62            American Elk-Wapiti /Deer

                           ELAPHUS CANADENSIS.--Ray.
                                [Cervus elaphus]

                          AMERICAN ELK.--WAPITE DEER.

                         PLATE LXII.--MALE AND FEMALE.

     E. Cervus Virginianus robustior cornibus amplissimis ramosis teretibus,
frontalibus amplis; cauda brevissimi.  Color rufescens, hieme fusceseens,
uropygio flavicante stria nigra circumscripto.

     Larger than the Virginian Deer.  Horns, large, not palmated, with brow
antlers; a naked space round the lachrymal opening.  Tail, short.  Colour,
yellowish brown above, a black mark extending from the angle of the mouth along
the sides of the lower jaw.  A broad pale yellowish spot on the buttocks.


     STAG, Pennant, Arctic Zool., vol. i., p. 27.
     WEWASKISS, Hearne, Journal, p. 360.
     RED DEER, Umfreville.
     RED DEER, Ray, Synops. Quad., p. 84.
     C. STRONGYLOCEROS, Schreber, Saugethiere, vol. ii., p. 1074, pl. 247,
       F. q. G.
     ALCES AMERICANUS, Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, p. 77.
     THE ELK, Lewis and Clark, vol. ii., p. 167.
     C. WAPTITE, Barton, Med. and Phys. Journal, vol. i., p. 36.
     ELK, Smith, Med. Reports, vol. ii., p. 157, fig. Male, Female, and Young.
     CERVUS (ELAPHUS) CANADENSIS, (The Wapite,) Synopsis of the Species of
       Mammalia.  Griffith's Cuvier, p. 776.
     C. CANADENSIS, Harlan, p. 236.
     C. CANADENSIS, Godman, vol. ii., p. 294, fig. Male.
     CERVUS STRONGYLOCEROS, Richardson, (The Wapite,) p. 251.
     ELAPHUS CANADENSIS, Dekay, New-York Fauna, p. 118, plate 28, fig. 2


     The Elk is of an elegant, stately and majestic form, and the whole animal
is in admirable proportion.  It bears so strong a resemblance to the red deer of
Europe, that it was for a long time regarded as a mere variety of the same
species.  It is, however, much larger in size, and on closer examination differs
from it in many particulars.
     Head, of moderate size; muzzle, broad and long, rather small, not very
prominent; ears, large; legs, rather stout, finely proportioned; hoofs, rather
     From between the horns to the end of the frontal bone, beyond the nasal
opening sixteen inches, length of horns following the curvature of the main
branch four feet; with all the roots three and a quarter inches, by two and a
quarter thick.  There are six points on each horn, irregularly disposed; varying
in length from nine to sixteen inches, excepting one which is two and a half
inches only in length.  At their points the horns curve backward and upward, and
are about three feet five inches apart, at about half the distance from their
roots to the extreme tip of the longest point or main branch.  The horns at the
insertion are three and three-quarter inches apart from the ring or crown at
their roots.
     In examining a number of elk horns we find a very remarkable variety no two
antlers being exactly alike on the same animal.  We possess one pair which has a
blunt prong extending downward on the right side of the face about nine inches,
whilst the corresponding prong on the opposite side is turned upwards.  The
horns of this individual have five prongs on one horn and seven on the other.
The horns are longitudinally channelled, most of the prongs inclining forward
and upward, especially those nearest the roots of the main horn.  All the horns
are large and round, with brow antlers.  The weight of the horns on full grown
animals, as we have ascertained by weighing about a dozen of large size, is from
thirty to forty five pounds.
     The three hindermost teeth in the upper jaw are double; the remainder
single.  There are in the upper jaw of the male two very small canine teeth
inclining forward almost on a line with the jaw.  There is a short rudimentary
mane on the fore-shoulder, and under the throat during the winter there are long
black hairs.
     There is a space on the outer side of the hind legs covered by a tuft,
which is of an irregular oval shape, of about one and a half inch in length, the
hairs which cover it being an inch long, lying flat and backwards, with shorter
hairs extending down the leg several inches below the space.
     The hairs on the body generally are very coarse, rather short; longest on
the back of the ham, where the whitish patch and the black line on the latter
     The tail, which in summer is not bushy, is thinly clothed with hair running
to a point.  A young male has its horns which are in velvet, nearly
perpendicular running but slightly backwards to the length of fourteen inches,
where they divide into three short prongs.


