This is chapter three in a series I am presenting from the book Recollections of an Old Settler written by Portage County resident Christian Cackler in 1874. It is primarily in his own words and written in first person. The first two chapter links are listed below.
I think it was in 1807 my brother and myself went out bee hunting about the first of March. There came a warm day and the bees in the woods used to fly out and fall on the snow, so we used to find bee trees in this way. We came to a bee tree that was scratched up very much by bears. We concluded that there must be some bears in it. There was a big hole about fifty feet up the tree. We went home and got my father and brother-in-law, Daily, and some dogs, guns, and axes to cut down the tree with.
Daily and my oldest brother placed themselves on each side of the tree where the hole would be when the tree fell. When the tree fell, it split all to pieces and out tumbled a big bear. He had lain so long in the tree he could not run much. The dogs jumped on him, and he soon got one of them down and was about killing him when Daily shot him through, which made him more savage. My brother shot him through the head and that stopped his career. We went back to his nest where we found three cubs about the size of black squirrels.
They have very little young ones for such large animals. They hole up in December and have their cubs in February and lay there until warm weather comes before they bring them out when the herbage begins to grow. Then they begin to feed and give milk for their young. They never have more than three cubs at a time, or I never saw any more than that together. They run with their cubs about fifteen months, then they separate, and you never find two together after that unless it is in August in running time. The bear is the most singular animal that roams the forest. I think they breed only ever other year and they never leave their young until they are a year old. The cubs will weigh from eighty to one hundred pounds; and then they scatter and each one takes his own course.
The otter is a water animal and is larger than the coon and lives on fish, clams, crabs, and other things that he gathers out of the water. He is of a dark brown color, and is a very strong animal for his size. They have tremendous teeth. There is no one dog that can kill them.
The beaver is a larger animal than the otter, and is a lighter color, and a very strong animal for its size. They have large teeth, about one inch broad and very sharp, and strong in their jaws, and will cut down a tree in a little while. They will cut heavier chips than a two inch auger can. They will gnaw right round the tree until it falls. They cut their logs from four to five feet long and then roll them into the river to build their dams. They dig ditches across the bottom of a stream where they place their timbers in a position about half way between an upright and horizontal, or an angle of forty five degrees, with one end down in the ditch, and then carry in their dirt and gravel. I tore up one of their dams on my farm across Tinker’s Creek, and I found it built so then. There were some logs that appeared as though they had not been there but ten years. They were covered up in the ground, one cherry log that was ten inches through. I split it up and found it perfectly sound and I presume it lay there a century or more. The bank on each side of the stream is now three feet higher than the level for the ground.
The woolynig (wolverine) is an animal about a size larger than the wildcat, not as long in the the legs, but heavier and stockier built. They are of a darker color. They have large whiskers on each side of their heads. They look savage, and are as savage as they look. They are the hardest customers that roam the forest, according to their size.
The wildcat is still smaller than the woolynig. He is about as large as a small sized dog but of longer legs in proportion to his body. He is very fond of the feathered flocks, such as geese, ducks, chickens, pigs, as well as lambs and sometimes fills smallish deer, etc.
There are two other animals worthy of note for their peculiarities. There is the opossum and the porcupine. The porcupine is a little larger than the coon, and stockier built and a little clumsy. They have no defense but their quills. They are covered all over with these quills, and if anything approaches them, they stick their heads down so that nothing can touch them without getting full of their quills, which are as sharp as needles, and have beards on them. There is no getting rid of them. If a dog took hold of them, his mouth would look like a broom; and if they were not pulled out, they would work through and would come out the opposite side in time and kill him.
The opossum has no defense to make. He lies down and pretends to be dead. You may kick him and knock him around and he will not defend himself, but lie curled up and pretend to be dead. There is some peculiarity about them. They have a pocket in their belly, or rather outside of it, where they carry their young. I have seen as many as eight in one of these pockets at one time.
First Execution in the County will be next week’s feature!