Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Warren spook wolf

In his book American Myths & Legends (1903), Charles M. Skinner gives this account of a lupine creature he called "The White Wolf of Venango":
On Cornplanter's reserve in Venango County, Pennsylvania, lived an Indian family named Jacobs; big, athletic fellows, full of hard sense and afraid of but one thing: the white wolf. For to see the wolf was "bad medicine"; to chase it, death. There was never a doubt as to its being a real wolf; it had eaten too many hens and sheep and killed too many dogs to leave room for any question on that point. Yet traps would not catch him; dogs in packs could not bring him to bay; bullets either missed him or glanced from him. A young member of the Jacobs family engaged to guide a party of hunters through this region, and all went well until they had reached the head of the Clarion. On breaking camp at this spot Jim Jacobs took no part in the preparations. He smoked a silent pipe and said that the others must go on by themselves; for he had seen the white wolf, and that meant bad luck. They joked and gibed him without moving him in the least. He finished his pipe, told them by what trails they could reach McCarty's trading station, bade them adieu, struck into the forest labyrinth, and went home. He was killed in an accident soon after.

The hunters, scoffing at Jacobs's superstitions, kept on. They got the help of a trapper, who kept a number of dogs, and decided to leave the deer to their liberty for a time and hunt down this hoodoo. After much luring and watching they came upon the fellow's tracks and on a quantity of pheasant feathers, for he had left his lunch in a hurry, and presently, near Baker's Rocks, they saw him: white as a polar bear, three feet high at the shoulder, bristling and snarling. The eyes of this beast seemed to shoot red fire. Four rifle-shots rang out, and the wolf was gone, with the dogs in hot pursuit. In an hour he was overtaken again, and again the guns were emptied. The animal leaped over a cliff, sixty feet, into a stream, almost at the moment when the shots were fired. No blood was visible, no splash was heard. The dogs found no scent. It was the last time that the white wolf was seen, but in a few months every member of the hunting party was dead.
An examination of Henry W. Shoemaker's essay "Wolf Days in Pennsylvania", found in Extinct Pennsylvania Animals, Vol. 1: The Panther and the Wolf (1917), reveals some corroborating information: Jim Jacobson (Shoemaker refers to him once as Jacobs, and from then on as Jacobson) was born Samuel Jimmerson Jacobson in Potter County. Shoemaker later says:
In 1865, several wolves were killed by the Faddy boys, Seneca Indians, on the Cornplanter Reservation in Warren County. Wolves were plentiful on Cornplanter's Reservation and on Kinzua Creek as late as 1870 ... Jim Jacobs, the old Seneca elk hunter, was conspicuous among the redmen who hunted the last wolves in Warren and McKean Counties. According to some authorities, this mighty Nimrod was killed by a train near Bradford in 1880, although John C. French of Roulette, Potter County, declares that he saw him on the Seneca Reservation alive and well in September 1881.
Jacobs(on) was still alive at the beginning of Skinner's tale, although it is noted that he died shortly after. Given this statement by Shoemaker, we can possibly date the tale of the white wolf to the late 1870s or even 1880. After this, we are left with determining where, exactly, the story may have taken place. Unfortunately, that's much easier said than done. The only "Baker's Rocks" I could find were the Baker Rocks near Wrightsville in Warren County.

Gyantwachia, or Chief Cornplanter, was a war chieftain of the Seneca Iroquois, who as told in several sources, inhabited this area of Pennsylvania, later sharing it with the Lenape; after they were crowded out of the Delaware Valley, they moved westward and were allowed to settle here by the Iroquois. It should not go unnoticed that it was the Wolf clan, the Munsees, that settled here. The Cornplanter Reserve mentioned by both Skinner and Shoemaker was most likely a reference to the Cornplanter Tract or Grant, which was destroyed in the construction of the Kinzua Dam and is now almost wholly beneath the waters of the Allegheny Reservoir (Lake Kinzua).

In fact, Shoemaker refers to the following:
Edwin Grimes, while hunting in the Kinzua Valley in 1860 with Benjamin Main, killed a record grey wolf. The hide sold to the veteran wolfer LeRoy Lyman who pronounced it the biggest he had seen in his long experience in the forests of Northern Pennsylvania. John C. French, in commenting on the size of the Kinzua Valley wolf, says Edwin Grimes, Sam Grimes, and Ben Main agreed that the grand daddy wolf was at least two inches higher at the shoulder than average wolves and one inch taller than the largest they had ever seen. Continuing Mr. French said: "The wolf was not measured, but it must have been seven feet long without the tail. Ben Main, who was 5 feet 8 inches tall, could not swing the carcass free from the ground by taking an ear of the wolf in each hand and lifting the head at arms' length about his own; but Edwin Grimes, who stood 6 feet 2 inches, could just do so.
"Spook wolves" of the type mentioned in this tale infested northern Pennsylvania, with Shoemaker also recounting a supernaturally-charged white wolf from the Sugar Valley in Clinton County and also a number of werewolves from Wayne Township, also in that county. Given the fact that he elsewhere says that the spook wolves of the northern counties were usually gray, it is tempting to wonder whether the huge wolf killed in 1860 near Kinzua was given supernatural attributes and served as the basis of Skinner's story. If so, it was in Warren County, not Venango.

Cryptozoologically, it's most tempting to wonder whether the skin purchased by Lyman is still in existence.

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