In the late 1890s and early 1900s, George W. Wilkinson, the editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, encouraged elderly local residents to write about their experiences in the settling of Henry Township and the founding of North Baltimore, Ohio. He then published their letters in a series of articles which he titled “Interesting Pioneer Sketches.”
The following is Part II of an article written by Samuel Slaughterbeck (born 1831 – died 1910) and describes the difficulties his family faced in helping turn the Black Swamp wilderness into a settled community in the 1830s and 40s. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of October 4, 1901. It is the second in the series of Beacon pioneer letters which the North Baltimore Historical Society plans to publish.
LIFE IN THE SWAMPS
As it was Back in the Days of Our Fore-fathers
Horses Could Not Live in the Swamps–A Bear Hunt by a United Force of Farmers–Taxes Paid With Raccoon Hides in 1842
BY T. O. COPUS
EDITOR BEACON: We had been here but a short time until our four large horses died. They could not live in such a country—the swampy lands killed them. We purchased two young oxen, made our yokes and cleared a small patch of land. On this we raised a little corn if the springs were not too wet. When we had a wet summer season the corn crop was an entire failure. Our cattle roamed in the open forest which extended many miles in either direction. On the neck of one was placed a bell. This one was known as the “bell cow.” I had attained the age of 10 when it became my duty to hunt the cows, and many times during the long May evenings I would have to throw sticks into the water to hush the merry croak of the frogs so that I might hear the “ding dong” of the cow bell.
I well remember one night in mid-summer about the year 1842; I was unable to find any trace of the cattle. Night overtook me in a large timberland and I was at a loss to find my way out. After some searching I found a dry spot and lay myself down to rest till morning. I had “Indians” on my mind when I lay down, so you may know I was in a rather restless condition. About 9 o’clock I was startled by the hideous barking of the wolves. I need not say that the hair stood straight upon top of my head although it was a common thing to hear. They used to come near our home every evening and some one of the family would fire a gun and chase them away. After hearing the wolves that evening my thoughts entered different channels. I thought of bears, lions, and tigers and in fact all the large and terrible monsters that roam the woods. It is needless to say my sleep was very much broken that night and I was exceedingly glad to see the appearance of Old Sol next morning sending forth rays of light on the gray sky and affording me a direction by which to travel.
At the time of which I am writing the wood abounded with deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, and snakes galore and sometimes a black bear was to be found. I must tell of a little bear hunt which took place on a Sabbath day and of which I was a member. Several hogs had been missing in the neighborhood and in muddy spots bear tracks had been seen. A bear hunt was planned by all the nearby farmers.
Everything being in readiness, the dogs were placed on the trail and soon were on a “hot track.” That is they had routed the animal and had him going. Everybody rushed for the dogs which were running on either side of the Portage River. The bear had plunged in the river and was going up stream so as to throw the dogs off his trail. He kept this course for over a mile, but the dogs gaining on him fast, caused him to leave the stream and head for a tree. Several attempts were made to kill him but as each shot was fired he would descend the tree he was on and make for another. It is an actual fact that when a bullet pierced the skin of the bear so as to cause the blood to flow it would pull fur from its body and plug the wounds. We finally succeeded in getting him after having pierced his body with 14 bullets. While I am on the hunting theme let me say the Wesley Copus and myself together with others were hunting on day about in 1845 and as near as I can tell, Copus shot a deer near where the B&O depot now is in North Baltimore.
I will not ask for more space to tell of the Indians and many frantic wolf and deer chase which are as fresh in my memory as in boyhood days, but in conclusion will say that my father, John Slaughterbeck, paid his taxes at Perrysburg with raccoon hides. The town was reached on foot by an old Indian trail and took four days to make the trip. Think of it then, and think of the people of today making a trip to Bowling Green, paying their taxes, riding on a palace car, then taking a street car to Toledo, a boat to Presque Isle and returning home in a few hours. Dear young readers of the Beacon you would never doubt the great improvements of the most industrious people of the world if you could have live with your grandparents in their boyhood days, especially if they lived in Wood County. Could you have been with them you would have seen nothing but a huge forest sometime water covering the greater part of the soil. Today you see large towns, some young cities filled with busy and industrious people; you see large fields of corn, and great stacks of wheat and other grains; you see large long railroads and electric lines, large boats, immense oil fields and many other things which were not even thought of 60 years ago. I only hope Wood County people keep on making such vast improvements during the next 60 years as they have in the past and I trust to the great and good God they will.