Where the Wild Dogs Roamed

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Modern day Inwood is likely the most dog friendly neighborhood in all of Manhattan.  But, there was a time when man’s best friend instilled terror in the hearts of the few residents of northern Manhattan.   Below is a 1919 account of the hunt for a pack of wild dogs and a young boy who unwittingly set foot in their den:

Wild Dogs Headline, The Sun June 16, 1919
Wild Dogs Headline, The Sun June 16, 1919

“It was on Saturday afternoon that Jimmy Gail made his thrilling discovery, stumbling into the lair of the wild dogs that have coursed at night, savage and fierce tongued, over the great sweep of ravines and hills and forests rising northward between the ramparts of the Hudson and Broadway from 181st street to the rock pinnacle which juts out over Inwood Valley on a line with 202nd street.

That was forty-odd hours ago, but the widely separated residents of the Rockefeller Park and the former Bennett estate, who know what it is to leap from bed in the middle of a bitter winter’s night to fire vainly at gray wolves marauding in the heart of New York City, were still talking yesterday about Jimmy’s adventure, hoping that it means the end of probably the most extraordinary plague of wild beasts that a city ever knew.

Sculptor George Grey Barnard

The whole district, which is roughly a mile long and from a quarter to half a mile wide, is the wildest and most naturally beautiful in all New York and above 188th street, as one approaches the studio of George Grey Barnard, the Cloisters, and the Sacred Heart School, on the other side of Fort Washington Avenue, there are scarcely a dozen houses in the primitive expanse.

Tryon Tower, on the site of the old Fort Tryon, the former mansion of C.K.G. Billings, overlooks the tract of wild land, and still further north, hidden among the gigantic boulders and the tall trees, is Hill Cottage, the country home of G. Axson Jones, manager of the Harlem branch of the United States Mortgage and Trust Company; the Abbey Inn, overlooking the Hudson at 200th street, and finally, on the pinnacle overlooking Dyckman street and the Inwood Gorge, are the greenhouses of A.N. Kinney, Captain, U.S.N. retired. And among these few and far separated houses are woods and gullies and cliffs as rude and untamed as northern Maine or the Adirondacks, alive with small game and a happy hunting ground for dogs gone wild and reverted to savagery.

VEXED AND OFTEN ALARMED

Sculptor Barnard, Mr. Jones, Capt. Kinney and others living in the tract have been vexed and often alarmed by the night prowlings of the pack whose long hidden den was found on Saturday by Jimmy Gail, and they long ago lost count of the blue ribbon chickens and prize ducks, not to mention pet dogs and cats, and even a calf, that have been snatched by night from coop and dooryard. Mr. Jones, the banker, mourns a dozen fine white ducks, which the wild dogs made off with last month, while he sent bullet after bullet after them through brush and timber.

There have been times when there was greater cause for alarm than the safety of cherished fowls. More than once as guests of Capt. Kinney or Mr. Jones have struck out over the snows on winter nights to make their way down hill toward the Dyckman street subway station they have seen dim shapes slinking ahead of them, circling like wolves; and once, only a few weeks ago, a gaunt, gray brute more resembling a timber wolf than any dog that ever gnawed bone made a sudden rush at Mrs. A.E. Hetzner and the man escorting her as they hurried along the Hudson bastion just north of Hill cottage. The man happened to be carrying an automatic pistol and let drive with it, but he missed in the dark and the dog wolf was over the cliffs toward the river rocks out of sight almost before report followed flash.

The Abbey Inn, Fort Washington Avenue and 198th street

Policemen have fired at the pack innumerable times, usually without result, but Mr. Jones, a first rate shot with pistol or rifle, and Capt. Kinney, whose navy experiences taught him something about the swift, accurate handling of firearms, have had better luck. The banker has bagged four dog wolves, one a mighty brute apparently half collie, half mastiff, and the Captain has five to his credit. Hugh Pechar, manager of the Abbey Inn, has shot three at long range by the trick of hiding out at night in the timber and patiently waiting until he could draw a bead on the night prowlers.

HAD MANNER OF WOLVES

Wolves they are, whatever of dog blood is left in them, and they begin their coursings every night after the manner of wolves, their leader, a great brute which has never been hit, though he has been fired at a hundred times, beginning with one ringing call to the pack, a midnight chorus of howling which echoes till dawn. How many are left in the pack can only be surmised by the vexed residents of the park, but there are at least a score in spite of the good shooting of Kinney, Pechar and Jones.

