Saturday, June 7, 2014

Toward a Mammalian Fauna of Upstate New York

Another source of fauna information is the Turner History of the Pioneer Settlement of the Gorham-Phelps purchase, were anecdotes and vignettes of encounters with wolves and mountain lions (called panther) abound. More work is needed here.
  • The bear was an ambiguous animal to encounter. They were attracted by the hogs of the earlier settlers (p.191; p.203; p.409) and sometimes the children would meet them when retrieving the cows (p.191), or the grown-ups when splitting rails (p.192). The beasts were tough enough that an angled axe blow to the head might only wound the animal (p.192), though a hand-spike could break their back (p.192). Farmers had to chase them out of their fields as well (p.192); in general it seemed possible to shoo them off. People lived isolated enough that wolves and bears were considered their "nearest neighbors" (p.209). Bears were also attracted to other fatty foods, such as the cheeses of Mrs Dean, who had established the first cheese press in Genesee county (p.225 Note). Feral hogs however were able to battle bears successfully (p.265 Note). Elisha Sennder crossed Irondequoit Bay in his canoe when a bear climbed into the canoe to catch a lift (p.412). Near Monroe, the hunter John Parks failed to kill when shooting a bear, and was mauled badly when defending his life with his knife; having to crawl lacerated several miles to the house of William Henscher (p.412). Their furs were traded at Brighton, by Judge Tyron in his Indian store, with the Indians and trappers (p.429). 
  • The hog was a domesticated animal that had been introduced to the area by the white settlers and let "of necessity" roam in the forest to feed itself (p.191). Hogs also attracted bears (p.191f; p.203). Sometimes the roaming hogs escaped and became feral (p.191; p.265 Note) and turned into a fearsome adversary of dogs and Indians (p.191), even capable of holding its own against the bear and the wolves (p.265 Note; p.426), almost becoming the "lord of the forest" (p.412), and requiring hunting by the humans with dogs (p.426; p.425). Edward Holbrook in North American Herpetology, (1838, v.2, p.84) [= 1842, v.3, p.13] had pointed out that they were the greatest enemy of the rattle snakes as well. They were plentiful around Sodus Bay (p.396). 
  • The panther was an indication of wild nature (see Ode, to the settlers, especially in its terrifying "scream" (p.86) or "yell[ed]" ( The grace of its deadly movements was used figuratively in similes for the (equally as wild perceived) Indians (p.81). When the village of Avon was settled, several panthers were killed in the area (p.375). At Dumplin Hill, near Monroe, an Indian managed to kill a panther that had just gorged itself on a hunted deer (p.409). At Irondequoit near Monroe, John Parks and his mulatto Dunbar ran found a panther in a tree by accident, when coon hunting, used fires to keep it in the tree all night, and shot it by daylight (p.412). Dr Joel Brace, the early physician of Victor, was riding home along the old Indian Trail with his horse, coming from Norton's Mill. Dr Brace encountered a panther at a location then known as Miller's corners, but was able to confuse it into leaving him alone when opening and shaking his umbrella. (p.532).
  • The wolf ...  James Sperry recounts for Bloomfield that the farmers would lose their sheep to the wolves (p.191; p.409) if they did not build tight and tall sheep pens (p.191). When combining the bounties offered by the state, the county and the town, each wolf "scalp" was worth $20. However, when Asahel Sprague killed ten in one expedition, that basically settled the problem for Bloomfield. (p.191) "John Stimpson, a trapper, caught on Capt. Treat's farm, 9 wolves in one night, for which he received a bounty of $90 ; a large sum of money in those primitive times." People lived isolated enough that wolves and bears were considered their "nearest neighbors" (p.209). When Nathan Pierce of Farmington Township, then Manchester, came home from the grist mill after 1795, a wolf pack followed him to the door of his block house (p.209). When Brice Aldrich of Farmington Township was taking fresh meat to Canandaigua, a wolf challenged him for possession (p.209). Feral hogs however were able to battle wolves successfully (p.265 Note). They were plentiful around Sodus Bay (p.396). Wolves pursued Capt. Treat one night for miles ...." (p.532)
Not all mammals are scary in the same way as these life-threatening animals, of course. And some of the mammals were mostly interesting for their fur production.
  • The beaver
  • The black squirrel  
  • The chipmunk was often the food of the rattlesnakes (p.412).
  • The deer was a basic food of the early pioneers (p.409) and their leather provided the shoes for the winter time (p.192).
  • The elk 
  • The fox 
  • The moose 
  • The minks 
  • The muskrat 
  • The opossum 
  • The otter 
  • The [ra]coon was a pest for the corn harvest around Monroe (p.409), but hunting them paid off due to their fine pelts.
  • The squirrel 
  • The skunk meat was valued (p.425).
  • The wildcat 
  • The wood chuck 

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