Monday, August 18, 2014

AUGUST 18, 1814

200 years ago today in Washington County, Indiana Territory, one of the primary nuisances to its settlers was the wild hog.  Wild hogs were the progeny of stray hogs from various sources.  Some were a few generations away from French settlements along the Wabash such as Vincennes.  Some were descended from escapees from Indians who were adapting to European domestic practices.  Some were the offspring of interbred domestic hogs who were abandoned by squatters and settlers when they left the rigors of life on the frontier.  They were long legged, long bodied and long nosed with short erect ears.  They were quick runners and particularly savage making them a peril to hunters and settlers foraging the woods and bottoms.  When groups hunted them, they rode on horseback and shot at them from a mounted position so as to be able to ride away quickly should a wounded hog charge.

The feral hogs fed on nature’s manna called mast.   Mast was the layer of acorns, beech nuts and hickory nuts that annually fell on the forest floor in autumn.
The meat of wild hogs fattened on mast was oily and sweet but susceptible to shrinkage.  Due to the oily content and shrinkage, the meat from wild hogs did not make good bacon.  The volume of mast varied from year to year due to weather conditions.  Because of the irregularity of this natural nourishment, it would take three to four years for these hogs to grow and fatten to a size making them suitable for hunting and butchering.  During a year when the mast fall was less, the wild hogs would voraciously forage for roots causing much damage to the forest floor and the grasslands of the barrens.  They were called “elm eaters” as their favorite root was from slippery elm saplings.  As other animals, they were also attracted to salt licks where they plowed up the ground with their long snouts.  One can imagine how Royse’s Lick and Evans Lick appeared after a visit from these peripatetic porkers. 

These hogs also ruined many a field of corn which was the grain most commonly raised by the early settlers.  Domestic hogs were the most prevalent livestock of the settlers of Washington County as they could adopt the mast feeding habits of wild hogs.  The settlers cut notches in the ears of their pigs with each owner having a distinctive pattern so as to “brand” his stock for round up.  It would be several decades before cattle could be raised in sufficient numbers to be the main source of meat as grazing lands required the clearing of the native forest.  Groups of settlers would have wild hog hunts in the winter.  Some would contribute the large kettles for scalding, some would provide the draft horses to drag the shot hogs to the community butchering site and some would provide the butchering rigs and knives. The wild pork derived from this processing would be distributed throughout the township on a per capita basis.  These community hunts and harvests eventually eradicated the wild hog by the 1850s.

The risk of hunting wild hogs is best illustrated from a story that appears in Stevens Centennial  History of  Washington  County, Indiana.  Henry Baker came to Washington County, Indiana in about 1819.  He lived on a farmstead in present day Jefferson Township.  He and Thomas Denny were reputed to be two of the largest and strongest men in the county.  The Stevens history describes Baker’s encounter with a wild boar as follows:

“Henry Baker was a great hunter. Upon one occasion he and his son
Isaac went down on White River after deer. They stopped at a cabin where
John Hovington lived, where several men were butchering wild hogs. Sev-
eral of them went out to "rally" the hogs, that was to get them out of cover.
In the bunch there was a huge wild boar that showed fight and killed three
dogs on the spot. There was a Hovington boy in the crowd, about sixteen
years old, upon whom the boar rushed. The boy started for a fallen tree
nearby, but as he was in the act of climbing up a limb the boar thrust his
long tusks into his side and thigh severing an artery. The boar then turned
upon the rest, and Hovington and Henry Baker's guns failed to bring him
down, but a shot from Isaac's killed him instantly. They went to the aid of
the boy, but he died in a few minutes.”

As Washington County, Indiana celebrates its bicentennial, wild hogs have returned to the White River haunts of Henry Baker.  Wild boars were introduced into a private hunting preserve in Indiana which was then abandoned.   Some have also migrated north from similar abandonments in the South.  They are destructive of woodlands, crop lands and pose a risk to domestic livestock because of the  diseases they harbor.

                                       WILD HOGS

                                       WILD HOGS MAST FEEDING

                                   WILD HOG PASTURE DAMAGE

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