AN EXCITING WOLF HUNT IN CHICAGO IN THE EARLY DAYS
By J. Seymour Currey, Author of the “The Day of Old Fort Dearborn”
Originally published in Fort Dearborn Magazine, April, 1922
It seems remarkable that on the site of the present city of Chicago there should have been a numerous population of wolves which the early inhabitants encountered in many thrilling wolf hunts. These wolves were not dangerous, being those commonly known as “prairie wolves”, somewhat similar in habits and disposition to the coyotes of the west. “It is rarely that a wolf will attack a human being,” says Gurdon S. Hubbard in his reminiscences of the time, “unless closely pressed or famishing with hunger.” It was mostly their thieving propensities that caused them to be regarded as undesirable citizens,” and deserving of extermination on sight.
After the year 1832 (the year in which the Black Hawk war occurred), the rude trading post and village of Chicago rapidly began to grow in numbers, until, in 1837, at the time of its incorporation as a city, there was a population of 4,179 souls. In its village days the place was built up only a short distance from the banks of the river on either side. There was also a collection of stores and dwellings at Wolf Point where the North and South Branches unite to form the main channel of the Chicago river
A Wolf Hunt in Chicago on the Early Days
In one of his lectures before the Chicago Historical Society in 1876, Hon. John Wentworth (“Long John”), gave an interesting account of a wolf hunt which he witnessed or perhaps participated in, during the early days of Chicago. In organizing a wolf hunt the plan was to form a body of a dozen or more hunters mounted on Indian ponies, which were plentiful and were the main reliance of the people for riding and hauling purposes. The hunters were to travel across the prairie towards the south-west as far as Blue Island where they were to spread out and encircle a wide area, driving the wolves that would be scared up by this maneuver in the direction of the mouth of the river. There was to be no shooting into the wolf pack except when the animals fled towards the east over the ice on the lake which was frozen for some distance from the shore, as it was expected they would do.
At that period there were no rows of piling or timber construction of any kind along the water’s edge either on the lake or the river. The current of the river was deflected by sand bars towards its mouth and reached the lake somewhere in the vicinity of Madison street over a wide, shallow outlet.
On this particular Occasion the start was made early in the morning and the hunting party was quickly lost to sight as it disappeared over the prairie towards the southwest, while the people who remained at home went about their usual occupations awaiting the return of the hunters.
About four o’clock in the afternoon a lone wolf was seen in the outskirts of the town soon after followed
by a multitude of others. The terrified animals sought a refuge along the fences and among the houses from the pursuing hunters who now began to appear in the distance behind them, blowing horns and shouting. while the baying of the hounds added to the clamor of the chase. The people of the town kept the wolves moving towards the lake and at length they formed a struggling mass of excited creatures howling and yelping in their efforts to find an escape, as they ran towards the limits of the ice field.
In their eagerness to follow the wolves the ponies dashed out on the ice but when it broke under their feet the riders were obliged to desist from further pursuit. The wind changed about the same time and the ice field, loosened by the trampling of the ponies, began to move towards the open lake with its burden of distressed animals as on a raft. The wind which was from the west carried them farther from shore, until they gradually receded from view towards the east. Crowds watched to see what would be their fate expecting that the ice would soon break up, and that the wolves would attempt to swim back to the shore.
Nothing of the kind happened, however, and as darkness came on the animals were seen huddled together until, as Mr. Wentworth expressed it, “they appeared about the size of mice.” They finally disappeared in the gathering gloom, and it again became a matter of speculation as to what would finally become of them. Some of the spectators still prophesied that they could not escape drowning by the breaking up of the ice when they had reached the open waters of the lake. Some thought the wind might change and bring them back to the shore, and some again. thought they would continue on their involuntary voyage on the floating ice to the Michigan shore.
It was estimated by Mr. Wentworth that there were about three hundred wolves in the drive. Nothing more was heard or seen of the unfortunate animals, and the incident was practically forgotten until a couple of weeks afterwards a letter was printed in a Detroit paper giving details of an onslaught by wolves in the farming regions of Michigan situated along the eastern shore of the lake. The wolves, according to the account, had destroyed fowls and cattle, and for several days had spread terror in the neighborhood.
Consequently many people in Chicago believed that the wolves were identical with those which had been driven out on the ice, which had succeeded in reaching the other side of the lake, and that this accounted for the reign of terror described in the Detroit paper. Others held that the wolves spoken of in the Michigan paper could not have been those driven from Chicago. They contended that the lake at this point is nearly fifty miles broad and a field of ice could not have floated across to the Michigan shore without breaking up.