HUNTING WAS NOT FOR SPORT, BUT LIFE
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Life in the Forest
One of the most interesting
features of the work is the description of the environment of the Indians,
the forests before the white man's ax, rifle and plow had made the great
changes in its animal and plant life. Without being a man of science
the missionary describes the trees, shrubs and medicinal plants, wild
fruits, berries and nuts, quadrupeds, birds, fishes and serpents of
which he obtained knowledge by his own observation and from the Indians.
the forests before the early settlers' cattle had eaten out the tender
sprouts and young trees. Were these forest thickets of small trees and
underbrush thru which a passage could be made with difficulty? Such
thickets we often see today in woods, fenced in from cattle. He describes
the forests with which he was most familiar as containing mainly oak
trees of five varieties, but with a considerable number of other kinds,
and says "they are not dense, but generally sufficiently open to
allow comfortable passage on foot or horse-back."
The Indians felled trees before the introduction
of the iron tomahawk by fire. They built a fire against the trunk of
a standing tree and kept it burning until the tree fell, and this method
the missionary found still in use among the older men and those who
did not own a hatchet. Trees were felled both for firewood and for canoes.
The canoes had formerly been hollowed out of a whole tree trunk by burning.
Wood for fuel and for other purposes was burned into pieces of such
length as to be easily carried home. They used much wood for fuel and
wished their food well cooked. "When they have lived long in one
place, it at last becomes troublesome to secure wood for fuel because
all the wood in the neighborhood had been used. This causes them to
leave the place and plan a new village for the sake of the wood and
The bow and arrow had fallen into disuse
with the tribes which traded with the whites and were used only for
small game, such as the pigeon, fox and raccoon, in order to save powder.
There were still, however, whole tribes to the west and northwest that
used nothing but the bow and arrow and had no desire to obtain European
weapons. Boys, however, were trained to shoot with the bow. The first
deer a boy shot proved an occasion of great solemnity. The best time
for hunting was in the fall when the game was fat and the hides in good
condition. In September and October the men went hunting with their
families, remaining away until new year or later. After new year they
devoted themselves to catching the beaver, the raccoon and the fox and
other fur-bearing animals. The Indians had already learned from the
whites how to use the steel trap, and the beaver which had been numerous
were becoming scarce. Their skins were of considerable value. They also
hunted the bear. The winter hunt lasted until spring. In February and
March the women made maple sugar. After planting time the summer chase
Deer were most sought for among the larger
game, there being considerable trade in skins, and a buckskin was worth
about a dollar. The deer was killed mostly for their hides, only so
much of the meat as the hunters could consume while on the chase was
consumed by them. Most of the meat was left in the woods for the wild
animals, the wolves especially followed the hunters, moving in the direction
of the shooting.
The white man's firearms were already
in general use. The Delaware Indians used no other than rifle barreled
guns, but farther north muskets were more common. The Delawares had
acquired some skill in repairing their gun when out of order and had
learned even to furnish them with stocks. How many deer could an Indian
hunter kill with his gun? The missionary says: "As an Indian shoots
from 50 to 150 deer each fall, it can easily be seen that game must
Game, Large and Small.
an elk would be shot in the region described but they do not seem to
have been numerous.
The buffalo is described at length. At
one time these animals appeared in great numbers un some areas but as
soon as the country became inhabited by Indians they retired and were
at the time of the Revolution only a few were to be seen. Zeisberger
saw a yearling buffalo that had been raised by the Indians and was quite
Of smaller animals the missionary describes
three kinds of squirrels, not including the ground-squirrel, viz: the
black, the grey and the red. "The black are most commonly found,
the grey are the largest, and the red the smallest in size. Their flesh
is tender, and eaten by the Indians in case of sickness or when they
are very hungry for meat."
The missionary describes over thirty different
kinds of birds. Of these the largest is the crane, supposed to be the
sand-hill crane, now a very rare bird. He says that when standing on
its long legs and stretching its neck upwards, it is as tall as a man
and its body proportionately heavy. When shot and only wounded it attacks
its pursuer. He saw wild swan, white in color and quite like the domestic
birds he had seen in Holland.
In the fall wild turkeys might be seen
in flocks numbering hundreds. The Indians hunted their eggs and were
quite fond of them.
Crows did much damage, especially in the
Indians' cornfields, both when the corn was planted and when it was
The smallest bird in the region was the honey bird, (the hummingbird)
which without perching on the flowers sucks the honey out of them.
It is known that the Indians in different
parts of North America had, when first seen by the whites, dogs which
seem to have been their only domesticated animal. These dogs were used
in the chase and sometimes killed for food. The origin of this breed
is unknown as it is that of the domesticated dog in every part of the
world. Of the breed of dogs formerly possessed, Zeisberger says:
likewise possessed in former days of a kind still to be found in
considerable numbers among them. These may readily be distinguished
from European dogs, which are now most commonly found among the
Indians, especially the Delawares. The ears of Indian dogs rise
rigidly from the head and the animals have something of a wolfish
nature, for they show their teeth immediately when roused. They
will never attack a wolf, tho set on to do so, in this respect also
differing from European dogs. Of their origin their masters can
give as little information as that of the Indians themselves."
The writer also says in another place
that at their war feasts they would sometimes kill a couple of dogs,
not because dog's flesh was a delicacy, for the Indian dogs were very
lean, but because it was thought to inspire them with the spirit of
war and murder. He had seen women at these feasts eat dog's flesh with
greediness, but he himself had always steadily but courteously refused
to partake of it.