Wolves and Wisconsin: Euro-American Opinions



Franklin, Laura http://www.thelaurafranklin.com/multimedia/wolf/angrywolf.html.


Wolves and Wisconsin: Euro-American Opinion

            For the past 150 years, Wisconsin citizens and timber wolves have had a precarious relationship based in folklore and mythology.  The nature of this relationship between humans and wolves began several hundred years before the eradication and restoration of Wisconsin wolves.  This relationship is rooted in the fears of early European settlers about unconquered wilderness.  Early European settlers viewed unconquered wilderness as evil and satanic.[1]  Conquered wilderness, essentially civilization, was viewed as good conquering evil.  At this time in early American history, colonists believed the animals in the wilderness were evil, wild beasts and had little to no interaction with the wild animals.  Specifically speaking to wolves, “wolves had a ghostly presence in colonial landscapes”.[2]  Because of this, early European settlers were uneducated about the biological and social aspects of wolves.  This uncertainty about the wild beasts that lived in the untamed wilderness created stories and myths out of fear and not based in truth.  These myths and stories perpetuated throughout early American history which now has led to the current anti-wolf sentiment.

            Unlike Native American beliefs about wolves, Euro-Americans stand on the idea that wolves need to be eradicated and not revered as cohabitants of wilderness.  The eradication of wolves symbolizes the wilderness ideal of conquering what is wild or unknown; essentially, addressing the fear based on myths and stories.  Wolf eradication by Euro-Americans was done in a violent manner to “exact revenge” or conquer the wild beasts.[3]  Euro-American settlers felt the need to exact revenge on wolves because of the loss of livestock from farms.[4] According to Wisconsin newspaper clippings from the mid-1800s, the amount of sheep depredated was a large concern.[5]  Wisconsin citizens felt it necessary to conquer the evil beast destroying their livestock property. In current Wisconsin agriculture, beef cattle and sheep are constantly at risk of being preyed upon.  Beef farmers in wolf territories are continually protecting calves from being preyed on by wolves.[6]  This constant battle of protecting livestock is aggravating to the farmers and continues to negative beliefs about wolves.  Wolves preying on livestock added fuel to the already hateful views from Euro-Americans, thus causing violent hunting tactics.

            For Wisconsin citizens with strong European heritages and livelihoods based agriculture, wolves placed a monstrous threat on the survival of Wisconsin citizens.  Violent wolf hunting tactics included setting alive wolves on fire, wiring their mouths shut before release, scalping wolves, poisoning meat with strychnine.[7],[8] Bounty systems were also used to insure the eradication of the wolves from the mid-1800’s through the 1950’s.[9]  Bounty system organizers required scalps of the wolves from the hunters in order to receive the money rewards from the kill.[10]  Today, the main tactics used for hunting wolves are trapping and firearms.[11]

            Overall, the European born set of beliefs, myths, and stories over the past several hundred years have perpetuated the violent feelings towards Wisconsin’s wolves and, essentially, wilderness as a whole.  Possibly, as one Wisconsin citizen states, the recent Wisconsin wolf hunt is really a manifestation of the “primitive fear” most of Wisconsin citizens have been raised in.[12]


[1] Roderick Frazier Nash, Wilderness & the American Mind, 4th ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 36.

[2] Jon T. Coleman, Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 9.

[3] Coleman, Vicious, 2.

[4] Coleman, Vicious, 2.

[5] Walter Edwin Scott, 1911-1984 Walter E. Scott Papers, 1804-1979. Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, 1804.

[6] Wisconsin Public Television, Wolves and Wisconsin, air date 11/2/2010.

[7] Coleman, Vicious, 3.

[8] Scott, Walter E. Scott Papers, 1804-1979.

[9] Wisconsin Public Television, Wolves and Wisconsin, air date 11/2/2010.

[10] Scott, Walter E. Scott Papers, 1804-1979.

[11] Department of Natural Resources, FAQS for the Wolf Hunting and Trapping Season, available online http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/documents/wolffaq.pdf.

[12] Compilation of newspaper articles from Central Wisconsin Hub: A Gannett Company, Wolf Hunting Opinions Vary Around Wisconsin, 8/24/12, available online http://centralwisconsinhub.wausaudailyherald.com/article/20120824/WOF07/120824006/Wolf-hunting-opinions-vary-around-Wisconsin.