Lobo was an American wolf, who once dwelled in the Currumpaw valley of New Mexico. During the 1890s, Lobo and his pack, deprived of natural prey by settlers, turned to livestock for food. The ranchers attempted to kill off Lobo and his pack by poisoning the carcasses. But, the wolves removed the poisoned pieces, and threw them aside. The ranchers then tried to kill the wolves with traps and hunting parties, but these efforts also failed. That’s when Ernest T. Seton accepted the challenge, and became determined to earn the $1,000 bounty for capturing Lobo, the leader of the pack. Seton first tried poisoning five baits, carefully covering traces of human scent, and setting them in Lobo’s territory. When all the baits vanished, Seton assumed Lobo was dead. However, he later found the five baits placed in a little pile, covered in other “evidence” for which Lobo was responsible.
Seton bought new, specialized traps, then carefully concealed them. But, later found Lobo’s tracks leading from trap to trap, exposing each. An effort that was initially supposed to take two weeks, stretched into months of failed attempts to capture Lobo, and Seton grew tired and frustrated. While camping out above the creek where snow geese and cranes were wintering, he found Lobo’s tracks following a set of smaller tracks. He then discovered Lobo’s weakness, his mate, a pretty white wolf named Blanca.
Seton then set out several traps in a narrow passage, hoping Blanca would fall for baits that Lobo had thus far managed to avoid. Seton succeeded and caught Blanca, who, while trying to investigate Seton’s planted cattle head, was trapped. When Seton found her, she was howling with Lobo by her side. Lobo quickly ran off to a safe distance, then watched Seton and his men kill Blanca by breaking her neck with ropes tied to their horses. Seton heard Lobo’s howls for days afterward. Seton described them as having “an unmistakable note of sorrow in it… but, it was no longer the loud, defiant howl, but rather now a long, plaintive wail.” Although Seton actually felt bad for the grieving wolf, he continued his plan to capture him.
Despite the obvious danger, Lobo followed Blanca’s scent to Seton’s ranch, where they had taken the body. Seton then set more traps, using Blanca’s body to scent them. On January 31, 1894, Lobo was finally caught, with each of his four legs clutched in a trap. When Seton approached, Lobo stood and howled. Touched by the wolf’s bravery and loyalty to his mate, Seton could not kill him. He and his men roped Lobo, muzzled him and secured him to a horse, taking him back to the ranch house. Though they secured him with a chain, he just stood and gazed across the prairie. Lobo died that night, and Seton knew that he died of a broken heart.
Today, Lobo’s pelt is on display at the Ernest T. Seton Memorial Library and Museum, at the Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. Until his death in 1946, Seton championed the wolf. “Ever since Lobo”, Seton later wrote, “my sincerest wish has been to impress upon people that each of our native wild creatures is, in itself, a precious heritage that we have no right to destroy, or to put beyond the reach of our children.”
Seton’s story of Lobo so touched the hearts of people around the world, that it was partly responsible for changing global views toward the environment, and spurred the start of the conservationist movement. The story had a profound influence on the world acclaimed broadcaster and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, and inspired the 1962 Disney film, ‘The Legend of Lobo’. Lobo’s story was also the subject of a 2007 BBC documentary, directed by Steve Gooder.