The Legend of
OLD RARIDAN

Ancient tales of those mysterious places where animals go to die have always intrigued the “highest” animal of all.  Whether it is the  “elephants graveyard” or the dying place of the bison, men for centuries have searched for the one spot within each region toward which old and wounded beasts struggle, driven by some instinctual urge during their final days.  Do such places actually exist? Or are they solely mythical?

 

In Southern Ohio, somewhere within present day Jackson and Pike counties, old-timers will tell you there was such a graveyard for the magnificent gray wolf. It’s name was originally “Great Buzzard’s Rock”, but later generations knew it simply as “Big Rock”.

The earliest explorers found this high granite, flat topped hill a dying place of wolves. Bones of hundreds of the animals lay strewn on it’s surface.  Buzzards floated in the skies above, waiting for new arrivals.

Until the end of the Revolutionary war, wolves in the region were of little concern to man.  There were few people, and the occasional explorer shot a wolf only when it posed a threat.  All that changed, however as civilization edged westward.  Pioneers began pushing into the fertile Ohio River Valley, bringing livestock and villages with them.  Wolves had no place in the frontier settlement.

For one thing, they began to prey on livestock as pioneers killed deer for meat, diminishing the herds that were the wolves' source of food.  Countering these depredations, settlers started slaughtering wolves whenever and wherever they could.  Every new settlement pushed the wolves farther west.

Each Wolf pack had it’s own leader.  In about 1796, settlers began to notice that one pack of several dozen wolves followed a magnificent gray wolf.  They called him Old Raridan, the king of wolves.

How he got his name isn’t known.  Only that this awesome beast, larger and more powerful than his comrades, often prowled in the distance after wolves had killed a farm animal.  He knew what the hunters guns could do and always kept himself out of range.

To avenge the increasingly frequent raids by Old Raridan’s pack, groups of a dozen or more pioneers would set off after him, their hounds baying in pursuit.  Although many wolves and hounds were slain, Old Raridan always eluded capture.  His fatally wounded followers made their painful way to Big Rock to die.

Not even the bravest farmer dared follow a dying wolf to that strange and haunted dying place.  Nor would a tracking hound approach it.

As the fame of Old Raridan grew, so did the number of hunters seeking to put an end to his murderous ways.  His time was running out.  Every man wanted to be known as the one who killed the King of the Wolves.

At last only a few tough old wolves survived among the Old Raridan and his mate.  The bones of their followers littered Big Rock.  Then, sometime in 1801, word spread through the Ohio Valley that only Old Raridan and his mate still lived.  Hatred for the old wolf fanned over many years became a fury so intense that even the godly preachers prayed for his death.  People talked of little else.  Even women and children took part in the feverish search for Old Raridan.

Vastly outnumbered, Raridan found even his skill and cunning, learned through hundreds of battles, could not save him.  An army of men with dozens of hounds now stalked the woods, searching him out.

And then it happened.  Hunters cornered the king and his mate in some low hills near the Ohio River.  The wolves killed several hounds , but in the process the she-wolf was wounded.  Old Raridan would not leave her.  Instead, they turned in the direction of Big Rock.

The hounds held to the trail as the daylong hunt wore on.  For every wound the hounds inflicted, one of their numbers lost his life.

Just a mile from Big Rock, the hounds encircled the pair.  Old Raridan let out a howl that froze the marrow in the pursuing hunters' bones, and then he rushed the dogs.

The fight was merciless. Old Raridan, protecting his mortally wounded mate, slashed in fury, moving inch by bloody inch to the foot of the trail leading to Big Rocks' summit.  Then the baying hounds, through some instinctual fear or compassion fell back.

Suddenly a shot rang out.  The she-wolf dropped a bullet in her heart.  A second shot: Old Raridan’s right hip exploded in a sickening shower of flesh and bone.  The warrior staggered towards his companion, his life flowing from a dozen wounds.

He raised his ragged gray head, once majestic and unbowed, now a mass of bloody fur, and surveyed the men who had destroyed his empire.  His stare became a final challenge.  “Here I am” he seemed to say. “Take me”.

Not more than fifty paces distant, the hunters could easily have finished off their quarry. Yet each stood welded to the earth, weapons stilled.

The old wolf turned toward the trail.  Though it disappeared into heavy brush, he knew his destination was close.  “Ooooowwwwwwhhhoooo!” Old Raridan raised his voice in one last cry. From the top of Big Rock floated an answer, almost an echo, yet more ethereal. It seemed to give the old wolf new energy for he gently fastened his powerful jaws around the nape of his mate’s neck and began to drag her up the trail…the dying place of the wolves.

What is known of Old Raridan’s final battle is based on legend.  No hunters ever spoke on the record about their experiences that day.  It is doubtful that anyone would have believed the tale.  Something beyond human understanding had taken place in the wilderness.

Old Raridan is more than a folktale to many who have seen his specter prowling his old forest kingdom.  When the moon is full, his awesome cry still drifts with the wind across Big Rock.  And on it’s summit, the shadow form of the giant beast stands proud against the darkening sky.