Somewhere within the story of “Lobo the King of Currumpaw” by Ernest Thompson Seton, is a tale so epic that not even the effrontery of Seton’s baroque story-telling and juiced up plot lines, could smother it.
The unadorned story of being and belonging, struggle and sacrifice and a nobility so lofty that not even iron traps could contain it, stands on its own. It transcends Seton’s well-intentioned ornamentations and casts an imposing spell on the mind. The story of Lobo could have made for a gripping tale had its protagonist turned out to be just a man. The fact that the protagonist turns out to be a four-legged creature ups the ante in ways that are paradigm-shattering . And the parables that come tumbling out of this tale foment epiphanies that make us question our very place in nature and the larger scheme of things. Not bad for a tale about a loup garou who would not fall for the wiles of weasly ranchers who would kill him by any means necessary.
Spoiler Warning: If you want to see “The Wolf That Changed America” without spoiler details, please see it here before proceeding any further:
“The stage for the drama could hardly be wider or more epic: (intones the voice of the narrator) New Mexico a land where the rolling prairies meet the foothills of the Rockies. By 1893, the year Seton came to hunt wolves, this was a land being swept by profound change. The modern world were steaming in. Settlers were arriving by the train load. …… But the old west hadn’t completely disappeared. Parts of Northern Mexico were still untamed. In the remote Currumpaw valley, wild wolves still roamed the canyons.” (Narrative introduction to PBS’s documentary, The Wolf That Changed America).
This is without question, a must see documentary.
Here, here is the image that would haunt Seton till his dying day: Lobo, King of the Currumpaw, hobbled by grief and a cleverly laid out scent trail of his beloved Blanca, which led him straight into Seton’s iron traps. The facade of an almost domesticated dog is deceiving here. Lobo was as fierce a wolf as Seton had ever encountered. What Seton’s camera captured here was a shadow ….. a shell of The Nimrod that was Lobo’s former incarnation. You can see it right here. But the departure of spark and regal mien that had once animated The King portented Lobo’s ability to give up the ghost via figurative Mahasamadhi. This shell of the former king, paradoxically becomes Lobo’s last stand; the valediction of nobility which could not be contained by plebeian wiles. (Photo: Ernest Thompson Seton.) _______________________________________________________
Seton’s tale regaled in “Wild Animals I Have Known” is unapologetically anthropomorphic. Against that canvas, Lobo displays a nobility that is often lacking in animals of the two-legged variety. In Seton’s tale the animal protagonist hews to a modus vivendi that brooks no apologies, and goes down with a stoicism that is as awe-inspiring as it is damning of our materialistically conniving ways. The symbolism of what we are doing to nature strikes Seton with the force of a lightning bolt in slow motion. This is his Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment and the dawn of the modern conservationist movement; Thus the must-see PBS documentary aptly named “The Wolf That Changed America” – a presentation under PBS’ nature series. While faithfully retelling the tale through re-enactment and illustration, the documentary lends a much needed third person narrative and critique. The epic dimensions of this story reassert themselves with very little contrivance.
The remains of Lobo are on display at the Seton Memorial Library and Philmont Museum in Cimarron, NM. The thought that struck my mind when I saw the picture of Lobo’s pelt in the museum was that if Lobo, along with Seton, stood at the cusp of a movement that has become more momentous with time, he surely deserves a presentation more dignified than what is seen at the bottom of this webpage. I am not sure what it should be at this point, but I know it is not the trophy-like presentation in that picture. Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.
The contact for information for the Seton Memorial Library and Philmont Museum is:
Director of Museums, Philmont Scout Ranch
17 Deer Run Road
Cimarron, NM 87714
The signs of embellishment in Seton’s story are hard to deny, but what they could possibly signify is more interesting than the garnishing; namely what Seton left out to lend more sublimity to his tale. Sentiments expressed by some viewers following the airing of “The Wolf That Changed America” documentary are very interesting, if not enlightening:
One reader saw a striking parallel between the death of Lobo and Blanca and the scene described in Alfred De Vigny’s powerful poem “La Mort du Loup” (Death of the Wolf). You can read it here in French with a parallel English translation by Stan Solomons.
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Endangered or not, wolf killings set to expand (Matthew Brown, Associated Press/Yahoo)