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December 30, 1907

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The Eskimo frequently eat White Foxes, and consider the meat very good, particularly when it is fat.





My Life with the Eskimo - Wolf and Fox

Vilhjalmur Stefansson


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Canis occidentalis Richardson . Gray Wolf. A -ma-rok (Alaskan and Mackenzie Eskimo). 

The wolves of the Barren Grounds have been described as a separate form, the Barren Ground Wolf ( Canis occidentalis albus Sabine), on account of the supposedly lighter color of Wolves from that region . My experience has been that Wolves of every shade of color from black to almost white are found together on the Arctic coast from Alaska to Coronation Gulf. Wolves of anything near a pure white color are very rare. 

The typical Arctic wolf is light tawny yellowish in color, with a few black hairs intermingled along the median line of the back. The common Eskimo belief is that the white wolves are old wolves, but we have observed a dark old female wolf with white cubs. A specimen taken on the Hula -hula River, Alaska, was nearly pure black head and face jet-black , tail somewhat fulvous, belly grayish . Other " black " wolves were seen at Langton Bay, Horton River, Great Bear Lake, and Coronation Gulf. An unusual specimen, a decrepit old male, was shot near Dease River — a sort of silvery gray, with white and black hairs mingled, like a “good” Cross Fox or “poor” Silver Fox. The “good wolf” of the particular shade prized by the western Eskimo for trimming clothing must be well- furred, with the hair long, the median portion of each hair whitish , and each hair black -tipped . When cut into strips, it should show : first, a dense layer of " fur” next to the skin, then a band of whitish, and a peripheral band of black or dusky. Such a skin is prized more highly than any other, even more than the most fashionable shade of pale yellow Wolverine fur. Wolves are found in greatest numbers where the Caribou are most abundant, and follow the herds continuously. A compact herd is seldom attacked outright, but stragglers are cut off and run down. The Caribou are swifter for a time, but the Wolf is tireless and seldom loses a Caribou which he has started. Large packs of Wolves are seldom seen in the regions we visited, four or five being about the limit. About fifty miles east of Coppermine I saw a female wolf which had been killed by Eskimo at her den with four cubs, June 30, 1911. The cubs' eyes were still unopened . The old wolf was yellowish colored, the cubs umber brown. One cub was a runt, not much bigger than a Spermophile (C. parryi), the other three were much larger.

Vulpes alascensis Merriam . Alaska Red Fox. Red Fox — Kai yok'tok (Alaskan Eskimo), Auk-pi-lak'tok (Mackenzie Eskimo ). Cross Fox — Kri- a -ntok (Alaskan Eskimo), Ki- a -ser - ő - til -lik (Mackenzie Eskimo) . Silver or Black Fox – Ker-a-nek'tok (Alaskan Eskimo), Magʻrok (Mackenzie Eskimo). 

The Red Fox in its varying phases is only rarely found north of the northern limit of trees. A good many Cross Foxes, a few Silver grays, and occasionally a Black Fox are taken in the Mackenzie delta. Occasionally a Silver Fox comes out on the coast; a good specimen was caught near Cape Bathurst in 1911. Every possible shade of intergradation in color is found from the bright rufous Red Fox, through various shades of dusky cross markings on back, shoulders, and hips; specimens with only traces of fulvous on shoulders; backs with silvery and black intermingled, and very rarely the jet-black. All phases have a prominent white tip to the tail. Very few “colored” foxes are found around the eastern end of Great Bear Lake, and practically none around Coronation Gulf.

Alopex lagopus innuitus Merriam . Continental Arctic Fox. TY ra -ga'ni-ok ( Eskimo from Bering Sea to Coronation Gulf). 

Common almost everywhere along the Arctic coast, but seldom goes far inland in any numbers. The White Foxes are found to a large extent on the salt-water ice in winter, and Polar Bear tracks are very commonly followed by Foxes, which pick up a living from offal of Seals killed by the Bears. A stranded whale's carcass will usually attract large numbers of foxes. An Eskimo man and boy in our employ caught about one hundred and forty during the winter of 1910–1911 around Langton Bay, and another Eskimo at Cape Bathurst caught one hundred and ninety six White Foxes the same winter. The next winter the latter caught only two, nobody caught more than twenty, and few over six. The White Fox is the staple fur of the Arctic coast, and the common medium of exchange everywhere west of Cape Parry. In summer the White Foxes are bluish gray, maltese color on back, head dusky mixed with silvery white, belly dirty yellowish white. Skins rarely become prime, i.e. , pure white with long fur, before December 1st, and the hair usually begins to get loose by the last of March. The Eskimo frequently eat White Foxes, and consider the meat very good, particularly when it is fat. The White Foxes are fairly common at the edge of the Barren Grounds near east end of Great Bear Lake, and an Eskimo of our party caught about thirty during the winter of 1910–1911. An Alaskan Eskimo trapping near the mouth of the Coppermine River the same winter caught nearly one hundred. The Hudson Bay Company's agent informed me that one White Fox skin was taken during the winter of 1907-1908, at Smith's Landing, and one at Fort Chipewyan. Several skins are usually taken at Fond du Lac ( east end of Lake Athabaska) every winter. 

The Arctic Fox is much less suspicious than the Red, Cross, or Silver Foxes, and will enter almost any kind of trap. The common method of trapping is to cut a shallow hole in the snow, just deep enough for the open steel trap to lie below the level of surrounding snow . Then a slab of lightly packed snow, just hard enough to lift without cracking, is cut just large enough to cover the trap. This slab is laid carefully over the trap, and then shaved and smoothed with great care. The snow slab should be just thick enough to support its own weight and brittle enough to be easily broken when an animal steps on it. A few chips of blubber, fish , or meat are shaved off, and scattered loosely and carelessly over and around the vicinity of the trap —just enough to give a scent and cause the fox to hunt around until the trap is sprung. If a fox is caught by both feet, he is usually frozen to death by morning, or even if caught by one foot, if the night is cold. Foxes sometimes gnaw off a trapped foot, but only below the place where caught, and then probably after the foot is frozen and insensible to pain. Sometimes a little box-like snow-house is built over a trap, usually of four blocks of snow , three sides and roof, leaving one side open to the leeward . The bait is placed at the further end of the house so that the fox must step directly over the trap to get it. The White Foxes are said to have seven, eight, nine, or ten young at a birth. I examined one female which had ten embryos April 20th, 1910. The young become very tame if taken at an early age, and are extremely active and playful. 

Blue Fox — Kai- a -ni-rak'tok ( Colville River Eskimo ). Ig -raʼlik (Mackenzie Eskimo). The blue phase of coloration of the White Fox, known as “Blue Fox,” is pretty rare east of western Alaska. During the winter of 1910 four Blue Foxes were taken in midwinter near Cape Parry. Two of the skins were maltese gray with ends of hairs washed with brownish ; the other, considered the “best” skin, was dark brown, almost black , with scanty traces of bluish color. A specimen taken by one of our Eskimo off Cape Parry in February had back light slaty gray, fading posteriorly; tail nearly white above, darker below ; head dark slaty blue ; under parts darker, washed with dull brownish. One taken near Toker Point, April 25th, was a very pale specimen, head and shoulders light brownish, sides slightly bluish, and tail nearly white; in general, much like a midsummer White Fox.

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