Hunting in Pioneer Illinois
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PRAIRIES - A peculiar feature of the country, in the middle and northern portion of the State, which excited the amazement of early explorers, was the vast extent of the prairies or natural meadows..... In spite of the uniformity in altitude of the State as a whole, many sections present a variety of surface and a mingling of plain and woodland of the most pleasing character. This is especially the case in some of the prairie districts where the undulating landscape covered with rich herbage and brilliant flowers must have presented to the first explorers a scene of ravishing beauty, which has been enhanced rather than diminished in recent times by the hand of cultivation. Along some of the streams also, especially on the upper Mississippi and Illinois, and at some points on the Ohio, is found scenery of a most picturesque variety. [Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois", 1901]

ANIMALS, etc - From this description of the country it will be easy to infer what must have been the varieties of the animal kingdom which here found a home. These included the buffalo, various kinds of deer, the bear, panther, fox, wolf and wild-cat, while swans, geese and ducks covered the lakes and streams. It was a veritable paradise for game, both large and small, as well as for their native hunters. "One can scarcely travel," wrote one of the earliest priestly explorers, "without finding a prodigious multitude of turkeys, that keep together in flocks, often to the number of ten hundred." Beaver, otter, and mink were found along the streams. Most of these, especially the larger species of game, have disappeared before the tide of civilization, but the smaller, such as quail, prairie chicken, duck and the different varieties of fish in the streams, protected by law during certain seasons of the year, continue to exist in considerable numbers. [Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois", 1901]

County-Specific Hunting Practices and Anecdotes

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Cook County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Cook County web site
Cumberland County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Cumberland County web site
Fulton County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails
Fulton County web site
Henry County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Henry County web site
Jasper County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Jasper County web site
Richland County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Richland County web site
Schuyler County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Schuyler County web site
Whiteside County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Whiteside County web site
LaSalle County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails LaSalle County web site
Rock Island County - Visit the Illinois Genealogy Trails Rock Island County web site

Whiteside County
transcribed and contributed by Whiteside County host Christine Walters
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Whiteside County web site

The Natural History of Whiteside County has not been studied with the care the subject should receive. No collection of its animals, reptiles, birds, fishes and insects exists as far as we now know. This is to be regretted, as species once common here are becoming scarce and some not native here are appearing year by year and taking the place of those that are disappearing. The principal animals found in the county by the first settlers were the Gray wolf, Prairie wolf, Lynx, Wild cat, Racoon, Skunk, Mink, Weasel, Beaver, Otter, Muskrat, Hare (Rabbit), Gray squirrel, Grey gopher, Striped gopher (spermophile), Chipmunk (probably an emigrant), Mole of several species, Mice of several species. The Bison (Buffalo) certainly at one time visited this county as the bones are now found in the peat beds. The bear was also probably an inhabitant of this region, although we have not seen it mentioned as being found here by our first settlers. The elk and deer were common and were found many years after the county was settled, although they are now extinct. [Whiteside County History - 1877]

[Transcriber's Note: Lee and Carroll Counties, neighbors of Whiteside County have the same type of animal history. But the last sentence is really not true in today's world. The Elk may be gone from our area - but the deer are running freely and can be seen all over the area. In the early days the Deer would have been the most hunted, and after a period of time would have become scare since it was a primary food supply. Fishing in the Rock River, as well as the Mississippi River provided a constant food supply.]


Schuyler County
transcribed and contributed by Schuyler County host Sara Hemp
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About six or seven miles west in what is Browning township we find another settlement, which was made the same spring {1826}, by William Robertson. He came from Kentucky, though he was a native of North Carolina, and was attracted here by the quantities of game which then abounded. Then selecting a site for his cabin, he discovered an excellent spring of water on section sixteen of T. 1N, R. 1E., Where he located and continued to reside until his death, in 1866. Robertson was very fond of hunting and trapping, which he followed for several years. There were quite a number of Indians, of the various tribes, then in the county, and he frequently joined in the chase and slept in their wigwams. Bee trees were very plentiful, and he once took a barrel of strained honey and peddled it out among the settlers in Morgan county. He dried the hams of the deer, and frequently floated down the river to St. Louis in an Indian canoe with a load of them where he found a ready market for their sale. He came here a single men, but was early married to Elizabeth Kirklin {Kirkland}, Esquire Isaac Lane, officiating. Of his sons living, George resides in Texas, Alexander and Joel on the old homestead, and Malcolm in Macon county of this state. [
History of Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois 1682-1882, Schuyler County, pages 63-4]

