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The Gray Wolf

In 1891 the New Ulm Weekly reported that wolves had become troublesome. Sheep owners were especially concerned. On this date in 1899, the Oakes Republican reported the sighting of a gray wolf north of the Great Northern railway line. A party of men out with their dogs spotted the wolf and took up the chase, which kept up until the wolf reached the river. The dogs lost time in the crossing, but the wolf didn’t. At that point the men cut their losses, admitting that the wolf had outsmarted them.

At one time wolves were common in North Dakota. The gray wolf was also known as the plains wolf and the buffalo wolf. They had ranged across the entire North American continent with numbers estimated at two million. Humans nearly exterminated them, with trapping, shooting, and poisoning subsidized by the government. In 1907 the North Dakota legislature paid two dollars per wolf. As late as 1923 South Dakota’s wolf bounty was higher than North Dakota’s, so some hunters took their North Dakota wolves to South Dakota to claim the higher bounty. Other hunters killed the youngest and oldest ones, but left the breeding wolves. That way hunters were assured that there would continue to be a wolf population to keep the bounties coming.

By the 1960s there were only a few gray wolves left in northern Minnesota and in Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. After becoming federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. While it remains controversial, the wolves have improved the environment by keeping elk herds on the move, so they don’t overgraze areas. This has led to an increased beaver population, which in turn has improved rivers and streams.

Although the wolves are generally gray, the coloring can range from pure white to completely black. Wolf packs generally claim a home range of thirty to fifty square miles. They hunt deer, elk, and small animals like beaver. A wolf pack can even take down an adult bison. Today gray wolves are known as an incidental species in North Dakota. There are occasional sightings, but no known breeding population.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Oakes Republican. “Ludden.” Oakes ND. 3/3/1899. Page 1.

New Ulm Weekly. “North Dakota.” New Ulm MN. 12/2/1891. Page 2.

Bismarck Tribune. “In Legislative Halls.” Bismarck ND. 1/9/23. Page 2.

North Dakota Game Fish. “Gray Wolf.”  Accessed 2/1/2020.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Gray Wolf.”  Accessed 2/1/2020.

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