What’s in a wolf pack name? A lot of history
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists confirmed the presence of four new wolf packs during the most recent population survey- the Vulcan Pack, the Onion Creek pack, the Navarre pack, and wolves also reestablished in the area formerly occupied by the Skookum pack that disbanded in 2017.
When new packs are confirmed in Washington, it is primarily the responsibility of WDFW’s wolf team to name them, to help differentiate all the packs in the state.
“Wolf packs are commonly named after landmarks or communities in the area of their territory,” said statewide wolf specialist Ben Maletzke. “This method of naming packs is used throughout the United States and is a good reminder of regional history and community ties.”
The Vulcan pack territory, for instance, is near Vulcan Mountain, a peak in Ferry County near the Canadian border. The word “vulcan” comes from “volcano” and Vulcan was also the Roman god of fire and metal working. The mountain was named by mining prospectors who found iron ore in the vicinity.
The Onion Creek pack is named after the creek of the same name that flows through the pack’s territory. Onion Creek begins on the north slopes of Gillette Mountain about 12 miles north of Colville and flows 14 miles north to the Columbia River near the small community of Marble.
According to the Tacoma Public Library Online Digital Collections, there are two stories as to how the area got its name. One says that early settlers named it after the wild onions that grew in the area, while a second story is that Chinese miners grew onions near the mouth of the creek in the 1870s and 1880s.
North and south Navarre Peaks and Navarre Coulee, the namesakes of the Navarre wolf pack, are located at the southern end of the Sawtooth Ridge in the Lake Chelan Wilderness in central Washington. According to the book Origin of Washington Geographic Names, by Edmond S. Meany, these areas were named after pioneer judge and civil engineer Ignatius Aloysius Navarre, who filed for homestead land on the shores of Lake Chelan in 1886.
The word “Skookum” is from the Chinook language and has been historically used in Washington and Canada to describe something that is strong, powerful, ultimate, or brave. The Skookum pack resides near namesakes South Skookum Lake and Skookum Creek in northeast Washington outside the town of Usk.
A couple other wolf packs that have been around a little longer in northeast Washington and also have unusual names include Dirty Shirt, Loup Loup, and Leadpoint.
“There’s definitely not a shortage of name options. Some may sound odd to people outside the region, but there’s both a practicality and art to our approach,” said Maletzke. “We try to choose names that are relevant to the local communities, and will help folks get an understanding of the general area of that pack’s territory.”
For instance, the Dirty Shirt pack was name after the interestingly-named Dirty Shirt Peak in Pend Oreille County. According to volunteers at the Pend Oreille County Historical Society and Museum, Dirty Shirt was named by John Work of the Hudson’s Bay Company as he traveled through the area to Fort Spokane. Unfortunately, his journal entries are brief and don’t mention exactly how the name came about. Work also supervised the construction of Fort Colvile (spelled with one ‘l’ originally) in northeast Washington in the 1820s (work that you can imagine would have led to many dirty shirts) and lived there for several years.
Loup Loup is a mountain pass in the Cascades between the towns of Twisp and Okanogan on State Route 20. A small ski area also shares the name and at one point during the 1880s there was a small town called Loup Loup City. Fittingly, Loup Loup translate to “wolf wolf” in French.
According to Barry George, a volunteer with the Okanogan County Historical Society, Loup Loup was named by French Canadian fur traders who, he believes, were inspired by wolf sightings in the area.
“That runs it back to the Hudson’s Bay Company because there was a lot of fur trade travel up the Okanogan Valley,” he said.
George said the name has also been spelled “Loop Loop” and “Loupe Loupe” over the years, and provided an article on a wolf trapped in 1924 that estimates there were only 30 wolves in the Chelan National Forest (which became the Okanogan National Forest in 1955) at the time.
George also references Loup Loup Jim and Loup Loup Charlie, two native Americans who were granted homestead rights in the area as a settlement by the U.S. government.
“Native Americans in the area were given “Christian” names by the missionaries at St. Mary’s Mission so there were lots of Jims and Charlies,” George said. And, just like with the wolf pack of the same name, their “surname” of Loup Loup came from the area in which their property was located.
The Leadpoint area today is a ghost town in Stevens County, in the mountains southeast of Northport. It was originally a mining town of about 200 people, founded during the 1890s, where high grade lead was found. It had a hotel, general store, barbershop, and several other businesses. Today, it has a wolf pack named after it.
Pack names of wolves in other parts of the state also give away their geographic territory. In southeast Washington, several packs are named after water bodies, including the Tucannon River, Butte Creek and Touchet Creek.
In the Central Cascades, the theme is forests. The Naneum pack is named after the Naneum State Forest while the Teanaway Community Forest serves as the territory of the Teanaway pack.
There were 26 named wolf packs in Washington as of last winter with many interesting names that you can see on the map below. While we don’t know the origins of every pack name, you can find more information on the packs themselves on the WDFW website.