Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/832

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

stories of the impossibility of trapping the fiend. No deadfall, snare, or spring gun ever injured this "evil one" and it does not require a vivid imagination to trace the growth of fiction, when we consider the impulsive coureur de bois, after the toil of setting his chain of traps and visiting them with the result above referred to, allowing himself to believe that he was verily beset by a devil, and at the camp fire, or, better still, as the honored guest of some credulous settler, unfolding and enlarging upon his experiences. These stories, however, become comprehensible when we remember that the track through the deep snow, beaten by the snowshoes of the hunter on his rounds, formed an inviting highway along which the short-limbed quadruped could freely travel, while it soon learned that a journey of a few miles meant the picking up of a substantial meal which some kind friend had carefully placed in sheltered nooks as if regardful of its wants; for the traps of those days were mostly modifications of the "deadfall," and required but limited strength and cunning to circumvent.

The creature has always been comparatively scarce, although its habitat is large; hence the stories are widespread and the scientific study of its reputed habits difficult. That the pelt is rather an uncommon article of commerce does not necessarily imply that it is of great value, although we find numerous exaggerations associated with this feature. It is stated in reports from the East that the skin was formerly held in such high repute that the angels permitted this fur alone to appear on their celestial robes, and Eastern merchants are said to have allowed an equivalent of forty or fifty dollars per skin; yet we find no market during the past one hundred and fifty years has ever quoted the pelt at more than one fourth of these figures, and today's quotations place five dollars as the maximum value. The demand, being as limited as the supply, accounts for this, for the skins are not more plentiful than those of the silver fox, which easily fetch one hundred dollars. The fabulous values seem to have reference to albino varieties, which must ever have been excessively rare; and though there is much beauty in the normal coloring of rich sable brown, with the paler bands along the flanks, the utility of the pelt is restricted, owing chiefly to the coarseness of the hair; and the size — only one fourth that of the black bear skin — is of a decided mediocrity, filling but few wants.

Admitting that sufficient knowledge of the animal has now been acquired to place it in its true systematic order, it is found to have no connection whatever with the bears, nor does there appear to be any affinity with the evil spirits; while the Anglo-Saxon name, implying associations with the wolf, is equally in