Like the Native Americans, south Lake County pioneers often followed the trails of the great bison which roamed the eastern part of the country until the early 1800's, when a terrible deep freeze killed many of them and others migrated to the west, where they were found in great numbers. Commonly called the buffalo, the male attained a height of six feet at the shoulder and weighed a ton or more.
Animals and birds were very important to the early settlers, who depended on them for clothing and food, as well as transportation. A story written in 1872 told about how the pioneer family named Wells was saved from starvation by making a meal of a large owl and were also preparing a wolf for roasting when new supplies arrived by wagon.
Both horses and oxen were used to pull the covered wagons, the oxen being the better of the two on long trips because the bovines were able to take care of themselves on the trail better than horses, and could last longer on a day's trip.
In 1834, the first year of squatter life in this area, a party of men from the Wabash area was exploring the western shore of Cedar Lake when they saw a large black bear. A few more bears were seen, but only in those early years.
The prairie wolves were abundant and annoying, were hard to catch or trap, but through the years were hunted with horses and dogs and became almost extinct. But a few wolves were still being hunted in the 1920's by a group of Lowell hunters who stalked them with huge, white Russian wolfhounds. According to recent reports, wolves are still being seen in the Kankakee Valley area.
It was on April 20, 1837, when a one dollar wolf bounty certificate was given to pioneer W.W. Paine, though it could not be cashed until Apr. 1, 1839.
When the first pioneers arrived, the deer population was said to be in the thousands, but by the 1900's, due to many large hunting drives, the numbers were down, and by the 1920's, only a few were seen. The herds began to increase and now it is said that some very large herds have been spotted in south county.
According to the weather records of 1838, the summer was a very hot one, with severe drought and great sickness. Water was so scarce that muskrats were seen wandering around in the settlements in search of it, even going into cabins to drink from the water bucket.
That same year, during the drought, a large wildcat, or lynx, was caught in a thicket at the head of Cedar Lake, the area known for years after as "Wild Cat Swamp."
A large white bird, called a "Rocky Mountain Owl," was killed by David Martin on the west side of Cedar Lake, and in 1857 a bald eagle was seen in the same area, its wings measuring seven and one half feet from tip to tip.
In the book Tales of Kankakee Land, written by Charles H. Bartlett in 1904, there is a pioneer story about a "panther" attacking a white- tailed deer in the swamp. The animal was said to be stalking humans as well as deer.
Back to 1834, a group of adventurers, tired and hungry, arrived from the Wabash area and came upon the tent camp of Solon Robinson at the site that was to be Crown Point. Robinson treated them to a supper of roasted raccoon. That following winter saw poor hunting for the settlers because of the extreme cold weather and deep snows which drove the game into hibernation.
Hunting improved by 1836, when pioneers Hornor and Brown of Cedar Lake spotted seven wild turkeys and captured five of them by running them down with their horses. Two of the birds were traded for venison. The Indians would often trade large amounts of venison for smaller amounts of other kinds of pork or beef.
Pretty white swans were often seen in the lakes and ponds in south county, as well as great flocks of ducks, gulls, brants, geese, sandhill cranes, blue herons, white cranes, mud hens, pelicans, loons and fish hawks.
Animals seen by the pioneer included muskrats, mink, otter, beaver, deer, wolves, wildcats, fox, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, chipmunks, gophers, possum, ground squirrels, moles, ground hogs, badgers, skunks, weasels, bats, rats, and gray wolves, as well as rattlesnakes and other serpents.
Many of these are still thriving, and many now stray from the wilds into villages.
Eagle Creek, in the southeastern section of the county, was named for the eagle's nest found along it banks, and many other lakes and streams were named after birds or animals, including Duck Creek, Wolf Lake, Deer Creek, Turkey Creek and the Kankakee River, called "Theakeke" or "Land of the Wolves."
Through the years since the early settler arrived, many domesticated animals and fowl were introduced to Lake County. According to a study by Prof. W.C. Latta of Purdue University in 1934, Shorthorn cattle came in 1850, Herefords in 1880, Polled Durhams arrived in 1900, Aberdeen Angus in 1908, Devon in 1855, Jersey first appeared in 1860, Holstein in 1885, Guernsey and Red Polled in 1908, with Ayreshire coming in 1910. In the year 1934 the principal beef cattle was the Hereford.
The report showed that Morgan horses first arrived in 1850, Standard Breed horses 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.
Breeds of sheep: American Merinos came in 1860, Cotswolds in 1875, Ramfouillets in 1905, Southdowns in 1870, Shropshires in 1895 and Oxford in 1908.
Chester White hogs and Poland China hogs came in 1865, Bershires and Victorias in 1885, Duroc Jerseys in 1890, Yorkshires in 1908, Hampshires in 1910, Mulefoot in 1913 and Spotted Polands in 1916.
Dominique poultry 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 arrived in 1908.
In 1837 pioneer Vincent Matthews was granted a license by the first Lake County Commissioners to keep a ferry running across the Calumet River, near the Illinois State Line. The rates for the toll were: for an individual on foot, 6¼¢ for a man and his horse, 12½¢ for a horse wagon and passengers, 25¢ for two horses, wagon and passengers, 37½¢ and for cattle, the toll was 3¢ per head.
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