Excerpt from Chapter 1
A/N: This novel is based on the account of Ernest Thompson Seton of his encounters with Lobo and the outlaw wolves of the Currumpaw Valley in New Mexico in the years 1893-94.
It is our duty, our charge, to preserve for future generations the wildlife we have the privilege to see today. So much has already been lost. Learn from the past and do your part to prevent it from repeating itself.
“Man has nothing that the animals have not at least a vestige of, the animals have nothing that man does not in some degree share.” ~ Ernest Thompson Seton
Evening hung its shadowy cloak over the rich pastures of the Currumpaw Valley. The tall grasses whispered as a gentle breeze blew over them; the river and creeks gurgled quietly, surfaces shimmering as they reflected the light of Night’s celestial bodies.
Great herds of cattle and sheep grazed peacefully, content under the watch of their herders. The animals were merely dark specks against the deep emerald green of the grassy pasture at night. Occasionally the low of a cow or the bleat of a sheep was heard, but the sounds were not those of distress.
The cattlemen and shepherds lazed around camp fires, their horses asleep on their feet nearby. Coyotes yowled at the heavens and their eerie barking-howls echoed across the plains. The men did not stir at these sounds, common as they were in the night. Even the occasional howl of a lone wolf did not perturb them.
At one campfire a grizzled man rested against his saddle. His companions leaned in close, eager to hear the tale that was sure to come. The elderly man sipped at a cup of strongly brewed coffee before he began. He looked up, his green eyes glinting in the firelight.
“Have y’all heard about The King?” A few of the men nodded their heads. “Some call ’im a phantom or simply a legend; others claim ’e’s the devil himself. I’m not taken to such tall tales, but I can tell ye about my encounters with that beast.” He took another drink of coffee.
“Oh, get on with it old timer!” one of the younger men begged.
“Hold yer horses!” the older man snapped with an amused gleam in his eye. He knew they all had heard of this outlaw, at least in passing, but firsthand stories of him were a special treat. “Old Lobo’s the size of a cow, smarter’n most men, and ’as a touch of immortality in ‘is blood, for nothin’ can kill ’im.”
One of the men scoffed.
“Old Lobo moves silent as a shadow ’less ’e wants you to know ’e’s about. ’e’s a clever devil, ’e is. If’n you hear ‘is howl echo through the valley, you can bet there’ll be a trail of dead cattle or sheep in the mornin’.”
A bass, abnormally loud howl rose from the northern edge of the valley as if on queue. Though it surely originated from an earthly source, the sound resembled the roar of a mythical beast. Around the fires, all the men started up from their reclining positions. Cattle lowed loudly, unnerved by the cry of The King. The herds instinctively moved closer together, suddenly uneasy.
“Speak of the devil,” the grizzled man murmured angrily. “To yer horses, lads, and bring yer guns.” Taking his own advice, he threw aside the stem of grass on which he had been chewing and went straight for his horse. The horses were antsy, nervous, sensing the energy running through their masters and the herds. They, too, seemed to know that the bass howl had portended death.
The cowboys frantically saddled their mounts and set off around their herd. Though the moon was high and full, the herd had settled in the shadow of a tall mesa and the men had to keep their pace in check to avoid injury. The cattle rolled their eyes in the dark, looking around warily and lowing quite frequently. The noise they made would have covered the advance of a stampede of horses, let alone the silent padding of a pack of wolves.
Old Lobo’s howl reverberated through the valley again, louder, closer. Some of the men became jittery, afraid of the infamous wolf and his pack roaming in the darkness. There was no record of Lobo ever attacking a human – indeed, he and his pack were known to take flight at the sight of Man – however, shadows are wont to play tricks on the mind. The stirring of grass might foretell a lunge; the clattering of pebbles on a ledge an impending ambush.
One of the younger men, gripping his horse’s reins tightly, suddenly pulled his mount up. The nearby pounding of hooves had caught his attention: the sound of cattle stampeding. The thunderous sound was accented by the occasional snapping of teeth and bark or growl. Steeling his courage, the man directed his horse toward the sounds. His free hand rested on the stock of his rifle.
His path led him to a depression in the valley. At the base of the bowl stood a closely packed herd of cattle, their heads turned outward in a defensive maneuver. Bred for generations by man, they had lost the majority of their natural defenses; they were dumber, weaker, and lacked the wicked fighting horns of their ancestors. To the wolves, who once had hunted wild elk and bison, the cattle were easy pickings. The frightened lowing of the cattle would not bring help soon enough.
The man urged his horse nearer to the edge of the vale, careful to remain unseen. Below, surrounding the herd of cattle was Lobo’s pack. The young man, so new to the range, had never before seen the infamous pack of outlaw wolves and yet they were unmistakable. He held his breath as he looked down on the scene. In his awe and fear, he forgot his responsibility to act, to save the herd.
The old villain wolf sat apart from his fellows, having perched himself atop a knoll. His grizzled, blackish-grey and white coat was silvered by the moonlight and his golden eyes gleamed. Four other wolves kept the herd in place, circling them with a dangerous glint in their eyes. A young heifer at the center of the herd was wounded, her flanks bleeding freely. Clearly, it was her that the wolves were after.
A dun-coated wolf leapt at the herd, teeth bared. The cattle jumped away, but the intended victim was not jostled to the outer edge of the group. The attacking wolf returned to the enclosing circle of bristling fur and glinting fangs.
The wolves growled in frustration. A black wolf, almost invisible in the night, tried in vain to break the cattle apart. The remaining three rushed in together but were unsuccessful.
