There comes a time in everyone’s life where they need someone to look up to. They need guidance. They need reassurance. They lose their way as they traverse down their path in life. They forget what it means to just live. However, they can’t do it alone. They need an idol, a hero. Someone to help teach them what it means to live life to its fullest, to not worry about what comes next, because it’s not something anyone knows, and it’s something that isn’t promised.
I have found my heroes, ones that I think about when I’ve lost my way, especially in recent times. Some of my heroes I’m going to talk about are not even human. That does not mean they are any different, however. They’ve lived trying lives, and have proved over and over just how strong they are, not just physically, but willfully, being able to conquer any obstacle thrown at them. The stories I’m going to share are true stories that I’ve learned about over the years, and some I learned during my two summers working in Yellowstone, tagging alongside Rick McIntyre, a Wolf Project member since 1996, who has witnessed all these stories unfold before him. Some snippets of information were taken from Carl Safina’s book Beyond Words, which features interviews from Rick. More recent stories, I have seen for myself.
Not all heroes wear capes.
And not all heroes have two legs
A legend of Yellowstone, and a leader in its purest form. In simple terms, he was a beast. A big, formidable wolf, having never lost a fight. He could take on six wolves at once and win. However, he never killed his foes. Once he got the upper hand, he proceeded no further. He didn’t go for the killing blow. Instead, he let the enemy go. He knew when he obtained victory, and when to show mercy.
Two wolves had been captured from Canada and brought down to Yellowstone for the wolf reintroduction of 1995. They birthed a litter of pups and were released into the wilds of Yellowstone. However, the father had been shot outside the park. The mother and pups were recaptured and taken care of for a few months in a one-acre pen. Whenever it was feeding time, the wolves would flee to the opposite end of the pen, trying to keep their distance from the humans as much as possible. All except one pup, who put himself between the humans and his family. Later on, this pup would gain the tracking number 21M.
When he reached the age of two and a half, he left his family for a new one, the Druid Peak pack. He was welcomed with warmth and proved his worth to this new family. He soon rose to the position of alpha male and would lead with over thirty wolves by his side (due to the surplus of elk after the wolves had been eradicated). Despite this, he didn’t rule with an iron fist. He was quite gentle with his pack mates, letting them eat first while he quietly lay some feet away, or wrestle with the pups and losing to them on purpose. Back when he was living with his mother and father, there was a sick pup that was an outcast to the other pups. They wanted nothing to do with him, except Twenty-one. One day after he brought food for the pups, he stood, looking around, until something caught his attention and his tail began to wag. He went in the direction that his attention had been directed to, and there was the sick pup, and he stayed with him for a while.
Twenty-one’s legacy lives on today and is remembered by many. He has shown what it means to show kindness, mercy, to be gentle, and to be confident. One day, he climbed a mountain to its peak and disappeared over the other side. He died peacefully of old age.
21M; Photo (c) Doug Dance Nature Photography
Another legend of the first National Park, and one that is most famous out of them all. Otherwise known as 832F and She Wolf, after the documentary about her life. However, people know her better as ‘06, named after the year she was born. Granddaughter of Twenty-one, she would live up to her grandfather’s legacy by becoming a super wolf herself. She was a masterful hunter and tactician, knowing how to solve problems as they were hurled her way. She could take down a full adult elk by herself (she took down two in one hunt alone). She could evade enemies and give them the slip at the snap of a finger. She was the founder of the Lamar Canyon pack.
A day came where sixteen Mollie’s pack members (a powerhouse, bison-hunting pack) came into the Lamar’s territory, heading straight for the den that housed pups. They disappeared into the trees, and before long seventeen wolves shot out of the forest, Oh-six in front, the sixteen Mollie’s right on her tail. She was leading them away from the den. A good distance lay between them, but it was closing fast, and coming up in front of them was a high, steep cliff. Her time was running out. She had to think fast.
There was a small gully that ran across the cliff face that she could take right down to the valley floor, and that’s just what she did. She disappeared down into the gully, and the Mollie’s weren’t the wiser. They lost her, and couldn’t figure out how she had done it. However, they could still follow her scent back to the den. But just then, one of Oh-six’s daughters appeared, just standing out in the open, facing the sixteen intruders. They noticed her and charged. She was fast and managed to gain a lot of distance between her and the other wolves. What was thought of as stupid, to stand in plain sight of the intruders, was actually a tactical move to lead the intruders away from the den; by the end of the chase, the Mollie’s were exhausted and confused, and so left the Lamar’s territory. Oh-six taught her daughter greatly.
