Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Edward H. McCleery (1867–1962) was a physician from Kane, McKean County, who saved the lobo wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, from extinction.

While McCleery was a student at Princeton University, he was inspired by a speech given by future president Theodore Roosevelt about his experiences living in the western United States. McCleery then spent several months in Canada’s Yukon territory before returning to the U.S. to obtain a degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. After receiving his M.D., he practiced for two years in Wyoming. The time he spent in the West stimulated his interest in the lobo wolf, which was being systematically eradicated by the U.S. government, primarily to protect western beef cattle herds. After returning to Pennsylvania, McCleery petitioned the U.S. government to purchase some pups that had been captured as part of the extermination efforts. His aim was to keep the bloodline pure and preserve the subspecies from extinction. He received his first four wolves in 1921. Over the next several years, he obtained more than 20 wolves.

McCleery soon found that researchers and the public were interested in seeing and learning about these wolves. In the late 1920s he established a wolf park that was visited by thousands before his death in 1962. He bred the wolves and the pack expanded to as many as 100.

Before McCleery’s death, the pack was purchased by conservationist Jack Lynch who moved the wolves to Washington state. Lynch and Mary Wheeler later moved the wolves to Montana, their natural habitat. Mary’s son, Ed Wheeler, continues to operate a preserve in Montana for the McCleery wolf descendants that is off limits to the public for the safety of the animals.

Ron Nowak, former biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who studied the skulls of the McCleery wolves, stated, “the descendants from McCleery’s pack would be the only reasonable source for reintroduction to restore the original prairie ecosystem if and when desired.”

In an experiment in the 1990s, another subspecies of wolves was reintroduced in the Yellowstone area in an attempt to resolve the ecological imbalance that resulted from their extermination. This led to a reduction in elk herds, which minimized overgrazing. Plant life was restored, helping to clean and maintain rivers. Another wolf reintroduction success story was recently demonstrated in North Carolina by the Fish & Wildlife Service. It is likely that future reintroduction efforts would utilize the McCleery wolf descendants.

 

Physician Edward H. McCleery saved the lobo wolf from extinction. Pennsylvania State Archives/MG-213

Physician Edward H. McCleery saved the lobo wolf from extinction. Pennsylvania State Archives/MG-213

The significance of what McCleery did by saving the lobo wolf was not only an achievement for Pennsylvania but a universal accomplishment for the natural world. He single-handedly maintained a breeding colony of predatory mammals in good condition for many years. He preserved the only surviving lineage of wolves that once roamed the Great Plains and adjacent mountains. Although wildlife conservationists today might consider McCleery’s methods unorthodox, the lobo wolf would be extinct if not for his efforts.

The Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Dr. Edward H. McCleery was installed in his hometown of Kane and dedicated on July 23, 2016.

 

Karen Galle is on the staff of PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005.