My Tracking Family

By | April 18, 2013

Years ago I heard about a team of American Indian trackers who worked to intercept smugglers packing drugs across the US-Mexican border. The stories of their adventures on the trail had a surreal quality that bordered on the mystical. On top of that, they called themselves the Shadow Wolves.

Sure, the adventures of these fabled trackers fueled my imagination. And the fact that some of them were so good that the cartel lords put quarter-million dollar prices on their heads only added to the intrigue. But what really grabbed me was that their stories were starkly real to me. When they were picking up intuitive impressions from the lay of the land and the calls of the birds, I was there with them. And when I sensed an animal trail or kill site up ahead, they were there with me.

I had never met a Shadow Wolf, yet I knew I would ask one of them for an endorsement when I finished my tracking book. What I didn’t know was how hard it would be to find a Shadow Wolf. It took both stealth and savvy to come up with the address of the address of someone we thought might be a nephew of one of the trackers. It’s as close as we could get. Of course, the Wolves had good cause to be as phantom-like off the job as on, so I was ecstatic that we came up with anything.

Right away I sent the maybe-nephew a manuscript, asking if he would get it to his uncle.

“I received a mysterious package,” replied Shadow Wolf Bryan Nez a week or so later. “In it there was a manuscript titled In the Shadow of Wolf [the book’s original title].* I was a bit interested, so I opened it up. I then couldn’t put it down. It brought me back to the way I learned tracking from my father and grandfather, who taught it the Old Way.”

His words choked me up—not because I was surprised by this response (I already knew we spoke the same language), but because it felt like I was reuniting with a long-lost brother. The same feeling overcame me when I met Paul Rezendes, and it’s the same feeling I get when I come into resonance with the animal I am tracking.

Bryan, now retired from the Shadow Wolves, trains tactical tracking units around the world. I got an e-mail from him yesterday stating, “I am currently in Nairobi, Kenya. I’ve been here for six months, and before that I was in Algeria.” I wonder if when he, a Navajo, and a Native tracker from somewhere on the other side of the planet, meet, they too feel the kinship.

With just as much effort as it took to find Bryan—along with what must have been the right planetary alignment—my editor located another Shadow Wolf: former Agent in Charge René Andreu. Echoing Bryan, he said that he was “immensely pleased and encouraged” that my book was “preserving and sharing the ancient tracking knowledge for future generations.”

Once again, I was not surprised but deeply touched. This time there was an overriding reason—René’s concern for the future generations. In his own words: ” During my early days [the 1970s], I developed friendships and close working relationships with the older Shadow Wolves, learning by tracking alongside them. A decade later when I came back, I saw their numbers diminished, and a once-proud Native American patrol division was a shadow of its former self.

“Having developed a great respect and appreciation for my old friends’ skills and knowledge, and now fearing its loss, I took it as a personal challenge to save and rebuild the program. I recruited new blood from all over the country: Navajo, Hopi, Yaqui, Chickasaw, Missouri Otto, Lakota, and Tohono O’odham, to name a few. Having sold my superiors in Washington on the necessity of preserving this unit, we managed to save much of the elders’ knowledge before they retired by having them pass it on to the new young Shadow Wolves. Since then I have seen the last few of the elders retire and/or pass on.”

From a note I received yesterday from René: “I recently attended a service for the passing of another Shadow Wolf, Henry Tenario of the Tohono O’Odham Nation [where the Shadow Wolves operate], and I have been attending these services much too often over the last few years. Your book will do much in helping to preserve what is slowly passing away.”

And so will René’s continued involvement. “I keep in touch with some of the newer Shadow Wolves,” he said, and in this way he transmits the ways of the elder trackers who have gone on. In the continuum of birth to death and birth again, you and I will come and go, but the skills will live on, along with the traditions to guide their practice.


*I learned tracking literally in the shadow of Wolves, when I was in my mid 20s and lived with a pack.

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