Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Human and wolf skeletons reveal a life and death struggle at the edge of the Great Black Swamp

Given my passion for history, archaeology, artifacts, coins, etc.,  I sometimes wonder what occurred in history or even pre-history on the site of what is now my house and backyard.  I've always been a little envious of people who have found artifacts on or near their own property.  When I was a kid, I would go to my aunt and uncle's farmhouse in northwest Ohio and join my cousins in looking for arrowheads and other "Woodlands Indians" artifacts in their soybean fields abutting the Sandusky River.   In addition to arrowheads, they would frequently find discoid artifacts, hockey-puck shaped smooth black stones about 2 or 3 inches in diameter which were definitely not derived from the local rocks, flint drill "bits", and some presumably atlatl counterweights made of some kind of polished banded stone.   Of course, during all of our excursions down into those fields, I would find nothing...

The following is an interesting story, for which unfortunately I cannot return to interview the eyewitnesses to gather further details.  My father's uncles, long deceased, farmed on the ancestral land in rural Seneca County, Ohio, in Liberty Township, just a few miles east of Fostoria, Ohio.  I will attempt to get this pinpointed on Google Maps and post the file on this blog at some point in the future.  Back in I believe the 1920's when they were young men, they were walking the fields probably while plowing with a horse, and found in the soil at their feet a human skeleton, with the corroded remains of a flintlock rifle or musket in immediate proximity.  Directly adjacent to the human skeleton, and only a few feet away, they found the skeletons of several (I believe three) wolves, and I think there was evidence of a bullet in at least one of these wolves.   Clearly a life-and-death struggle had occurred, and unfortunately this person lost the battle, only after taking out several of the wolves.   According to my father, the county sheriff was contacted and arrived to assess the scene, which was obviously not a contemporary scene of foul play.  I do not know what became of the skeleton or whether records exist in the courthouse or sheriff's office logs about this incident, but it would certainly be interesting to know.   

At the time when this person (presumably a man) succumbed to the wolves, this particular location (very close to Wolf Creek, a tributary of the Sandusky River) would have been either on the southern-most border of the Great Black Swamp, or would have been in the primeval forest just south of that border.   I have read accounts of my own ancestors who also settled in Huron County (just to the east) in 1836, who noted how huge bonfires had to be lit at night to keep packs of marauding wolves away while their first log cabins were in progress; this seems to be a common theme from other accounts that I have read from the region prior to the 1840's. It is my understanding from reading various accounts that after 1840 concerted efforts were made to eradicate wolves from the Northern Ohio counties by mass amounts of hunters turning out to hunt and trap inward from a perimeter, thereby "tightening the noose" on the wolves in any given acreage of woods.  

I am intrigued by the identity of this person, the date of his death, and the circumstances surrounding his death.   Did this occur in the winter, when he was perhaps already weakened from frostbite, exposure, and wet/icy buckskin leggings and moccasins?  Was he wounded already?   Was he an American from the 1830's or 1820's, a French trader from a much earlier period, a British agent from the 1700's traversing from the Sandusky valley to Detroit and trying to avoid crossing the Great Black Swamp, or a Native American perhaps armed by the British?  Did he get lost in the dark, unable to build a fire before sundown to safely camp due to a cold and rainy November afternoon?  Was he sick from cholera or typhoid or yellow fever, and therefore an easy target for the wolves (I doubt he was too incapacitated given the evidence of the valiant fight he gave)?  Could he have been a separated survivor or wounded straggler from the ill-fated Crawford (1782) or St. Clair (1791) expeditions, a deserter from the Legion of America, led by the harsh disciplinarian General "Mad Anthony" Wayne (1794), or was he simply an immigrant farmer hoping to settle with his family and make a decent living?   I am sure we will never know.

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