Extracts & Etymologies

The world’s Caribou and Reindeer are classified as a single species Rangifer tarandus. Reindeer is the European name for the species while in North America, the species is known as Caribou (IUCN 2021).


caribou, n. A reindeer belonging to any of several subspecies found in North America; esp. the migratory Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus. etymology: <French caribou (1609) < Micmac qaripu, earlier form of qalipu (pronounced /xalibu/, cognate with Maliseet-Passamaquoddy mokalip caribou: see maccarib n.), reflecting an agent noun of an Algonquian verb with the sense ‘to shovel snow, to clear away snow’ (compare Ojibwa mangaanibii he shovels snow), so called on account of the animal’s habit of scraping away snow to feed on the vegetation underneath. “Caribou.” Oxford English Dictionary

NAXNI, Ktunaxa/Kootenai.
TIPITÉUISIN, (male), TATÁPAI (female), Nimipuutímt/Nez Perce.
VADZAIH, Vuntut Gwich’in.
TUKTU, Inuktitut.
MAKA·LIPOWA (“it shovels snow”), Proto-Algonquin.
QUALIPU, Mi’kmaq.
CARIBOU, French.
CARIBOU, English.
KARIBU, German.
BOAZU (domesticated), GODDI (wild), Northern Sámi.
се́верный оле́нь, Russian.
HREINN, Old Norse.
HRÁN, Anglo-Saxon.
RANGIFER TARANDUS CARIBOU, binomial/International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.


In the afternoon on one of the dry shoals of the River [near present day Revelstoke] we came to a herd of eight Rein Deer, they were not shy, and we shot a good Doe, and might have killed two, or three more. The hunters often mentioned to me that they had seen Rein Deer, but I doubted if they were of the same species that is found around Hudson's Bay and the interior country; upon examination I found no difference: the question is from whence do they come, as they are not known in any part of these countries except in the vicinity of the Canoe River, by the head of which they probably have a pass to the east side of the Mountains.

David Thompson’s Narrative, 1810.

On the 11nth we continued our route at early dawn [Columbia River, likely near present day Northport] — the mountain scenery was hidden from our view, wrapped up in dense mist and fog, which were seen ascending in dense pillars, adding to the forming clouds above till the whole sky was overcast. Occasionally, as if to break upon the unusual monotony, would a fallow or reindeer be observed on the margin of the stream, or peeping with uplifted ears from a thicket, as the strange sound of oars or the Canadian song came stealing louder and louder upon them in their quiet abode — off they bounded, affrighted at the sight of men, so hateful, it appears, to the wild and timid creatures of the forest. In the course of this day we ran the place called the Little Dalles, and in the evening we encamped at the entrance of the Upper Lake.

Pierre Jean de Smet, Life, Letters and Travels of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, S.J., 1801-1873.

A caribou has an enormous foot, bigger than a cow's, and admirably adapted for travelling over snow or bogs; hence they can pass through places where the long slender hoofs of moose or deer, or the rounded hoofs of elk, would let their owners sink at once; and they are very difficult to kill by following on snow-shoes a method much in vogue among the brutal game butchers for slaughtering the more helpless animals. Spreading out his great hoofs, and bending his legs till he walks almost on the joints, a caribou will travel swiftly over a crust through which a moose breaks at every stride, or through deep snow in which a deer cannot flounder fifty yards. Usually he trots; but when pressed he will spring awkwardly along, leaving tracks in the snow almost exactly like magnified imprints of those of a great rabbit, the long marks of the two hind legs forming an angle with each other, while the forefeet make a large point almost between.

Theodore Roosevelt, Chapter VIII: ‘Hunting in the Selkirks; The Caribou’ in The Wilderness Hunter: An Account of the Big Game of the United States and Its Chase with Horse, Hound, and Rifle, 1889.

Here on the woody shores of lake Isocquet [Priest Lake], breathing the balmy odor of the pines, Judge Henry A. Gildersleeve and a large party of prominent New York sportsmen, came and spent several weeks immediately after the Northern Pacific railroad was completed. The party consisted of Colonel Rodney C. Ward, a celebrated fisherman, a German baron and other equally well known New Yorkers...The party had magnificent sport, and had the finest camp ever pitched in this country. It is said to have cost them over $1000 each. The spot selected was on the old Indian highway, used away back in the Hudson Bay Company’s time. The German baron left the part after a few weeks, and with an Indian guide pushed back in the mountains to the northwest, and succeeded in killing nine or ten caribou.

Mr. J. P. M. Richards of Spokane Falls, Spokane Falls Review, Wednesday, January 1st, 1890.

Looking up from where I was kneeling by the fire, I was temporarily blinded by a sudden skift of smoke. When my vision cleared enough to see, I made out the shape of the strangest, most frightening animal I had ever seen coming out of the woods. Rubbing my eyes and forgetting the heaping skillet of birds sizzling over the fire, I tried to get a better look. Without actually seeing him, I was aware that Pelke had picked up his rifle and moved over by me. Touching my arm, he whispered hoarsely, 'What in the world is it?'

