10 Year Anniverary & New Releases Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' Butterfly Cottage - Melanie B, Dogwood Plantation - Patty H R, Janet Grunst's winner is Connie S., Denise Weimer's Winner is Kay M., Naomi Musch's winner is Chappy Debbie, Angela Couch - Kathleen Maher, Pegg Thomas Beverly D. M. & Gracie Y., Christy Distler - Kailey B., Shannon McNear - Marilyn R.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Man v. Nature: Colonial American Settlers and Wild Animals

by Denise Weimer

While researching for my most recent historical, a romance set on the Georgia/Cherokee/Creek frontier in 1813, I couldn’t do my story justice without portraying just how intensely early settlers struggled against wild animals. In Georgia, those were mainly bears, wolves, and panthers. No doubt this will surprise some current residents, who know that wolves and panthers have long-since disappeared from our state. But through the early 1800s, no foe was more persistent or dangerous.

In fact, The Early History of Jackson County, one of my main sources, described this battle in detail. January of 1795 turned intensely cold. “The ground had been covered with alternate layers of frozen rain and snow for six weeks with no prospect of an early change. Animals and birds became ravenously hungry. Panthers and wolves, troublesome at any time, were more dangerous than ever before. Hundreds of them were shot in the yards around the cabins during the day, and at night they were kept at a respectful distance by roaring fires in the chimneys and by burning pine knots outsides the houses. Sometimes even these precautions did not effect their purpose.”

The account goes on to describe a pack of wolves that responded to a settler’s dressing of a deer by rushing between those fires and besieging the house. The family shot most through portholes created for that purpose, but two attacked the door. The leader forced its head through the shutter, and the other wolf attacked it. As the animals turned on each other and a neighbor climbed a tree to bring firepower to aid the family, the attack finally abated.

A genealogy of Turner County, Georgia, south of Atlanta, confirmed that black bears were frequent visitors, while ammunition was scarce. So scarce the powder was sometimes mixed with coarse sand, as the settlers believed it would perform just as well and maybe travel farther.

According to William Bartram, 1739-1823, panthers in the Southern states were often called “tygers” and were much larger than a dog, yellowish-brown or clay-color with a long tail. Canebrakes along creeks could become panther strongholds in the winter. The Early History of Jackson County gives the account of a young man maimed and lamed in a panther attack, turned down for service in the War of 1812, who went on to fight bravely at the Battle of New Orleans.

Life of Col. David Crockett, Philadelphia, 1859

An 1835 settler’s account from Brushy Creek, Missouri, inspired a scene in my novel. In the true story, a mother whose husband was away protected her crying newborn from a panther’s attack on her cabin. The wily beast climbed onto the roof and was only dissuaded from entering via the chimney by some venison smoking there.

These true tales highlight how desperately early settlers in any state fought to maintain their basic safety. Aren’t we glad a goodly portion of our resources and focus don’t go toward merely staying alive? 

Print: 1859, Western Hunting Old Arkansas  

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

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  1. Since the majority of the population today live in cities, predators seem like something from the past for most people, I'm sure. But from a rancher's perspective, not so much. Especially, as the housing developments and communities encroach on the natural habitats of animals, we begin to encounter more predators. This spring we lost a cow, who would have given birth to a calf had she lived, to what we determined was a cougar (based on what we could see from game cams). We are better protected than those ranchers even a 100 years ago, but some of the close encounters I've had make me appreciate the courage of the settlers. No doubt the predators in those days felt the same pressure from the settlers that our predators and other wildlife feel today with each new housing development encroaching on them. Thanks for the great post and great reminder of how much safer we are today.

  2. I was going to echo a little of what Lynn Squire said. Yes, even nowadays farmers have some of these threats to contend with. This spring, fawns were killed in two separate instances just off my son's yard by coyote packs(he tried to save one, but couldn't get a shot), and my cat was killed by a coyote in my front yard outside my living room window. There has been quite a bit of trouble from wolf packs in the area as well. I keep a healthy eye peeled, and I'm cautious of my grandkids adventures, even more so than when my own kids were small and these roaming packs were less prevalent than they are now.

  3. Buffalo used to roam as far east as the Shenandoah Valley. Yup, yup, yup!!! Interesting tidbits.

  4. Wow! Great modern-day perspective on how farmers and those who live in super rural areas still face these issues. Lynne, that's fascinating. Can you imagine? - Denise


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