Sometimes we question whether one person can actually make a difference in the world.
There have been many people, intrepid solo acts, who have inspired and shaken the roots of their communities and, thus, the world. They have, through their own baptism by fire, discovered their meaning, their purpose, running with it, even into the miserable arms of judgment and scorn, their courage unflinching.
There was one such a man who rose to the occasion of his greatness through an experience with a wolf. His name was Ernest Thompson Seton, and he became a trailblazer. It all started in the late 1800s in the Currumpaw Valley, New Mexico. Wolves, whose diet of buffalo was no longer available due to adolescent Western man’s systematic slaughter of these wondrous beasts, began killing the local cattle for food. It was easy prey. The new settlers were enraged. They wanted these trespasser wolves erased from the landscape, this place where they had lived and thrived long before the settlers arrived with their lack of moderation and respect for nature. They offered a $1,000 bounty on the head of one very particular wolf, the pack’s alpha male they called Lobo.
Mr. Seton heard of this reward and headed out to New Mexico. He was literally chomping at the bit to dispose of this troublesome problem with every means at his disposal. Initially, he thought it would be an easy task of inserting poison into cow carcasses and leaving them out on the prairie. In fact, he did this over and over using four types of poison, but every time these carcasses were ignored by Lobo and his pack. He completely underestimated the innate wisdom of this magnificent creature. Then he ordered traps. He carefully deodorized and hid them beneath the ground. But they were skillfully set off by Lobo digging and scratching up rocks and dirt onto the traps.
He thought it would take a mere couple of weeks to eradicate this wolf vermin from the area, but months down the line he continued to be outsmarted by this animal he had once considered his abject inferior. He kept a daily journal of the wolf’s clever antics to sabotage his every effort, which never ceased to amaze and challenge him. But he remained undaunted and ordered more sophisticated traps, leg traps, which would not kill Lobo, but would leave him helpless. He wanted the bounty and he wanted to get Lobo, no matter what it took.
Finally, he had a breakthrough after all the long, arduous months of being thwarted at every turn in his impotent endeavors to contain and kill Lobo. While out resting from a long ride to check his new traps, he spotted Lobo off in the distance with his mate, a beautiful white alpha female called Blanca by the locals. They were clearly bonded. An idea came to him. Since he knew they would never be very far apart, he decided to set some traps he knew would occupy Lobo’s attention. Then, close by, he set up another trap with a cow’s head and a coyote skin which he thought might entice the unwitting female. He found her there when he rode out with four other men, her front legs in the trap. Though terrified, she turned to fight them with her brave howl hovering in the air. Lobo was nearby, but left when the men got too close, as he had learned to fear them. Instead of simply shooting her, the men lassoed her neck from each of their horses and rode off in different directions until blood erupted from her mouth and she lay dead. Lobo’s mournful wails pierced the air. One could not even imagine the horror of such a dastardly deed. Her remains were taken back to the ranch’s barn by Mr. Seton.
That night he heard a racket. Rifle in hand, he went outside. There in the moonlight he saw Lobo sniffing around the barn where Blanca was. But he ran off when he heard Seton’s footsteps. Shots were fired, but Lobo got away unharmed. Mr. Seton had another idea. Lobo had never before shown himself around the ranch. But he understood that Lobo was looking for Blanca and was willing to take chances he would have never taken before. For two nights, he heard Lobo’s woeful howling, which had touched a place in him he had never felt with regard to any animal. It was so plaintive, so heartfelt, that his soul shuddered. But, still, he was on a killing mission. And he had not, as of yet, received the message of his true purpose, his real mission. It would only take a short time now, as unbeknownst to him his ultimate destiny was rapidly moving toward him. But his old conditioning was strong, leading him on to perpetrate the last act of his soon to be former life.
Mr. Seton set up 130 traps around the perimeter of the barn. He knew Lobo would come again. What he did not know is that Lobo’s demonstrable love and devotion would be the catalyst for him to break out of the outworn cocoon of his life to change minds and hearts in very special ways. For now, though, he waited in anticipation for Lobo.
On the second day, after he had placed the traps, he set out with a couple of the other ranchers. They found Lobo not far away. He had come back for his beloved Blanca. Now he was lying very still, yet quite alert, each of his legs ensnared in four traps. This is what it finally took to bring down this most formidable of opponents. But Mr. Seton did not feel like a winner. He felt no pride, no satisfaction in what he was now witnessing. And, in that moment, his destiny was forever changed.
As the men got closer, even though completely exhausted, with 1,200 pounds of traps on him attached with logs and chains, Lobo lashed out, teeth bared, lurching forward toward the men with fierce, angry eyes. But Mr. Seton could not find it in him to kill Lobo. This one wolf had been his greatest teacher. He had shown him the deep heart of the wilderness, the nobility of spirit in the beast, fearless as he was.
Lobo was finally roped with a stick put in his mouth. The traps were removed, and he was taken back to the ranch draped over Mr. Seton’s saddle. He became very quiet and still at this point. He was chained up in the pasture with meat and water by his side. But he made no move, even when Mr. Seton touched him. His attention was only on the prairie. He was dead the next day. Lobo’s pelt was taken, but his remains were buried along with Blanca’s. They were together now, if only in death. Mr. Seton never killed another wolf again in his lifetime. He wrote in his journal: “A lion shorn of his strength, an eagle robbed of his freedom, or a dove bereft of its mate, all die, it is said, of a broken heart; and who loved will aver that this grim bandit could bear the three-fold brunt heart-whole? This only, I know, that when the morning dawned, he was lying there still in his position of calm repose, but his spirit was gone – the old king-wolf was dead.”
Mr. Seton went on to become an avowed naturalist, one of the first ecologists and protectors of the wilderness and, most singularly, a staunch advocate for the rights of the wolf, a creature he had come to honor and respect in all its wild dignity. He was, as well, a fine artist and published author and magazine storywriter whose express aim was to foster a deep appreciation of nature in all her uncultured, hair-let-down beauty.
In 1902, he founded the Woodcraft Movement and then became one of the founders and the first Chief Scout of the Boy’s Club of America, writing the original Scout Manual, both organizations geared toward teaching children survival skills and a love of nature. Additionally, he influenced President Teddy Roosevelt and was instrumental in legislation protecting nature and establishing National Parks. Thus, people could have the opportunity for a personal experience of this bold wilderness first-hand, inspiring awe for these untouched, majestic places and educating them regarding the necessity that these wilderness areas be preserved for the sake of everyone.
Seton wrote, “The culture and civilization of the White man are essentially material; his measure of success is, ‘How much property have I acquired for myself?’ The culture of the Red man is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, ‘How much service have I rendered to my people?’”
Seton was one man; one man whose destiny rose up before him in the undaunted spirit of a wolf, Lobo.
There is a Lobo waiting for each one of us in our lives, that thing, that experience, that moment when we are moved beyond our ego-draped escapades and fantasies, beyond what we know right now. We must be on the watch for our own Lobo to take us where we need to go so we, too, can be that one man, that one woman, who reaches out from the depths of their heart, changing the world for the better. Yes, our destiny is waiting, and we can make a difference.
Diane Miller, a Topanga resident, is a lover of all critters, “great and small,” and cares for eight tree frogs that live in her kitchen, as well as Sashi, her dog.
By Diane Manilla Miller