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Spiro Mounds site shell engraving

OKLAHOMA ARCHEOLOGY

 

A Wolf in our Midst

Modern wolf maxilla (upper) and teeth and upper jaw recovered at Cu220 (lower)

Modern wolf maxilla (upper) and teeth and upper jaw recovered at Cu220 (lower)

The last wolves in Oklahoma disappeared in the 1930's. The elimination of bison in the mid to late 1800's and the collapse of deer populations in the 1900's along with hunting of wolves for bounty payments led to their elimination. In the early 1800's and before, though, they were common throughout the state. When author Washington Irving crossed through Oklahoma with a band of hunters, wolves were frequently encountered. In this passage which occurred near the Cimarron River, Irving writes:

We were getting more and more into the game country: as we proceeded, we repeatedly saw deer to the right and left, bounding off for the coverts; but their appearance no longer excited the same eagerness to pursue. In passing along a slope of the prairie, between two rolling swells of land, we came in sight of a genuine natural hunting match. A pack of seven black wolves and one white one were in full chase of a buck, which they had nearly tired down. They crossed the line of our march without apparently perceiving us; we saw them have a fair run of nearly a mile, gaining upon the buck until they were leaping upon his haunches, when he plunged down a ravine. Some of our party galloped to a rising ground commanding a view of the ravine. The poor buck was completely beset, some on his flanks, some at his throat: he made two or three struggles and desperate bounds, but was dragged down, overpowered, and torn to pieces. The black wolves, in their ravenous hunger and fury, took no notice of the distant group of horsemen; but the white wolf, apparently less game, abandoned the prey, and scampered over hill and dale, rousing various deer that were crouched in the hollows, and which bounded off likewise in different directions. It was altogether a wild scene worthy of the "hunting grounds." (from A Tour on the Prairies, 1835)

Current analysis of an archaelogical excavation in Custer County has revealed a reminder of the wolf populations that once roamed Oklahoma. 34CU220 was a large village of farming people, ancestors of the modern Wichita & Affiliated Tribes, and was probably occupied during the 1300's. When an El Paso Energy Company bulldozer, leveling land in preparation for a wellpad, exposed remnants of the ancient village, the company contacted. John Flick of Hammon, Oklahoma, who is well-known to western Oklahomans interested in archaelogy. Mr. Flick contacted the Oklahoma Archeological Survey and Survey archaeologists Larry Neal and Richard Drass inspected the site. The El Paso Energy Company agreed to postpone further operations until the archaeologists could perform salvage excavations. More than 40 features were exposed and in the brief time available for excavation, four trash pits were completely excavated and others were mapped and tested.

This spring, Oklahoma Anthropological Society member Dave Morgan and Survey archeologist Richard Drass began examining the materials recovered during the salvage work at CU220. Feature 22, a bell-shaped pit filled with ashy soil, has proved very interesting. The part of the wolf skull shown in the photo above came from near the top of the pit and was damaged by the dozer. The entire skull may well have been in the pit. In addition to the wolf, a variety of other animal bone was recovered including bison, deer, rabbit, and coyote. The pit also contained an abundance of bird bone including mallard, Canadian goose, turkey, red-tailed hawk, an owl-sized bird that could not be identified, a yellow-billed cuckoo, and a Chihuahuan raven. The wolf skull, the variety of animals and the unusual birds (the hawk, cuckoo and raven were probably not commonly eaten) have led to some speculation about this pit possibly being the trash from a shaman or medicine man's house.

Below is a Wichita story, from The Mythology of the Wichita (by George A. Dorsey, Carnegie Institute of Washington, Publication No. 21, 1904) in which Wolves, a Coyote and a Raven all play a part.

