DAYS GONE BY: Encounters with wild animals in the old days

By Shanna Avery

Lake County Historical Society

The pioneers who settled this region when northern Michigan was an expanse of dense forest lived on guard of the untamed wilderness around them. The following account explores numerous encounters with animals such as bears, wolves, wild cats and other species as narrated on the pages of old local newspapers.

On July 24, 1873, the Lake County Star reported, "Franky Knapp, a small boy, was passing through the woods when he saw a bear cub up a tree.  Franky made up his mind he would catch the cub and so started up the tree, but he had not proceeded far before hearing a noise and looking around he saw the old bear approaching.  He did not stop to question the animal's title to the cub but slipping to the ground had just time to make his escape before she reached the tree."

Another story in the Star reported a predicament at school district number two in Ellsworth Township, taught by Miss Ada J. Randall, "She has 19 scholars enrolled, but a hunter killed a very large bear in that district last week and there is much excitement about sending the children through the woods in consequence of which, there were but three pupils present.  There is more fear of the bear since his death than there was during his natural life time." (July 24, 1873)

The Big Rapids Current reported, "C. H. Clement encountered a black bear last Monday, just at evening, a few rods south of the depot. The distance between them was a safe one for Cliff, but "for a fact," he says his hair "sorter ris" a little. Bruin struck out for the swamp as soon as he saw Cliff." (January 15, 1882)

The Star keyed in on the size of one of these bears, "J. W. Goodar shot and killed a monster bear in township 19, range 12, in this county. The bear would measure eight feet from the extreme point of its nose to point of its haunches, and would weigh, after it was dressed, about 400 pounds." (December 9, 1875)

The December 2, 1880, issue of the Star reported, "A party of Wauseon, Ohio hunters recently killed a good sized lynx over in the vicinity of Star Lake."

There were a number of encounters involving wolves, "Benjamin Barrett, clerk of Cherry Valley Township, gave us a call Monday. He spoke of the wolves as having become quite troublesome in the neighborhood where he resides. The wolves are making havoc in Cherry Valley Township having killed two sheep for Sylvestor Cork, and crippled two calves for C. A. Swain. They were also prowling about the premises of James Avery, but were frightened away. Andrew Craig lost a calf we believe also." (Lake County Star: August 15, 1878)

In Dover Township, northeast Lake County, J. H. Sutton had seven sheep killed by wolves in the fall of 1878.

The December 16, 1880, issue of the Manistee Standard disclosed one man's close call with wolves, "James Johnson, a hunter from the south part of the state, had a narrow escape from the wolves near Springdale Township, recently. One night last week he was chased toward his camp by three ferocious wolves. It was in a blinding snow storm and pitch dark. He had but one charge in his rifle. The wolves were almost onto him when, very in despair, he fired at random and joined the camp. The next morning he found the remains of a monster wolf with a hole between the eyes. It was a she-wolf and measured seven feet from tip to tip. That lucky shot undoubtedly saved the hunter's life."

The March 1, 1882, issue of the Big Rapids Current told of another frightening adventure reprinted from the Ogemaw Herald, "A pack of 15 wolves followed a supply team from Beaver Lake Station, recently, to within 1.2 miles of the camp on the Au Sable, a few miles below St. Helens. The driver kept them off by vigorously swinging a lantern. They are reported plenty in that section."

The July 17, 1879, issue of the Star told, "A plucky adventure. We learn from Frederick Baker of Eden Township that a few days since, as Edgar Foss and Eddie Scott aged 8 and 9 years respectively were returning home from a neighbor's in Glencoe Township when they encountered a wolf and procuring clubs they attacked the animal and succeeded in killing it. Those boys are apparently of the right grit for the back woods."

Wolves were so numerous that a bounty of $12 was set on every wolf slaughtered, according to the October 16, 1879, issue of the Lake County Star.  The article continued, "On or about the 24th day of September, 1879, Henry Stowe came before me and presented a full grown wolf's scalp, with ears entire thereon, for the purpose of obtaining the bounty prescribed by law."

Poisonous snakes were also something that settlers were cautious of, "We are pleased to learn that the little son of C. H. Forman who was bitten on the hand by a rattle snake a few days since, while fishing at Twin Lakes, has nearly or quite recovered from the terrible poison." (Lake County Star: October 7, 1880)

The July 30, 1874, issue of the Star reported, "Mr. G. Hibner, while hunting a marsh near the railroad a mile and a half east of town [Baldwin] last Tuesday, killed a full grown messenger. It measured about two feet and a half in length and was the possessor of eight rattles."

With the countless number of wild animals prowling about, some tried their hands at domesticating the same. In Chase, "That pet bear of Kellogg's created no little excitement last week by breaking his chain and escaping.  He was speedily recaptured however and returned to his old quarters." (Lake County Star: October 23, 1873)

The Manistee Standard reported, "A monster bear was exhibited on our streets Thursday by two men, who wrestled, shook hands with, and kissed the bear for the amusement of the people. The animal would carry the club, the hat, etc., in his arms as well as a man." (June 12, 1886)