     Muzzle, nostrils, and hoofs, black; head, dark brown; neck, rather darker,
being nearly black; on each side, of the under jaw there is a longitudinal white
patch, between which there is a large black stripe extending along the lines of
the under jaw, dividing about four inches from the mouth, and continuing
downward to the throat, where it unites again and is diffused in the general
black colour of the throat and neck, leaving in its course a white space between
the bone of the lower jaw, nearly as large as a man's hand.
     There is no light-coloured ring, or space, around the eyes as in the
European red deer, but in the present species the space around the socket of the
eye is scarcely a shade lighter than the surrounding parts of the head,
     Under surface of the ear, yellowish white, with a, hue of dark brown on the
margin; on the outer surface of the ear, there is a white patch about four
inches in length and nearly two inches wide, covering about a third of the ear,
and running from near the root of the ear upwards at the lower edge
     In the younger males the head, face and back of the neck are not nearly as
dark as in specimens of old animals; the underjaw and throat however as well as
a space above the nostrils are black as in the latter.  The upper and under
surfaces of body and legs are light brownish gray, the legs being rather darker
than the body.
     On the rump there is a broad patch of light grayish white commencing nine
inches above the root of the tail, spreading downward on each side to a point in
the ham, ten inches below the tail.  It is fourteen inches across opposite the
root of the tail, (from one ham to the other,) and twenty-two inches in length
from the back to the termination on the thigh or ham below the tail.  This
grayish white patch is bordered on the thighs by a strongly marked black space
which also separates it all around, although less conspicuously from the general
colour of the body.   We have observed that in young specimens this pale mark on
the rump is less conspicuous, and in one specimen is not even perceptible, and
this peculiarity has most probably misled some of our authors in regard to the
     In specimens of about two years old the light but scarcely perceptible
markings on the rump gradually change to grayish brown between the hind legs.
In a still younger specimen of a male about eighteen months old which has the
horns three inches in height, (which are completely clothed with soft brownish
hairs to their summits,) there is scarcely any black on the neck, and the white
on the rump is not visible.

     Female in summer colour.
     We possess this animal in a state of confinement:  she has like all the
females of this species no horns.  She bears a strong resemblance in form and
colour to the male.  Her neck is rather thinner and longer, and her legs and
body more slender.  Her eyes are mild, and she is in her disposition very gentle
and docile.  The hair in summer is like that of the male, uniform in colour from
the roots to the surface.

     Winter colour.
     Both males and females in winter assume a very heavy coat of dark gray hair
all over the body.  These hairs are about two and a half inches to three long
and are moderately coarse and strong.
     When examined separately they have a wavy or crimped appearance.  The white
patch on the rump is strongly developed in contrast with the dark iron-gray
colour of the winter coat.  At this season the male has a remarkable growth of
hairs on the throat as well as on the back of the neck, which increase
considerably in length, so that the latter might easily be mistaken for the
rudiment of a mane.


     Adult male (killed on the Upper Missouri River).

                                                          Feet.   Inches.

     From nose to root of tail,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    7     8 3/4
     Length of tail,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    0     1 3/4
     Length of eye,   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    0     1 3/4
     From tip of nose to root of ear,.  .  .  .  .  .  .    1     8
     Length of ear,   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    0     9 1/4
     Height to shoulders,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    4    10
     Rump,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    5     2
     Girth back of fore-legs,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    5     6 1/2

     The females we measured were rather smaller than the above:  one killed on
the Yellow Stone River measured seven feet six and a half inches from nose to
root of tail, and four feet seven inches from top of shoulder to the ground.