But Jimmy Gail’s exploit and adventure may mean the end of the pest, for luck gave the kid a chance to uncover the den where they have been hiding and breeding. Jimmy is a town boy who knows a lot about tame dogs, but who has a good deal to learn about dogs gone bad, otherwise he would never have poked his stub nose into the cave which runs back among the rocks and woods in the precipitous hillside between Bennett and Fort Washington avenues, a stone’s throw north of “The Cloisters.”

He went with his big sister Jane from their home at 160 Madison avenue on Saturday to visit his godmother, Mme. Marie Herbet, and her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, at Hill cottage. In the early afternoon, while sister was sketching from the cliffs behind the Billings garage, Jimmy wandered downhill and southward in a tangle of underbrush and small trees that clung somehow to the crags behind “The Cloisters.” He started a rabbit and was pursuing cottontail with whoops of glee when his ear caught the queer melody of sounds—whinings and short barks—coming from the hillside only a few feet from the hole into which the indignant bunny had dived.

The kid promptly investigated, following the sounds, and presently broke through a small. Close clump of briars, which had concealed a three-foot opening to a cave in the rocks. Without a thought of possible danger Jimmy crawled into the hole and saw the sight of a lifetime—thirty or forty puppies in various stages of growth romping, snarling, biting at each other, complaining from hunger, all scatted over the bed of broken sticks and dead leaves which carpeted the shallow cave.

OLDER PUPPIES HOSTILE

The older puppies, a few of which were a third to a half grown, were distinctly hostile and showed their teeth at Jimmy, but the littlest bundles of fluff climbed all over him and fought to lick his cheeks. He was having a lot of fun when a shadow darkened the cave mouth and he looked up to see a big and angry mother dog, which snarled menacingly. Jimmy threw sticks and stones until mother backed away and whisked out of sight, and then he, too, with a puppy in each arm, scrambled out of the cave and ran for sister Jane.

Later in the evening, when Mr. Jones came home from the bank and heard the news, he called Capt. Kinney by phone, and the pair, with revolvers, went to the cave guided by the excited Jimmy and his no less excited sister. When they got there they found that more than half of the puppies were gone, the larger ones, but fifteen were still romping and frisking among the sticks and the dead leaves. Both men had suffered enough from the depredations of the pa’s and ma’s of these babies to warrant lethal action, but they couldn’t bring themselves to shoot. The puppies were too pretty. Several seemed to be almost pure collie, but the most were cross breeds of half a dozen blood mixtures, in which bulldog, setter, mastiff and plain hound showed clearly enough.

So Mr. Jones and Capt. Kinney gathered up the puppies and took them home after first blocking the cave entrance with big rocks, and yesterday they were wondering just what to do with their prizes. They may keep two or three of the best looking breeds, and they expect to give away a few, but, in the end, one supposes, painless execution will be the fate of the unfortunate offspring of the outlaws.

MAY HAVE FLED IN ALARM

The important thing is, however, that the lair of the wolf dogs has been found, though why it was that more of the big hunters were not in or around the cave when Jimmy blundered into it is a mystery. Probably the half dozen or more of the brutes that may have been in the den when Jimmy came along crashing through the brush and rocks took alarm and fled when they heard him approaching. But the discovery means very likely the wiping out of the wild pack.

Mr. Jones and Capt. Kinney told a reporter for The Sun yesterday that they will ask permission from the agents of Mr. Rockefeller to organize a wild dog drive, which will take in the whole district, and if that sporting event comes off it will be the most exciting wild animal hunt in these parts since the effort was made two or three years ago to drive deer on Shelter Island.

Estate of C.K.G. Billings

Where the dogs came from originally is something of a puzzle, but Capt. Kinney told yesterday one story he had heard of their origin. Five or six years ago a woman was motoring in Fort Washington avenue, near the Billings mansion, and with her in the car was her collie, a splendid specimen of his breed. She stopped the car to look about at the scenery and suddenly the collie sprang from the car and was gone in a flash over the east side of the road and down among the rocks and underbrush. She called vainly to him for hours and came back day after day to hunt for him, but it was never any use. That was the last she ever heard of Laddie. He was a lost dog from that day to this. Capt. Kinney and Mr. Jones reason that Laddie just went wild for some reason that human beings simply cannot fathom, and that as time went by he established a family and, perhaps, became the leader of the pack. They think that the big wolf dog they have often seen slipping like a ghost over the snows and among the trees, the leader they have sent many a bullet after, is none other than the lost collie.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. About 7 years ago, my cousin and I were walking up Seaman Ave around 3 a.m. between Isham Park and Inwood Park when I spotted a pack of about 10 dogs walking towards us. We stopped in our tracks and they walked right by us, across the street, and right into Inwood Park.

    The only other time I experienced a pack of dogs like that was when I was much younger in Morningside Park.

    Great read.

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