Original Document
Original Document
Henry W. Shoemaker, on the history of elk in Pennsylvania, 1915.

ERVUS canadensis was called by the first settlers in Pennsylvania the Canadian, or Pennsylvania Stag. In those days they ranged over the entire State. William Penn mentions them as being killed near Philadelphia in the early part of the eighteenth century, while Peter Kalm, the Swedish naturalist of Kalmia fame, records their presence in the same locality at a slightly later date. They lingered in the "Elk Forest" in the Pocono Mountains until a century later. Probably the last in that region was killed as late as 1845. As they never enjoyed the protection of game laws, their numbers steadily decreased all over the State. As attesting to their former prevalence, Philip Tomb, the greatest Pennsylvania hunter of modern times, states that during the early part of the nineteenth century his brother, Jacob, killed from 25 to 30 Pennsylvania elks annually, while he killed an almost similar number every year.
The bull elks of Pennsylvania were enormous animals. According to Col. Noah Parker, of Gardean, McKean County, they frequently weighed 1,200 pounds and stood 17 hands at the shoulders. Judge Caton, of Illinois, owned a tame elk which at five years, weighed 900 pounds and stood over sixteen hands at the withers. Philip Tomb says that their horns were often six feet long. They were longer bodied, and apparently shorter legged than other eastern or the western elk. In conformation, they were more like huge caribou. In color they inclined more to the drab than the dun or brown, and often had dark brown dappling or spots. They "yarded" or congregated in swamps in winter, and in summer were fond of bathing in deep pools. Dr. W. J.  McKnight, in his inimitable "Pioneer Outline History of Northwestern Pennsylvania," quotes the greatest elk hunter in Jefferson County, Bill Long, as saying that they particularly enjoyed bathing in the Clarion River. Philip Tomb says, that elk milk was nearly equal to that of a cow, both in quality and quantity.
The elks remained longer in Pennsylvania than in New York State, although J. E. DeKay in "Natural History of New York" says they existed in Allegany County (N. Y.) in 1842. A splendid elk was killed in Bolivar, that County, in 1844. In that section and in Northern Pennsylvania they were known as Gray Moose to distinguish them from the Black Moose or Original. Dr. J. D. Schoepf, an educated German, who traveled in Pennsylvania in 1783-4, and whose book "Travels in the Confederation" is a classic, alluded to them by that name. Spangenberg, in describing his trip to the Onondoga country in 1745, calls the elks "wild horses," probably only having seen cows, or bulls with small horns. It is interesting to note the decrease of these noble animals in our State.
At present there are groups of sportsmen who urge the claims of various persons as slayers of the "last elk." Taken by sections, the last elk in the Blue Mountains was killed about 1800 ; in the Pocono Mountains in 1845; in Lackawanna County five or ten years earlier. Caleb Mitchell killed the last elk of the Seven Mountains at the head of Treaster Valley, Mifflin County, in 1857. James David killed the last elk in Clearfield County in May, 1865. It was brought to Lock Haven on a raft from the mouth of Medix Run, where it was killed. This date is authoritative, as the great hunter's son. Flavins J. David, the noted surveyor, is residing in Lock Haven at present and recalls the episode. Jim Jacobson, a half-bred Indian, born in 1848, killed an elk in Elk County in 1867, and others annually until Nov. 19, 1875, when he killed his last near Roulette, Potter County.
Jacobson died near Quaker Bridge, New York, November 1, 1912. Jim Jacobs, a full-blooded Seneca, born in 1790, often confused with Jacobson through the similarity in names, and who was killed by a railroad train at Bradford, Pa., on the afternoon of February 24, 1880, slew at least a dozen elk in his day, the last at Flag Swamp in 1867. Smith Hunter, of partly Indian blood, killed an elk near Ridgway in 1869. Captain Cecil Clay mentioned this episode to Col. Roosevelt, who used it in some of his writings. But the distinction of killing the last Pennsylvania elk belongs to John D. Decker, of Decker Valley, Centre County, who on September 1, 1877, killed a young male elk which had evidently been driven South by forest fires. The great hunter's wife was witness to this notable achievement, and the skull and horns hung for many years on the Decker out-kitchen. At the present time they are in the possession of the writer of these pages. All hail John Decker, mighty nimrod! The last elk captured alive in Pennsylvania is said to have been taken by lumbermen on Little Pine Creek, near Waterville, in Lycoming County, about 1860. It was roped, and crated, and carried on a raft to Marietta where it was presented to Col. James Duffy, for whom the capturers had been working, and it remained for many years an ornament to the Colonel’s private park.  
Up to the middle of the last century when the species began to grow scarce, there was quite a thriving business of catching elks alive in Northern Pennsylvania. Dr. W. J. McKnight quotes a price-list current about 1850, giving the amounts paid for live elks of various ages. One advertisement in the "Elk County Advocate" read as follows: — "Elk wanted. For a living male elk one year old I will give $50; two years old $75; three years old $100 ; and for a fawn three months old $25. Apply Caleb Dill, Ridgway, Pa." According to Dr. McKnight the average age of elk was fifty years.

Credit: Henry W. Shoemaker, Pennsylvania Deer and their Horns (Reading, PA: Faust Publishing Co., 1915), 31-5.
Back to Top