One spring, there was a pack of coyotes that resembled the structure of a wolf pack, which is unusual for coyotes, with half a dozen coyotes based around a den site. Coyotes typically fear wolves, but these coyotes harassed wolves with aggression. They would periodically harass wolves that were returning to the Lamar den. These wolves would have meat for Oh-six’s pups, and so the coyotes saw an opportunity for a free meal. They would surround and threaten the wolf until it gave up its food it had stored for the pups (regurgitation) and retreated to safety. This process repeated over and over again, until one fateful day (for the coyotes that is).
Oh-six left her den one day, bringing her whole pack along, and headed to the coyote den. Once they reached the den, she seemed to signal to her pack to sit down and watch; they obeyed. She continued to the coyote den, and expectantly, the coyotes lashed out in aggression, snarling, teeth bared, closing in on her. She ignored them. Instead, she just kept heading to the den, and when she reached it, she began to dig. She dug until she surfaced with a coyote pup in her mouth, and shook it fiercely until it was dead. She did this with each pup until there were none left. Then, she did another unexpected thing; right in front of the coyote pack, she began to eat the pups. A wolf eating coyotes had never been witnessed before. When she was finished, she turned and trotted back to her family. ‘And that’s how it’s done’, she seemed to say.
Unlike her grandfather, she didn’t have a peaceful end to her story. One fateful day, she traveled outside the park with her two mates (755M and 754M, two brothers) and was shot and killed alongside 754M. It was an uproar among wolf watchers and a catastrophe for the remaining Lamar Canyon members. Oh-six was a national, and international, celebrity in Yellowstone. People from around the world would come to see her. An obituary was even made for her in the New York Times, titled “Mourning an Alpha Female”. Her death sparked a need for justice on wolves, and so the war on wolves completely left the ground.
Oh-six continues to be talked about among wolf watchers and Wolf Project members to this day. She has taught what it means to lead a life of confidence, of fierceness, and how to keep your head when the odds are against you.
'06; Photo (c) Doug McLaughlin 2012
Forty-two was a gentle wolf, as gentle as the summer breeze whispering through the trees. More submissive in nature, and keeping her head low, especially from her tyrannical sister, 40F. Think of Twenty-one; Forty was the complete opposite. She ruled the Druid Peak pack with an iron fist. Look at her too long, and you’d be on the ground, her teeth piercing and ripping at your hide. She even kicked her own mother out of the pack, who was later shot outside the park. One of Forty’s favorite past times was bullying her sister, Forty-two. Because of this, Forty-two was dubbed the name ‘Cinderella’. Cinderella endured her sister’s abuse for quite some time, not once taking the initiative to stand up to her. In the wolf world, this would be quite a risky thing to do. It could mean death.
One day, Cinderella left the pack and dug a den. This is something a wolf does only when they are expecting pups. No time passed after she finished when her sister arrived and delivered a beating to Cinderella. To this day it is unknown whether Cinderella actually gave birth. If she had, it is likely the pups were killed by her cruel sister.
The next year, both sisters, and one of their other sisters, gave birth in separate dens spaced across the territory. Only Twenty-one, Forty’s mate, visited Forty at her den and brought her food. The rest of the pack, including her older sisters, visited Cinderella and assisted in bringing her food.
Cinderella and several pack members went to Forty’s den one day, and Forty, upon seeing her sister, lunged and attacked her. She then directed her fury to one of her younger sisters, proceeding to give her the same treatment. Then Forty headed to Cinderella’s den, the pack following her. The rest was not witnessed by any onlookers, but it is thought that Cinderella did not stand by passively and let her sister do as she pleased and kill her pups. This time, she would take initiative. A fight broke out at Cinderella’s den. If it were Cinderella against Forty, one-on-one, Cinderella would have most likely lost. Typically, though, when a fight breaks out in a pack, the onlooking wolves choose sides. Forty had become unpopular among the pack members. Their moment for revenge had come.
The next morning, Forty was found lying next to the road, bloodied and beaten to a pulp. Her jugular vein had been sliced. A hole had been punctured in her neck so deeply her spine could be seen. Her sisters, who had suffered under her reign for so long, cut her throat. She soon died where she lay.
Cinderella’s time was only beginning. Her kindness showed no bounds. She adopted her cruel sister’s pups, raising them as her own, and also welcomed her lower ranking sister and her pups. And so, the Druids soared to become the largest wolf pack ever recorded, with her as alpha female. The lower ranking sister would fledge to become the pack’s finest hunter and would move on to be the alpha female of the Geode Creek pack.
