Decades after the pioneers settled in our area, many of the old timers looked back to the past somewhat regretfully, to the years when life was more pleasant and when wild game and all kinds of wild fruits were free to all takers.
When Lake County was first settled in the 1830's, the deer population was said to be in the thousands, prairie chickens, or grouse, were abundant, geese filled the air, and wild pigeons "by the million" sometimes shaded the sun, while wolves roamed the countryside.
Imagine the great frustration and surprise of the wild animals when they came upon a log house or a corn field for the first time and found that someone had invaded their domain.
Wolves thrived in all parts of the country, and the pioneer boys and girls, generally not timid, loved to hear the sharp barking as they returned from their chores, but when the barks turned to the howl of a wolf pack, they hurried a bit on their way. Deer hunters in those early years took part in "drives" which covered several square miles. Men, and boys too, left their rifles behind, and started early in the day, lining up at the perimeter of a huge circle. They moved toward the center as they scared deer and wolves from the groves and the prairies toward the site where scaffolds were built for the many riflemen assembled.
Early in the afternoon, the startled deer and wolves began to appear in the rifle sights, the men began to shoot, and 50 or more deer, and many wolves, fell. Sometimes the drives were poorly planned, and most of the game would escape past the sharpshooters. Perhaps some readers remember taking part in some "fox drives" in West Creek Township some decades ago, when marauding foxes were killing a farmer's feathered livestock.
Most of the deer hunting was done by individuals who quietly stalked the animals themselves, not using dogs, but rather another method which involved the use of a good horse with a loud bell hung on its neck.
The hunter would startle the herd and follow as best he could for up to several hours, until the deer grew accustomed to the horse and the sound of the bell. When the shooter could get a good aim with his musket, the deer was killed and carried back to the farm on the back of the horse.
One pioneer told the following story, when as a young man he had a unique experience with a large herd of deer: "I came near being run over by a large grove of startled deer as I chanced to be one day on their runway in the West Creek woods. There was no time to count the number, but had they been crowded together like buffalo, they would have trampled the young hunter under their feet. It was a thrilling sight as they bounded by almost within reach of one's hands."
In 1843 and 1844 stories were written about many herds in this area, herds of seventy or more, one hunter claiming to have killed about 400 in one year. Another bragged about bagging five in one day. That man also told about trapping in south county, with good black raccoon skins bringing three dollars, large mink skins worth seven dollars, otter skins worth 10 dollars, but muskrat not in great demand.
By 1900 some fairly large herds were still being seen, including one north of here numbering over 100, but the deer population began to get smaller, and they were barely seen in the 1920's and 1930's. The Old Timer tramped the prairies and groves during those years without sighting one deer, though one or two might have sighted him.
Then the herds began to increase and some say that there are as many deer here now as there were in those pioneer days. "Deer Crossing" signs are common on many of the county roads and highways, motorists are using deer alarms on their vehicles, and stories are written about too many deer causing concern in some places.
Many deer have been seen in towns an villages, including a group of five or six in the Hilltop woods area near the Old Timer's place. Herds of about 100 have been seen in the fields of the Kankakee Valley, and decades from now great tales will be told once again about the deer in south Lake County.
1898: January was generally a mild and pleasant month, but with snow and heavy drifts on the 22nd and 23rd, with rain and sleet on the 25th. On Feb. 1, the temperature dropped down to 5 degrees below zero, still below on the 3rd, with the rest of the month quite mild. March was also mild, with two short seasons of ice gathering, 14 inches of good, clear ice. April was pleasant and cool, with fruit blossoms opening at the last of the month. May was a month of sunshine and showers. June was a good growing month, showers and rain, and temperature 94 and 96 at noon the last few days. Aug. 15 and 16 strong winds and rain, was warm and wet. October was warm at first, then icy, wet days, with temperatures in the upper 20's. November, mild with the coldest mornings (the 11th) at 26 degrees and in the upper 20's until it was 10 degrees on the 24th and down to zero on the 26th. December stayed around zero until the 22nd when it snowed, then 50 degrees on the 29th. The year ended with temperature 10 degrees on the 31st and light snow fell.
The weather report up to 1900 in Lake County was commenced by Solon Robinson, founder of Crown Point, and kept up by the members of the Ball family of Cedar Lake and by Rev. Hiram Wason of Lake Prairie.
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