     On our plate we have represented a pair of Elks in the foreground of a
prairie scene, with a group of small figures in the distance; it gives but a
faint idea of this animal in its wild and glorious prairie home:  Observe the
splendid buck, as he walks lightly, proudly, and gracefully along.  It is the
season of love:  his head is raised above the willows bordering the large
sand-bar on the shores of the Missouri, his spreading antlers have acquired
their full growth, the velvet has been rubbed off, and they are hard and
polished.  His large amber-coloured eyes are brightened by the sun, his neck is
arched, and every vein is distended.  He looks around and snuffs the morning air
with dilated nostrils:  anon be stamps the earth with his fore-feet and utters a
shrill cry somewhat like the noise made by the loon.  When he discovers a group
of females he raises his head, inclines it backwards, and giving another
trumpet-like whistle, dashes off to meet them, making the willows and other
small trees yield and crack as he rushes by.  He soon reaches the group, but
probably finds as large and brave a buck as himself gallanting the fair objects
of his pursuit, and now his eyes glow with rage and jealousy, his teeth are
fiercely champed together making a loud harsh noise, his hair stands erect, and
with, the points of his immense horns lowered like the lance of a doughty knight
in times of yore, he leaps towards his rival and immediately a desperate battle
ensues.  The furious combatants sway backwards and forwards, sideways or in
circles, each struggling to get within the other's point, twisting their brawny
necks, and writhing as they endeavour to throw their opponent off the ground.
At length our valorous Elk triumphs and gores the other, so that he is worsted
in the fight, and turns ingloriously and flies, leaving the field and the
females in possession of the victor:  for should there be any young Elks present
during such a combat, they generally run off.
     The victorious buck now ranges the tangled woods or leads the does to the
sand-bars or the willow-covered points along the broad stream.  After a certain
period, however, he leaves then to other bucks, and towards the latter part of
February his antlers drop off, his body is much emaciated, and he retires to
some secluded spot, where he hopes no enemies will discover him, as he is no
longer vigorous and bold, and would dread to encounter even a single wolf.
     When we first settled (as it is termed) in the State of Kentucky, some of
these animals were still to be met with; but at present we believe none are to
be found within hundreds of miles of our then residence.  During a journey we
made through the lower part of the State, armed as usual with our
double-barrelled gun, whilst passing through a heavy-timbered tract not far from
Smithland at the mouth of the Cumberland River, we espied two Elks, a male and
female, which started out of a thicket not more than forty or fifty yards from
us.  Our gun being loaded with balls, we fired successfully and brought down the
buck.  The tavern keeper at Smithland went after the animal with a wagon and
brought him into the little village.  The hunters in the neighbourhood said they
had not seed or heard of Elks in that part of the State for several years,
although some were to be found across the Ohio, in the state of Illinois.
     At the time we are writing (1847) the Elk is not seen in any numbers until
you ascend the Missouri River for a great distance.  In that part of the
country, where the points in the river are well covered with wood and
under-brush, they are to be found at times in considerable numbers.  These
animals however do not confine themselves to the neighbourhood of the
water-courses, but roam over the prairies in large herds.  Unless disturbed or
chased, they seldom leave a secluded retreat in a thicklywooded dell, except to
go to the river to drink, or sun themselves on the sand-bars.  They are partial
to the islands covered with willow, cotton wood, &c., and fringed with Ion,
grass, upon which they make a bed during the hot sultry hours of the day.   They
also form a bed occasionally in the top of a fallen tree.
     During hot weather, when mosquitoes abound in the woods, they retire to
ponds or proceed to the rivers and immerse their bodies and heads, leaving
merely enough of their noses above the water to allow them to breathe.
     Whilst ascending the Missouri river in the steamer Omega, we observed a
fawn of this species one morning running along the shore under a high bank.  It
was covered with yellowish white spots, was as nimble and active as a kitten,
and soon reached a place where it could ascend the bank, when it scampered off
amid the tall grass.  We had on board a servant of Mr. CHARDON named ALEXIS
LABOMBARDE who was a most expert hunter.  We soon saw another fawn, and ALEXIS
went after it, the boat having stopped to wood.  He climbed the bank and soon
overtook the little animal, but having no rope or cord with him, was at a loss
how to secure his captive.  He took off his suspenders and with these and his
pocket-handkerchief managed to fasten the fawn around the neck, but on
attempting to drag it toward the boat the suspenders gave way and the fawn
dropped into the stream, and swam a few yards lower down, where it again landed;
one of our party witnessed from the steamboat the ineffectual efforts of
LABOMBARDE and ran up to his assistance, but also without a rope or cord, and
after much ado the animal again swam off and escaped.
     The food of the Elk consists generally of the grass found in the woods, the
wild pea-vines, the branches of willows, Lichens, and the buds of roses, &c.
During the winter they scrape the snow from the ground with their fore-feet, and
eat the tender roots and bark of shrubs and small trees.
     On our reaching Fort Pierre we were presented by Mr. PICOT with a most 
splendidly prepared skin of a superb male Elk, and a pair of horns.  The latter 
measured four feet six and a half inches in length; breadth between the points 
