To kill wolves, some Native hunters once cut a thin, foot-long strip from whale baleen, sharpened both ends and folded the baleen into a tight wad, said Ronald H. Brower Sr., an Inupiat language teacher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
As a teenager in the 1960s, Brower, from Barrow, spent a summer and winter with an uncle in Anaktuvuk Pass at a time when there were lots of wolves around that area and the state paid a bounty for hides, he said.
His uncle, the late Elijah Kakinya, was a traditional chief for the village. He showed Brower how he prepared the "death pills," Brower said.
Kakinya, at least in his 50s at the time, soaked the baleen to soften it before he folded it, Brower said.
"He'd compress the baleen so both of the sharp ends faced opposite each other. He would wrap that with caribou sinew, and wrap it tightly."
He would wrap the entire thing with a piece of caribou meat and cover the device with caribou fat, then freeze it, Brower said.
"Next time the wolves come around, they gobble these down and not too long from now, the juices of the animal melt that down, dissolve the thread and the device springs open and pierces the stomach of the animal," he said.
"If it took several of those, ate two or three, he will certainly bleed to death. Then you go around and wait for him to collapse and then follow tracks and pick him up."
During the winter Brower lived with his uncle in Anaktuvuk Pass, Kakinya went hunting for wolf tracks, taking the devices with him. Brower, considered feeble as a child because he had a bad heart, didn't have the warm gear to go, he said. But Kakinya said the "death pills" worked.
"He told me scattered these on the wolf trail and described the trail and a couple of days later, lo and behold, he comes back with three wolves," he said.
Alex DeMarban can be reached at (907) 348-2444 or (800) 770-9830, ext. 444.