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Tales from the Old West - March 10, 2017

A woodcut image of the rabid wolf during its attack on Lt. Thompson in Fort Larned on August 5, 1868. (Public Domain)

Q: Just outside of Larned, Kansas, is one of the best-preserved military forts from the Indian Wars period of American history. Surprisingly, Fort Larned itself was never attacked by Native Americans. It was, however, attacked by an animal. What animal went on a rampage through Fort Larned in 1868, biting a half-dozen people and killing one soldier?

A: A wolf, more specifically, a rabid wolf
The Old West was often a lawless and violent place. But it wasn’t just people killing people on the High Plains. Sometimes, settlers and soldiers had to fend off animal attacks. Such was the case at Fort Larned on August 5, 1868. That’s when a rabid wolf went on a rampage through the fort. 
This was not the only time wolves attacked the fort but it was the most serious and deadly attack for which there are records. A few days after the attack, Captain Albert Barnitz of the 7th US Cavalry, recorded his memory of the incident. He wrote that a very large grey wolf entered the post and bit several soldiers and one woman living at the fort. Corporal Michael McGillicuddy was in a hospital bed when he was bitten on the hand. He refused to have his wounded finger amputated. He later died of rabies.
There's an old expression that goes something like this: the wolf is always at the door. The co-founder of the Eagles, Don Henley, even sang about it. But perhaps in the 1860s, at least at Fort Larned, this wasn't just an expression. It was a reality.

Learn more or plan your own visit to Fort Larned by clicking here.  And if you go, be alert!


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