe.
The Were-wolf was supposed to be a human being possessed of an unnatural craving for human flesh, who by magical arts had found means to assume at will the form of a wolf, in order the more readily to gratify this horrible appetite. Thus transformed, the Were-wolf was possessed of the strength and all other powers of the brute, while retaining his human faculties, and his human eyes, by which alone he could be recognized.
In some cases this transformation was involuntary, being the punishment for sin, quite in the style of King Nebuchadnezzar. Thus Vereticus, King of Wales, is supposed to have been changed into a wolf by the curse of St. Patrick; and a similar curse by St. Natalis rested on an Irish family of high degree, each member of which, male and female, was subject to this horrible doom, that at some period of life he or she must assume the form and habits of a wolf, and thus remain for seven years ere resuming his or her place among fellow-mortals. What a subject for a poet!
Almost the identical legend, however, is related by Pliny, who tells how each year one member of the family of Antaeus was chosen by lot, and on the festival of Jupiter Lyceaus was led to the brink of the Arcadian Lake, into which he plunged, and was straightway transformed into a wolf, under which form he continued for nine years, at, the end of which he returned to his family, none the worse for his wolvine (or, rather, lupine) experiences, though somewhat aged in appearance.
Another mythological instance of this particular curse is recorded by Ovid, who tells how Lycaon, King of Arcadia, presumed to test the omniscience of Jupiter by placing before him a dish of human flesh, for which crime he was straightway transformed into a wolf — a terror to his pastoral subjects.
The classics furnish many other references to lycanthropy, as this form of magic was called. Herodotus tells of sorcerers who, once in every year, had the power of assuming the semblance of wolves for several days at a time. Marcellus Sidetes also tells of men who at the beginning of every year were afflicted with a form of madness, during which they believed themselves to be wolves or dogs, and spent the night prowling about burial-grounds. Indeed, there seems little doubt that in countries nearer home this prevailing belief may have acted on some weak minds, naturally inclined to lunacy, and that some madmen may have really believed themselves to be possessed by a wolf-spirit, and so may have acted the part so well as to strengthen the popular delusion regarding man-wolves, the undoubted servants of the devil.
Norwegian and Icelandic Sagas are full of references to this belief, and treat of it in all its various developments. Sometimes the transformation was effected by merely assuming the skin of a real wolf; but in many cases all that was needed was the use of a charm which, while involving no actual change in the human body, caused all beholders to imagine that they really saw a wolf.
So genuine was the belief in this transformation, that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Were-wolves were throughout Europe regarded in the same light as witches and wizards, and human beings suspected of being such were burnt or hanged with the utmost cruelty. Then we hear of a Court of Parliament sitting at Do1e, in Franche-Comte, in the Autumn of 1573, which authorized the country people to take their weapons and go forth to beat the woods till they found and slew a loup-garou which had already carried off several little children, and had also attacked some horsemen who had been in great danger ere they succeeded in driving it off!
Bishop Majolus bore his testimony to the existence of "Were-wolves in Livonia, stating that the transformation continued for twelve days. Olaus Magnus recorded that, numerous and troublesome as were the true wolves, not only in Livonia, but also in Prussia and Lithuania, the ravages of Were-wolves were far more serious. He told how on each Christmas Eve they assembled in troops at certain trysting-places, and thence went forth in bands to hunt for animal food. Woe betide the lonely house which lay in their path; such they would assuredly enter, and devour every living creature within it, whether man or beast, leaving proof that the midnight marauders had been no common wolves in that they drank all the beer and mead in the house!
To return from these ghostly wizard-wolves to the genuine animals. We find that, as some sort of compensation for the damage done by them when in life, their remains after death were turned to excellent account by the learned medical men who treated our ancestors. Just as in China at the present day the blood, eyes, sinews and skin of tigers, and the skin of the great white snake, are eagerly secured by the people as precious medicine, so were the teeth and skin of British wolves treasured by multitudes in our own land, as a sure remedy for divers diseases.
In an erudite medical work ("Medicina de Quadrupedibus") we are gravely assured that the most certain cure for sleeplessness is to place a wolf's head under the pillow of the patient! and a supper of well-seasoned wolf's flesh is the best charm to prevent anyone from being disturbed by satanic apparitions or any form of "devilsickness." The skin of a wolf was to be worn either to cure hydrophobia or to prevent epilepsy; and the skin of the head was a safeguard against all malevolent demons. The head-bone or skull of a wolf, thoroughly burnt and finely pounded, was warranted to heal racking pain in the joints; and an ointment prepared from the right eye of a wolf was the most valuable prescription known to the Saxon oculist. Precious, too, and by no means easily procured, was the milk of the she-wolf, a draught of which, mingled with wine and honey, was accounted a potent remedy for women in dire suffering in the hour of labor, as also the most efficacious solace where with to rub the gums of a teething child.
