Animals and Hunting Excursions
This is the second chapter in a series I am presenting from the book Recollections of an Old Settler written by Christian Cackler in 1874. I have kept it in first person. My introduction and chapter one can be found HERE.
This used to be one of the greatest counties in the world for a variety of game; elk, deer, bear, wolf, panther, wildcat, otter, beaver, woolynigs (wolverines), porcupine, raccoon, and a great variety of small animals. Of the feathered flock there were swans, geese, ducks, turkeys, bald eagles, gray eagles, ravens, buzzards, crows, owls, and a great variety of smaller birds that used to make the forest ring with their sweet songs as one happy family of the forest. But they have all disappeared and gone to return no more forever.
The Indian was placed in the forest with his happy family of beasts and birds…he had everything that the human heart could wish for…and he lived according to the counsel that was given of old: “Give no thought of the morrow, but let every day provide for itself.” I think if honor and honesty constitute good men, the Indian had it. The Indian has gone with all his forest flocks to return no more.
I will now give you a short history of the animals of the forest.
The elk stayed here until about 1814. They are peculiar creatures in some respects. They have large horns which drop off every year in the month of December or when the weather gets very cold. I think they freeze off, for when freezing cold weather begins, the horn will begin to crack around close to the head where the heat of the animal and the cold meet and will keep cracking for two or three weeks before it drops off then heals over. And in the spring, when the warm weather begins, the horn begins to grow again. In August the horns get their perfect shape and they lie in the sun and dry their horns until they get hard.
I helped to run out the township of Dover, west of Rocky River. We surveyed it in 1810. At that time there were a great many elk in that township. We used to start them almost every day. They run in large herds like deer. They have their fawns in June and have spots all over when young, and while they have the spots on, there is nothing that can follow their tracks by scent. They do not leave any scent until the spots come off. They hide their fawns and suckle them twice a day.
I have seen elk horns that are over three and a half feet long and full of prongs, and I should think would weigh six pounds each. A dog cannot do anything with them, nor can a wolf. They will strike with their feet almost as hard as a horse will kick. They will knock a dog almost in pieces in a very few minutes.
The panther is a hard customer. He is the master animal that roams the forest, except the bear. They are of the cat kind, very sly and secret. They often catch deer by getting up on some leaning tree and jump down on them; and if they once get hold of them, they are a sure prey. My brother-in-law and I used to go together to a spot where the deer fed their young in the summer. There we fixed a little blind to sit behind so as to shoot them when they came there in the evening.
One evening, my brother-in-law went there alone. He heard something coming up a hollow towards him, stepping very carefully, and when it got within eight or ten rods of him, it stopped for some time and then changed his course up around him. Stepping very carefully, he could hear him walk in the dry leaves. He could not imagine what it could be. He had a big dog with him and the dog would partly get up and growl, which he was not accustomed to doing when there was a deer about. He would pat him on the head and make him lie down and be still. But the dog was not easily quieted; and still he could hear the stepping and working up of leaves around him. The dog got so uneasy and thought it did not step like a deer so my brother-in-law let the dog go. When the dog got near it, he heard something running up a tree and making a wonderful scratching and tearing. My brother-in-law went up to the tree and built a fire and thought he would keep it up until morning. He thought it must be a bear.
He kept up a good fire and about one hour before daylight he heard it coming down the tree on the opposite side from the fire. When it got fifteen or sixteen feet from the ground it jumped off and ran, but the dog soon run it up another tree and kept barking so it dare not come down. They kept it up until morning when he saw what it was. He drew up his rifle and thought he would shoot it through the head and make sure work of it. When the gun cracked, down it came and the dog jumped on it; but the panther soon tore him so he was glad to let go of it, and up the tree it went again about twenty feet and got on a limb and got very sick. He went to load his rifle again but had no bullet with him. He did not know what to do; but he put in his powder and tow and whittled out plugs of wood and fired at it. One of them happened to hit it right and down it came, and he and the dog dispatched it. It was a big male one. His skin was almost eight feet from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail and he had monstrous claws. It was in the summer 1805 or 1806 this took place.
Chapter Three, More Animals and Hunting Excursions, will be next week’s feature.