Skater tricks wolves – 120 years ago
Editor’s Note: Leadville Chronicle writer and editor Orth Stein penned the following story during December 1882, alarming area ranchers as to the possibility of wolves plying the Lake Co. area. In this episode, an ice skater in the southern part of the county told of his narrow escape from Mother Nature’s more ferocious side.
A skater on Twin Lakes is closely pursued
by a pack of these brutes
Narrowly escaped by his skill,
and the howling fiends trapped
Wilson Henkel arrived here from Twin Lakes last evening, and tells a remarkable story of adventure to himself on the evening of the 23rd instant. He is a miner and prospector, and being in the employ of a good company, is better equipped with the needful than most of the boys.
During the past summer, he has been working in the Gunnison country, and on coming back from there about a week ago, he took a notion to see the Twin Lakes, although this is certainly not the season for seeing them to advantage.
The following is his story, as told last night to a reporter:
“I had been up there, stopping at Dean’s [Hotel] for a couple of days. I judge the summer season is rather more pleasant at the lakes than the winter. The amusements up there are not such as are calculated to make a man wildly hilarious, though I managed to pass my time very pleasantly.
“I watched Dean making boats; I gathered information in regard to the locality, and I skated. There is not normally any skating there to amount to much, but this year has been an exception. All the snow that has fallen since the ice formed has blown off, and the lakes are covered with a coating as smooth and bright as a mirror, except where the trees or bluff have kept off the wind, and at such points, the snow banks extend out on the lake, gradually becoming narrower and lower till they give way to clear ice.”
“On Saturday evening I started for a turn on the large lake. It was lovely. Moonlight on the water is beautiful, but moonlight on the ice with surroundings of picturesque scenery, in the clearness of the mountain tops, is superb. It is beyond my power of description. One must see it to appreciate it.
“I skated along down towards the east end of the lake, and when near the outlet, I stopped to fix a strap. After fixing it, I waited a few minutes looking at the beauty of the sight. I was close to the shore, sitting on a log frozen in the ice. About fifty yards from me was a little point turning into the lake. As I glanced at it, I saw an animal appear–then another–and another, until there were eight standing there in the moonlight. They were wolves. I was rather uneasy, but I could not help admiring them as they stood in shaggy gauntness.
“They had scented me. I did not move. They commenced moving toward me stealthily. I got up and they started off. Then they broke out in a chorus of yelps, and followed after. I did not apprehend any danger at first, for I am a good skater and do not tire easily, but as we went on, they seemed to gain an impetus that I did not, and I realized they were gaining on me. It is needless to say, I exerted myself to the utmost. Still they gained. It was horrible. Do you know, the most peculiar thing of it all was two lines of poetry I had read somewhere, about the wolf. They are:
“With its long gallop, that can tire,
The hounds deep hate the hunters.’
“These lines rang through my brain again and again. They would tire me too, if they did not overtake me first. A certain death was on my track. It would follow me relentlessly and untiringly. There was no escape. Still I went on, straining every nerve. Just ahead of me came one of these points of snow which were made by sheltering trees and bluffs, as I told you. The pack was close to me. I turned sharply to the left to avoid the point of snow. They could not turn. The best they could do was to slide with stiffened legs, trying to stop, but the impetus they had acquired took them skimming over the ice till they stopped in a snow bank.”
Coup de grace
“With howls of rage and disappointment, they recovered themselves and started after me again. I had a good start on them and, what is more, I had recovered my nerve. I knew I was safe. The turn had taught me how I might avoid them. I noticed then the cold sweat on my forehead, and I wiped it away with a feeling of congratulations, as I thought how I had missed a terrible death by coming up to the snow bank. The wolves gained once more, and I gradually warmed up to my full speed, and then, turning, let them slide past me again away over the smooth surface, until they were able to gain command of themselves and turn around. I laughed as I watched them skimming helplessly along with their horrid howls of baffled expectation. I kept my general direction toward Dean’s.
“Presently, the idea of revenge occurred to me. I would pay these shaggy, white-haired fellows off for the scare they had given me. (The Twin Lakes) had been cutting ice that day in front of the hotel. There was a place ten or fifteen yards square, over which the ice would not have formed over an inch in thickness. I would let the wolves slide into that. I made my way to it, tracking occasionally as they came too close for comfort. Finally, I was near enough to the hole to make my venture, and I went straight at it on a long stretch, and gave them a good opportunity to get full headway. They were within ten yards of me as I swung to avoid the hole, and they went floundering all in a heap into the icy water for the thin scum of ice did not support them for a second.
“Five of them never came to the surface. The shock of the chilly water to their heated bodies took them out of their earthly careers very quickly. The remaining three struggled to get out, but the thin ice broke under them, and when they reached the thick ice, I beat them back with a pole I had and they soon disappeared forever. Then I bethought myself that I was foolish for not managing to secure at least one of the skins for a trophy, but it was too late and I bid them good night in the bottom of the lake.”