Guns ready, Pelke with his rifle and me with my trusty mouser, we watched the twisted figure make its way slowly toward our camp. After an agonizing wait, I suddenly realized that is was a human being entirely clad in caribou hides. Even a headpiece, which covered most his face as well, was made of stiff hide. Rising to my feet, I placed a restraining hand on Pelke’s shoulder. 'Hold fire,' I said softly. 'It’s a man and he desperately needs our help.'

Slipping my pistol back in its holster in one quick motion, I rushed forward to help the awesome stranger. My sudden movement frightened him and he made as if to run, then too far gone to make a go of it, stopped. 'Don’t shoot,' he cried in a faltering, weak voice, 'I’m Billy Houston.'

—Albert Klockmann, journal entry from 1890-1891 published in The Klockmann Diary: The Quest for North Idaho’s Legendary Continental Mine, 1990.

Mr. Butter of Faskally has had a very successful trip to the Rocky Mountains and the Selkirks, killing 11 caribou, 5 bighorn or Rocky Mountain sheep, 5 Rocky Mountain goats, besides deer. All the heads are very fine ones. One caribou head has 39 points, and is believed to be the largest ever killed. Mr. Butter also had the good luck to kill an Albino caribou, an animal which is extremely rare.

Glasgow Herald, Friday, January 20, 1897.

Of the woodland caribou a few are found in Maine, though it is not lawful to kill them, but they maybe he hunted in Newfoundlands, New Brunswich, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Manitoba, Northern Canada, Minnesota, Northern Idaho, Washington, and then to Northern Alaska. If they are found in New Hampshire, Michigan, or North Dakota it is unlawful to kill them.

Seattle Post Intelligencer, Sunday, October 21, 1900.

The caribou or American Reindeer is very scarce in the United States and is in more imminent danger of becoming extinct than any of our other game animals. I only know of one herd in our country and that herd is located in Northwest Montana. The Caribou here illustrated is sometimes known as the Woodland Caribou and is about the size of our Elk. This animal has a large head upon which grows irregular antlers, which they shed in the Springtime. A “shovel horn” grows out of one antler down from between the eyes toward the nose, and the Caribou uses this “shovel horn” to push snow off the moss upon which he feeds. This animal is a “trotter” like the Moose, and while not as swift on foot as the Moose, yet he is a fast traveler. Not being as wary or possessed of the same animal smartness as the Virgin Deer or the Moose, he more easily becomes the victim of hunters and wild animals than they, and consequently has entirely disappeared from much of his one-time range.

Jim Whilt, Daily Inter Lake, December 2nd, 1933.

Montana’s deep timbered Kootenai country, plus a small slice of northern Idaho, is credited by the last fish and wildlife service report with having the nation’s only herd of caribou. The existence of caribou in Montana is a surprise to many sportsmen who think they are well informed on big game in the state, but the state’s outdoorsmen take pride in the diversity of big game within Montana’s borders. Just when these magnificent animals were first seen by white men isn’t recorded and probably never will be, but a number of old timers in the Yaak Valley of northern Lincoln county knew about the caribou. They had seen them sliding like big antlered ghosts among the trees, and some even mistook them for elk, unwilling to believe that there could be caribou in Montana.

John Willard, The Missoulian, July 3rd, 1949.

When a scared animal was killed, its spirit went to a spirit house. For the Neskapi this was Caribou House. Caribou House was a real place. It lay in a mountain range west of Ungava Bay in present-day Quebec. The mountains there were white, not from ice or snow but from centuries of caribou hair falling on the ground. The caribou entered and left this place each year, passing through a valley between two high mountains. The caribou hair on the ground was several feet deep and for miles around the cart-off caribou antlers formed a layer as high as a man’s waist. The caribou paths were worn so deep a calf going along one would only show his head...The Animal Master lived at Caribou House, together with the living caribou and the spirits of slain caribou.

Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men, 1979.

In short, if my argument is valid, then true woodland caribou are only the very few, dark, small-manned caribou scattered across the south of caribou distribution. They need the most urgent of attention.

Valerius Geist, Rangifer, Special Issue No. 17, 2007.

A reindeer engraved on the wall of a cave in south Wales has been confirmed as the oldest known rock art in Britain.

BBC news article, 2012.

My girlfriend and I, meanwhile, were out trying to forge a path to Harrison peak. I had heard you can make your way there from the Two Mouth lakes, though there seemed to be no trails. It ended up being farther than it seemed, and we climbed a closer one which we at first thought was Harrison peak. A warning if you attempt this, the brush is tall, ranging from knee to chest height. Coming up the side of the peak, we got to a small unnamed lake (which you can see on google maps) that has another granite peak directly behind it. Beautiful. Ate lunch there and climbed our original goal, the slightly smaller peak to the right, yielding an excellent view of the two mouth lakes and the stream that connects them. I will say it definitely felt more wild somehow, than down by the Two Mouth lakes. I thought I glimpsed and heard an animal when we first approached the unnamed lake, and when we went out of sight ascending the peak, we both clearly heard something large and probably hooved stomping about in the lake. This is the last forest in the continental US with caribou, I wonder if it was one of those.

Nick Broce, AllTrails.com, Oct. 1st, 2020.

They’re shadows.