Idaho History

Idahoans often howled about coyotes at turn of 20th century

Coyotes are common in the Boise Foothills and can be seen, even in the day, stalking prey.
Coyotes are common in the Boise Foothills and can be seen, even in the day, stalking prey. Idaho Statesman file

Coyotes, wolves, cougars, bears and bobcats have been hunted relentlessly in Idaho ever since the 1860s, when settlers first began to raise sheep and cattle here, and these carnivorous natural predators killed them when they could.

The Idaho World printed part of an 1879 letter from Garden Valley noting that, “Grey wolves kill cows and hogs occasionally this winter, and our domestic dogs take up and remain with the coyotes.” The theme of a dog joining his feral cousins was that used by Jack London in his classic American novel “The Call of the Wild,” published in 1903, first as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post, then as a best-selling book and later in a series of movies. Clark Gable starred in the 1935 version and Charlton Heston in another in 1972.

The Idaho Statesman mentioned coyotes briefly in these 1885 items: “Coyotes abound in the vicinity of Camas Creek running through Little Camas Prairie.” And “Coyotes make nightly visits to the hen roosts of settlers on the south side of the river near this city.”

Nathan Falk & Brother advertised in the Statesman on Dec. 28, 1889, “For Sale, Bear, Cougar, and Wolf Skins.” In February 1892, a wolf that had been poisoned at the ranch of Eb. Pinkham 3 miles north of Boise was brought into town and put on display. It measured 5 feet 7 inches in length and weighed nearly 100 pounds.

In January 1894, the Statesman printed a humorous yarn in dialect reminiscent of Mark Twain or Josh Billings. An old miner asks a reporter, “Did you ever see a pack of coyotes a-rustlin’ for grub? Them animals are as well trained as any bunch of soldiers ever was under Gineral Grant. They elect a captain, whether by drawing straws or by ballot I don’t recollect off hand. Just at daylight a reveille calls the pack together, and they come yelpin’ and howlin’ in over the desert like a lot of things possessed, their appetites sharpened by the crisp air and eager for their regular diet of jerked rabbit meat. The avant couriers sniff around among the sagebrush and greasewood, while the rest of the band form into a big circle. Sometimes spreadin’ out on the plain over a radius of two or three miles. The couriers head a jack rabbit into the circle and the coyote nearest takes up the chase.” The gist of the long yarn is that the hungry coyotes take turns chasing the much faster rabbits until they collapse from exhaustion and are gobbled up.

No chance encounter with a coyote was too small for the Statesman to print, as this from November 1898: “Tom Cat versus Coyote. A fight in the sagebrush was observed in which the cat won in ‘three encounters.’” The coyote “slunk away.”

In January 1900, Frank R. Gooding, soon to be elected governor of Idaho, reported that 150 coyotes had died near his ranch from eating horse meat laced with strychnine.

A Boise man who kept two coyotes tied up in his yard at the north end of 14th Street was arrested on Jan. 9, 1906, after a neighbor woman complained that the coyotes howled in the middle of the night, “breaking the repose of the people in the neighborhood.”

In January 1908, professional hunters employed by the U.S. Forest Service brought in 17 coyote and wild cat hides from animals they had killed. They reported a greater scarcity of predatory animals than there had been just a few years before. In March that year a hunter who worked for the state, with headquarters at Gov. Gooding’s ranch, reported that he had killed 500 coyotes in the past two years, and a number of other predators.

A rancher from the Big Hole valley of eastern Idaho told the Statesman in March 1908, “Wolves kill for the sport of killing, and it is seldom an animal survives after being bitten by a wolf.” Men also kill for sport, and can buy licenses from the state of Idaho to be able to do so.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.

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