Many and varied were the uses, both in magic and in medicine, of the teeth of this evil beast. As a nursery treasure wherewith to facilitate teething, a wolf's tooth was an invaluable instrument, almost as efficacious as the aforesaid milk, and certainly more easily obtained. So great an authority as Pliny recommends horsemen to provide themselves with these valuable safeguards; "for," saith he, "the great master teeth and grinders of a wolfe, being hanged about a horse's neck, cause him that he shall never tire and be weary, be he put to never so much running in any race whatsoever." Such a tooth wrapped in a bay-leaf was an amulet which insured the wearer against ever being angrily spoken to. This last is recommended in another learned work entitled "De Virtutibus Herbarum."
More noxious is the cure recommended in the sixth century, by Alexander of Tralles, as a certain cure for colic, namely wolf's dung inclosed in a hollow tube, and worn upon the right arm, the hip or the thigh during the paroxysms. But this peculiarly revolting class of remedy figured prominently not only in the Leechdons of the Anglo-Saxons, but in the recognized British Pharmacopeia of the last century!
Perhaps one of the strangest superstitions regarding wolves at the present day is to be found in China, where, I was told by Dr. Dudgeon, of Peking, it is considered lucky, if a child has died of any infectious disease, that a wolf should carry away the corpse, as he therewith removes the cause of the calamity, and averts evil from the other children. In Mongolia it is customary to throw out the dead on the plain, for this express purpose, that they may be devoured by the wolves!
It certainly may be accounted one of the blessings of England's insular position that, once evil beasts have been exterminated, there is no fear of their reappearing. Certainly, considerable interest was excited in the Autumn of 1884 by the news that a genuine prairie wolf had been captured in Epping Forest. Everything went to prove that he really had been bred and captured in the forest, and the circumstance was deemed unaccountable. But as the prarie wolf answers to the coyote of America, and is more of a jackal than a wolf, his case need scarcely be cited in the present connection.
As regards continental countries, however, few indeed are free from these pests, and every now and then, from remote districts of Hungary, Germany, Spain and Italy — even from Lapland — come details or some distressing case in which the wolves have waxed bold, and, not content with devouring dogs, lambs and calves, have attacked human beings. Such a case occurred on very well beaten tracks in the Spring of 1884, near the village of Soza, on the new line of the Neapolitan Railway, where a party of Contadini who had gone into the forest were attacked by wolves, which actually succeeded in carrying off two of them, a third being rescued only after a fearful struggle.
An amusing episode recorded of the Peninsular War seems to prove that even the charms of the bagpipes fail to soothe these savage beasts! It happened that while one of the Highland regiments was marching across a desolate part of Spain one of the pipers, for some inexplicable reason, found himself separated from his comrades. Halting on a lonely plain, he sat down to eat his breakfast, when to his horror he saw wolves approaching. When they came very near he flung them all the food he had with him, fully conscious, however, that this meagre meal would not stay their advance for many seconds. With the calmness of desperation he then said, "As ye've had the meat yell hae the music too," and thereupon he proceeded to "blowup his chanter." No sooner did his unwelcome guests hear the first "skirl" of the pipes than they turned in wild terror and fled as fast as their long legs would carry them. "De'il hae ye!" said the piper; "had I thocht ye were so fond o' the music ye wad hae gotten it afore meat, instead o' after!"' Then hungrily he went his way, not forgetting from time to time to blow a blast so wild and shrill as might effectually scare any prowling foes.
Very different is the effect of a cry which I am told some dull-eared Southrons have presumed to compare to the national music of the North. I allude to a stratagem practiced by Hungarian wolf-hunters to lure their quarry within easy rifle range. They tie up a luckless pig, and drag it behind their sledge or cariole, when its shrieks of pain and terror resound through the forest, and attract the hungry foe, which, of course, is met by a steady fire. Nevertheless this form of sport is by no means free from danger.