Forty-two taught that there’s nothing wrong with being gentle and giving/showing love and compassion to others, but don’t become a doormat. Take care of yourself, or else you’ll always be a punching bag.
A statue of 42F, Cinderella, resides inside the Yellowstone Association building, Gardiner, MT. Photo by Haleigh Gullion 2015
Triangle was a male yearling wolf, nicknamed for the white patch of fur on his chest in the shape of a triangle that stood out against his black coat. Mange was on a rampage, a disease in canines that makes them itch and scratch until their fur is completely scratched off, and they can end up freezing to death. Triangle was one of the unfortunate souls to acquire this disease, along with his pack mates. The pack was weakened, and rival wolves had killed their alpha female.
One day, during the morning, Triangle and his three-year-old sister came into contact with three enemy wolves. The siblings ran and split up. The pursuers chased after the sister, who was one of the fastest runners in the pack, but not fast enough. One of the attackers caught up to her and pulled her down. She wasted no time and managed to leap to her feet and book it straight toward the river. Twice he caught her again, but each time she jumped up and ran. The fourth time she was pulled down, all three male wolves were on her. Two of them were biting at her belly and hindquarters, while the biggest one was at her throat. However, he couldn’t give a killing blow due to her radio collar. He quickly figured this out, though, and readjusted for a more precise bite.
Suddenly, a whisk of black entered the scene like a bullet. Triangle had come back to try and save his sister. He distracted two of the attackers, who pursued him, giving his sister a chance to escape from the clutches of death. The distraction didn’t last long, for soon all three rivals were at the sister’s heels again as she ran for the river. All four ended up tumbling into the water. Triangle did an about-face and streaked toward the chaos, hurling himself into the fray. His sister splashed across the river and toward their family den, a good gash visible across her chest. Triangle led the hostiles away, outrunning them until they gave up and headed across the valley.
It was a week and a half until the sister appeared again, recovered from her wounds. Triangle was still seen with the pack for a few more months, hunting and carrying on daily life. However, his mange and injuries from the fight grew to be too much for him, and so the yearling slipped away.
Triangle taught that family is everything. Keep your family close, and never lose sight or touch with them. Call your parents, siblings, grandparents, any family you may have, even friends. Cherish them, because you never know when the last time you see or talk to them will be.
A noble wolf, and would prove it one fateful spring day. He was the alpha male of the Lamar Canyon pack alongside his mate, 926F, who is the daughter of ‘06 and 755M. That all changed when the Prospect Peak pack entered their territory. During that time, 926 was pregnant. She was atop a hill with her yearling offspring and 925, looking down at the rival pack, they looking up at them. She knew she was in a vulnerable state, and couldn’t risk the lives of her unborn pups, and so she turned and fled from the scene, her yearlings right behind her. The only one to remain was 925. He stood his ground, staring down the rival pack. Soon the hostiles burst forward up the slope, heading straight for him. However, instead of turning tail, 925 hurled straight toward the wall of enemies. He quickly passed them and continued to run down the slope, the rival wolves losing ground as they tried to turn around as quickly as they could. It wasn’t long until they were on his tail, and before long, 925 had a dozen wolves on top of him, tearing into him.
Suddenly, one of the yearlings had come back and distracted the rivals. The yearling led the enemy wolves from 925, but they soon turned back to where they left the alpha male. However, they were sniffing around, noses to the ground. He had escaped in the high-growing brush. That was the last time he was seen.
Later, 926 and 925’s radio collar signals crossed. It is believed that 926 found her dying mate and that 925 found closure in the knowledge that he had succeeded in saving his family, and could die peacefully.
The bold male, 925M, also taught how valuable family is, and that they are worth doing anything for to keep them safe.
925M; Photo (c) Doug McLaughlin 2013
This is one wolf I’ve had the pleasure of watching, and actually having a special experience with when she crossed the road in front of me and ended up trotting alongside the road next to my car.
She has endured much loss throughout her life. Being the daughter of 755M and ‘06, she has carried on her parents’ legacy and took the place as alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack. This has helped her fight through the hardships she faced. After losing her mate, 925M, dispersal male wolves from the Prospect Peak pack entered her territory; it’s very possible that they were among those who killed 925M. She was alone, with four rival wolves facing her. She knew she wouldn’t be able to outrun them, so there was only one thing left to do. Tail wagging, she approached one of the males in a playful manner. This seemed to endear him quite a bit. She soon wooed the male, and he brought her over to the other three males for introductions.
