Ben Corbin (1835-1912) was known as the “champion wolf hunter of the Northwest.” Others called him “Ben, the Boss Wolf Hunter.” Some referred to him as a “wolf charmer,” but there was nothing charming or disarming about how Ben Corbin sought to exterminate all wolves in North Dakota or how he relentlessly pursued wolves. In his lifetime, he claimed to “have caught and killed over 4,000 wolves.”
It was on this date in 1900 that Ben Corbin’s book on “wolfology” was ready to be released. The title revealed its content: “Corbin’s Advice; or the Wolf Hunter’s Guide.” The cloth-bound pocket edition sold for one dollar and, in it, Corbin told “how to locate, catch, and kill wolves wherever found.” As the Bismarck Tribune tartly commented: “No author on the [Missouri] Slope ever published such an interesting book before. Corbin knows all about wolves and he tells more than he knows in his book . . . any hunter who has a copy of this book in his pocket can stop a wolf.”
Corbin had “made wolves a life study,” and reportedly knew “things not supposed to be known outside of their hole in the ground.” He insisted that governments pay a “generous bounty” to wolf hunters and trappers in order to limit the predator’s numbers. When there was no bounty or low bounties, wolves proliferated.
Corbin, who lived in the village of Glencoe in Emmons County, near Linton, lobbied the legislature constantly concerning wolf-bounties. The definition of wolves at that time included coyotes, called “prairie wolves,” and larger gray wolves, including “buffalo wolves,” that had once lived on bison. After the passing of the bison, in 1883, the wolves preyed on livestock.
To prevent losses of calves, lambs, colts, pigs and poultry, Ben Corbin made it his mission to eliminate the “ravenous beasts.” His “Wolf Hunter’s Guide” revealed his secret methods, shocking to modern sensibilities, for he caught wolves with bait and hooks on steel lines. Disdaining poison, Corbin also told how to best use guns and traps to kill the cunning predators.
Corbin died in 1912, at age 77, in obscurity. But, because Corbin published his 1900 book, this plain blunt man of little formal learning, has been reviled in later history books as a wolf exterminator. Others, however, acknowledged the “champion wolf hunter” to have been “one of the most remarkable characters” in North Dakota’s history.
written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “Ben Corbin’s Pocket Edition,” Bismarck Tribune, June 11, 1900, p. 3.
“Uncle Ben Corbin,” Bismarck Tribune, June 20, 1900, p. 3.
“Pierce on Ben Corbin,” Bismarck Daily Tribune, March 2, 1901, p. 3.
Advertisement, “Expert Wolf Hunting,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 13, 1899, p. 8.
“Ben Corbin,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 5, 1899, p. 1.
“The Herald acknowledges receipt,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, September 14, 1900, p. 4.
“The Passing Of Ben Corbin,” Bismarck Tribune, May 24, 1912, p. 3.
“The Gray Wolf,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 20, 1893, p. 2.
Benjamin Corbin, Corbin’s Advice; Or The Wolf Hunter’s Guide (Bismarck: Tribune Company, Printers, 1900), p. 5, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 19, 46-47.