And Now We Hunt the Doe

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And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe
Emily Dickinson

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tail Deer [1]

In my last post, Forest Primeval, I wrote that Native Americans would set fires in the forests of the Firelands. Today, we’ll find out why they did this.

Indians in canoes

Indians in Canoes [2]

Native Americans did not live permanently in the Firelands at the time the first pioneers arrived. Instead, Canadian tribes would cross the lake in autumn to hunt. To make it easier for them to spot game from a distance, they would start fires and burn off the underbrush that had grown up over the summer.

Why did they want to see prey from a distance? Can’t the animals see the hunter too, and run away? They can, but although we humans are not as fast as our prey, we can travel farther. In a technique that goes back to a form of hunting first practiced by our earliest ancestors on the plains of Africa, we can use our stamina to advantage, running or walking long distances to exhaust prey. Called “persistence hunting,” this strategy involves hunters keeping an animal, or herd of animals, in sight, pushing them along until they can go no farther. The hunters then can approach and kill their prey at close range. [3]

Settlers picked up this technique from Native Americans. According to pioneer John Niles “It was a maxim among deer hunters, that if a man could follow a deer at the rate of forty miles per day, the deer would tire out before night and lay down.” [4]

Forty miles a day seems a fast rate to maintain all day, but “a day” most likely meant from dawn to dusk. While hiking here in Colorado, I have on occasion kept up that rate for nine hours in fairly rugged terrain, so I can imagine maintaining that pace even longer on the flat-lands of northern Ohio.

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As settlers arrived and pushed the Native Americans out of their traditional winter hunting grounds, these annual fires did not occur, and the forest soon became choked with underbrush, much as we see it today. [5]

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Whitetail doe,” Wikimedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 June 2008. Web. 2 May, 2018, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whitetail_doe.jpg

[2] Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 12.

[3] “Persitence hunting,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 March, 2018. Web. 3 May, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_hunting

[4] John H. Niles, “Memoirs of Richmond,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; pp. 68-69.

[5] Marcus E. Mead, “Memoirs of Greenwich,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p. 75.

 

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Forest Primeval

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie [1]

 

Unbroken Forest

The Forest Primeval [2]

When I was a lad, every spring, I would hunt for arrowheads at my grandparents’ farm in Fairfield Township of the Firelands. As I walked up and down the rows that Grandpa had recently plowed, I would imagine what the open fields had looked like back when Indians had hunted there.

Or, rather, I tried to imagine. I had never seen a Forest Primeval, and I would not until I was a college senior when, as a student teacher, I accompanied a high school class on a field trip to Goll Woods [3], an old growth forest west of Toledo. The only forests I had seen as a young boy consisted of younger, smaller trees, and were choked with underbrush.

The Forest Primeval “is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and might be classified as a climax community.” [4] It has a lot of very old, very big trees.

When the earliest settlers arrived in the Firelands, most of the land was covered in old-growth forests, with enormous trees and a forest floor generally clear of underbrush. But it was not only the shade of the forest canopy that kept the forest clear of brush. It was the frequent occurrence of fires. Not naturally occurring fires, but fires set by man. Every autumn, Native Americans crossed Lake Erie from their homes in Canada and set fire to the forests. [5]

Why did they do this? I’ll explain in my next post.

 

Footnotes

[1] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, David Bogue, 1850; p. 2.

[2] Rusler, William, “Illustration: An Unbroken Allen County Forest,” A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 227.

[3] “Goll Woods State Natural Preserve,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4 December, 2017. Web. 29 April, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia#MLA_style

[4] “Old-growth Forests,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 April, 2018. Web. 29 April, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia#MLA_style

[3] Marcus E. Mead, “Memoirs of Greenwich,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society, June 1864; p. 75.

 

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