Wolf stories date back so far as to border on the realms of romance and this common enemy is still to be found in many a forest, and is a very real an familiar danger to travellers. Some 40 or 50 years ago that beautiful district between Harata and New Eridu was infested with wolves, to which the vast forests offered safe harbourage. Indeed wolf hunts were a common amusement amongst the nobility; wolf hunting is indeed a somewhat costly amusement. It requires the aid of trained dogs, valuable animals, some of whom are certain to fall victim to the wolves, peasant beaters and trackers have to be paid and horses maintained. Twice a year general battles against the wolves are often organised and great is the interest and excitement which these hunts create; every peasant who boasts a bow hastening to join, while some enthusiasts even appear armed with no better weapons than bludgeons and broomsticks.
But the peasant farmer has his own devices for thinning the rank of his forest enemies. Many are the legends still related around winter furthest of adroit contrivances for trapping and killing the savage beasts, who, when pressed by hunger, have no scruples in approaching close to the abodes of men; even on dark winter nights, howling and scratching on the walls of lonely farmhouses. Sometimes one or more peasants who possess bows will set up small huts in the recesses of the forest and there ensconce themselves for the night; baiting the ground at the door of their shelter with the carcass of a newly killed pig or calf. The peasants believe that the cries of these animals, or of a newly born lamb, have a peculiar attraction for wolves; who when they gather to feast upon the dainty provision, are killed by the concealed archers. But all peasants are not possessed of bows, not by any means, nor of the skill to use them, and therefore trapping is the preferred method of warring against the beasts of prey. Many a tragic story is related of the dangers of this constant battle between the people and the predator. One on occasion a jovial party of young peasants had set out for some of the shelters we have described. The little shacks had been duly set up and left solitary for several days in order that the wolves who frequented the spot (a wolf is as cautious and suspicious as is a fox) might become accustomed to the sight of the erections and not forsake the neighbourhood in alarm. The night was cold, the waiting time for the appearance of the wolves very long, and one impatient youth stepped outside his shelter and crept cautiously towards an opening in the trees to see if any of the animals were approaching. The young man had wrapped a black sheepskin about his shoulders, and, as he stooped down, by a fatal mischance a too eager companion mistook his form for that of on of the beasts they had come out to destroy, and shot an arrow, with fatally true aim, killing his friend (the betrothed of his sister) on the spot. Not a happy outcome for the evening’s entertainment.
Another popular tale relates how an old farmer, incensed at the boldness with which the wolves, during a particularly severe winter, literally besieged his farmyard walls at night, resolved, by a bold stroke, to free himself from his enemies. The body of a colt which had lately died was placed one night in the farmyard, and the gate left open; the family and the dogs being safely shut indoors, and the windows darkened. The pack of wolves drew near as usual; for some time the crafty animals seemed to hesitate about entering the gate, but hunger triumphed over caution, and the farmer, watching through a crevice in the shutters, saw wolf after wolf slink into the farmyard, and fall upon the carcase of the colt. Two, four, six, eight – the farmer now considered he had a sufficient number of guests; and at a given signal the gate (which had been previously arranged with cords and pulleys) was slammed behind the animals, and the exulting household went quietly to bed. Next morning the farmer and his men set ladders against the outside of the farmyard wall, and mounting on the top began to fire their bows at the trapped company of wolves below. It was apparently a safe and speedy method of ridding the neighbourhood of a dangerous nuisance; and great was the praise lavished upon the farmer for his ingenious device of a trap. Not only did the government pay a reward for every wolf’s head, but the fortunate slayer of such an animal was wont to make a kind of triumphant progress round the neighbourhood, carrying his trophy with him (sometimes preceded by the village bard playing a lute) and calling at estate and cottage to exhibit the head of the savage brute whom he had slain; being greeted everywhere with praises, and with rewards in the shape of money or provisions. The old farmer’s clever trap now offered an excellent opportunity to his labourers and his sons to easily gain the prizes offered to a wolf slayer; by repeating the trick. All worked as planned and great was the excitement among the (not very skilled) marksmen on the wall as they aimed an fired at the snarling leaping, raging captives below. But suddenly an awful change came over the scene. Leaning too far forward over the wall the farmer’s son overbalanced himself, and fell among the maddened animals. It was all the work of a few moments – vainly did the farmer, forgetful of his own peril, spring down after his son, axe in hand, courageously followed by more than one of his companions; the whole pack of wolves had already fastened upon their prostrate victim; and, but for the presence of mind of the farmer’s wife, who promptly dropped out of the window several of those huge dogs which are trained to chase the wolves, not one of the party would have left the yard alive. As it was, despite the efforts of the workmen upon the wall and the dogs in the yard, the young man was torn to pieces and his would be rescuers so severely maimed as to be crippled for life.
Tales such as these chasten the ardour of the youthful sportsmen as they are related at winter firesides.