On the other hand, an inanimate object thus dragged behind a sledge sometimes scares wolves from their pursuit—even a bundle of rattling sticks attached to a long rope has proved efficacious; and on at least one occasion the clanking of the iron chains of plowing oxen has proved their safeguard, when pursued by a yelping pack. Indeed, as a general rule, when not particularly ravenous, wolves appear to be somewhat cowardly, and are easily scared, as we may judge from the statement of Colonel Hughes, who, writing of fox-hunting thirty years ago in the Hyderabad country, tells how, as he was riding after a fox, two wolves joined the hunt, apparently for sheer love of sport. But suddenly, as if moved by a common impulse, each sprang on a greyhound, and would have made short work of them, had not the colonel bethought him of throwing his hunting-cap at the traitors, who were so startled by this simple act that each let go his prey and fled ignominiously.
Many instances go to prove this wolfish respect for discretion as the better part of valor, extreme caution being a strongly developed feature, especially with regard to all manner of traps. They display the most marked aversion to any combination of ropes and poles, and will not approach an inclosure thus marked off. Wire fences are their abhorrence, and in Norway it has been found that even the erection of telegraph poles and wires effectually scared wolves from their neighborhood for many years, though at length familiarity produced the usual result.
American hunters often calculate on this wolfcaution for the protection of game which they cannot at once remove. By the simple expedient of tying a fluttering strip of calico to a stick, and planting it beside the carcass, the prowling thieves are often induced to remain at a respectful distance, till the sportsmen have leisure to return and carry off their trophies.
On the other hand, where a trap is purposely prepared to attract wolves, it is found to be an exceedingly difficult matter so to bait it as to prevent the wolves from extracting the meat without incurring any harm to themselves. When once they are trapped they are so terror-stricken as to offer very small resistance to their captor. Rather a curious instance of this occurred near St. Petersburg, where a Russian peasant, driving his sledge, found himself pursued by eleven ravenous wolves. The moment he caught sight of them he urged his horse to the utmost speed, with such good result that, being only two miles distant from his home, he happily contrived to keep ahead of the pursuers. The entrance to his courtyard was a swing-gate; this was closed; but the vehemence with which the horse dashed against it threw it open, and the sledge entered in safety, so closely followed by the wolves that nine had effected an entrance ere the gate swung back on its hinges, and thus held them fairly trapped. The moment the wild creatures perceived that their retreat was cut off their courage utterly failed, and instead of showing fight they shrank back cowering into corners, and were killed with the greatest ease.
Russia certainly has a superabundant share of the world's wolves, if we may judge from the casualties reported in the year 1883; when it was stated that while fourteen thousand head of cattle and a hundred and thirty thousand sheep had perished from the bitter cold of Winter and consequent disease, no less than seventy thousand head of cattle had fallen victims to the wolves. Again, in January, 1887, the inhabitants of Odessa were scared by the extraordinary temerity of numerous packs of wolves which harried the sheep, cattle and pigs in all the neighboring villages, and even ventured to invade the outskirts of the city. In one village an old man, aged seventy, was attacked in open daylight, and was torn in pieces and devoured close to his own home. The rural police declared themselves unable to cope with the foe, and applied to the civic authorities for aid.
The Russian wolves are larger and have longer hair than their kindred in France and Italy. Those of Germany seem to be generally of medium size, but a very large one was shot in February, 1886, in the immediate neighborhood of Vienna. In fact, the trail of the ferocious animal was observed within two miles of the city, and it was happily tracked and slain ere it had done serious damage.
The natural enmity which subsists between dogs and wolves is a characteristic which is recalled by the antipathy shown by every good watchdog toward strangers of his own race; but that wolves should devour dogs certainly savors somewhat of cannibalism, for these friends and foes of man are, in fact, two branches of the same family, as is proved to the satisfaction of naturalists by their identity in various important characteristics, though sundry minor points of difference are noted, such as that in drinking a dog laps, whereas a wolf sucks, and in biting the wolf gives a rapid succession of vicious snaps, instead of the firm, retaining hold which generally characterizes the bite of a healthy dog. The character of the bark also differs greatly, the honest dog-bark being replaced by a short snapping, while the wolf-voice is chiefly exerted in producing dismal howls. As regards external appearance, the common wolf with his shaggy coat bears a much closer resemblance to a colly dog than the latter does to most other branches of the dog tribe, though the cruel, treacherous expression of the obliquely set eyes betrays how different is the wolf-spirit from that which looks out through the kind, true eyes of the faithful dog. Yet, there have been instances of domesticated wolves which have formed a strong attachment to their human owners, while, on the other hand, we have to confess that the dog race does include both savage and cowardly individuals.
