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Old Three Legs stalked children, drove farmers mad

Old Three Legs slaughtered livestock by the dozen, attacked people unfortunate enough to cross his path, and defied all efforts to kill him, according to information from the Becker County Historical Society. Ken Prentice thoroughly researched the great wolf and told of these stories and legends he had heard over the years:

• Terrified hunters and trappers occasionally came upon the renegade wolf face to face, and at other times observed from a distance as Old Three Legs would put a paw into a trap, spring it, withdraw the food, and then, trotting to the next trap, repeat the performance.

• The wolf took a terrible toll on livestock in Becker, Otter Tail, Clay, Mahnomen and Hubbard counties, seeming to kill for the sheer joy of it.

"When the wolf visited the homestead of Grover Amundson, he killed 40 sheep, one cow and one heifer, all in one night," Prentice wrote. "Mrs. Amundson was a frail, sickly woman and the neighbors always said that the shock of the loss was too much for her... she died less than four months later.

"Amundson sent his two small children to relatives in Minneapolis and then he, like many others before him, got on the trail of Old Three Legs. Weeks and months passed. His face became gaunt and hollow and his eyes took on a wild, staring look. He ignored farmers' pleas to give up the chase and eventually became insane."

A trapper, Oscar Nesbitt, found him frozen to death out on the trail. Nesbitt said that around the body were the tracks of Old Three Legs, come back to gloat over his long-time pursuer.

• Most wolves shy away from people, but not Old Three Legs.

Timmy and June Ystersund, children of Mr. And Mrs. Ole Ystersund, were attacked by the wolf on their way home from school. Their dog, Sport, a courageous Airedale, was torn to pieces by the wolf as he tried to defend the boy and girl. But he stopped Old Three Legs long enough to allow the children to get home safely.

• George Klemmer left his wife and mother in their log cabin in Itasca County one night to fetch a doctor who lived eight miles away. His wife was about to give birth two weeks early.

"George's mother assisted in the delivery a few hours after George had left," Prentice wrote, "and she had just swathed the infant in blankets when she heard a scratching at the door. She unbarred the door and almost fainted at the sight of a huge timber wolf, jaws agape, staring at her.

"Slamming the door and barring it, she leaned against it weak with terror. Then she heard the terrifying noise of the wolf as he lunged against the door in an attempt to crash it open.

She could now hear sniffing and scratching at crevices as the wolf circled the cabin. Finally, there was silence. She began washing the newborn infant -- when suddenly she heard the crash of breaking glass and at the same time, the blood-curdling scream of the young mother from her bed!

"The older woman turned around and there, through the broken glass of the window, was Old Three Legs, his face hideously distorted into a snarl, fangs bared and dripping, She ran to the gun rack, snatched George's shotgun, swung it around and fired at the wolf. Then she fainted. George and the doctor found her, still unconscious on the floor. But the wolf was gone; only his tracks were seen around the tiny cabin."

• Earl Ratcliffe was a teamster for the Duluth Logging Company and "about as rough and tough a character as you could find in the logging camps," Prentice wrote. "One day he was on his way back to camp with an empty sled drawn by two horses. He rounded a corner and came upon Old Three Legs beside the road, tearing at the flesh of a doe he had just killed.

"Although Ratcliffe stayed to the far edge of the road as he passed, the wolf leaped for the throat of the nearest horse! Luckily, as the horses bolted, the collar of the near one caught the wolf in mid-air and bolted him over in a swirl of snow. But he came right back and gave chase.

"Ratcliffe was unarmed, but now he picked up an axe handle and as the wolf leaped at him, diverted it with the crude weapon. In his excitement, he threw the handle at the wolf and missed.

Frightened, Ratcliffe yanked a heavy stake loose and grimly awaited another attack. The wolf, however, gave up the chase at this point and returned to the doe. When Ratcliffe reached camp, he rounded up a dozen men and guns and they went back, but the wolf was long gone."

• Two expert Indian trappers, John Red Blanket of Mahnomen and Jesse Mason of Red Lake, were brought in by the state to kill the wolf. After several long months, after which they had dozens of chances at the wolf, they eventually had to admit defeat.

"They told of how Old Three Legs suddenly appeared from nowhere and stood 50 feet in front of them," Prentice wrote. "Both men emptied their rifles at the beast, but the wolf never moved. The monster kind of grinned at them and then vanished right before their eyes. A 'spirit wolf,' they called him."

• The next expert the state brought in was Julius Skauge, a wolf hunter and professional trapper known to every rancher from the northern plains to the Mexican border, according to Prentice. He averaged $20,000 a year in those days just from his trapping.

"The famous trapper arrived in Detroit Lakes with nine hunting dogs, two tough western ponies, bag of traps and jars of poison. Refusing all offers of help, he said, "just show me where this varmint was last seen, and I'll do the rest!"

Weeks turned into months, and Skauge tried traps and poisons and every trick he knew. At the end he finally tried running down the beast with relays of ponies, men, and his pack of hounds. They pressed Old Three Legs for 13 days and nights, making frequent changes of fresh men and horses and hounds -- but old Three Legs was still going strong at the end of that time.

"For the first and only time in his career, Skauge was forced to admit defeat," Prentice wrote. "But he suggested the state hire the services of John Holtan of Lammers, Minn., who was an expert in snares, the one device that had not yet been tried on the beast.

"When Holtan arrived, he was just like the others. He set his snares with great care and then announced that Old Three Legs has less then seven days to live! But he, too, was forced to admit defeat and had to leave empty-handed after trying every trick he knew."