George picked me up at my house one Saturday morning and told me we were going to see a 350-foot long covered bridge that was still in use. Most of the covered bridges in the state are painted red, but a small number are white, as this one was.
We made the 98-mile drive a short one, gobbling the miles like Pac-Man in a little over an hour. George always said the more interstate there is the quicker the trip, and about 60 miles of this journey traveled the Eisenhower system. Our velocity was not quite as good as the time when he piloted us from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Grand Junction, Colorado, covering 285 miles in three and one-half hours. I do not believe I have experienced as much adrenaline flowing during any of our trips together as the moment I looked down at the speedometer and saw that he was cruising at over 100 miles per hour, followed up shortly thereafter by a journey up a short exit ramp at 85 miles per hour.
The bridge indeed possessed beauty, character, and a relatively new coat of white on the outside. It stood high above the river below, and it had a low hump at its midway point, making us drive slightly uphill after we entered until we reached the hump, and then downhill until we exited the other side. The length of the bridge gave me a few moments of anxiety, but they did not last long.
We took a large number of photographs of this bridge, the Mudcat covered bridge over the White Sands Creek in the east central part of our state. George climbed down the side of a bank and got into the creek to obtain his best angle, but I declined, not being able to espy a path that led down the hill. Instead, I worked my way up a knoll on the far side of the bridge to shoot from above it. Overall, our photos this day proved some of the best we ever took.
There was another covered bridge in the county, and we had planned to visit that one as well, even though from a photographic standpoint it was going to be inferior.
We arrived at a small town called Dunker’s Bend that possessed something that caused us to stop and get out of the car. Directly behind the town’s sign stood a large statue of a wolf, along with a marker similar to an historical one.
“What does it say?” asked George as I approached the marker before he did.
“It says, ‘Dunker’s Bend, the birthplace of Edward McMahon DuPont Wolf, who was stolen from his family while they worked in the fields and lived the rest of his life in the wild. Three hundred feet from this marker Edward met his end when he returned to town and died trying to save his family. That place is marked by a small plaque.’”
“Hmm. Sounds like an interesting story,” replied George. “We haven’t had a good one for awhile.”
“Not since our last trip,” I said.
The statue and marker sat on town land, but adjacent to it began a series of small houses, which if one followed, would lead into the downtown area in about three blocks. A large, unkempt man sat on a dirty, worn, overstuffed chair on the front porch of the first house. The only article of clothing from his waist upward was a sleeveless t-shirt that had many dirty spots on it. Although it was only 9:30 a.m. the man drank beer with enthusiasm. Cigarette butts lay everywhere surrounding him, the products of his chain smoking.
“Reading about Wolf?” he yelled at us, and then before we could answer he jumped from the chair and cussed profusely because he had burned himself with a cigarette.
“We’re just looking at the marker and the statue,” replied George.
“Most people think that’s the highlight of the town,” he snarled. “Maybe it is. Young people leave and never return. Farmers can’t make a go of it. The town’s dying. It’ll be a ghost town in another twenty years, as soon as all us old-timers are gone.”
George and I wandered closer to the man, but paused when we got about ten feet away and his body odor accosted us, the dominant scent being urine.
“We are a little curious,” said George. “What’s the story behind it? Is it a good one?”
The man popped another can of beer, drank half of it, and then followed that with lighting his third cigarette since we had stopped.
“I’m about ready to go to bed—I work third shift at the fertilizer plant in Olfron. You know where that is?” We said no in unison. “Nearly everybody in town works there. If that place would close that’d be the end of us overnight.
“I got home about 45 minutes ago. Thought I’d have some breakfast before going to bed. You want any?”
By this time, we had perfected our synchronized negative responses, and executed one here that would have scored high marks.
“Hold on a minute,” said the man, “while I light up a smoke. Name’s Gleeson, by the way. Gleeson Hardesty. Lived here all my life. Will be buried here as well, right up in that cemetery on the little hill across the road.”
George introduced himself and me to Gleeson, who by this time had drained the remainder of the liquid from the can and popped another. He then took a long drag on his cigarette and leaned back in his chair.
“Kind of a sad story, really,” he began. “Back in the late 1800s—1893 I believe—Dunker’s Bend was a thriving, prosperous farming community. That kind of changed overnight, though, when a group traveling in wagons pulled through the town and made camp out in Jude Beldore’s field, just past the last house on your left down there.”
At this point I believed Gleeson Hardesty was about ready to expire, for he engaged in a terrific coughing attack that lasted three or four minutes. He gasped for air, and the sound his lungs made resembled a blacksmith’s bellows. Eventually he regained his faculties.
“Sorry. Think I might be allergic to grass or some type of pollen. Think Mrs. Franke had her grass cut last night. I get coughing fits like that regularly. Gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.
“Anyway, as I was saying, this group of people pulled into town and made themselves a little camp. In the evenings they would bring one of the wagons to town and sell things out of it. Did some singing and fortunetelling, too. People didn’t mind for awhile, but then things turned up missing around town, and people blamed this group.”
“Sounds like they might have been gypsies,” said George.
“That’s what people called them,” Gleeson replied. “The town wanted to run them off, but most everybody was afraid of them. Finally, they talked Horace DuPont into doing the dirty work for them. He was the tallest, strongest man in town, that’s why they chose him. Big old farmer, hands as big as pie plates.
“Horace approached the group one evening, told them they had to leave, and boy, did they ever get mad. Started yelling at him, throwing things at him and making it look like they was going to kill him with something or other. He finally just said, ‘When morning comes you’d better not be here,’ and turned to walk away.
