Nobody saw what
happened to the Missouri Kid in the early fall of 1976, when, presumably, an
older male gave him the boot. Even if he had been under close surveillance, no
one would have been able to enter his inner world and determine what motivated
him. (Pat Karns' theory is simply a reasonable possibility—not a conclusion,
but a logical point of departure from known fact. It is well to keep in mind
the dictum about graduate students and all it implies.) Perhaps the old mentor
bull was an especially scary one, or the Kid was a particularly sensitive
adolescent. Whatever, that fall (maybe) the Kid apparently started legging it
southward through central Minnesota. When and where he went is very guessy;
this is the only portion of his subsequent expedition that cannot be documented
with precision. Perhaps nobody saw him. If someone did, he was unaware that he
had met a future celebrity.
It is a fact that
a bull moose sporting an impressive rack of antlers showed up in mid-December
of 1976 in north-central Iowa. He moved into some woody bottomlands along the
upper Des Moines River near the village of Emmetsburg, a mile or so west of
Five Island Lake. He settled down there temporarily, to munch river willows and
delight local residents. Many came out to look at the odd beast, and some
brief, friendly drives were organized to stir him far enough out of the
thickets to facilitate photography and up-close admiration. Perhaps because of
cartoon exposure, a bull moose, even though it is the largest and most powerful
member of the deer family, strikes most people as a harmless and somehow
humorous animal rather than the formidable one it can be. Throughout the
Missouri Kid's odyssey he has been universally accepted as a charmer rather
than a potential danger.
By the time he
reached Emmetsburg, the Missouri Kid had made an exceptional trip for moose,
but not yet a unique one. "Every so often, one comes down this far,"
says Lee Gladfelter, an Iowa deer biologist who was to become as much of a
moose biologist as that state has. "Most of them hang around for a short
time and then disappear. Maybe they work their way back north or get killed on
Karns, the latter is often what happens to the few young bulls who wander down
into the southern regions of their home state. "They meet with
accidents," he says. "So far as we know, none of them has ever
succeeded in getting back to traditional moose country. That doesn't mean one
or more hasn't, or won't."
The last moose
known to have visited Iowa, about five years ago, came to a very bad end. He
was poached. "Some gunner just couldn't stand to see something that big and
strange go on living," says Gladfelter. "He knew what he was shooting.
We gave him a stiff fine, but that didn't help the moose. The one around
Emmetsburg didn't have any problems of that sort. He became a local attraction
and everybody became very protective about him."
The Missouri Kid
remained in the willows near Emmetsburg for about nine months, until the early
fall of 1977, when he suddenly abandoned this informal sanctuary and the host
of friends he had made while there. "We began to get reports that he was
moving down the Des Moines River, quite rapidly in a southeasterly
direction," Gladfelter says. "It was as if he had a destination in
mind, but who knows if he did, or what it was, or why he started
And that is the
mystery—why? Perhaps the Missouri Kid was harassed by dogs. Maybe the flies
became intolerable. Maybe he was driven on by the hormonal tides that wash over
bull moose at that time of year. Maybe he started off to find a cow, but rather
than going five miles or so, as proper animals of his kind are supposed to do,
he kept on searching for the object of his desire for 500 miles.
be proved," says Karns. "We've had some terrible winters up here
lately. Maybe he just had enough and decided he was going south."
It should be made
clear that Karns is joking. Zoologists and other authorities will make such
pleasantries to spice up a conversation, but they would be embarrassed if they
were taken seriously—for good reasons. There is absolutely no evidence that a
moose can analyze weather, remember one winter from the next and make
long-range plans based on this information. But the reverse is also true: there
is no evidence a moose cannot do such things. This is why the behavior of other
species remains more obscure than the surface of the moon.
of the same kind are smarter than others, or dumber," Karns jokes again
and, in doing so, touches on another elemental matter—although very lightly,
because professional prudence and tradition discourage such a concept being
taken with the seriousness it logically deserves.