Browning Township, Schuyler County: The first settlement in the township was made in the year 1826, by William Robertson; he was a native of North Carolina; he came to Schuyler county from Kentucky, attracted by the quantity of game that then abounded here, and settled in the southeast quarter of section 16. His nearest neighbor was six miles distant in the Chadsey settlement. After he had built a cabin in the wilderness, by an excellent spring of water, which is still there, he engaged principally in the pursuit of hunting, of which he was very fond. Honey was very plentiful, and Mr. Robertson could stand in the doorway of his cabin and point out a dozen bee-trees. This article of traffic, together with the venison hams, he used to carry to St. Louis in an Indian bark canoe. The Indians were quite numerous in those days, and he used to hunt with them, frequently stopping in their wigwams. By his intercourse with them he became quite familiar with their language; he was a short, stout man and his great strength and endurance enabled him to bear the hardships of the hunter's life which he loved so well; he was married to Elizabeth Kirklin, Esquire Isaac Lane officiating. Nine children were reared as the fruit of this marriage, five of whom are now living --- George in Texas; Alexander in Browning, on a portion of the old place; Joel on the old homestead; Sarah, wife of William E. Walton, in Missouri, and Malcolm in Macon county, Illinois. [
History of Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois 1682-1882, Schuyler County, pages 308-9]


Cook County
Transcribed and Contributed by Christine Walters
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"There was a barber here who was a tremendous hunter. A fellow by the name of Ed Bellmore. He would go out in the winter and catch pheasants in the snow by hand. You see, a pheasant can't fly unless he can run so Ed would spot them in the deep snow and just pick them up. He, of course, going through the woods, would find rattlesnakes. There was a concentration of pygmy rattlers called massasauga that had come down here from Canada. Hardly anybody had been bitten by them, but this barber started rattlesnake hunts. The Chicago Daily News had an editorial on the rattlesnake hunts. Of everything that happened in Wheeling, only the rattlesnake hunts were important enough to inspire an editorial. They'd go out early in the morning of a Sunday and fan through the woods and pick up what they could and bring them in, and it became like a tradition that Wheeling was known for rattlesnake hunts. Once walking along the river I was startled when I came across the biggest snake I'd ever seen. So I went to the library and determined that it was not poisonous, lives on frogs and fish and stuff. Of all my years tramping through the woods I've never come across a rattlesnake. But I know they are there. I'm sure they are so sensitive they can hear footsteps 20 or 30 feet away and hide themselves. You could almost step on them and never know. We had a field cut adjoining my house, and were raking up some of the dry grass when here was half a rattlesnake. The mower had cut it in half." [
The Wheeling Independent - reprinted in Wheeling Through The Years" by the Wheeling Historical Society, pg. 127, P.O. Box 3 Wheeling IL 60090 -©1987]

Ed Bellmore's Annual Rattlesnake Hunt Sun. "A brave and hardy group of hunters will take to Wheelingland wilds on Sunday, August 19, on Ed Bellmore's annual Rattlesnake Hunt. The hunt is open to all adults. Starting point is at Bill's place at 1:30 P.M. Hunters are requested to wear knee-length boots, and be provided with a five-foot forked stick. The search will fan out along the Forest Preserve north of Wheeling. Last year, conducted by the Northbrook Sports Club, the hunt bagged nine rattlers. The year before, three were snared. The rattler in question is the Massauga Rattlesnake, a midwest cousin of the Diamondback. The Massauga is short and thick, and usually is under two feet in length, although slightly larger specimens have been found. The Massauga Rattlesnake has a diet of mice, frogs, young rabbits and smaller snakes. They will also raid the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds. Their bite is fatal, and they are usually found with the warning rattles, although it's not always sure if they sound their warning before striking. For example, hunters stepping on one will sometimes get bitten without warning. Despite the dangerous aspects of the hunt, Ed Bellmore, mighty hunter, mighty fisherman, who conducts the annual safari, reports that he hasn't lost a customer yet. The customary anti-snake venom may be obtained at Bill's Place in pints, fifth and shots. [August 15, 1956 - The Wheeling Independent, reprinted in "Wheeling Through The Years" pg. 128, by the Wheeling Historical Society P.O. Box 3 Wheeling IL 60090 -©1987]


