Remarkably large wolf pack once documented in W.Va.

Remarkably large wolf pack once documented in W.Va.
Wolves in North America most often live in packs of about eight. (Photo courtesy Thomas Bonometti)

CRANBERRY, W.Va. — Wolves in North America typically run in packs of around eight, according to most sources, though packs as large as 30 have been documented. However, packs far larger may have hunted in the mountains of West Virginia.


A settler in the wilderness of the southern state tells the chilling tale of a ravenous pack that grew far larger. W.O. Hollandsworth had moved with his family into an old cabin near what's now Beckley in 1836, and he brought with them a hog, a cow, and a horse.

"During the night, a pack of wolves got after the hog, which was so scared she broke down the door and stayed under the bed the rest of the night," Hollandsworth noted in his diary.

"The next day came another pack of wolves of about fifty, and they began to gnaw at the pen. I shot the leader of the pack dead on top of the pen. Then they howled a piercing cry and went back into the dense forest."


The next year, Alfred Beckley moved his family into the forest nearby. His eldest son, John Beckley, described the region as a "howling wilderness," a seeming pun that historian Jim Wood appropriately emphasized in his opening to his book "Raleigh County, West Virginia."

The county court was paying a $50 bounty on wolf scalps as late as 1872, Wood wrote. As far as is known, the last eastern wolf was shot and killed in Webster County in 1897 by 17-year-old Daniel Stoffer Hamrick.

The remote mountains of West Virginia remained the last holdout of the wolf until then. They had been eradicated in Ohio by 1842 and Pennsylvania by 1892.

Native populations in the U.S. remain only in the northern Rocky Mountains, in southern Arizona and New Mexico, and in the northernmost Great Lakes region.


Moon of January recalls when wolves roamed West Virginia

The Wolf Moon in January

The Wolf Moon of January recalls a time when the howls of wolves haunted the Mountain State, the final eastern stronghold in the U.S. for the Canis lupus. As far as is known, the last eastern wolf was shot and killed in Webster County.

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