twenty-seven and a half inches.  The circumference of the skull or base ten 
inches, the knob twelve inches, between the knobs three inches.  This animal, 
one of the largest ever seen by Mr. PICOT, was killed in the month of November, 
     HEARNE says that the Elk is the most stupid of all the deer kind; but our
experience has led us widely to differ from that traveller, as we have always
found these animals as wary and cunning as any of the deer tribe with which we
are acquainted.  We strongly suspect HEARNE had reference to another species,
the American reindeer.
     We chanced one day to land on a sand-bar covered with the broad deep tracks
of apparently some dozen Elks:  all the hunters we had in our boat prepared to
join in the chase, and we among the rest, with our old trusty double-barrelled
gun, sallied forth, and while passing through a large patch of willows, came
suddenly upon a very large buck; the noble animal was not more than a few steps
from where we stood:  our gun was levelled in an instant, and we pulled trigger,
but the cap did not explode.  The Elk was startled by the noise of the falling
hammer, and wheeling round, throwing up the loose soil with his hoofs, galloped
off among the willows towards the river, making a clear path through the small
trees and grass.  We ran to intercept him, but were too late, and on reaching
the bank the Elk was already far out in the stream, swimming rapidly with its
shoulders and part of its back above water.  On the opposite shore there was a
narrow beach, and the moment the Elk touched the bottom, it sprang forward and
in a bound or two was out of sight behind the fringing margin of trees on the
shore.  This, we are sorry to say, was the only Elk we had an opportunity of
firing at whilst on our last western expedition.
     The pair from which the figures on our plate were taken we purchased at 
Philadelphia:  they had been caught when young in the western part of 
Pennsylvania; the male was supposed to be four or five years old, and the female
also was full grown.  These Elks were transported from Philadelphia to our place
near New-York, and we had a capacious and high enclosure made for them.  The
male retained much of its savage habits when at liberty, but the female was
quite gentle.  When she was first put in the pen, where the buck was already
pacing round seeking for a weak point in the enclosure, he rushed towards her,
and so terrified her that she made violent exertions to escape, and ran at full
speed with her head up and her nostrils distended round and round, until we had
the large box in which she had been brought up from Philadelphia placed in the
enclosure, when she entered it as a place of refuge, and with her head towards
the opening stood on her defence, on which the male gave up the pursuit, and
this box was afterwards resorted to whenever she wished to be undisturbed.
     We had some difficulty in tatting the bridle off from the head of the buck,
as he kicked and pranced furiously whenever any one approached for that purpose,
and we were forced to secure his head by means of a lasso over his horns, and
drawing him by main force to a strong post, when one of our men cut the leather
with a knife.
     While these two Elks were kept by us they were fed on green oats, hay,
Indian corn, and all such food as generally is given to the cow, excepting
turnips, which they would not touch.
     We found that the pair daily ate as much food as would have sufficed for
two horses.  They often whistled (as the hunters call this remarkable noise,
which in calm weather can be heard nearly a mile); this shrill sound appears to
be produced by an almost spasmodic effort, during which the animal turns its
head upwards and then backwards.  While we were outlining the male, we often
observed him to dilate the lachrymal spaces or openings adjoining the eyes, so
that they were almost as wide as long.  When we drew near he would incline his
head sideways, curl back his upper lip, and show a portion of his tongue and
fine teeth, which last he ground or grated together, turning his head the while
from side to side, and eyeing us with a look of angry suspicion, His eyes
enlarged and his whole figure partook of the excitement he felt.
     The process of rubbing off the velvet from the horns was soon accomplished
by this animal; he began the moment he had been taken out of his box, to rub
against the small dog-wood and other trees that stood within the enclosure.  At
a later period of the year we have observed the Elk rubbing his antlers against
small trees, and acting as if engaged in fight; whether this manoeuvre be
performed for the purpose of loosening the horns, towards the period when they
annually drop off, we, in parliamentary language, are not prepared to say.
     Elks at times congregate from the number of fifty to several hundreds, and
in these cases the whole herd follow the movements of their leader, which is
generally the largest and the strongest male of the party.  They all stop when
he stops, and at times they will all turn about with as much order and with far
greater celerity than a troop of horse, of which, when thus seen in array, they
forcibly remind us.
     From accident or otherwise great differences exist in the formation of the
antlers of the Elk, although the horns of all the American Cervii are so
specifically distinct as to enable the close observer to tell almost at a glance
to what species any shown to him belonged.  The, ease with which these animals
pass, encumbered with their ponderous and wide-spreading antlers, through the
heavy-timbered lands of the West, is truly marvellous; and we can hardly help
wondering that they are not oftener caught and entangled by their horns.
Instances there doubtless are of their perishing from getting fastened between
vines, or thick growing trees, but such cases are rare.
     The male Elk drops his horns in February or March.  The one we had dropped
one on the ninth of March, and as the other horn held on for a day or two
