If wolves revealed themselves as cowards, why did colonists treat them so viciously? In part, religious beliefs influenced the colonists, writes Coleman. "The biblical version of wolves with its focus on greed, corruption, and theft flourished in New England." Colonists thumped the Bible to rationalize savagely punishing wolves for the crime of killing livestock.
Yet settlers aided and abetted the predators' crimes by grazing docile livestock in wolf country without the manpower to oversee the animals. Colonists, Coleman found, entrusted the herds to teenage boys "short in stature and attention span." Hungry wolves - often lacking natural prey which had been stolen by settlers - took their share. This scenario moved west with civilization: everywhere settlers brought livestock, wolves came to dine, and settlers ravaged wolves.
"Why," Coleman asks, "did Euro-Americans terrorize wolves? Why was death not enough?" His answer: "Euro-Americans fantasized that planting a civil society in a wilderness required acts of extreme brutality. To overpower savagery one must lash out savagely."