Jasper County
Transcribed and Contributed by Jasper County host, Kim Torp
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[Transcriber's note - this first part is noted as being told by Michael Groves, Jasper county 1836 settler who lived 6 miles north of Newton, on the Embarrass River]

" ...The first settlers of the county were mostly horse-men, and there was no place in the county where a man could work for a few dollars to buy groceries. His groceries had to come from the woods. Beeswax, venison hams, deer, coon and other hides would supply the wants, so the most skillful and industrious hunter fared the best in that respect.... When first I came to this county, game was quite plentiful. Bear, deer, wild turkey and wild bees were easily obtained, while the river and ponds were well filled with beavers and otters. Panthers, wolves and wild-cats roamed at large. The hogs we raised for sale were driven tot he Wabash, and they were not worth much when we got them there....Those who think they could have gotten rich if they had been here in the beginning, could not have supported a small family. Those who were not good hunters did leave. If a man brought gold and silver with him, he could get all the land he wanted, but if he thought to make it here, he missed the mark, for it was not to be had here. "

"A little anecdote will illustrate the feelings of hunters in general, and the good-natured pranks that were played by all in the early times. Old Hiram Wade, two of his brothers and one brother-in-law, were out on a coon hunt, and by hunting the scratched trees they caught a good-sized coon. Old Hiram having grown somewhat tired, and getting off one side, thought of a plan to get some rest. He found a large water-oak tree with a large hole in the top. He took his knife and sharpened a hard stick so as to answer his purpose, and went to work making bear scratches on each side of the tree as high up as he could reach. He then got a forked pole, set it up against the tree, got upon it and continued scratching the tree as high up as he could reach. He then got down, cleared away all signs and then raised a yell for the boys. They came with a rush. "I have found a coon tree; worse than a coon - a bear tree," said the old man. "Is it possible?" inquired the party almost out of breath. "Yes, he is up there, sure, and a large one at that," replied Hiram, hardly able to refrain from laughter. The boys were highly elated, and went to work with a will on the big tree. Hiram told them to look well to their guns and see that they were all right; that he would take the dogs out of harm's way until the tree fell, and then he would set them on. This he did. When the tree fell, all hands rushed up with cocked rifles ready for slaughter, but behold there was no coon there, and what had become of the bear? He must have climbed the tree and then jumped off, as there were no downward scratches on the tree. Old Hiram had to keep the secret for some time, but finally told the boys all about it.

"This will do well to illustrate the good spirits of the people. They were generally frank, free-hearted, whole-souled fellows, and had a hard time of it generally. The early settlers would hunt all day hard, and when night came on would find a place where they was water, build a fire by a log, roast meat, eat it, take mother earth for a bed, go to sleep with the heavens above them as a covering, and wild wolves howling around them and about them.

[transcriber's note - this next part is told by an old settler identified only by his two nicknames "Lidyer" and "Uncle Mike]

"Another old settler of Jasper County gives his experience with wolves as follows: "In the first settling of Jasper County, wolves and wild cats were very plentiful and there were new comers from old-settled places, that had a great dread of them. For my part I had always been used to them, and often wished that they would attack me in the woods so that I might have some fun. In my hunting days I had a comrade that hunted and camped out a great deal with me... My comrade's name was "Sock". One day "Sock" had been in the woods riding his Indian pony. I think it was in the month of September, 1820, when he came to my cabin with his bristles up. He told me that he had seen more wolf signs that day than he had ever seen before in his life, and that his pony had got scared at the scent of them so that he could hardly be controlled. The next morning I girded on my weapons, which included a rifle, butcher-knife and tomahawk, and struck out of "Sock's" wolf signs. I got in range of them, and saw one playing with a bush. I fired at it and knocked it over, and instantly another one came up. Everything being ready and in order, I soon knocked the second one over. Shooting in such a hurry I only hurt it. By the time I was ready for the third shot, it was on its feet, and I shot it again. All of the three shots were supposed to be within one minute by those that heard them. The first wolf I shot got up and walked a short distance. So I went home, got my dog, followed it up, and got it. The scalps were $2 apiece, in the payment of State tax, and while I was skinning them the old ones attacked my dog, and I shot and killed one of them."

