This is the first in a new occasional series of stories for our monthly History page. Called "A Closer Look," the series will spotlight some of the unique and interesting exhibits on permanent display at the Becker County Museum.
Say what you will about Old Three Legs, but that tricky beast was a survivor.
The tough timber wolf roamed central Northwestern Minnesota from about 1918 to 1926, managing to elude the best of hunters for years, even with a bounty on his head.
A lone wolf who traveled without a pack, he ruled the countryside; an outlaw that went wherever he felt like going and ate whatever he felt like eating. Valuable cows, sheep, chickens and even full-grown horses were a regular part of his diet, much to the ire of area farmers and other settlers. He made quite a name for himself as a fearsome menace.
The name people know him by today was hard-earned: Old Three Legs didn't always have just three legs. Before he uncharacteristically slipped up and stepped into a farmer's trap, the wolf had a full set of four. Not one to just roll over and accept his fate, he gnawed off his own left front paw to escape.
After that, Old Three Legs became something of a legend. His tracks-or the animal himself-were spotted around Becker, Clay, Otter Tail and Itasca counties, causing an uproar every time. Locals mercilessly hunted him, but he proved too clever to be caught.
According to a Becker County Museum brochure about Old Three Legs, the wolf became so infamous that the State of Minnesota put a bounty on his head, and hired a team of professional trackers and hunters to take him down. Still, he continued to elude everyone. After more than a year of trying, the hired men gave up the chase.
In the end, it was a group of local deer hunters who ended Old Three Legs' reign. In November of 1926, Fred Darkow and his hunting party spotted the wolf as he was chasing down a doe, and shot him dead. The kill made headlines.
Old Three Legs was preserved and put on display so his legend could go on. He was eventually donated to the Becker County Museum, where he is now a part of the permanent collection.
For more information, and to see Old Three Legs in the (preserved) flesh, visit the museum at 714 Summit Avenue in Detroit Lakes or go online to beckercountyhistory.org.