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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Frontier Hunters

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 6 September 2004
Source:
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's, The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Their Precarious Life in the Forests Of the Wild Miami Country.

Game Sometimes Scarce and Sometimes Abundant--First Reported Bear Hunt in Warren County--Hunters with
Early Surveyors--Value of Skins.

August 19, 1909

I purpose in this article to put together some accounts I have collected concerning the life of a hunter in southwestern Ohio. Not many of the early hunters in Ohio were able to write out accounts of their own adventures. The facts here given are all taken from men who engaged in the scenes they describe.
The well known fact that the meat of the earliest settlers on both sides of the Ohio was obtained solely from wild animals, and the statement frequently met with that the pioneers had abundance of meat, I think, have given a wrong impression as to the ease with which game could be shot or trapped. The fact seems to be that in the earliest period game was sometimes abundant, at other times scarce. There are well attested facts which show that the Indians in their villages were at times on the verge of starvation. The Indian's life was one of extremes. At one time he would be feasting in abundance; again he would be days without food. The Indian did not hunt for pleasure, but to obtain a living.
So the early hunters of the white race did not kill wild animals for the pleasure of killing. Hunting was the business by which they got their livelihood, the flesh of the wild animals furnishing good, their skins and furs being objects of trade and barter. The hunter's life was one of constant excitement; he was always on the lookout and often doomed to disappointment. The larger game he often secured at the peril of his life, and sometimes he was nearly starved to death.

Hunters and Scouts With the Early Surveying Parties.

Among the first white hunters on both sides of the Little Miami were men who accompanied the early surveying parties in the capacity of guides, scouts and hunters. One of these adventuresome men was John McDonald, of Ross county, who in a sketch of General Nathaniel Massie has given a graphic picture of the toils and dangers of these bands of surveyors.
Nathaniel Massie in his extensive surveys on the east side of the Little Miami would sometimes have be- sides himself three assistant surveyors and six men with each surveyor, that is, there would be four surveying parties, consisting in all of twenty four men. While surveying, the hunters would go in advance to look for game and guard against surprise by the Indians; next came the surveyor, chain carriers and markers; next the pack- horses and the man who cooked for the company. Sometimes they would start out with flour, but often they carried no provisions with them and depended on their rifles for a living. In one tour of thirty days the party had no bread.
Each man carried his own rifle, tomahawk and scalping knife. McDonald relates that after Wayne's victory they were not interrupted by the Indians, but sometimes suffered much for food, the hunters not being able to kill any game. On one occasion, remembered as "the starving time," the whole party consisting of twenty-eight men, suffered extremely in a driving snow storm for about four days. They were in a wilderness without tents or covering and what was worse without provisions. On the third day they killed two wild turkeys which were boiled and divided into twenty-eight parts and devoured, heads, feet, entrails and all.
McDonald says of Massie, the surveyor, tho had been raised in a thickly settled country east of the mountains, when on his expeditions, he could live on bread without meat, or on meat without bread and he perfectly cheerful and contented.

The First Recorded Bear Hunt in Warren County.

Samuel Highway with a number of men arrived at the site of Waynesville to make the first settlement at that place on March 8, 1797. With the party was Francis Baily, an intelligent English traveler who has described the starting of this town in his book of travels. On the morning after the arrival four men went on a bear hunt which is thus described by Baily:
"While the major parts were engaged in necessary employment, Dr. Bane and myself and two of the men took our guns and a couple of axes and went bear hunting. We had discovered marks of several in-coming along and we were now going to see if we could shoot some of them, in order to furnish ourselves with provision. It is easily discovered whether a tree has a hole in it, and it may also be easily ascertained whether there is a bear in it or not, for in climbing up the trees they scratch off the bark in such a manner as to leave an indelible track through the whole winter, when, therefore, the hunters have found one of the trees in which they imagine a bear to be lodged, they set about cutting it down, which those who are used to it will very soon do, and three or four of the party, with loaded rifles will plant themselves at a little distance off; and in the direction where they expect the tree to fall. As soon as the tree comes to the ground, bruin starts from his hiding place and endeavors to flee into the woods, but the person who stands nearest to the course which he is going to pursue, immediately aims his piece and most probably kills him; however if he should only wound him, the bear will generally turn upon his attacker, and, in this case, the others come to his assistance and put an end to the contest by shooting him through the head.
"This being a new species of diversion to me, I embraced with pleasure the opportunity of going with them to enjoy it. We had not proceeded far in the woods ere we discovered a hole in the top of a lofty oak, whose diameter was upward of three feet at the bottom. These immense trees are generally those to which bears fly--in fact, no others of a smaller size could contain them at a height of sixty or seventy feet from the ground. We saw evident traces of his claws on the bark of the tree, and it was soon resolved that the tree should come down. Accordingly, our two men set at it, and when they had nearly got through we took our appointed stations to watch the egress of the tyrant of the woods.
"In a short time, the immense trunk began to give way, and, carrying all the lesser trees before it, fell with a tremendous crash upon the ground; bruin, finding his habitation in motion, began to look before it reached the ground, and, with a sudden spring, arrived there first; immediately Dr. Bane leveled his piece and shot him through the body, but only so as to wound him, and the bear began to turn on him. This afforded me time to come round to Dr. Bane's assistance, when I shot the animal through the head and hurt a period to his existence. After that we left him to our men to carry to our camp, whilst we went to discover the haunts of some others, and in this expedition we killed two or three deer and saw a great quantity of wild turkeys, so that we had not prospect of extreme want whilst we were here. After this, we returned home and received the thanks of our party for supplying them so sumptuously with provision. This diversion I pursued as often as the weather favored almost every day I was here."

