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Postcard from the past: Feeding Starving Elk

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

by Dick Perue

Individuals who want to get a spirited argument started around the campfire or at the old geezers’ coffee klatch should simply mention feeding starving elk. Everyone will have a suggestion, and no one will come up with a lasting solution.

This argument has been raging since the early 1900s and continues today, as noted in recent headlines.

In the early 1900s, most Wyoming newspapers were printing news concerning a proposal to feed starving elk. 

Here is the first of several stories, editorial, headlines and excerpts from various newspapers:

A headline in the Centennial Post on March 13, 1909 reads:

Saved 3,000 elk – game warden tells how the settlers cared for antlered tribe, followed wagons like cattle.

A headline in the Aug. 2, 1911 issue of Lander Eagle and Riverton News reads:

Wyoming elk for Colorado – 10,000 to be sent from Jackson Hole, spread over state, railroads have agreed to transport animals free of charge, will have immense feeding grounds.

According to a news item in The Cowley Weekly Progress, dated June 17, 1911, “A law passed by Congress means some time next summer government troops will attempt to herd 30,000 or more wild elk from the crowded ranges of Jackson Hole to better feeding grounds on the Big Horn Mountain Range.”

The following is from The Homestead Monthly Coyote, dated Nov. 8, 1911:

$20,000 available for the feeding of elk in Wyoming if necessary 

Last winter, many elk died in Wyoming for lack of feed during the severe cold weather. Many of their feeding grounds have been taken up and fenced by homesteaders, and the animals are obliged to live on what land the homesteader does not want.

Through the influence of Gov. Carey and Sen. Warren, a bill was passed by Congress appropriating $20,000 to be used for feeding the elk in Wyoming this winter, and D.C. Nowlin, who has the matter in charge, has advertised for bids for the supplying of hay at various points.

And those are just a few of the many “feed the starving elk” articles in the early 1900s.

Those who proposed feeding the elk were also controversial, as noted in this item by John Clayton, which was published online at 

Stephen Nelson Leek, a founder of Jackson Hole, was an early wildlife photographer. His nationally recognized images of starving elk helped establish the National Elk Refuge near Jackson. 

As a hunting guide and dude rancher, his conservation advocacy came at a crucial time when the future of the species was in doubt. He was thus called “The Father of the Elk.”

In his times, Leek was intelligent, passionate and committed. Today, he’s an example of the difficulty of judging historical figures. The more scientists learn about ecology, the more concerned they become about Leek’s cause of artificially feeding elk in the winter. 

Those interested can read the complete story at

And, the debate continues, but then, that’s for another Postcard.

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