The Coyote and the Buffalo

Once upon a time there was a chief called Wolf (Wasaka), who controlled a large village of hunters. These people lived chiefly by hunting buffalo, but there came a time when no one could ever see any more buffalo, and they did not know what had become of them. In this village there was one person who was considered the swiftest runner of all the people, and this was Black-Wolf, and was always sure to kill whatever he went after. One time the Coyote decided to go out a long way off to see if he could not find some trail of the buffalo, for the people at home were in need of food. He went toward the north, and traveled four long days, but still could not find any sign of buffalo. At the end of the fourth day he came to a lodge all by itself. He did not show himself, but kept his eye on the people who were living there. He saw there was one man with his family, and noticed that they had plenty of meat. He sneaked around to find where the man kept his meat, but he could not find out, and so he thought that he would try a trick. He turned himself into a little dog, and after dark crawled into the lodge. When the children saw him they petted him and played with him. The old man told them to let him alone, but the children were pleased to have a little puppy to play with and so they fed him and took him with them to bed. Early the next morning, before the old woman was up, the old man rose from the bed to go out hunting. As the old man fixed himself up to go out the Coyote crawled out the other way to follow him and see where he got his meat. As soon as he saw the man going over the hill toward the west he changed himself into his usual form and followed the man. Every hill the man went over he would follow, until he saw the man going toward the large hill, and there he saw a great, big stone lying on the side of the hill. When the man reached the place he went around to hear what he would say. He finally came to a place where he could not he seen, and there he commanded the stone to get to one side, and called to the fattest buffalo to come out. When he had said this the buffalo came out and the man shot him with an arrow and commenced to butcher him. After he had taken off all the lean meat he commanded the buffalo to rise and get back in the hole, and as the buffalo went in, the stone moved back to its place again. The man then packed up and cleaned the place where the buffalo had been lying. The man was Raven (Kawita), Crow-Buffalo. The Raven then started back to his home, and as he went over the hill the Coyote went to the place, and said to himself: "I wonder if that stone would obey my command?" He then commanded the stone to move to one side, and called to all the buffalo to get out. When the stone moved to one side there slowly came out a great herd of buffalo. Then he commanded the stone to move back again. He then chased the buffalo toward the place where he had come from. He traveled the same length of time that it took him to come. He reached his village at midnight, and called on the Wolves, and told what he had done, and said that his people need never go hungry any more, and that the children would cease to cry for food, for he had found the place where the buffalo were hid, and by whom they were taken away; that it was the Raven who had done it. He told what a hard time he had had traveling so long a distance to find where the buffalo were, and he said that on the next day the men could go out as they used to do, instead of having to go out so far, for the buffalo could be seen close to their village. He told the chief to have this announced to the people at once, so that everybody would know that he was to have something to eat the next day. The chief himself went out, passing from one lodge to another, singing:

De-gee-lar-ler-sger-air-ah-sch-gee-
Noe-ah-schgee-hee-he Wer-le-gar-saits-ger-le-wek-eh-hee-he.
Noe-ah-schgee-hee-he-dahl.
De-dar-gee-dar-le-wa-wa-
Se-wa-lar-har-ha-
Wa-ar-har-ha, etc.

This night has come the Coyote.
He has said that the herds of buffalo are near.
He has said that the herds of buffalo are near.

Wa-ar-har-ha. (Barking of the wolf.)
Wa-ar-har-ha. (Barking of the wolf.)

When this announcement was made, everybody in the village woke up, saying: "If this is the case, we are sure that we are going to have meat hereafter." On the next day the herds of buffalo were seen, and the men went to kill them, and they found that the buffalo were not wild as they had been. From this time on the people had all the meat they wanted, for there was no one to cut off the buffalo from them any more. They knew afterward that it was Raven who had played the trick on them to starve them out, and that it was the Coyote who had recovered the buffalo from the place where they had been put. After all had eaten all that they wanted the chief Wolf announced to his people that because of the hard times they had had, and so that it might not happen again, he thought that they should remain what they were. So they did, and they remained in the earth-lodges, and they were Wolves, Coyotes, and Black-Wolves. All these belonged to the same class of animals. Here all these animals lived in their earthlodges, and they still live in that way.


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