Wolves, buffalos and elk were native to Ohio


This time of year in Ohio, whitetail deer are on the move and can be especially dangerous on rural roads. They are also a problem for farmers and gardeners more regularly. The truth is, however, that most of us like to see them once in a while.

We have problems with a variety of wildlife besides hungry or “romantic” deer. Groundhogs, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks and more can cause headaches for owners.

But that is nothing compared to the animal problems encountered by the early settlers in this region.

According to Basil Meek’s History of Sandusky County, the area was teeming with wildlife when the first settlers tried to settle here. Buffaloes, elk, deer, bears, panthers, wolves, beavers, badgers, otters, feral cats, and porcupines were common.

The Ohio Geological Survey speaks of “ample evidence” of an abundance of buffalo and elk in northern Ohio.

The buffalo is believed to have become extinct around the turn of the century, from the 1700s to the 1800s.

The wolf lasted for years longer and was a bigger problem.

Meek says, “Wolf Creek was appropriately named because this animal was so plentiful in the swamp near its source and in the thickets around the damp meadow at its mouth.”

Dr. Daniel Brainard, a widely known and respected community leader in the early 19th century, shared a few stories about wolves. Emphasizing that the Native Americans did not kill them because they did not want to eat them, the wolves therefore became more numerous: a prey.

Dr. Brainard spoke of a woman being chased in her home by a pack of wolves. The wolves were eventually routed by the nearby men, who were awakened by the howls of the animals. He also told the story of John Lay, who spent the night in a tree surrounded by a pack of wolves. Unfortunately, after the wolves left, he was seriously injured while trying to get back down from his perch.

Wolves have apparently disappeared from all over Ohio by now, although there are stories of coyote-wolf hybrids.

According to the Ohio History Connection, “Wolves were hunted to extinction in Ohio because they were becoming a problem for modernized agriculture. In response, a high bounty was placed on wolf pelts in the area.

“In the 1800s, wolf pelts were selling for $ 15 a piece, which is the equivalent of over $ 300 a skin today.

“Because of this inflated reward rate, wolves were completely extinct from Ohio in 1842. Shortly after their demise, coyotes took their place in the state’s ecosystem.”

Today, wolves are common in neighboring states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, and northern Michigan – so it would appear that a sighting in Ohio wouldn’t be impossible.

As for some of the other animals encountered by our early settlers, there are “endangered” black bears in Ohio, primarily in the northeastern part of the state; and there are big cats in the mountainous areas of the state, possibly including panthers; but the elk and a few other species died out around 1800.

Roy Wilhelm began a 40-year career with News-Messenger in 1965 as a journalist. Now retired, he writes for The News-Messenger and News Herald.


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