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Know the West

Teenage wolves; petticoat rulers; Alaska’s permissive hunting

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Much like “a teenager, curious and bold,” said Yellowstone  biologist Doug Smith, a young wolf in the national park’s Hayden Valley became fascinated by a family picnicking near the Yellowstone River. Now the Missouri family has a wild story to tell once they get home — as does, no doubt, the wolf. As the entranced animal ventured closer, the parents, Michael and Ashley VanZant, moved nearer to their 1-year-old, who was in a baby carriage, while their other children, 5 and 10, climbed the picnic table to watch. Then the unexpected happened: The wolf suddenly leaped over a log “and ran straight toward the VanZants before stopping 5 feet away,” reports the Billings Gazette. At that point, Michael said, he thought about using his .380 pistol. His wife, however, had already started throwing sticks, one of which hit the wolf, which growled. Michael then grabbed a large branch and waved it at the wolf, and the animal slowly retreated and finally ran off. “It was like he was as confused as we were for a little bit,” Michael said. “It was scary, but at the same time it was awesome.” Smith noted that the inquisitive wolf was a member of the Wapiti Pack, “the most exposed to humans of any in the world,” and one of the most well-known and photographed.

In other Yellowstone news, Newsweek reports that Jackson, Wyoming, resident Michael Daus had his own close encounter, when he watched a young bison and a grizzly bear “squaring off” near the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail. For five minutes, Daud recorded their battle on his iPhone. First, the juvenile bison charged the bear. Undeterred, the grizzly attacked it and dragged it down, killing it on the banks of a river. The bison was likely just a few months old, but apparently the bear did not ask to see its ID.

Hats off to Jackson, Wyoming, which recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the town’s “petticoat rulers,” who governed from 1920 to 1923. A century ago, Jackson was notorious as a lawless settlement and refuge for criminals, so its choice of a “lady-led” government made the national press. Especially newsworthy was the appointment of 5-foot-tall Pearl Williams as marshal, in large part because she owned a horse, reports Atlas Obscura. Williams told the Jackson Hole Courier in 1921 that she anticipated no problems as “she killed three men and buried them herself, and she hasn’t had no trouble with anybody since.” Her main task wasn’t corralling ornery outlaws so much as kicking out the cattle and pigs that were fouling the town square. During her three years as boss, Mayor Grace Miller and her team whipped the town into shape, collecting past-due taxes and putting Jackson in the black, grading streets, installing electric lights and buying land for a cemetery. Yet these days, reports the Center for American Women and politics, Wyoming ranks 48th in the nation for female representation in the state Legislature, a reminder, perhaps, that “momentum is never guaranteed.”

Most of us would consider it unsporting to bait bears — or anything else — with doughnuts saturated with bacon grease. Such “hunting” amounts to shooting anything that gets into the garbage. And how many of us would seek out a winter den of hibernating black bears and their cubs, spotlight and blind them before shooting the still-groggy animals? Is it really sporting for hunters in motorboats to gun down caribou trying to swim to safety, or to blast wolves or coyotes and their just-weaned pups in their dens?


The Obama administration banned these kinds of “sport hunting” on federal public lands in Alaska in 2015, but someone with unusual clout succeeded in ending that policy this summer: Donald Trump Jr., an “avid hunter” according to The New York Times. Trump Jr. wanted Alaska’s permissive hunting rules to take precedence over the federal government’s, and thanks to his pull (and his dad’s), 20 million acres of Alaska’s national preserves are now vulnerable to the state’s expanded definition of hunting. Trump Jr. was joined by Safari Club International as well as Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, who told the Guardian that the change was needed “not only as a matter of principle, but as a matter of states’ rights.” Humane Society staff attorney Laura Smythe lambasted Alaska for its support of “extremely cruel killing methods,” and Theresa Pierno, who leads the National Parks Conservation Association, added, “We have never opposed hunting, but this can hardly be considered hunting.” Let’s hope no one invites Trump Jr. to the zoo; he may not understand that it’s not a shooting gallery.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column.  Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.