First Settlers Found a Hunter’s Delight

The following reveals life as known to settlers who first entered into this region, before Daviess County was organized out of Ray County. Pioneers who came to stay in the old Ray District, landed on the east bank of Crooked River in August, 1815. The land was beautiful but unpolished by the hand of Englishmen. The Indians, however just, were not desirous of being made perfect, so peace was throughout this new land. The first came by land in Virginia wagons with not-so-white canvas, drawn by a spike team (three horses). The driver was seated on the rear left horse. The hunting life of these families in the first few years is the focus of this writing.

The following reveals life as known to settlers who first entered into this region, before Daviess County was organized out of Ray County. Pioneers who came to stay in the old Ray District, landed on the east bank of Crooked River in August, 1815. The land was beautiful but unpolished by the hand of Englishmen. The Indians, however just, were not desirous of being made perfect, so peace was throughout this new land. The first came by land in Virginia wagons with not-so-white canvas, drawn by a spike team (three horses). The driver was seated on the rear left horse. The hunting life of these families in the first few years is the focus of this writing.

The wagons held a few tools and many children. The first hunt was for a good place to build a cabin. The only livestock was horses, but they needed an enclosure for safety during the night. They were staked out or turned out during the day to find their own feed. A nearby meadow was nice for this purpose. A near prairie was nice for hunting trips, and a grove of fine trees for logs, firewood and fences was the result of the first hunt.

The early history book of Howard and Chariton counties contains the following: "When the settlers first came to this country, wild game of all kinds were very abundant and so tame as not to be easily frightened at the approach of white men. This game furnished the settlers with all their meat and, in fact, with all the provisions they used, for most of the time they had little else but meat. There were large numbers of animals and, to use the expression of an old settler, ‘…they could be killed as easily as sheep are now killed in our pasture.’

"The settlers spent most of their time in hunting and fishing, as it was no use to plant crops to be destroyed by wild game. Small game such as squirrels, rabbits, and partridges swarmed around the homes of the frontiersmen in such numbers that when they did attempt to raise a crop of any kind, in order to save a part of it they were forced to kill them in large numbers. The only use of corn, of which they planted very little, was to make bread, and bread made of corn was the only kind they ever had."

Ray District settlers called their place the Buffalo Settlement, since it was frequented by herds of that animal with at least 60 in each herd. This place is near Hardin in Carroll County.

The hunters’ clothes were deerskin breeches, shirts and moccasins. Their heads were topped by coonskin caps. The wife had leather aprons over a flax or nettle dress. Venison hams were cured for winter use. Wild hogs were in the woods for pork and oil. Fish were taken by night gigging; scalps of wolves and foxes were collected to pay taxes. Furs, deerskins, beeswax and honey were saved for barter or for "land office money" in case the hunter wanted to own his land, which wasn’t often.

A land office was set up opposite Boonville in Cooper County’s bottom in 1818. General Thomas A. Smith and Charle Carroll started sales on Nov. 18, 1818. Doe skins and beeswax were good for payment.

Ray County history lists the animals as follows: "The panther, bear, jackal, lynx, wildcat, catamount, wolf and fox" were all considered destructive; "myriads of wild turkeys" ate up the "little corn fields. The streams are full of fish. Bixon browsed on the prairie, and elk and deer were abroad in the forest."

The lynx cat included the bobcat (Lynx rufus) and the larger, fierce wildcat (Lynx Lynx). The jackal referred to was probably the pack hunter coyote (Canis Latrans) and the gray wolf (Canis Lupus) was the wolf. Foxes included the gray (Tree Fox) and the smaller Kit Fox. The bear was the black (Ursus Americanus). The catamount was the mountain lion (Felis concolor). The panther must be the Texas jaguar called a jaguarundy or black (dark gray) leopard, a night hunter and very much an avoider of man. The elk was the Wapiti or white rump (Cervus elaphus).

In the winter of 1837-38, Gallatin’s great hunter was perhaps William C. Atkinson, who supplied Jacob Stollings and his boarding house ranch. Stolling paid 10 cents for chicken turkeys and 25 cents for grown ones. Atkinson supplied 180 turkeys and venison and fish. He reports a count of 366 deer taken during his life in Daviess County (1837-1882).

Atkinson reported kiling 62 wildcats and 16 wolves, paying his and his neighbor’s taxes with his trusty rifle. He lived at a place called "The Rocks" on Splawn’s Ridge. He took 300 moccasins from one den on the bluffs, of the large and small varieties. The big ones had 15 to 20 rattles. He described them as big spotted with yellow bellies. He also reported that he killed one panther and found as many as 52 bee trees in one fall. He recorded maple sugar sold at $1,600. He said he lost track of his total on turkey.

John Aubrey is reported to have taken the last black bear in Daviess County, using a horse and club.

Written by David Stark, Gallatin; published Oct. 20, 1993, in the Gallatin North Missourian. Further information on pp 155 and 627 in the 1882 Daviess County History book.