One winter day in the ’70s, Floyd Kaiser and Willis Smith came over to cut
wood with Chub. We were eating lunch when I asked, “Has anybody seen Rosie?
She didn’t go to the woods with you men, did she?” No, they said. “She
barked at me when I drove in,” one man said. I left the table to call and
whistle for her, but she didn’t come running around the house as usual.
Later I called the neighbors, but no one had seen her. By late afternoon she
had not returned, and I drove the country roads looking for her. Near dark,
Chub and I drove over the snowy white pastures, near enough to see that Rosie,
a large black dog, wasn’t in one of them.
We asked Denny to trap here because coyotes become a threat to livestock
during the coldest part of the winter when their natural food is scarce. Denny
is our close friend, a responsible trapper. After dark I remembered that he
had placed an additional trap, a few days before. I called him and said, “Old
Rosie has been missing since midmorning, and we’ve checked your other traps,
but where is the new one set?” He said, “Over in the northeast corner of the
farm.” We hadn’t been near that.
I opened the gate while Chub brought the truck, and away we went. When we got
to the top of the hill behind the pond we saw two eyes reflecting and bounding
up and down. Old Rosie was alive, and she knew we had found her. Why could she
jump around like that and still be that held in that heavy coyote trap?
I grabbed the big dog and held tight. “Hold still, Rosie, we’re going to get
you out,” I said, but she kept jumping. Chub was trying to get the heavy
steel trap in position to step on it and release the dog. Misty wasn’t about
to calm down. The trap flopped around as she licked me and kept jumping. Chub
kept turning and twisting to get the trap in position to release her and
suddenly he said, “Oh! I’ve got a leg cramp!” I couldn’t have sprung the
trap even with no dog in it. By the time Rosie calmed down a bit, Chub had a
cramp in both legs!
I don’t know how we got out of that mess, but we did. Coyotes, small prairie
wolves, are wild members of the dog family. Rosie had smelled the strong scent
on the flat round pan that triggers the trap when touched. She must have pawed
at the bait because the trap caught just beyond her toes. She limped a little
for the next two or three days.
Denny always ran his traps about daybreak. He stopped one morning when there
was new snow on the ground and said, “You just must drive down to that bottom
land and see where the coyotes have been playing ‘fox and geese.’*” Chub and
I drove down and, sure enough, they had tramped out a huge circle and crossed
it with several “spokes” like we do for the tag game we play in snow. The
fox tries to tag the geese and, if tagged, the goose becomes the fox. No one
can get off the wheel pattern, and the geese are safe when they’re in the
“nest” where spokes cross.
The coyotes had spokes crossing the circle, but there was no sign of a nest.
There were not many other tracks disturbing the white blanket of snow, except
where the coyotes had played the game. We learned this game from Indians.
Perhaps they learned it from coyotes playing in snow? In our very own pasture?
This thought gives me a new feeling about these prairie wolves!