One or Several Lobos? Uncovering the Wolves Behind the Legend

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This is the second post in the NiCHE series Animal Encounters, edited by Heather Green and Caroline Abbott. You can read all posts in this series here.

Lobo might be the most famous wolf in the world. A BBC David Attenborough documentary called him “Lobo: The Wolf That Changed America.”1 He was the subject of Walt Disney’s 1962 film, The Legend of Lobo. His story was retold in the 1960s Japanese manga series Seton’s Wild Animals, and in a 1990s anime TV series adaptation, Seton Animal Chronicles (シートン動物記 Shīton Dōbutsuki). In 2016, the British author and illustrator, William Grill, reignited Lobo’s legacy in the graphic novel, The Wolves of Currumpaw. For such a legendary animal, we must ask: was there one or several Lobos?

Fig. 1, left: Cover of Seton Animal Chronicles 1 (シートン動物記 1) (1987). Fig. 2, right: cover of The Wolves of Currumpaw (2016) by British artist, William Grill. The cultural appropriation in the cover design mirrors Seton’s own habit for adopting the ideas of Indigenous peoples.

In October 1893, the Canadian artist-naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton arrived in Clayton, New Mexico, to work as a bounty-hunter. He had planned to kill fifteen wolves but left before reaching his target. Seton learned that the local wolves were particularly assertive and difficult to kill. They escaped traps and avoided poisoned bait, all while killing cattle without being seen. Together, these wolves challenged Seton’s expectations and changed his thinking. During this time, he recorded every encounter in a journal, giving each animal a unique number. In 1894, after the death of a male wolf Seton had identified as #677, he stopped hunting wolves forever. Instead, he travelled to New York and wrote about his experience.

Published in Scribner’s Magazine in November 1894, Seton’s “The King of Currumpaw: A Wolf Story,” received worldwide attention.2 In 1898, Seton reprinted it as “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw” for the opening piece in his enormously popular first collection of short stories, Wild Animals I Have Known.3 Recognized as Seton’s most famous story, it is no exaggeration to say that Lobo changed his life. Afterwards, Seton became a famous writer, a vocal animal advocate, and an important figure in establishing early conservation laws in North America.

Wolf #677 has become synonymous with the character of Lobo. He was the last wolf Seton would ever hunt, and his death mirrors that of the Lobo in the story. Historian David L. Witt has transcribed relevant entries from Seton’s journal of the hunt.4 The entry for January 31st 1894 reads:

He was caught in 3 [traps] and had been in 4—he was unable to move at all—when I came near—he barked like a dog then broke into a prolonged howl […] we tied his mouth shut & carried him home—we staked him out for a decoy but he died in the evening. Why?

Witt, David L. 2010. Ernest Thompson Seton: The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist. Layton: Gibbs Smith.

Seton seems to have been troubled by the wolf’s death. As Witt observes, the “Why” in Seton’s journal appeared in “large letters” with “dark ink, hard-pressed by his hand.”5

Illustration of Blanca caught in a trap from “The King of Currumpaw: A Wolf Story” Scribner’s Magazine (November 1894) source:

However, the other wolves Seton encountered also left strong impressions. A male wolf that Seton identified in his journal as #653 had one leg held in an iron trap, yet managed to drag the attached forty pound log over 450 yards of rough terrain before it finally became stuck.6 Following the tracks, Seton discovered that the wolf’s companion had remained with him for almost the entire time. Separately, he recorded that #672, a white female wolf, had “cut off both our ropes with her teeth.”7 She could also “outrun a man” even with “two traps weighed [fifty two] lbs.” After killing #672, Seton wrote in his journal that her “mate came howling on the mesa— his calls repeated at intervals were most melancholy.”8 While looking for #672, this unidentified wolf also stepped in one of Seton’s traps but managed to escape.

“Only archive materials give any indication that there were several wolves behind the characters. In fact, multiple wolf skulls and skins have been tagged with their names.”