[transcriber's note: The narrator returns...]

"Hunting was largely a matter of necessity with the early settlers, some of the men making it a special business during the season. One man has been known to kill and market as many as a hundred deer in one season. But there were a few who had time to indulge in hunting purely as a sport. A hunting club was organized by Joseph Picquet, Benjamin Harris and others, and wolves were hunted very much as the English follow the fox. Each hunter was mounted, some of them on horses of good Kentucky blood, and the company drawn out in single line would advance through the prairie. The fleetest horses were placed on either wing, and on the discovery of a wolf, it was the duty of the huntsman leading the nearest wing, to lead off and attempt to enclose the wolf, driving him toward the center where the dogs were held in leash. The members of the club owned several greyhounds, among which was an Irish thoroughbred. When the wolf was near enough the dogs were set off, and the whole field rushed after the game. No firearms were allowed, and the stirrup only was used to finish the victim. This sport was indulged in to a considerable extent, as many as thirty were killed in one year. Wolf scalps were quite a source of income, but the fur-bearing animals afforded a surer and larger revenue. Agents of the American Fur Company came to the settlers throughout this region, and paid good prices for all the settlers had to sell. Coon skins brought as much as seventy-five cents at times, and the successful trapper was able in this way, not only to pay his taxes, but also to provide his home with the limited supply of store goods needed. Without this adjunct of backwoods life, it is difficult to understand how the new country could have been so early settled. As it was, most of the pioneers brought to this country a love for, and skill in the sport, and thus united business and pleasure, and found an easy way to lessen the rigor of frontier privations. [
Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland, Illinois. Historical and Biographical, 1884]


Cumberland County
Transcribed and Contributed by Jasper County host, Kim Torp
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"Game of all kinds was abundant, and most of the men were good marksmen. Fur-bearing animals were the most remunerative, as their skins found a ready sale at their cabin doors. A branch of the American Fur Company was established at St. Louis, and its agents found their way throughout this country. One gentleman relates that he caught 184 coons one season, and disposed of them all at a good price, some of them as high as seventy-five cents. Wolves were found here in great numbers, and were hunted as a means of protection from their depredations. Three kinds infested the country, the timer wolf, a large, fierce animal; the gray wolf, a large but not so powerful as the former, and the coyote, or prairie wolf. None of these animals were bold enough to attack persons, but small pigs, calves and sheep fell an easy prey to them. Their howling at night was calculated to unnerve those who were fresh in the country, or to those who knew something of the fiercer timber wolf of Kentucky and Ohio. A bounty subsequently offered by the State and county stimulated the hunters, and these animals were early driven from this region. [pg. 118, Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland, Illinois. Historical and Biographical, 1884]


Richland County
Transcribed and Contributed by Jasper County host, Kim Torp
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"The chief export of this county in the early day was stock and skins. The country abounded in game, and wagonloads of venison hams were hauled to Saint Louis or Vincennes, and disposed of at 25 centers apiece. Deer skins, well cured, brought no more. .... Backwoodsmen seldom had more than one horse.....Hunting was his principal vocation and amusement. Deer and turkeys by hundreds filled the woods; deer hams and skins and coon skins formed his source of income to buy his ammunition and , when to be had, the indispensable coffee.... ["Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland, Illinois. Historical and Biographical, 1884"]


