For most of us today, the most exposure we get to the "wilderness" is spotting a deer or raccoon in the back yard from time to time. But there was a time when this whole area was a vast wilderness covered in thick forest. And in this wilderness were wild animals; animals that were not used to human beings traipsing around in their territory. Many people discount animals as no longer a real danger to people, especially people living in Northeastern Ohio. But during the early years of expansion into this area, wolves and bears posed a very real threat to our pioneering forefathers.
Ruben Hall, a Westlake resident, author, and himself an ancestor of one of the original pioneers of Dover wrote several accounts of how the wilderness affected the settlers here. In Halls books, "Remembrances of Pioneer Life", and "Biographical Notes: Early days in Cleveland and vicinity", hall paints a picture of nature and the wilderness of Ohio as something the pioneers had to endure and learn to live with.
Evidently bears had a "great liking for fresh pork", and were known for killing pigs and carrying them off. Hall relates that one night his Uncle David Ingersoll heard a squealing coming from the yard near his home. He sprang from his bed and without even stopping to dress, he ran out into the night to see a bear holding one of his pigs and trying to get back over the fence and into the woods. Well I have to admit, I would have chalked it up to one less pig, but Mr. Ingersoll, maybe pumped up on adrenaline, or maybe just not thinking ran up and grabbed hold of the pig. Luckily the bear was so frightened by this he ran off, and Uncle David saved his porker.
Hall also states that "Wolves had a ravenous appetite for mutton" as Mr. Ransom Sperry found out when several of his sheep turned up dead. The next night Mr. Sperry locked up his dogs and put out a steel trap to find out who the culprit was. The next morning, the trap was gone, and Sperry put his dogs out to see if they could pick up the trail. They did indeed and he found them in woods fighting with a wolf, leg still in the trap. Needless to say Mr. Sperry shot the wolf and ended the fight.
Bear and wolf attacks were not by any means limited to livestock only. In "Biographical Notes" Hall tells of a desperate battle between a future Ohio Governor Samuel Huntington and a pack of wolves. It happened in a swampy area east of what was then the city of Cleveland, now the area constitutes the corner of Euclid and East 55th. He was traveling on horseback when a back of wolves began to give chase. It was only the speed of his horse coupled with Huntington's prowess with his green cotton umbrella that saved him (as the story goes anyway). And the Reverend Badger, a missionary coming to the Cleveland area from Painesville was treed by a bear after an ill fated attempt to frighten it off by yelling and throwing a horse shoe, striking the bear's nose did not work. He sat in the tree all night while lightning provided occasional glances of the bear patiently waiting at the bottom. The bear eventually gave up come morning and Rev. Badger continued on his way.
With these stories in mind, it is easy to gain a new admiration and respect for the men and women who hacked and slashed their way west from Connecticut. It also lets us come to a more objective view of how trivial many of our own interactions and annoyances with animals really are. It also makes me nostalgic for a world that I will never know. When even moving two states over presented a real adventure and hardship for people determined to make a better life for themselves.