America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

Israel Putnam Captures the Wolf

LONG before the Revolutionary War, Israel Putnam was a farmer in Connecticut. He was very busy building houses and barns, felling trees, making fences, sowing grain, planting orchards, and taking care of his stock. We may be sure he had all the worries of the farmer of to-day, but, in addition, the wolves came and killed his sheep. In one night he lost seventy-five sheep and goats, killed by an old she-wolf which, for several years, had wrought havoc among the cattle of the neighborhood.

[92] Putnam and five of his neighbors resolved to hunt down the wolf, and put an end to her depredations. This particular beast was known to have lost the toes from one foot in a steel trap; therefore, her tracks in the snow were easily recognized. The men and the clogs started in pursuit one day, tracking the wolf to a den about three miles from Putnam's house. She was a vicious old beast, cunning and fierce, and even the dogs were afraid to follow her into her hiding-place.

The people from nearby came with fire, straw, sulphur, and everything else they could think of, to smoke the wolf out; and their guns were held ready to fire when she appeared at the mouth of the den. The dogs were at last sent into the cave, but they clambered out, wounded and howling, and could not be persuaded to go back. Blazing straw and wood had no effect. The wolf refused to be driven out, either by the dogs or by the smoke of the fire.

Putnam proposed to his negro servant that he should go down after the wolf; but the negro flatly refused. Whereupon Putnam declared that he would go in after the beast himself. His neighbors tried to dissuade him from the perilous task, but Putnam was man of his word. He took off his coat, tied a rope around one foot, so he could be [93] dragged out, seized a firebrand, and crawled into the cave. He went in, head foremost, on his hands and knees, waving the torch before him.

The opening was small. Then the cave descended a depth of fifteen feet, and ran horizontally for ten feet more. In no place was it large enough for Putnam to stand up; so he slid down the incline until he reached the bottom. It was very dark and very still. Cautiously crawling along, he saw the glaring eyeballs of the wolf at the end of the cave.

He then kicked the rope as a signal to his friends that he had met his prey. Thinking he was being attacked and in great danger, they pulled on the rope so fast that they dragged him out of the cave, tearing his shirt, and skinning his back badly. Putnam had found the wolf, however, and, after rubbing his bruises a little, he loaded his gun, lighted a fresh torch, and was again lowered into the den.

When he drew near the old wolf, she gnashed her teeth, growled, and, uttering a long and terrible howl, sprang at the brave man in front of her. Putnam, however, was quick with his gun. By the light of the torch he saw the wolf's eyes, and fired as she sprang. Again his friends dragged him up the incline, for they had heard the howl of the [94] wolf and the report of the gun. After the smoke cleared away, Putnam went down the third time, and, when he came near, the wolf lay very still. He put the lighted torch to her nose, but she did not move. He knew then that she was dead. He kicked the rope, and the people outside for the last time drew Putnam out, holding on to the great body of his prize.


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