longer, the animal in this situation had quite an awkward appearance.  After the
horns fall, the head looks sore, and sometimes the places from which they have
been detached are tinged with blood.  As soon as the huge antlers drop off, the
Elks lose their fierce and pugnacious character, and the females are no longer
afraid of them; while on the other hand, the males show them no farther
attentions whatever.
     The young, sometimes one, but usually two in number, are brought forth in
the latter end of May or June.  It is stated by GODMAN, we know not on what
authority, that when twins are produced they are generally male and female.
     A friend of ours related to us some time ago the following anecdote.  A
gentleman in the interior of Pennsylvania who kept a pair of Elks in a large
woodland pasture, was in the habit of taking pieces of bread or a few handfuls
of corn with him when he walked in the enclosure, to feed these animals, calling
them up for the amusement of his friends.  Having occasion to pass through his
park one day, and not having provided himself with bread or corn for his pets,
he was followed by the buck, who expected his usual gratification:  the
gentleman, irritated by the pertinacity with which he was accompanied, turned
round, and picking up a small stick, hit the animal a smart blow, upon which, to
his astonishment and alarm, the buck, lowering his head, rushed at him and made
a furious pass with his horns:  luckily the gentleman stumbled as he attempted
to fly, and fell over the prostrate trunk of a tree, near which lay another log,
and being able to throw his body between the two trunks, the Elk was unable to
injure him, although it butted at him repeatedly and kept him prisoner for more
than an hour.  Not relishing this proceeding, the gentleman, as soon as he
escaped, gave orders to have the unruly animal destroyed.
     The teeth of the Elk are much prized by the Indians to ornament their
dresses; a "queen's robe" presented to us is decorated with the teeth of
fifty-six Elks.  This splendid garment, which is made of antelope skins, was
valued at no less than thirty horses!
     The droppings of the Elk resemble those of other deer, but are much larger.
     The Elk, like other deer, lie down during the middle of the day, and feed
principally at early morning, and late in the evening.  They drink a good deal
of water.
     This species can be easily domesticated, as we have observed it in
menageries and in parks both of Europe and America.  The males, like those of
the Virginian deer, as they advance in age, by their pugnacious habits are apt
to become troublesome and dangerous.  The Elk lives to a great age, one having
been kept in the possession of the elder PEALE of Philadelphia for thirteen
years; we observed one in the Park of a nobleman in Austria that had been
received from America twenty-five years before.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     We have every reason to believe, that the Elk once was found on nearly
every portion of the temperate latitudes of North America.  It has never
advanced as far north as the moose deer, but it ranges much farther to the
south.  The earliest explorers of America nearly all speak of the existence of
the stag, which they supposed was identical with the stag or red deer of Europe.
It differs from the Virginian deer, which continues to range in the vicinity of
settlements and is not driven from its favourite haunts by the cry of the hounds
or the crack of the rifle.  On the contrary the Elk, like the buffalo, takes up
its line of march, crosses broad rivers and flies to the yet unexplored forests,
as soon as it catches the scent and hears the report of the gun of the white
man.  At present there is only a narrow range on the Alleghany mountains where
the Elk still exists, in small and decreasing numbers, east of the Missouri, and
these remnants probably of large herds would undoubtedly migrate elsewhere were
they not restricted to their present wild mountainous and hardly accessible
range, by the extensive settlements on the west and south.
     Mr. PEALE of Philadelphia mentioned to us some fifteen years ago, that the
only region in the Atlantic States where he could procure specimens of the Elk
was the highest and most sterile mountains in the northwest of Pennsylvania,
where he had on several occasions gone to hunt them.
     Dr. DEKAY (New-York Fauna, p. 119) mentions, on the authority of BEACH and
VAUGHAN, two hunters in whose statements confidence could be placed, that as
late as 1826, Elks were seen and killed on the north branch of the Saranac.  On
a visit to Western Virginia in 1847, we heard of the existence of a small herd
of Elk that had been known for many years to range along the high and sterile
mountains about forty miles to the west of the Red Sulphur Springs.  The herd
was composed of eight males, whose number was ascertained by their tracks in the
snow.  One of these had been killed by a hunter, and the number was reduced to
seven.  Our informant, a friend in whom the highest confidence could be placed,
supposed, as all the individuals in the herd had horns, the race would soon
disappear from the mountains.  As, however, the males at certain seasons keep in
separate groups, we have no doubt there was a similar or larger herd of females
in the same range; but the number is doubtless annually lessening, and in all
probability it will not be many years before the Elk will be entirely
extirpated, to beyond several hundred miles west of the Mississippi.
     This animal, according to RICHARDSON, does not extend its range farther to
the north than the 56th or 57th parallel of latitude, nor is it found to the
eastward of a line drawn from the south end of Lake Winnepeg to the Saskatchewan
in the 103d degree of longitude, and from thence till it strikes the Elk river
in the 111th degree.  It is found on the western prairies, and ranges along the
eastern sides of the mountains in Texas and New Mexico.  It is also found in
Oregon and California.  Its most southern geographical range still remains

