An Excerpt from Frances Harper’s Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp–“The Florida Wolf”

Frances Harper was a biologist from Cornell University who lived from 1886-1972.    He conducted a biological survey of the Northwest Territories of Canada before WWI and again after WWII.  He served as a rodent control officer for the U.S. army during the first world war.  He was a also a historical scholar who followed in the footsteps of William Bartram, and he’s responsible for getting Bartram’s Travels re-published in the 20th century.  He edited that re-publication and added notes about where he thought Bartram was on the trail compared to modern landmarks.  After WWI he conducted a biological survey of the Okefenokee Swamp.  (He used the archaic spelling of Okefinokee.)  He was instrumental in getting the swamp protected as a National Wildlife Refuge.  He wrote a fascinating book–Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp– that was published as a scientific paper in 1927.  This book is long out of print, and I checked where they have 1 used copy for $86.  The book is worth closer to $20.  I have a copy of this book, so periodically, I’m going to type up excerpts from it on my blog for people who are interested in it but don’t want to shell out that kind of dough.  The first excerpt will be his account of the Florida Wolf .

Illustration of the Florida wolf.  Harper gives it the incorrect scientific name Canis floridanus.  Actually, it’s an extinct color variation of the red wolf–Canis rufus.  Incidentally, there are no illustrations in Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp.

“The story of the Florida wolf is now largely a matter of past history.  The Okefinokee was certainly one of its last strongholds and may even yet shelter a few survivors.  Many residents of the region have personal recollections of Wolves, and some of their reports are considerably later than the date of the last known capture, about 1908.

In former times the species was doubtless distributed throughout the surrounding country as well as in the swamp itself.  Apparenly it frequented a wide range of habitats, from the pine barrens to cypress bays, with perhaps a general preference for the former.  Evidentally it moved freely by day as well as by night.  It preyed upon cattle and sheep as well as hogs, and it must have been a far more serious enemy to the stockman than the bear ever was.  Yet the accounts seem to indicate that it was neither very wary nor very courageous.  Its wide variation in color is mentioned here and there in the following notes.

S.L. Davis, of St. George, said that his father brought 300 head of cattle to that vicinity (probably about the middle of the last century), and that within three months or so only about 60 were left, the others having been killed by Wolves.

Chester Burkhalter related how his grandmother, when a girl about 1850, was followed by a couple of black Wolves near Arabia, in Clinch County.  She passed through a herd of cattle, where the Wolves made a detour and lost her trail.  Meanwhile, she climbed up a sycamore and remained a couple of hours.

In 1866, when J.D. Hendrix came to the swamp, there were a few Wolves here, and they preyed upon hogs and calves.  In 1867, at Beaver Dam, near Fort Mudge, while turkey-hunting early in the morning, he heard a Wolf howling and coming closer.  Then a pair of them appeared in the road, playing like dogs.  The male came up to within 21 steps, and when shot, bit its sides.  The female ran off.  The specimen was ‘a right black one’ . Others he knew of were gray or yellow.

He added that about 1887 Obadiah Barber and Leroy Thrift killed a Wolf that was being trailed by dogs in Pipe Swamp, between Waycross and Cowhouse Island.

The only time James Henderson has heard Wolves howling was in the fall of 1874, on Barnum Branch.  He thought there were eight or ten ‘head,’ but another man with him said there were three or four.

His father once poisoned an old dog Wolf that had been killing his sheep.  This was about 1865, 2 miles north of Ruskin, Ware County.  He dragged a beef hide, with ‘lights’ in it, for half a mile or so, then put a bait about 3 feet up in a tree, and repeated this in several places.  The Wolf was later found dead about 75 yards from one of the baits.  It was black with a white spot on its breast.

Fifty years or more ago Allen and Sam Chesser, while camping with their father and mother at Gannet Lake, heard a Wolf.  Its lonesome howl sounded an hour or two before daybreak.  The animal was apparently between Mitchell and Black Jack Islands.

Allen Chesser added that Berrien Dedge had killed a Wolf on Number One Island about 1890 or earlier.

About 1895 Hamp Mizell saw a Wolf near his home on the eastern border of the swamp.  It lay down in the road and wallowed, looking like a shaggy dog.  It had several holes dug about 4 feet into the ground, with a turn at the end.

Once, about 1911, he carried a shoulder of a shoat from the Suwannee River to a shanty on Rowell’s Island.  Later he saw by the tracks that a Wolf had trailed him for 3 miles.  That night it came close to the shanty and dug a hole about 3 feet deep.

In 1901 Sam Mizell saw tracks, which he took to be a Wolf’s, on Burnt Island, between Indian Swamp and Cross Swamp.  They were longer and narrower than a dog’s.  At about the same time period Mitchell Mizell saw a brownish Wolf on Black Jack Island.

David Lee can just remember the time (probably about 1900) when several Wolves killed a cow within a mile of the house on Billy’s Island.  He himself heard the racket they made in killing the cow, which had a bell on it.  Jackson Lee recalls how, in the same locality and at about the same period, a yearling was bitten in the back, probably by a Wolf.

About 1908 a black Wolf was trapped by James Lewis in a creek called Indian Swamp, on the west side of the Okefinokee about 10 miles north of Fargo.  It was said to have been the smaller one of two in a pack.  The hide was shipped to market by Willian Mobley, and the skull was not preserved.  This is the last record of a Wolf being taken in the region.

In 1916 (probably in May), while traveling along the ‘run’ through Billy’s Bay, David Lee heard some animal howling.  He thought at first that it was a dog, but stopped and listened attentively, and then knew it was not a dog.  He does not know what it could have been except a Wolf.  The water in the bay was rather low at the time.

There have been a number of possible records on Floyd’s Island in recent years.  In November, 1916, Harrison Lee heard there a strange noise like the howling of a Wolf.  A similar noise was heard by Jackson Lee about 7 o’clock one morning in May, 1921.  On two different occasions, at about this time, he heard something moving about near the camp in the hammock, and he considered that it might have been a Wolf.

About 1918 Harry and Ben Chesser saw the tracks of a Wolf on Number One Island, heard it ‘holler’ and chased it with dogs.

The disappearance of the Florida Wolf, like that of many another interesting creature, has evidentally been brought about solely throught the agency of civilized man.”

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2 Responses to “An Excerpt from Frances Harper’s Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp–“The Florida Wolf””

  1. jamesrobertsmith Says:

    The wolf in Tift County that one of my ancestors killed was described as “black”. The story that was handed down to my dad stressed that the animal was very dark.

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