A ferocious snarling growl issued from the large wolf atop the knoll. Lobo stood, the action slow and deliberate. The glowing eyes of his fellows turned to him, expectant.
The King Wolf rushed toward the herd, emitting his fierce vocalization as he ran. His stride was so enormous that he covered the distance in a few bounds. White eyed and lowing in terror, the cattle broke their defensive line and scattered in all directions.
Lobo continued his rush until he was amidst the cattle. He paused for only a split second to locate the injured heifer. Twenty-five yards separated the players in this life-and-death struggle. The King bore down on her in seconds. The heifer called desperately to her fellows; the sound cut off abruptly as Lobo latched onto the underside of her neck. He dug his claws into the ground, pulling back with his considerable might.
The cowboy watched in awe as the heifer flipped over, crashing to the ground with such force that the wolf was flung clear of the scene. The impact of her body striking the ground seemed to reverberate through the land itself.
Lobo recovered his feet easily. He shook the dirt from his scruff and allowed his pack to lunge at the cow, killing her in moments. There was a strange expression on Old Lobo’s face; it was a wry look, as if he were asking his pack, “Now, why could not some of you have done that at once without wasting so much time?”
Suddenly regaining his senses, the young man shouted and urged his horse down the slope. Lobo and his pack raised their heads, saw the approaching danger, and ran off. They crested the far ridge and vanished.
The man dismounted and immediately began to rummage in his saddlebags. He had heard a rumor about the pack’s unique habit of eating only animals they had killed themselves. That rumor had floated through his mind as he saw the freshly killed heifer and led to a new idea. Finally, his hand found its prize: a bottle of strychnine.
He approached the steaming carcass and cast several glances at the far ridge to ensure the wolves were not watching. Deftly, he poisoned the meat in three places, taking care not to touch it with his hands. After returning the bottle to his saddlebags he mounted and rode away, confident that in the morning the wolves would be dead and he could collect the obscenely large bounty on their leader’s head.
Lobo snorted derisively. He had hidden himself amongst a pile of boulders atop the ridge overlooking the vale. Intently he watched the furtive actions of the young human below. When the boy approached their fresh kill, the old king could not suppress a quiet growl from rumbling in his chest.
Suddenly there was a presence, bright both in color and persona, at his side. Lobo dropped all pretense of aggression and turned to greet his mate affectionately. He licked the base of Blanca’s snowy white ears, tipped in black. She whined and rubbed her head into his scruff, then stood on tiptoe, looking down into the valley with her head resting on his broad shoulders.
The king wolf had turned his attention back to the scene unfolding below. He watched with narrowed yellow-green eyes as the human reached into his saddle bags and produced the vial of poison. Through his many years evading the tricks of man meant to kill him and his loyal pack, Lobo had gained a keen knowledge of the methods they employed. He knew the scent of their poisons, the bitter tang of metal, and the disturbed ground that marked a trap.
Long experience had taught him to fear man. He had watched many wolves die at the hands of humans, often in the cruelest possible ways. His father had taken poisoned bait and Lobo watched his dying throes as the taint choked the life from him. Lobo swore then that he would never again allow his family anywhere near such tainted food.
An aunt from his blood pack had been caught on the plains by angry cattlemen after she had killed and devoured a calf. Engorged with her meal, she had been too slow to outrun the horses. Though Lobo had not seen the act, the story in the dirt had told all. She had run desperately but the horsemen had overtaken her. They threw their deadly rope coils, caught her round the neck, and dragged her to her death. Her carcass was left to the crows and vultures.
Lobo himself had had close encounters with men and their firearms. A scar ran below his left eye, marking where a bullet had grazed him. After than painful encounter he took flight at the slightest glimpse of anything that could be a gun.
For a brief time he had lived alone, ghosting about the canyons and killing a meal when he could. Normal prey – elk and antelope – had grown scarce. The lush grasslands of his homeland around the Currumpaw River were filled by strange lowing beasts. They slightly resembled bison but they were smaller, not as bulky…and not as dangerous. Very quickly Lobo learned that if he could avoid the men staked out to watch over these dumb animals, he could obtain easy meals whenever he liked.
Other wolves, stragglers from broken packs, found their way to the Currumpaw Valley. Lobo’s natural confidence, and his newly acquired knowledge of humans and their traps, drew these vagabonds to him. The king wolf could afford to be picky. He allowed only the strongest, cleverest to remain with him, knowing that if his pack grew too large they would make an easy target of themselves.
As it stood his pack had grown to five individuals not including their leader. Each wolf lent a unique skill to the greater good, be it speed, agility, cunning, strength, or wisdom.
When the young human turned away from the freshly killed heifer, Lobo turned to face his pack. They stood in a rough semi-circle, eyes glowing with reflected moonlight. Blanca stayed right by his side, her shoulder touching his.
The young man brought his fellow cattlemen to the vale the next morning, boasting of his bravery and cunning. He was certain they would find the pack, stricken down by the poison.
It did not prove so. The body of the heifer lay in the depression, the choicest pieces devoured. All that remained were those sections which had been poisoned.
At a loss, the young rancher turned to his companions with a bewildered expression. “But they—how—?”
The old rancher who had been telling the tale the night before shook his head wisely. “You were up against Old Lobo, son. You hadn’t a chance.”
A/N: If you enjoyed this excerpt, please consider purchasing the full book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Outlaw-Wolves-Currumpaw-Ahi-Keleher-ebook/dp/B01AKX31WA
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