These males would be known as 992M (Twin), ‘Uncle’ Mottled, 993M (Dark Black), and 965M. These wolves, along with 926’s yearling daughter Little T, would be some of the wolves I watched in the summer of 2015.
In February of 2016, 926’s daughter Big T, named after a white marking on her chest, disappeared. She had been suffering from mange and was last seen trailing her pack. Perhaps she was too weak to keep up or was not welcomed back. In March, the pack was near a bull elk carcass when suddenly the Junction Butte pack tore out of the trees, and ran straight toward a tree’d spot where the Lamar’s were probably bedded down, and Mottled was not seen again. In April, the alpha male, Twin, was hunting bison calves and was never seen again. It is unclear what happened to him, but a likely conclusion is that he was fatally injured during the hunt. Later in the summer, it is speculated that 993M was also killed while hunting. The alpha male position would finally fall on 965M. Rick calls 965M the Brad Pitt wolf, displaying a perfect and iconic physique.
Through these trying times, 926F has endured, coming out on top each time and showing true strength. She has taught that loss is a part of life and that it is important to stay strong and continue down the path of life. She has shown, as REO Speedwagon put it, that you gotta “roll with the changes”.
926F; Photo (c) Running Wolf Nature Photography
Another wolf I’ve had the pleasure of observing, mostly during the summer of 2015. He is also a wolf of change. After losing his mate, ‘06, and brother, 754M, the day they wandered outside the park, he returned to his pack, but he was lost, with new problems looming in front of him. His eldest daughters would want to find mates, and with two higher ranking wolves now gone, it would be hard for 755 to find a new mate. He roamed the territory, just trying to keep things in order, while his daughters met two male dispersal wolves from the Hoodoo pack (residing outside the park). The two males were accepted by the females, but this meant 755 no longer had a place in his family.
His search for a mate came to an end when he met a female wolf from the Mollie’s pack. They mated and returned to the Lamar den -- the females and two Hoodoo males now outside the park. After a few months, the daughters and two males returned and scented the unfamiliar female. They attacked her, badly injuring her. She regrouped with 755.
In the early hours of morning, her signal was picked up on a different hill, with some of the Lamars on that same hill. Seven fifty-five was down by the road, visiting with some of his offspring when the Hoodoo males showed up on the other side of the road. Seven fifty-five was unsure about what to do, but he ended up crossing the road over to them. But, instead of a fight breaking out, he just turned and trotted away. He knew when a fight could not be won.
He continued on as a lone wolf, an outcast. He didn’t look for his new mate, because it was very possible she was dead, killed by his own daughters, who had brought in new males that he was no match against. His home was gone, taken away from under his feet. His first love, ‘06, was killed, along with his brother. His life was in shambles.
He headed south from Lamar Valley, and into Hayden Valley. A black wolf now gray with age, he ended up finding a mate, a female from the Canyon pack and founded the Wapiti Lake pack. I watched and observed this new founded pack last summer as they raised four pups. However, only one pup survived the winter. This past summer, his life turned upside down again. Dispersal males from the Mollie’s pack entered their territory and grew on the alpha female and their yearling daughter. Seven fifty-five and his mate had a new litter of pups, and he continued to care for them while his girls were with the intruding males. This didn’t last long, as he was chased off by these new males. Alone again, with nowhere else to go, he headed back to his first home, Lamar Valley. His story continues.
Seven fifty-five has also been through many trials but has continued to live, searching for new solutions to his ever continuing problems. He has taught perseverance, and that with every question, there is always an answer.
755M; Photo (c) Deby Dixon
These wolves have taught me so much about life, how to live it to its fullest, and to keep chugging away, even when life seems to be too much to handle. Just like these wolves, when life seems to be crushing you against the ground, leap up and grab it by the throat, forcing it to the ground while thinking, ‘I’m in charge’. I think of these wolves, these heroes, when I am thrown to the ground, and how much they’ve persevered. Right now, I am redirecting my path, changing its course for a more brighter scenery, instead of the dead, dark, and bleaker one I have been traversing down. Would these wolves choose to go down such a path? Of course not. They choose the path of survival, of living. That is to say, it’s not as if they don’t experience fear. It has been shown and observed countless times that they express fear, but they don’t let it consume them. Part of being a living soul is feeling afraid. It is okay to be scared. Don’t be afraid to be afraid.
“This too shall pass.” --Unknown