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Murie Wolf Pelt Finds a New Den

Hide important to landmark study will inspire others about wildness

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. / Jackson Hole News & Guide / June 16, 2004

A wolf pelt critical to a study that led naturalists to accept predators has ended a journey that took it from Alaska to Jackson Hole to Washington, D.C., to West Virginia.

The shaggy pelt, part of Adolph Murie's study that was the foundation of his 1941 book The Wolves of Mt. McKinley is now hanging in the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. Called the spiritual home of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the center was launched by Jackson Hole resident John Turner and serves to educate federal and non-government policy makers and activists about conservation issues.

Former Jackson Hole residents Phil and Jean Hocker donated the pelt to the center after owning it for 25 years. They purchased it in 1979 at a fund-raising auction for the Teton Science School after Adolph Murie's widow, Louise Murie MacLeod, donated it to the educational institution.

"This is a magnificent wolf skin," Jean Hocker said during a trip to Jackson last week when she described the thick coat. Husband Phil said Murie's notes remain on the skin side: female, 87 pounds.

"This was a hungry wolf," Phil Hocker said, noting its huge size compared to its weight.

MacLeod said she had about eight hides from her late husband's work. "That was the prettiest of the bunch," she said. "He paid for the tanning himself, he figured he'd keep them."

MacLeod recalled keeping camp in a cabin in 1939 for her husband and their toddlers, Gail and Jan, as the biologist went off to document the complex role of predator and prey. Life was arduous.

"He said he carried enough water to do diapers that would stretch around the boundaries of McKinley National Park," MacLeod said.

Wolves were detested in those days, even by Park Service employees. "They've always been hated," MacLeod said. "At Mount McKinley National Park, the superintendent and staff back in those days were killing them. The chief ranger said the only good wolf was one nailed to the barn door."

Murie pushed science into the domain of fable, legend, myth and stereotype. He described the relationship between the maligned predator and its prey, documenting a diet that included not only the coveted big game of the Alaskan frontier, but lowly rodents as well.

"He was way ahead of his time," MacLeod said. Those who were interested "came to realize [wolves] had to eat too, just to survive. The thinking changed."

Murie was restless in his defense of the wolf. "He did a lot of proselytizing [to tourists] on the highway about how the boundaries of McKinley needed to be extended" for wolves, she said. "They needed more habitat."

Murie thought wolves would never be reestablished to the Yellowstone ecosystem. "Ade said it wouldn't work with the ranchers being so down on them," MacLeod said.

Today, wolf enthusiasts pay MacLeod homage, moved by her late husband's innovative thinking about predators. His work remains influential, the basis of a 2001 book Changing Tracks, Predators and Politics in Mt. McKinley National Park by Timothy Rawson.

Adolph Murie died in 1974 at age 75, but his wolf pelt will continue to inspire.
"It's a symbol of the wild wilderness," MacLeod said.
"That's what Ade always said."