Henry County
Transcribed and Contributed by Kim Torp
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QUAIL HUNTING - "We rode on horseback in the rain, about a mile, to the edge of Barnett's Grove, our guide in advance with his net upon his arm. When we heard the shrill "Bob White" whistle of several quail, we all dismounted, and the net was set on the ground. This net was a long cylinder, in a frame of hoops about a foot in diameter and perhaps 20 feet long, closed at one end and open at the other. From the opening of the net, and extending on each side, were "wings" of netting, perhaps two feet high, like a woven-wire screen, supported by stakes hastily driven into the ground. How so wild a bird as a quail could be caught by such a device, I could not understand; but I was not long in finding out. When the net was all in place, we remounted our horses, it still raining, and made a wide detour until we came upon the covey of birds. We were very cautious in approaching them, moving as slowly as possible. To my surprise, they did not fly up, but ran on ahead of our horses. I found that in a drizzling rain they could be driven like a flock of sheep, if we did not hurry them. Quietly and carefully we directed their course, heading them off and turning them here and there until they came to where the net was placed. Here the upright wings of the net intercepted them, and they ran along the wings, never offering to fly over, till they came to the opening of the round net, into which they ran, and down to the other end, which was closed, and thus the poor things were all captured. This sport is no longer practised, and under our present game-laws there is a severe penalty for netting quails." [pg. 93-94 "The Illini - A story of the Prairies", 1906]


LaSalle County
Transcribed and Contributed by Charles Brummel
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Wolf hunts have been made exciting sport. By previously concerted agreement, the settlements on the circumference of a large prairie would move in line toward a flag in the centre, driving the wolves and other game before them, closing the line so as to make a complete circle as they approached the centre-pole, where the game was shot or killed by dogs. Tin horns, cow bells, and all instruments that could be used to make a noise, were carried by the company to arouse the game. It was exciting sport, but generally the discipline and leading were bad, an open space was left for the wolves to escape, and the result was more noise and sport, than game. [History of LaSalle County, Illinois" 1877, pp 153-154]


Rock Island County
Transcribed and Contributed by Mary Lou Schaechter
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In the late 1700’s and very early 1800’s, during the days of our earliest traders, the French would work downstream from the north, trapping in “Marios d’ Osier,” following the inlets and marshes inland to what we now know as Rock River. Down the Rock they would go, there to meet and barter at the Mississippi River confluence with the Sac and Fox Indians.

A marsh’s whole life is based on water. Without water, there is no marsh, and for the Meredosia Bottoms, water came easily in past years. The inlet slough, about a mile west of Albany, brought water in a meandering course from the Mississippi River. After many miles of wandering back and forth through the marsh, the slough drained it, the outlet being east of Hillsdale.

THIS MARSH, because of its tremendous size and location on the Mississippi Flyway, was a waterfowl and shorebird paradise. Each spring and fall, ducks and geese by the thousands (maybe millions) came to its cattail, bullrush, swamp grass and willow-lined sloughs. Shorebirds, such as the curlew, the godwit, the plover, the snipe, and the yellowlegs, flocked to its bogs, sand spits, and mud flats, their numbers staggering the imagination.

There was, perhaps, no finer waterfowl hunting grounds in North America than the Meredosia Bottoms. William Bruce Leffingwell of Clinton, writing of his experiences on the marsh in the 1880s, says: “There is no place where more ducks have been shot.” Leffingwell tells of mornings on the “Docia” when kills of 100 mallards and pintail were common, with flocks of ducks and geese darkening the skies.

Besides waterfowl and shorebirds, the marsh supported, as do all marshes, an abundance of fish and wildlife. Grass pickerel, largemouth bass and bullhead grew old, big, and mean. On the sand hills to the west, the prairie chicken lived in abundance. As late as 1925, prairie chicken could still be found there, and several local hunters remember collecting them in the marsh itself, the rich aquatic vegetation made perfect homes for mink, muskrat, and beaver.

VERY, VERY little remains today of this once great marsh. In fact, one almost has to look with a microscope to find even the smallest trace. Drainage, for agricultural purpose, killed the Meredosia Bottoms, sucking away, through a maze of ditches and tile line, the water which gave the marsh life. When the ditches and tile lines didn’t quite do the job, giant pumping stations were installed, and they took care of the water that refused to leave by other channels.


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