“An old lady, possibly the mother of the entire group, came out of the back of a wagon and started saying things to him, chanting like. The only thing Horace remembered her saying was something like ‘Loopus, Loopus’ over and over.”
“Lupus,” I said. “Latin for wolf.”
“That’s it,” said Gleeson. “That’s what everybody told Horace it meant. Wolf. But the very last thing she said was something about his son and how the curse was on him.
“The group was gone by next morning and everybody breathed easier. Two days later Horace was working out in the field and all eight of his children were either working with him or playing along the side. His youngest, a boy named Edward McMahon DuPont—McMahon was his mother’s maiden name—was playing in the grass beside one of the fields. The child was only three years old. The family dog was there with it, and the mother was inside the house doing work.
“Horace and his kids worked their way down the field and nearly got out of sight of Edward. They completely lost sight of him when the field curved around to the left.
“All of a sudden they heard this terrible cry come up from the dog and some other growling sounds. Horace ran to where he’d last seen Edward and the dog, but when he got there the dog was a mangled, bloody mess. It had been chewed to pieces. But worse than that, Edward was gone. No signs of him, no chewed up body, none of his blood. He had just vanished. Despite a desperate search, Edward was not found.
“Some strange occurrences started happening in and around town shortly after. Small animals were mauled to death and people began seeing animal tracks all around their places. These appeared to be wolf tracks. Soon people began seeing the wolves. The whole town became afraid to go outside. Men worked in the fields with a gun at their side.
“People estimated there were at least five wolves in the pack because sometimes they had seen three to five wolves traveling together. These weren’t coyotes, mind you. They were wolves.”
George interrupted. “Had there been wolves in the area before?”
“Not for years,” replied Gleeson. “It’d probably been half a century since the last wolf had been spotted. All of a sudden a whole group shows up.”
Gleeson paused and looked at me. “You’re thinking something. Get it out, what do you want to know?”
I hesitated before saying sheepishly, “Am I right in thinking where this story’s going? The wolves stole the child from the edge of the field?”
He popped another beer, chugged it, and then opened another one.
“You’re right,” he said. “Dang wolves had kidnapped that poor boy. They kept him alive, too.”
“Oh, come on!” said George. “Wolves don’t really raise kidnapped children. They’d kill them and eat them first.”
“Let me finish my story,” Gleeson said, “and then think what you want.
“Now, nobody knew the wolves had taken Edward until one day about seven or eight years later when he was spotted running around with a couple of wolves across a field. Stark naked he was. Sniffed around on the ground like wolves. The farmer who saw them called out to them, but the boy just howled at him and took off running.”
“This is unbelievable,” I muttered.
“It is, but it’s the truth,” said Gleeson. “Now let me tell you how it all ended.
“The wolves started getting bolder and bolder, actually coming into town. Many times Edward was spotted with them. The worst part was that a couple more children were killed, apparently by the wolves, and a few other people were viciously attacked. People wouldn’t go outdoors at all, they were so afraid. So the men got together and decided they were going to wait for the wolves next time they came around and kill them all. They waited and waited in the street for three days, taking turns going home to sleep.
“Finally the wolves showed up. The men started firing and the wolves started howling and crying out in agony after they got shot. Most of the wolves were down when down the street comes Edward, howling at the top of his lungs. He races in and tries to drag the wolves away to safety. The men tried to come closer, but Edward turned on them and attacked two, biting them and clawing them.
“The men surrounded Edward and the wolf bodies. He was insane, attacking here and there and causing a lot of damage. He finally got one of them down on the ground and started biting his neck. It was obvious he was going to kill the man, so one of the others in the group went ahead and shot Edward and killed him. It was Horace that shot him.”
Gleeson paused long enough to smoke two cigarettes while George and I discussed his story quietly.
“We’ve heard some strange ones, but this takes the cake,” I said.
“I can believe the story about the guy with the washing machine hose down his throat before I can believe this,” George replied.
Gleeson resumed, “It was a terrible day, a terrible day. Poor Horace. Not only did he lose his son, but then years later he had to go kill him as well.”
“Couldn’t that have been some other person and not Edward?” I asked.
“No. Edward had an unusual birthmark on his back, kind of resembled a howling wolf’s head. Everybody in town knew it. This one did, too.”
George laughed. “I’m sorry, it seems a little too far-fetched,” he said.
“Don’t blame you for not believing,” replied Gleeson. “No one ever does except the people around here. That’s why we built the statue and the marker because we don’t ever want to forget. And that’s why we don’t like strangers, either, not that I don’t like you guys, but those strangers caused all the problems.
“See, after all them wolves had been killed, and Edward, too, the men went to look at the wolves’ bodies, and what do you think they saw? The wolves had changed into them strangers, those gypsy people. They’d been running around all that time changing into wolves, they stole the boy and raised him as one of their own. They took vengeance on the whole town because the town run them off.
“Now I don’t mean to be unkind, but if I was you, I think I’d take care of business in town and leave as quickly as you can. Like I said, people around here don’t like strangers, and if you stay too long, well, I couldn’t really guarantee your safety.”
We left promptly, heading in the direction of the next covered bridge, noticing people coming out their front doors as we drove past them. After we exited the town limits, I grabbed George’s arm and told him to pull off the road and stop the car.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Listen,” I said. “Do you hear that?”
It was faint at first, but then grew louder.
“It’s just the wind, that’s all,” George said. “But it sure sounded like a pack of wolves to me.”