Whether there may or may not be ground for the opinion held by some that all dogs are descended from the primeval wolves, their near kinship is proven by the fact that hybrid offspring are by no means uncommon, the pups or cubs, as might be expected, inheriting more of the wolf than the dog nature.
One strongly marked characteristic common to dogs and wolves is their skill in hunting, sometimes in couples, sometimes in packs, as has been recorded by many sportsmen who have had opportunity of noting the curiously ingenious tactics of wolves when bent on circumventing deer, bison, or other large game either too fleet or too powerful for open attack. One such wolf hunt, in India, has often been described to me by my kinsman Campbell of Skipness, who, while with his telescope watching a herd of antelope feeding in a large field, observed six wolves evidently concerting how best to secure their own breakfast. Having decided on their plan of campaign, they separated, leaving one stationary. Four crept stealthily round the outer edge of the field, and one lay in ambush at each corner, while the sixth crept through a furrow to the middle of the field, and there lay down unobserved.
When all were thus posted the first wolf suddenly showed himself, and, charging the antelopes, drove them right across the great field, when they were headed by another wolf, who chased them in a fresh direction, while the first hunter lay down to rest. No sooner had the frightened herd reached the further corner of the plain than up sprang a fresh wolf, who again turned them and took up the pursuit, leaving his panting accomplice to take breath preparatory to another chase. Thus the luckless, terrified antelopes were driven from corner to corner of the great plain, till, stupefied and exhausted, they crowded together, galloping in ever-lessening circles round the centre of the field, where the sixth wolf lay hidden, evidently waiting till they should be so effectually tired out as to fall an easy prey. His calculations were, however, at fault, not having reckoned on the human presence; and just as he was preparing for the final spring a well-directed shot proved fatal to the nearest wolf, whereupon all the confederates took the hint, and took themselves off with all possible speed.
The American wolves show themselves equally sagacious, sometimes surrounding an unsuspecting herd of deer, so that their flectness cannot save them; at other times driving them straight toward some precipice, knowing that the frightened deer will bound over, and that they can then descend and feast at leisure in the rocky valleys below.
In America we find the great Clan Wolf divided into two distinct branches, the Gray and the Common Wolf. Of the latter several varieties exist. When first the States began to be colonized their numbers were reduced by means of rewards of ten to twenty dollars per head. They were found to be so wary that ordinary traps were comparatively useless, but pitfalls proved more efficacious. Large numbers were also killed by Indians, whose method was to form themselves into vast circles, inclosing a great tract of country. As they beat the covert, they gradually contracted their line, beating the wolves toward the centre, when they proved a comparatively easy prey. Thus the thickly peopled districts are tolerably free from these pests, which, however, still abound in the Northern States and in Canada, where the powerful gray wolf abounds in the great northern forests, while some find sanctuary in the mountains and wooded districts of New England. The prairie-wolf (coyote?), which is a much smaller and very cowardly animal, is common enough, though its handsome skin renders it a desirable trophy for the hunter.
So long as the vast herds of bison abounded on the prairies the wolves followed in their wake, rarely molesting man and his property. Not that they dared to attack the bison openly; but they were on the alert to pick up stragglers and sickly members of the herd. Their well-arranged plan of campaign was to surround any such animal and isolate it from its companions, then harass it by incessant attacks, allowing it no peace either to feed or rest, till at length it sank exhausted to the ground, which was the signal for a simultaneous rush from all sides, and the poor brute was forthwith torn to pieces.
Then when white men came and commenced hunting in wholesale fashion, only saving the skins and certain delicate portions of the flesh, the wolves followed in their wake, finding abundant stores of meat all really for their use. Now, however, in consequence of the ruthless destruction of the bison by the great legion of commercial hunters—the herds, whose numbers but a few years since were as the sand of the sea for multitude, having literally disappeared from the prairies—ravenous wolves are yearly waxing bolder and bolder. The gray wolves lead the van, and venture close to the ranches. Coyotes follow in their wake and share the spoil. Already the sheep have suffered severely, and now horses and cattle are being attacked, and two-year-old steers have in several cases been overpowered by the combined attack of several wolves.
Of course, where the range for retreat is so vast there can be little hope of anything approaching to a war of extermination, and white men now realize by losses in their own flocks how shortsighted was the greed which led to such reckless massacre of the wild cattle, which the Indians justly deemed the special provision of the Great Father for the use of his red children.