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     The family of Elks was by all our old authors placed in the same genus with
the true deer, (Cervus,) to which they are very closely allied in their
character and habits.  As that genus however has been greatly enlarged in
consequence of the discovery of new species, the deer have been conveniently
divided into several sub-genera, of which our species is the largest and most
interesting among the true Elks (Elaphus).
     The American Elk, Wappite, or Stag, was for a long period considered
identical with the European red deer, (C. Elaphus,) and was, we believe, first
treated as a distinct species by RAY.  It was subsequently noticed by JEFFERSON
and described and figured in the Medical Repository.  The difference between
these two species is so great that they may be distinguished at a glance.  Our
Elk is fully a foot higher at the shoulders than the European red stag.  The
common stag or red deer is of a uniform blackish brown, whilst the Elk has all
its upper parts and lower jaw yellowish brown.  It has also a black mark on the
angle of the mouth which is wanting in the other.  In the European species the
circle around the eye is white, in the American it is brown.  There are other
marks of difference which it is unnecessary to point out, as the species are now
regarded by all naturalists as distinct.
     Our esteemed friend Dr. RICHARDSON has applied to this species the name of
Cervus strongyloceros of SCHREBER, because the figure of PERRAULT (Mem. sur les
an. vol. 2, p. 45) did not exhibit the pale mark on the rump, and be thought it
not improbable that PERRAULT's figure was that of the black-tailed deer (Cervus
macrotis).  We do not believe that the latter species ever reaches the latitude
where PERRAULT's specimen was procured; but as we have already stated in this
article, younger specimens of our Elk exhibit only faint traces of this pale
mark on the rump, and in some they are entirely wanting.  We have scarcely a
doubt that RAY's description was intended to apply to our American Elk, and we
have therefore adopted his specific name.