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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Wolves of Madison

"Bears were common," wrote H.A. Tenney of Madison in 1845, "wolves innumerable, and other wild animals in proportion... The present generation have not the faintest conception of the enormous profusion of that period."

Everyone loved the ducks, geese, and fish, but they found the wolves troublesome since they ate the settlers' pigs and chickens. Robert Ream, who took over the Peck lodging house, imported pigs to feed his guests and "kept them penned close to my house near to the old cabins, but in spite of neighbors' dogs and all the care I could bestow on them they were carried off by the prairie wolves."

A settler who arrived in 1844 said that the wolves were abundant right inside the capitol park. At the time, the brush and timber on the capitol's hill was so dense that residents got their winter's supply of firewood "without leaving the limits of the village, and more frequently, a short distance from his own residence, in the public streets."

In 1839, in an effort to eradicate wolves from the isthmus, the county board decreed a bounty of $3.00 for wolf scalps, which they immediately reduced to $1.00 when they calculated the potential cost. A wolf hunter "soon turned up in the person of William Lawrence," Ream recalled. "He undertook to catch them with steel traps but as their name was legion he found that process entirely too slow, and resorted to poison. By a skillful distribution of strychnine he succeeded in soon bringing in a large number of scalps, and leaving a large number of their carcasses on the town site, and in this manner a quietus was placed upon their further depredations and annoyances."

[Source: The preceding quotes are all from Daniel Durrie's 1874 History of Madison which you can see in Turning Points of Wisconsin History.]

For the next two weeks Odd Wisconsin will feature episodes from early Madison history (not all of them odd) to help celebrate our state capital's 150th anniversary.

:: Posted in Madison on April 3, 2006

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