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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Wolf Girl

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

When the boy returned home that day he told his parents a story as horrifying as it was unbelievable.

He had gone to San Felipe Springs, north of what is now Del Rio, to tend to his familyís goat herd. He said he arrived in time to find a pack of wolves attacking the terrified stock. Among the wolves, he continued, was a strange creature. Though running on all fours like the other wolves, it appeared to be a naked girl.

The beautiful Devilís River, which flows 94 miles from Sutton to Val Verde County, belongs to Texas. But the story of the Devilís River wolf girl belongs to the world.

The tale had become part of border country folklore even before the river got its modern name in September 1848. That happened when former Texas Ranger Capt. Jack Hays and a party of men hoping to blaze a wagon road from San Antonio to El Paso rode up on the stream. Looking down on it from a bluff in the middle of nowhere, Hays listened as his guide told him they had reached the San Pedro River.

ďSaint Peterís, hell,Ē Hays supposedly spat. ďIt looks like the devilís river to me.Ē

Thirteen years earlier, in 1835, an Englishman named John Dent and his pregnant wife Mollie Pertul Dent came to the San Pedro-Devilís River and built a crude shelter. Originally from Georgia, the couple had come to that remote area so Dent could trap beaver along the Devilís River north of present Del Rio. They camped near what would become Juno at a spot on the river he named Beaver Lake.

OLD EE Stricklen Ranch Juno Texas
OLD EE Stricklen Ranch of Juno painted by Carcie B. Stricklen 11-10-1971. Photo courtesy Ian McGill

All went well until one night during a thunderstorm that May when Mollie went into labor. When it became evident that she was having problems, Dent saddled up to ride to the home of a Mexican goat herder to get help for his wife.

After explaining the situation, Dent was struck by lighting and killed. The goat herder and perhaps others rode to the lake, only to find Mollie dead. She clearly had managed to deliver her baby, but it was nowhere to be seen. Noting wolf tracks all around the campsite, the Mexicans concluded a wolf had devoured the newborn.

A decade later, the story goes, people began to see a naked girl running with wolves. Though the boy who reported the first sighting was not believed, a couple of years later, a Mexican woman said she had seen two large wolves and a naked girl ripping into the carcass of a freshly killed goat. As she near the creatures, she said, they ran off. At first, the girl traveled on her hands and legs, but eventually got up on her legs to keep up with the fleeing wolves.

Soon, others claimed to have seen the wolf girl. At some point, no dates go with this part of the story, a group of vaqueros rode out and managed to capture the wolf girl in a canyon.

The vaqueros took her to a nearby ranch and offered her food, water and clothing Ė all of which she rejected. Locked in a room, she howled pitifully. Before long, other wolves answered her calls. And the howling kept getting closer and closer. Finally, a pack of wolves closed in on the ranch ownerís corralled livestock. As the vaqueros shouted and shot to drive off the attacking lobos, the wolf girl broke out of captivity and disappeared into the night with the other animals.

The next morning the vaqueros mounted up again in search of the wolf girl, but their effort proved fruitless. Her last reporting sighting came in 1852.

Stories of humans raised by wolves go back a long time, all the way to the classic tale of Romulus and Remus. While that story had its origins in the days of the Roman Empire, the Indian subcontinent seems to be the locale for most wolf girl stories.

One source says roughly a hundred wolf child stories have been reported in English, more in other languages. While the Devilís River wolf girl legend is not unique from a world-wide perspective, itís one of Texasí most enduring folk tales.


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
February 5, 2010 column

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