History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


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.

     He saw 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 other conveniences."


     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 began.

     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 decrease."

Game, Large and Small.

     Occasionally 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 tame.

     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 ripening.
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:

     "Dogs they 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.

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