Midweek Writer-Rummage: Children Raised by Wolves

While ‘Moon Goddess’ features wolves, the story itself doesn’t include feral children.  I’ve always been fascinated by stories of children raised by animals, especially wolves.  And there are loads of supposed real-life stories of such children, the most famous surely being that of Romulus and Remus. 

'Romulus and Remus' ~ Peter Paul Rubens (1615-16)

I remember reading about the 2 little girls in India, Kamala and Amala, supposedly raised by wolves.  The grainy, black-and-white pictures seemed to add to the authenticity.  But, according to research carried out by a French surgeon, Serge roles, documented in his book ‘L’Enigme des enfants-loup’ (Enigma of the Wolf-Children, 2007), the case is nothing but a hoax.  Apparently, it was more likely that the girls had had congenital defects.

However, there’s another, older account of a wolf-boy from India that seems to be true.  In 1867, hunters came across what they thought was a strange-looking wild animal living with a pack of wolves in a cave in Bulandshahr District, in Uttar Pradesh, northern India.  Imagine their astonishment when the ‘animal’ turned out to be a little boy, about 6 years old.

It seems that he must have been living in the wilderness for most of his young life; his survival was attributed to being with the pack of wolves.  The hunters took the boy to the Sikandra Mission Orphanage in Agra, also in Uttar Pradesh, where he spent a considerable time running around on all fours, repeatedly tearing off his clothes.  He was given the name Dina Sanichar, and the missionaries tried to rehabilitate him over several years.  

Dina Sanichar

Although he preferred to gnaw on bones and eat raw meat, in time he started to eat cooked meat.  But he never learned to talk, probably because he’d spent his formative years in the wild, with only animals for company.  He died in 1895.  There are those who wonder if his story inspired the character of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’, which was published in 1894.

I thought that was quite an intriguing story in itself until I read the one about the Wolf-Girl of Devil’s River.  I first came across it in Barry Lopez’s ‘Of Wolves and Men’, and hunted around to find out more.

The story starts in 1835, near the Devil’s River, which empties into the Rio Grande.  

(1908 postcard)

Living nearby was a trapper, John Dent, who was on the run from the law for killing his former partner.  With him was his pregnant lover, Mollie Pertul.  

The night Mollie went into labour, there was a ferocious thunderstorm.  As Mollie struggled with the difficult labour, John decided to ride for help.  By the time he got to a Mexican goat ranch, the storm had intensified.  The Mexican couple agreed to help him but, before they could leave, a bolt of lightning struck John, instantly killing him.

The Mexicans followed the directions John had given them as best they could, but it was sunrise before they located the cabin.  Unfortunately, Mollie was dead; she had died in childbirth.  Of the baby, there was no sign.  Their search revealed nothing but wolf tracks; they naturally assumed the baby had either been devoured or carried off by wolves.

Ten years later, reports surfaced of a strange creature running with the local wolf pack.  A boy living at San Felipe Springs reported seeing “ a creature, with long hair covering its features, that looked like a naked girl”; she and several wolves were attacking a herd of goats.  Seminole scouts from Fort Clark claimed to have found human hand and footprints mixed with wolf tracks.

Hunters eventually found the lobo girl.  They shot the large wolf she was with, which seemed to be protecting her, and, despite her biting and clawing and snarling, they managed to capture her.  Taken to a ranch, she was confined to a small room where she cowered in the shadows, snarling at anyone who entered.  As night fell, she set up a horrific howling, a mixture of human and animal sounds.  Her calls were answered as first one wolf howled then more and more.  Soon, a large pack had converged on the small ranch and began attacking the farm animals.  The ranchers managed to drive the wolves off but, in the confusion, the girl escaped.  Subsequent searches proved unsuccessful.

In time, the story of the lobo girl faded.  Until 1852.  A party of explorers scouting along the Rio Grande spied a naked girl nursing 2 wolf pups.  When she saw the men, she leapt to her feet, grabbed the pups and ran into the wilderness.  She was never seen again.

(desert usa)

True or not, I think that’s a great story in itself.  A strange little footnote – before eloping with John Dent, Mollie had sent a letter to her father; he received it 6 months afterwards, making him believe his daughter was still in Texas.  All Mollie had written was:

The Devil has a river in Texas that is all his own and it is made only for those who are grown.  Yours with love, Mollie.” 

I wonder what she meant …