Lee Allen
Shadow Wolf John Bothof (Sioux) says "Just because you're Native American, you don't always have the inherent skills to be a tracker. They have to be learned and practiced regularly."

Shadow Wolves – A Smuggler’s Worst Nightmare

Lee Allen

The Tohono O’odham Nation straddles the Arizona/Mexico border, where the Sonoran Desert’s drastic temperature shifts can be dangerous, but it’s an area where at any given time a drug smuggler or undocumented migrant is caught by something just as dangerous – a Shadow Wolf.

The Shadow Wolves, an elite group of Native American trackers, rely on centuries-old tracking skills on a daily basis while patrolling their portion of the 150 miles of border between Arizona and Mexico, a labyrinth of corridors and conduits allowing for illegal activity, and this stretch along the reservation proves to be one of the highest-risk entry points.

In the summer the Desert heat can hover between 110-120 degrees, and remains very dry with an annual rainfall of 10 inches. The winter season, those temperatures drop to freezing conditions. It’s a place where the sun beats down relentlessly, winds whip up grains of desert sand, and parched and dry are the passwords for entry. Noted naturalist Edward Abbey once said the terrain offered miles and miles of things that “sting, stick, stab, or stink.”

“Things are wide open out there,” said one law enforcement officer. It’s estimated that nearly half the narcotics bought by Americans each year comes through Mexico and much of the bulkier marijuana component makes its way across the international boundary through the reservation, at or near the town of Sells, Arizona. There’s a continual supply of transporters or “mules” willing to strap a 50-pound bale onto their back and take on the dangers of the desert.

The Shadow Wolves pride themselves on being one of those dangers, operating by the motto: “In brightest day, in darkest night, no evil shall escape my sight – for I am the Shadow Wolf.”

Created by an act of Congress in 1974, the Shadow Wolves celebrate their 40th anniversary on April 12.  “While it was recognized that a drug trafficking corridor ran through tribal lands, this is a sovereign nation and you don’t just move in,” said Amber Cargile, Public Affairs Officer for Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. “When talking with tribal leaders about their lands being exploited by the bad guys, they said an office could be established on the Nation, but they wanted it staffed by Native Americans.”


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