ASHLAND -- When pioneers first settled in Ashland County, the land was a thick wilderness full of a variety of wildlife.
Some of it left the area while other wildlife joined the settlers due to the change in landscape. This wildlife also provided food, profit and sport for the pioneers, most of whom were skilled hunters.
Elk were long gone from this area when early settlers arrived here but there was clear evidence from the number of antlers scattered in the thick forest that they were once here in large numbers.
Deer were plentiful in the 1800’s and supplied most animal food. The deer were tame and it was easy to take a good shot in less than an hour with a shotgun loaded with squirrel shot.
Once in a while, one could hear a panther in the wilderness and a few were killed during the first decade or so after the first settlement. They were gone by about 1812. Cougars and other wildcats also roamed the area but left soon after the pioneers arrived.
Brown bears (bruins) were very common and were one of the peskiest animals to deal with and remained longer than most large animals. They were present until about the mid-1800’s. The bears had a healthy appetite for domestic animals, especially pigs, which made it difficult for settlers to raise their own pork to eat or sell.
Wolves were also present in large numbers and their predatory nature was a challenge for settlers. Because the wolves were heard but rarely seen, many were frightened of them. When settlers first arrived though, the wolves found unfenced and unattended horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs as easy prey and an excellent food source.
State and local government encouraged extermination of the wolves. Here in Ashland County, records of the county commissioners reflected large sums of money were paid to pioneers for wolf scalps. $4 was paid for adult and $2 for mid-size wolf scalps.
Fox, porcupine, beaver and otter were also plentiful but eventually left the area. Any animal with fur was highly sought after by the pioneers. The fur was not only used here but pelts could be exchanged or sold in the European market for more practical items such as tools pioneers needed here. European socialites also loved to wear the furs as a sign of wealth and warmth.
Other animals such as rabbits, squirrel and groundhogs were plentiful and seemed to follow westward progress and have stayed over the years. Quail, crows, blackbirds, bluebirds and turtle doves were not native to this area but also made Ashland their home.
Wild turkey, duck, geese and pheasant were also a part of the pioneer diet and easy to hunt for a quick dinner. Cranes, woodcocks, pigeons and woodpeckers were also plentiful in the early days. Birds of prey such as turkey vultures, ravens, hawks, owls, and even eagles were also present when settlers arrived. By 1909, eagles were rarely seen. Singing birds eventually arrived here after land was cleared.
A variety of fish and serpents also inhabited the area. Pike were two to five feet long and catfish, white perch, sucker, black jack and clear jack were also large and plentiful. There were no eels. Snakes such as the rattlesnake, blacksnake, copperhead, viper and garter snake were native to Ashland County.
Pioneers often found snakes inside their cabins and beds and often got bit but were well-versed in treatment. People often carried a small bottle of ammonia with them to immediately clean a wound or they would quickly get a knife and cut out as much of the wound as they could.
Bees were also in abundance and one could usually find local honey on any pioneer table.