A Young Hunter.

The pioneer Methodist preacher, Rev. James B. Finley spent several years of his life from the age of sixteen as a hunter in the region nearly midway between the Scioto and the Little Miami. Altho he had received a good education and had completed his studies for the practice of medicine, young Finley was so passionately fond of life in the woods with dog and gun that his parents feared he would go off and live with the Indians. This he did not do but he spent the greater part of each winter for several years in hunting.
In his autobiography Finley devotes several pages to his life in the woods. At the age of twenty (1800) he and three companions started from Chillicothe for a winter's hunt. They took no horses and every man carried his own stock of provisions and cooking utensils. They started with a few corn dodgers, one camp-kettle, about a quart of salt, a blanket apiece and their hunting apparatus. After two days travel they found signs of bears in abundance, but they were not fresh signs. They encamped and hunted all the next day, but the leaves were dry and they killed nothing except one wild cat. This was boiled in their camp-kettle and was the first meal they had for two days. Finley says it was the toughest meal he had ever ate.
A third day the party hunted without success until near dark when the dogs treed a large raccoon which after several ineffectual shots was brought down. It was fat; a fire was made and the flesh soon roasted and thus the party of hungry hunters who had been three days roaming the woods with only wild cat to eat, obtained a second meal. At night a heavy snow fell and the only way the hunters could keep comfortable was to get their dogs to lie at their backs.
The object of the hunt was to kill bears, but these animals had gone in quest of mast and the object of pursuit was changed to deer. On the fourth day they were fortunate in killing a number of wild turkeys for food. The camp was moved to the large bottoms on Paint Creek where they hunted with good success and took home with them as many skins and furs as thy could carry.
In 1801 Mr. Finley was married and made his home in a dense wilderness in what is now Highland county where he built a cabin three miles from his nearest neighbor. Here he was often visited by the Indians and he made them occasional visits. He spent the greater part of the winters in hunting and the summers in cultivating his cleared land. The first summer he planted an acre and a half of ground. The clearing was without a fence, and having no horse or plow he cultivated his crop with the hoe and raised over one hundred bushels.
Bear skins were the most valuable and when mast was abundant bears were plentiful. About Christmas he made a turkey hunt. To preserve the turkeys, they were salted and dried. Salt at this time was sold at four dollars for fifty pounds, add to this amount in the backwoods currency was necessary to give in exchange one large bear skin, four buckskins or sixteen coon skins.
At this period the pioneer relied much upon skins and furs for means to obtain the necessaries they could not raise on their lands. At the trading stations a muskrat skin was equivalent to a quarter of a dollar; a raccoon skin to a third of a dollar; a doe skin to half a dollar; a buck-skin to one dollar, and a bear skin to from three to seven dollars according to its size and quality.
One year James B.Finley lost all his property by going security for one of his neighbors. His one hundred acres of land with the improvements on it and all his money went to pay the debt of another. He told his wife to stay at home and he would hunt in the woods. He spent the winter chiefly in hunting bears. At night he slept on the ground by a fire wrapped in furs. He was very successful and records that from the proceeds of one winter's hunting he was enabled to purchase as good a home as the one he had lost.


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