The Wolfer: by Ernest MacArthur

(The words of The Wolfer, which I set to a tune for inclusion in the Last Wolf show, are taken from a book of verses - Songs of the Mountains and the Plains - composed by Ernest MacArthur and published in 1928. Though MacArthur's writing is heavily influenced by Robert Service, he does paint a unique picture in rhyme of a breed of men which evolved in 19th century America, as wolves became an increasing threat to the burgeoning livestock on the Plains. These men, who were known as "Wolfers" were, by all accounts, a tough crowd, who got paid handsomely for ridding the country of its native wolf population. A favourite method was to lace a cow's corpse with strychnine, then leave it out in the open. Returning a couple of weeks later, the surrounding area would be littered with the bodies of the wolves who had fed on the corpse, together with most of the other carnivorous wildlife in the area. Ernest MacArthur remains a mystery. Was he himself a Wolfer? The search engines reveal nothing of his life.)

When first into this country a traveller I came
I thought that in the city I'd find wealth and love and fame
But poverty brought sickness, and sickness brought me low
So I set out for the Western Plains to chase the buffalo

There was me and Jack and Billy, and Petie he made four
Those beasts were easy pickings, we slew them by the score
We stripped the skin, and left the carcase in those grassy zones
And the buzzards and the hungry wolves came down to pick their bones

But a cruel hand was played us in the darkness on the plains
We were sitting round the campfire, gambling with our gains
When a savage bunch of redskins came at us from the night
And Petie, Jack and Billy all perished in the fight

So I set off for Dakota to wander those Black Hills
I learned the art of hunting, I learned the trapper's skills
I learned to handle money, and I made a thousand kills
And I paid for food and money with $100 bills

With ranching and the railroad the buffalo grew few
The wolves began to feed upon the sheep and cattle too
Their savage depredations filled the ranchers' hearts with fear
So I became a Wolfer, and began a new career

Those beasts were easy pickings, like the buffalo before
With guns and traps and strychnine we slew them by the score
They treated us like heroes when the riverboat came round
And if the Wolfers had a king, I surely would be crowned

By the turning of the century the war was almost won
And many a wolf had perished by poison, trap and gun
But wreaking devastation, under cover of the night
A few old loners lingered on, still keeping up the fight

There was Phantom, Rags, Old Lefty, notorious in their day
And Three Toes, and the Custer Wolf, South Dakota way
There was Bigfoot too, and Snowdrift, all demons of great fame
But the one I want to tell you of is the Wolf who had No Name

I was out in Colorado, camped up in the trees
It was a cold midwinter night, the weather it did freeze
I woke up in the morning, the snow lay on the ground
And a set of giant pawprints circled me around

Those prints were big as dinner plates, I tell to you no lie
And the creature that had made them must have been at least waist high
I could scarce believe the vision that swam before my sight
The biggest wolf that ever breathed had been there in the night

I quickly grabbed my rifle and set off in pursuit
Straight on up the mountain, stoney was the route
But when I reached the summit, I swear by Moses' beard
That on that highest mountain peak those pawprints disappeared

I picked them up upon a ridge a thousand feet below
How the beast had leapt that distance I surely do not know
Then coming down the mountain, again he left the track
As if as pair of giant wings had sprouted from his back

At last I picked them up again a half a mile away
I tracked him through the Rockies all that livelong day
Then coming to the bank of a river deep and wide
Again those pawprints disappeared as he leapt into the tide

From Texas to Missouri, to the haunted woods of Maine
For years I searched those pawprints, search did I in vain
But now I'm getting older, and my sinews they grow slack
And I'm looking for another one to bring that fellow back

You ask me if I've seen him, if the tale I tell is true
Well I've seen him in my mind alright, clear as I see you
With eyes like pools of mercury, red in tooth and claw
And a ragged flag of new-killed flesh hanging from his maw

If you ever pass this way again you'll always find me here
Just look for Mac the Wolfer in this corner drinking beer
Then fill my glass up to the brim, and I'll tell you once again
The story of those pawprints, and the Wolf who had No Name