Candice Allmark-Kent

Seton built “The King of Currumpaw” on these experiences. He gave the story a tragic end by blending the behaviours of wolf #672, her mate, and wolf #677 with the loyalty and determination demonstrated by #653 and his faithful companion. In the story, when “Blanca” is killed and her mate Lobo comes looking for her, he does not escape the trap. Instead, he dies suddenly and without explanation, just like #677. Seton illustrated the story with reproductions of photographs he had taken of the wolves.9 Particularly distressing are the illustrations of Lobo and Blanca caught in their traps. Interestingly, Seton chose not to include these in Wild Animals I Have Known.

Illustration of Lobo caught from “The King of Currumpaw: A Wolf Story,” Scribner’s Magazine (November 1894) source:

Whether or not Seton believed that #677 and the mate of #672 were the same wolf, they both became Lobo in the story.10 In his autobiography, Trail of an Artist-Naturalist, Seton recounts the lupine details of his time in New Mexico with no divergence from the “Lobo” story. As a result, he does not refer to the different individual wolves identified in his journals — just the amalgamated characters of Lobo and Blanca.

Only archive materials give any indication that there were several wolves behind the characters. In fact, multiple wolf skulls and skins have been tagged with their names. Blog entries for the Seton Legacy Project website track Witt’s attempts to reconcile these artefacts with the wolves identified in Seton’s records.11 A skin tagged as wolf #655 but labelled as “Lobo” is on display in the Seton Memorial Library at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. But according to Witt, this skin does not match the photograph used for the “Lobo” story. Meanwhile, two wolf skulls, marked as #655 and #662, lie in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa with the names “Lobo” and “Blanca” respectively. Yet, the presumed identities of the ‘real’ Lobo and Blanca were #677 and #672.

Through history and legend, multiple wolves have merged into the characters of Lobo and Blanca, both in public imagination and in the historical archive. Yet these wolves whose skins and skulls are now on display were all real individuals who impressed upon Seton the power of their intelligence, autonomy, and the strength of their bonds. What they taught him changed his life and led to the creation of a new form of writing, the Canadian wild animal story, which advocated for animal protection, challenged predator stereotypes, and has changed the way we write about animals ever since.12 Ironically, through this blend of fact and fiction, the individual animal histories have been subsumed into the myth of Lobo and Blanca. Along the way, the specific identities of the real wolves Seton met in north-eastern New Mexico have been lost.


[1] Gooder, Steve, director. BBC Natural World. Season 26, episode 10, “Lobo: The Wolf That Changed America.” Narrated by David Attenborough. Aired April 2 2008.
[2] Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1894. “The King of Currumpaw: A Wolf Story.” Scribner’s Magazine. Vol. 16 No. 5 (November): 618-628.
[3] Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1898. Wild Animals I Have Known. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
[4]  Witt, David L. 2010. Ernest Thompson Seton: The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist. Layton: Gibbs Smith.
[5] Witt 2010, 35-6  
[6] Ibid., 30.
[7] Ibid., 33.
[8] Ibid.
[9] See PBS. 2010. “The Photographs and Artwork of Ernest Thompson October 8.
[10] Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1951. Trail of an Artist-Naturalist. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
[11] Witt, David L. 2018. Hunt for Lobo Part II. Ernest Thompson Seton. September 14.
[12] For more on Seton’s animal stories, his use of fact and fiction, and the history of animals in Canadian literature, see: Allmark-Kent, Candice. 2023. Literature, Science, and Animal Advocacy in Canada: Practical Zoocriticism. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Feature Image: Grey Mountains Under White Clouds and Blue Sky. Photographer: Raychel Sanner,
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Candice Allmark-Kent

Candice is an American-British independent scholar in the fields of literature and science, history, ecocriticism, and human-animal studies. She received her PhD in 2016 and expanded upon that research for her book Literature, Science, and Animal Advocacy in Canada. She studied at the University of Exeter in England and Carleton University in Canada. She has taught British, Irish, and North American literature and history. Her specialist expertise is the history of animals in Canadian literature, including the wild animal story and Nature Fakers controversy.

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