Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

The Animals

(from the July 26, 1989, Lowell Tribune, page 14)

Animals were very important to the pioneers of Lake County, for the people depended on them for transportation, clothing and food. Many stories and legends have been told about the animals through the years.

The pioneer, like the Indian, followed the trails of the great bison, which roamed the eastern part of the country until the early 1800's. Commonly called buffalo, the male may attain a height of six feet at the shoulder and weigh a ton or more. Great numbers of the beasts were found in the west until about 1875.

Many of the lakes and streams in the area were named after birds and animals: Duck Creek, Wolf Lake, Deer Creek, Eagle Creek, Turkey Creek. Even the Indian name for the Kankakee River meant "Land of the Wolves."

The majority of the early travelers used oxen to pull their covered wagons because the bovines could work long hours and were able to take care of themselves on the prairie. Horses were generally used on shorter trips, but many of the early settlers came from the east with them. Both horses and oxen were used to clear the land and farm it.

Most of the species of animals that the pioneers saw are still found in south Lake County, but in September 1834 a party of men from the Wabash area rode across the rapids at Momence, Ill., and came to explore the area on the west side of Cedar Lake, where they saw a black bear. According to the old books, black bears were sighted several times in the early years.

In November another group of adventurers stopped at Solon Robinson's tent at the site of Corwn Point, and ventured on to meet the group on the west side of Cedar Lake, where they were treated to a supper of roasted raccoon.

The winter of 1834 was a very cold one and the settlers were having a hard time staying alive. One family made a supper of a big owl and were preparing to roast a wolf when supplies arrived. It was so cold that it seemed every living thing in the shape of a game animal was hibernating in winter quarters, but the supplies finally arrived; no one starved.

In 1835 Cedar Lake pioneers Horner and Brown saw seven wild turkeys and captured five of them, running them down with their horses. They traded two of the birds for their next meal. At first, deer were plentiful, and a small amount of pork was traded to the Indians for a larger amount of venison.

According to Rev. T.H. Ball in weather reports written in 1872, the summer of 1838 was a terrible one: "A summer of severe drought and great sickness, so scarce was water that musk rats, driven out of their usual haunts, were found wandering about in search of it and even went into houses and about the wells to find some water to quench their thirst." In Crown Point, a muskrat entering a cabin went directly to the water bucket.

The prairie wolves were abundant and annoying, hard to catch or trap. They were hunted with horses and dogs, and through the years became almost extinct. Wolves in the Kankakee Valley were hunted in more recent times. In the 1920's and 1930's, a group of Lowell area hunters stalked them with large, white Russian wolf hounds, and according to reports, some wolves are still active in the valley.

In 1838 a large, true wildcat, or lynx, was caught in a thicket at the head of Cedar Lake, and the area was long known as "Wild Cat Swamp."

A large white owl, called a 'Rocky Mountain Owl' by the settlers, was killed by David Martin on the west side of Cedar Lake, and in 1857, a bald eagle was seen in the same area.

Before 1869 many swans were seen swimming in the lakes and ponds in the county, and also seen were ducks, gulls, brants, wild geese, sandhill cranes, blue herons, white cranes, mud hens, pelicans, loons, and fish hawks. The settlers saw muskrats, mink, otter, beaver, deer, wolves, wildcats, fox squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, possum, ground squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, moles, ground hogs, badgers, skunks, weasels, badgers, bats and rats. A few gray wolves were seen, and rattlesnakes and harmless serpents were on almost every rod of land.

According to a study made by Prof. W.C. Latta of Purdue University in 1934, the following breeds of cattle came into Lake County: Shorthorn cattle were introduiced in 1850; Herefords came in 1880; Polled Durhams arrived in 1900; Aberdeen Angus came in 1908; Devon were introduced in 1855; Jersey first appeared in 1860; Holstein came in 1885; Guernsey and Red Polled arrived in 1908; and Ayreshite came in 1910. In 1934 the principal breed of beef cattle was the Hereford.

Morgan horses first arrived in 1850; Standard Bred in 1860; Percherons in 1870; Clydesdales in 1880; Belgians in 1884; Shires in 1888; French Coach in 1890; German Coach in 1892; Hackneys in 1898; and French Draft in 1920.

Sheep: American Merinos came in 1860; Cotswolds in 1875; Ramfouillets in 1905; Southdowns 1870; Shropshires in 1895; and Oxfords in 1908.

Hogs: Chester Whites and Poland Chinas came in 1865; Bershires and Victorias came in 1885; Duroc Jerseys in 1890; Yorkshires in 1908; Hampshires in 1910; Mulefoot in 1913; and Spotted Polands in 1916.

Poultry: The Dominique came in 1850; Brahmas in 1860; Leghorns in 1875; Langshans in 1882; Wyandottes in 1885; Minorcas in 1900; Rhode Island Reds in 1906; and Orpingtions in 1908.

Rol Gordon, a Paul Bunyan-type character, is supposed to have roamed the Kankakee Valley for as long as anyone can remember. The buck-skinned giant was said to tell tall tales about the animals in the region, including man-eating turtles and buffalo fish bigger than a man, with scales twice as big as a silver dollar. That old river holds lots of secrets, and some people say that if you listen to the murmur in the wind down the valley, it may be old Rol telling animal stories once again in the "Land of the Wolves."

Last updated on June 6, 2001.

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