called the killer Old Three Toe.
Sometimes, he ate his victims while they were still alive. Occasionally,
he seemed to kill purely for fun.
hated for what he did, most folks in Hall
County grudgingly agreed he had plenty of smarts. In the early
1890s, when working hard from sunup to sunset earned a man a dollar
a day, a $100 reward stood for anyone who could bring in the wily
Three Toe did not prowl the South Plains out of meanness, for greed
or revenge. He merely followed his instincts. Three Toe was a gray
wolf. He killed livestock, not people.
Gray wolves once ranged all across Texas. An adult male could weigh
up to 130 pounds. Standing three feet high, with a body stretching
out to twice that length, these wolves could run faster than 20
miles an hour.
Long before Europeans came to Texas, wolves preyed on buffalo,
deer and antelope, using their powerful jaws first to cripple, then
to kill and eat. Sometimes the last two phases overlapped. By the
mid-to-late 1870s, with the great North American bison herd nearly
hunted out, wolves quickly developed a taste for the cattle
"Reports from the ranges of West
Texas indicate a large increase in the number of coyotes and
lobo wolves," the Eagle Pass Guide reported in 1896, "and in the
extent of their depredations on stock. It is not sheep and chickens
that they now attack, but calves, colts and half-grown horned cattle.
When a scalp bill is next presented to the Texas legislature there
will be no division among the stockmen as to its merits."
Apparently, however, division on the issue existed in the Legislature.
Lawmakers repealed the old bounty law and passed nothing to replace
"Since the scalp law has been repealed," the same newspaper reported
a few months later, "the stockmen...have found it necessary to form
clubs for the extermination of wolves. Trappers are employed and
each wolf killed costs the stockmen...about $3."
On the Edwards Plateau, a trapper caught an estimated 150 wolves
on one large ranch.
"It pays to have them killed," the border town newspaper continued.
"Forest Edwards said a few days ago that of his 7000 sheep he had
lost nearly as many by the depredation of wolves as by disease,
and that during the fall and winter the wolves had killed not less
than 200 out of his flock."
Texans had never been reluctant to draw a bead on a wolf, but when
the animals started killing cattle
ranchers began a war of extermination. Cowboys and herders shot
them on sight. Hunters trailed them with dogs, set steel traps and
lay out poisoned meat. Many wolves died, but they were a smart species.
wolf in Hall County
had grown particularly wary. He quickly associated the smell of
man with the danger of sharp, cold steel. But every creature has
the occasional bad day. Once, he missed the scent of danger and
approached a tasty-looking cut of fresh meat.
No one heard his scream when the steel jaws of the trap snapped
on one of his legs, but a farmer found the trapped wolf the next
morning. Before the man could raise his rifle, if indeed he had
even been carrying one, the wolf tore its foot from the trap, leaving
one toe and a piece of tendon behind.
The close call added to the wolf's education and gave him his nickname,
Old Three Toe. The distinctive track he left also demonstrated the
impressive extent of his range and appetite.
One rancher in the area lost 40 calves one spring. Old Three Toe's
tracks always lay in the vicinity. Soon, Old Three Toe had become
the most wanted wolf on the Texas
Instinct drove him to kill, and in the end, another powerful instinct
led to his demise.
A Hall County man
happened to have his rifle with him when he encountered a pack of
wolves, fighting over a she wolf. His guard down in the pursuit
of romance, Old Three Toe caught a bullet. And another and another.
Not until a slug slammed into his forehead did the big lobo go down
Whether the man who finally settled accounts with Old Tree Toe collected
the reward money did not get reported, but he earned plenty of recognition
in Hall County.
The dead wolf went on display in Memphis with no less fanfare than
the bullet-riddled body of a would-be
bank robber. Eventually, someone shipped Old Three Toe's hide
to a taxidermist, who preserved the snarling, trap-marked lobo for
The mount stood for years in the town's First National Bank, an
attention-getting reminder of the days when wolves prowled West
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" October
20, 2016 column
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