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Wild Animals


Transcription contributed by Martie Callihan 28 Oct 2004

The History of Warren County Ohio
Part III, The History of Warren County
Chapter IV. Pioneer History
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)
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The buffalo and elk, probably never numerous in this vicinity, had disappeared before the approach of the white man, but the bear, the deer, the wolf, the panther, the wildcat, the otter, the beaver, the porcupine, the wild turkey, the rattlesnake, racer, moccasin and copperhead of the fauna, which have now disappeared, remained in greater or less numbers for some years after the occupancy by the whites. The streams were infested with leeches. Swine were the chief means of the destruction of poisonous snakes from which the county has been almost entirely free for fifty years.

Wolves were so numerous and destructive to sheep that several acts were passed by the Territorial and State Legislatures providing premiums for killing them. Considerable sums were allowed by the Commissioners of this county for wolf scalps, the bounty varying at different times from $2 to $2.50 for each wolf killed over six months old, and half these sums for those under six months. The wolf-killer, before receiving his bounty, was required by law to produce the scalp of each wolf killed, with the ears entire. The first law required the whole head of the wolf, with the ears entire, to be produced. He was also required to take an oath, which, in 1799, was of the following form:

I do solemly swear (or affirm) that the head now produced by me, is the head of a wild wolf, taken and killed by me in the county of ———, within six miles of some one of the settlements within the same to the best of my knowledge, and that I have not wittingly or willingly spared the life of any bitch wolf, in my power to kill, with the design of increasing the breed, so help me God.

The same premium was offered for killing panthers as for killing wolves; but only two panther scalps were presented to the Commissioners in this county in the course of eight years; $20 for wolf scalps have been allowed in this county at a single meeting of the Commissioners.

Countless numbers of squirrels were to be found in the woods, and unceasing vigilance was required on the part of the settler to protect his corn-fields from their ravages. They sometimes passed over the country in droves, traveling in the same direction. These animals were a nuisance, and were too common to be regarded as valuable for food. The Legislature, in 1809, passed a singular act having the double object in view of destroying squirrels and providing the people with a currency. It was entitled "An Act to Encourage the Killing of Squirrels," passed and bearing date December 24, 1807. Its first section provided '' that each and every person within this State, who is subject to a county tax, shall, in addition thereto, produce to the Clerk of the township in which he may reside such number of squirrel scalps as the Trustees, at their annual meeting, apportion to the currency levies, provided that it does not exceed one hundred nor less than ten." Each tax-payer, at the time his property was listed for taxation, was to be furnished with a list of the scalps he would be required to furnish. On failure or neglect to furnish the required scalps, the tax-payer was required to pay into the treasury of the township 3 cents for every scalp he was in default; and every person producing to the Township Clerk an excess of scalps over and above the number apportioned to him was to receive 2 cents for each.

SECTION 6. That if any person shall produce to the Clerk of his proper township any number of squirrel scalps exceeding the number required of him by the first section of this act, such Clerk shall give to the person producing the same a certificate therefor, stating the number so produced in advance, which certificate, on being presented to the Treasurer of such township, shall be a sufficient warrant for him to pay to the person holding certificate the amount thereof, calculating the amount at the same rate prescribed in the second section of this act, out of any money paid into the treasury, under the provisions of the fourth section of this act, which certificate, with the receipt of the persons

producing the same, shall be by such Treasurer filed in his office as a proper voucher at his settlement with the Trustees of the township, so far as relates to moneys paid into such treasury, under the provisions of this act.

The certificates of the Township Clerk furnished the people with a currency. They were secured by the faith of the township and were received by the merchant for goods and by the mechanic for work. The law, however, did not prove a great success and was soon repealed.

A. H. Dunlevy, who came to the vicinity of Lebanon when a boy, in 1797, thus speaks of the number of snakes:

"The high weeds in falling down formed fine harbors for snakes, which were as plenty as one could wish, consisting, mainly, of the black rattlesnake, the racer, the watersnake, and occasionally was found a moccasin snake, the most deadly of all. Near where we first lived was a camp of Gen. Harmar as he led his army toward the Maumee, in 1790. He had probably remained there for a week or ten days, as there were three or four graves there and some half acre or more cut off and the brush piled in heaps around the camp. These brush-heaps were decayed in 1798, but afforded fine harbors for snakes, and as the warm sun of spring came out. I think hundreds of them could be seen in an hour passing from one brush heap to another in apparent merry play. I used there to amuse myself in watching their movements, and noting their peculiar colors; every kind of snake seemed to nestle together in these brush heaps. As an evidence of the number of snakes then existing in this new country, I will mention one fact. My father took me once with him to a neighbors, about half a mile distant, and, in going to and returning from that neighbor's, he killed seven rattlesnakes and gave me the rattles, and that without any particular search.

" Again, in the first settlements of the country, the water-courses were infested with leeches so numerous that the most active boy would not run across any part of Turtle Creek in summer barefooted and barelegged without having a number of leeches fasten upon his feet and legs; and if one would walk through slowly, they would cover the feet and legs until they were black. Soon, however, the blood would flow freely, giving the limbs a most disgusting appearance. To get rid of them was a task requiring hard scraping with a stick. Many of our cattle died of bloody murrain at that time, and I now have no doubt the disease was caused by drinking in these leeches in great numbers, though I do not now recollect that this was then supposed to be the cause of that sickness. But as the country settled, snakes and leeches disappeared. There being no rocks to shelter either, hogs soon destroyed both, and, for fifty years, this section of country has been almost free from snakes, except the black snake, which is not poisonous."

The same writer thus describes the manner of hunting the bear as he himself had witnessed the sport:

"Of all the sports of hunting in early times, the bear-hunt was the most exciting. This usually occurred accidentally. I never knew a bear-hunt to be regularly organized. Some one in the neighborhood would accidentally discover a bear, and if at a time when the animal was fat and worth possessing, he gave the sound of a horn, known in the neighborhood as a signal of the discovery of a bear and the call for help to capture the prize. Instantly, almost, men on horseback, with rifles and dogs, were on hand. The sound of the horn indicated the course of the bear and thither the neighbors hastened. For hours, sometimes from morning till nightfall, the chase would continue. The dogs would keep on the track of the bear, but unless they could cause him to take to a tree, they could do nothing with him but to keep his trail and enable the, hunters to follow. If they ventured to attack him, they were soon

repulsed—sometimes killed on the spot. At last, after many hours chase, sometimes embracing an area of five or six miles circumference, the exhausted bear would take to a tree, around which the dogs quickly gathered, and, by their united noise, gave assurance to the hunters that bruin was at last treed. The signal-horn was sounded and the hunters were soon on the spot. If it was still light, the bear was soon brought down by the unerring rifle. If too dark to see, the tree was watched until morning, and then he was dispatched. The event ended with skinning the bear and cutting up the carcass into as many pieces as would give each hunter his portion, and usually sending a part to each family in the neighborhood. The flesh, though considered by most people a delicacy, I could never eat, but the sport of the bear-hunt had no equal with me at that early day or at any time since."

Other kinds of game were abundant. For some years the red deer were as numerous as cattle to-day. Wild turkeys could be shot or entrapped in great numbers.. When mast was abundant, a drove of more than one hundred wild turkeys, all large and fat, might be found in the near vicinity of the settlements, and when mast was scarce large numbers would sometimes come to the barn-yards for grain. The rivers abounded with fish. The white and yellow cat-fish, black bass, red-horse and carp could be drawn from the Little Miami by brush drags in wagon loads.

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This page created 28 Oct 2004 and last updated 31 August, 2012
© 2004 Arne H Trelvik  All rights reserved