Original Document
Original Document
John Fanning Watson, "Beasts of Prey and Game," 1857.

                "The squirrels, rabbits, and the timid deer,
                  To beasts of prey are yet exposed here."
                                                 - Poem, 1729.

The following notices of the state of wild animals roaming through our woody wastes in early days, will aid the mind to perceive the state of cultivation which has since banished the most of them from our territories, to wit:

Mr. Kalm, the Swedish traveller, who was here in 1748, says that all the old Swedes related, that during their childhood, and still more in the time of the arrival of their fathers, there were excessive numbers of wolves prowling through the country, and howling and yelping every night, often destroying their domestic cattle.

In that early day, a horrible circumstance occurred for the poor Indians. They got the smallpox from the new settlers. It killed many hundreds of them. The wolves, scenting the dead bodies, devoured them all, and even attacked the poor sick Indians in their huts, so that the few who were left in health, were much busied to keep them off.

The Swedes, he said, had tamed some few wolves. Beavers they had so tamed, that they were taken to fish with, and bring the fish they caught to their keepers. They also tamed wild geese, and wild turkeys. Those wild turkeys which he saw in the woods, were generally larger than those of the domestic race. 1The Indians also tamed the turkeys, and kept them near their huts. Minks were very numerous along the waters.

In 1721, in September, several bears, says the Gazette, were seen yesterday, near this place, and one was killed at Germantown, and another near Darby. Last night a very large bear being spied by two amazons, as he was eating his supper of acorns up a tree, they called some inhabitants of this place (the city!) to their assistance, and he was soon fetched down and despatched by them.

As late as the years 1724 and '29, they gave a premium, by law, of 15 to 20s. for wolves, and 2s. for foxes. This was for the purpose of destroying them out of the country.

In 1729, a panther was killed at Conestogoe. It had disturbed the swine in their pen at night. The owner ran to the place with his dogs, and the beast then ascended a tree. It being very dark the women brought fire and made a flame near it. It was shot a twice. The second fire broke both its legs, when, to their surprise, it made a desperate leap and engaged with the dogs, until a third shot in the head despatched it.

About the same time, a monstrous panther was killed at Shrewsbury, by an Indian. Its legs were thicker than those of a horse, and the nails of its claws were longer than a man's finger. The Indian was creeping to take aim at a buck in view, when hearing something rustling behind him, he perceived the panther about to spring upon him. He killed him with four swan shot in the head.

In 1730, a woman in Chester county, going to mill, spied a deer fast asleep, near the road. She hit it on the head with a stone, and killed it.

The latest notice of buffaloes, nearest to our region of country, mentioned in 1730, when a gentleman from the Shenandoah, Va., saw there a buffalo killed, of 1400 pounds; and several others came in a drove at the same time.

1732.-At Hopewell, in New Jersey, two bucks were seen fighting near the new meeting-house, in the presence of a black doe. They fastened their horns so closely, that they could not separate and were so taken alive! The doe also was taken. Another brace had been before caught before in a similar extremity!

In 1749, the treasurers of the several counties declared their treasuries were exhausted by the premiums paid for squirrels. £ 8,000 was paid in one year, (says Kalm,) for gray and black squirrels, at 3d. a head, making the enormous aggregate of 640,000! The premium was then reduced one half.

Samuel Jefferies, who died near West Chester, in 1823, at the age of eighty-seven, very well remembered a time, in his early life when deer were plenty in his neighbourhood: and Anthony Johnson, of Germantown, tells me of often hearing from his grandfather there, of his once killing deer, beavers, and some bear and wolves in that township.

Mr. Kalm, when here in 1748, says, all then agreed that the quantities of birds for eating, was then diminished. In their forefathers' days, they said the waters were covered with all sorts of water-fowl. About sixty to seventy years before, a single person could kill eighty ducks of a morning! An old Swede, of ninety years, told Mr. Kalm he had killed twenty-three ducks at one shot! The wild turkeys and the hazel hens, (pheasants) too, were in abundance, in flocks, in the woods. Incredible numbers of cranes visited the country every spring. They spoke also of fish being once much more abundant. At one draught they caught enough to load a horse; and codfish, since all gone, were numerous at the mouth of the Delaware.

In the year 1751, as I was assured by the late aged Timothy Matlack, Esq., there was killed a bear, at the square now open eastward and adjoining the late Poor-house, nine years before it was built, in 1760. He was killed by Reuben Haines, grandfather of the late gentleman of that name. He and five others had started him from near Fairmount, and chased him through the woods nearly five miles, when he took to a cherry tree at the square afore-said. They had no gun, but remaining there till one was procured, he was shot down. Mr. Matlack declared this was a fact. Penn's woods, we know, were then existing thereabout.

ln 1700, a woman killed a large bear at Point-no-pointy. She lived there with Robert Watkins, and while she was at work near the kitchen out-house, he came up to it so near, that she killed him.

These were of course deemed rare occurrences, even in that day, and have been since remembered and told from that cause...

In 1816, January 1st-A large she wolf was taken in West Nottingham, Chester county, nearly three feet high, measuring upwards of six feet in length.

1817, January 7-A large eagle was shot fifteen miles from Philadelphia, in Moreland township, weighing eight pounds, and its wings extending seven feet. About the same time a wild cat was killed at Easton, measuring three feet.

1827, February.-A panther, measuring six feet, was killed seventeen miles from Easton.

At Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in December, 1832, is was published that Mr. Long, of Jefferson county, Pennsylvania, called Bill Long, had killed during the hunting season, one hundred and sixty-five deer, five elks, twenty-eight bears, and thirteen wolves; one of the elks weighed seven hundred pounds. All this was done in a county within fifty miles of the great State canal, and at places but thirty miles from the great thoroughfare, the Allegheny river. So rapid is our improvement.

In October, 1834, a bear, weighing one hundred and forty pounds, was started by dogs from near the head of Joseph Lindsay's mill pond, in Chester county, and after being pursued by men and dogs, and ascending and descending several high trees, and after receiving several shots and grappling some two or three times with the dogs, was at last killed by six guns at once. Such a visitor, in so improved a county, was a strange affair, and it is supposed that it must have crossed the Delaware from the Jersey pines.

About the same time it is published, that several were seen not far from Reading, coming down from the wooded mountains, and exploring their way along the skirts of the farms.

In the same winter of 1836, a man was killed and torn to pieces by wolves, in Perry county, Liberty valley, he having first killed six of them with his knife–so it was published.

Credit: John Fanning Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Old Time (Philadelphia: Elijah Thomas, 1857), 433-36.
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