Gray Wolf

By: James I. Fenton

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1995

The gray wolf (Canis lupus), popularly called the "loafer" or the "lobo," once flourished in Texas but is now practically extinct there. The male of this large, doglike carnivore weighs some 130 pounds and reaches six feet from tail-tip to nose. The gray wolf is an intelligent social animal with powerful jaws and a distinctive mournful howl. Its young are born in late winter in litters of five to fourteen, after a sixty-three-day gestation period. The lobo typically dens in a crevice of a rocky bluff; the rugged eastern edge of the Llano Estacado afforded a favorite location. The geographical range of the gray wolf was confined to South and West Texas, southeast New Mexico, and northeast Mexico. The lobo, styled the marathon runner of Texas fauna, can reach speeds of twenty-two to twenty-eight miles an hour for the first two miles, and thereafter trot at eleven or twelve miles an hour for the next five to eight miles. Thus it can outrun its prey in an extended chase.

The gray wolf eats animals ranging from mice to cows and spends around one-third of its time in search of food. It becomes engorged by eating a fifth of its weight at a single meal, then goes three or four days without food. Though it usually runs in packs, pioneer Texans also noted that the lobo hunts in pairs. The female snaps at a cow's nose, while the male watches for an opportunity to dart in and sever the victim's hamstring. Because the gray wolf often eats its victims alive, one stockman called it the "cruelest predator." In the 1880s in Dakota country, Theodore Roosevelt called it the "beast of waste and desolation."

It has been argued that the lobo's impact on the frontier range was a good one because it reduced the numbers of old, weak, and infirm animals. This view was likely true when the lobo's main prey was the buffalo. By the late 1870s, after hide-hunters had reduced the southern buffalo herd to near extinction, stockmen introduced herds of the domestic cow. The lobo's role then changed dramatically. The wolf apparently liked the best available cows as well as the sick ones. Stockmen complained bitterly. It was not unusual for a rancher to find a prime cow missing ten pounds of flesh from a rear loin. Furthermore, the wolf had a reputation for blatant overkill; once, eight cows were found dead or dying, and evidence suggested that a single wolf had been there. Recent books have confirmed that the lobo killed beyond its needs.

During the late 1800s the lobo inflicted substantial damage on the cattle industry in Texas. Ranches in the Llano Estacado, the last haven in Texas for the wolf, reported losses from twenty to seventy-five cattle annually. Frank Collinson, an Englishman who ranched there, hysterically predicted that the lobo would "kill all the cattle in the Panhandle if something [was] not done." Stockmen waged a lengthy and costly campaign to rid Texas of the lobo wolf. Ranch owners, the Cattlemen's Association (see TEXAS AND SOUTHWESTERN CATTLE RAISERS ASSOCIATION), as well as county and state governments, offered bounties for wolves killed. The bounties averaged five dollars; as much as fifty dollars was offered for especially destructive wolves. But the bounties drained county finances. In the early 1890s the state government paid bounties on 50,000 wolves, many of which were lobos. Wolf hunters poisoned wolves, trapped them, ran them down on horseback with the help of dogs, and dug them from dens with their puppies. Since wolves quickly learned to avoid traps and poisoned carcasses, rooting the predator and its young from the dens was the most effective method of hunting. Many ranchers kept packs of dogs that helped to keep the lobo away from their herds. By 1920 the systematic killing of the lobo and destruction of its habitat by farmers had essentially eradicated it from Texas. Yet reports occasionally mention rare crossings of gray wolves from Mexico northward into the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, where two were shot in 1970.

Cecil Bonney, Looking over My Shoulder: Seventy-five Years in the Pecos Valley, ed. Frances L. Fugate (Roswell, New Mexico: Hall-Poorbaugh Press, 1971). Barry Holstun Lopez, Of Wolves and Men (New York: Scribner, 1978). Stanley P. Young and Edward A. Goldman, The Wolves of North America, Vol. 1 (New York: Dover, 1944).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James I. Fenton, “Gray Wolf,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995