Collectors’ extol the virtues of real photo postcards as ephemera that document practices that have passed from America’s landscape. Most cards have a “this is the way it was” quality and some topical cards vividly capture practices that are virtually extinct. Images of people working out of isolated lumber camps in the northern parts of the country are one example. Community-wide wolf hunts are another.
Recently, while working on a book about the relationship between humans and animals as revealed through real photo postcards, I came across cards of wolf hunts, a topic that I had never seen before. A reader of the Postcard Collector, Don Dingman, sent me a series of cards of a wolf event in Nebraska. Wolf hunts such as the ones shown in Don’s postcards were common but people who write about wolf eradication seldom mention them.
Widespread killing of wolves in an attempt at extermination was a common practice first in colonial New England, then in the Midwest and, during the postcard era, in the Great Plains states and beyond. Various methods were used including trapping, poisoning, shooting and dynamiting dens. The least documented of the practices and the approach that produced the most dramatic postcard images were communal hunts. The goal of these forays was killing as many wolves as possible with the hope of complete extermination.
The exact procedure varied from community to community but the general approach was for people to meet at a location where wolves roamed. Hundreds of citizens – the message on one card mentions 800 – came. Leaders would organize the day. The area covered was often large, miles in diameter. The crowd of hunters would disperse to form a huge circle. At the designated time they would move toward the middle rustling the brush, shouting, and making other loud noise as they drove the confused wolves toward the center. There the wild canines would be clubbed, shot and stabbed. Although men dominated, women and children were part of the congregation too. Some communities used horses in the drive. Others used dogs especially bred for the task. Later in the century cars and trucks were the main features of these round ups, the term used in some communities for the wolf hunt.
The photographers who took the images sold them to the participants shortly after the events. Although community wolf hunts took on a festival atmosphere, participants would tell you that the killing was not just for fun. Those involved believed that wolves were murderers, a menace, and a threat to their way of life. Local people recall that wolves were seen as evil, killers of game, cattle, sheep and even fellow wolves. Although the community-wide wolf hunts like those documented on the postcards shown here no longer occur, wolf hunting remains legal though controversial in a number of states.
If you have poignant images that depict human animal relations whether they are of loving companion pets with their owners or campaigns for extermination, I am eager to see and possibly use them as illustrations for the book.
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