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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A 2nd day of a historical look back at the fauna encountered by early white explorers, hunters and frontiersmen----This time we move from what became the Oklahoma Territory and eventually to become known as 'The Sooner State" all the way east to the Carolina's where Indian Trader John Lawson in 1709 had the following to say about the fauna of our southeastern states--------"When we were all asleep, in the Beginning of the Night, we were awaken’d with the dismall’st and most hideous Noise that ever pierc’d my Ears"......: "This sudden Surprizal incapacitated us of guessing what this threatning Noise might proceed from; but our Indian Pilot (who knew these Parts very well) acquainted us, that it was customary to hear such Musick along that Swamp-side, there being endless Numbers of Panthers, Tygers, Wolves, and other Beasts of Prey, which take this Swamp for their Abode in the Day, coming in whole Droves to hunt the Deer in the Night, making this frightful Ditty 'till Day appears, then all is still as in other Places".............................Lawson never ventured farther West than North Carolina and further went on to say about Jaguars being present in the 16th and early 17th Century in southeastern America----------“Tygers(The name American tiger was formerly used for jaguar), are never met withal in the Settlement; but are more to the Westward, and are not numerous on this Side the Chain of Mountains"............ "I once saw one, that was larger than a Panther(Puma or Cougar or Mountain Lion) and seem’d to be a very bold Creature"................ "The Indians that hunt in those Quarters, say, they are seldom met withal"............. "It seems to differe from the Tyger of Asia and Africa"

Indian Trader John Lawson’s Journal of Carolina, 1709

Tragically, contact between Indians and the Europeans extended beyond just trade goods; the invasion of foreign microbes devastated Indian communities well beyond the coastal region. When John Lawson visited the Carolina interior in the 1690s, he encountered the Congaree people, whose numbers and villages had been dramatically reduced by smallpox and other diseases. In 1660, Lawson, born into a London gentry family and aspiring to a career as a natural scientist, had set sail for the Carolina colony that was founded after the restoration of the British monarchy. He traveled more than a thousand miles as an employee of the colony’s proprietors, who were eager to attract additional colonists and foster economic development. Lawson’s keen eye for the native and non-native people, flora, and fauna of the region was evidenced in his journal A New Voyage to Carolina, published in 1709.

Next Morning very early, we waded thro' the Savanna, the Path lying there; and about ten a Clock came to a hunting Quarter, of a great many Santees; they made us all welcome; shewing a great deal of Joy at our coming, giving us barbacu’d Turkeys, Bear’s Oil, and Venison.

Here we hir’d Santee Jack (a good Hunter, and a well-humour’d Fellow) to be our Pilot to the Congeree Indians; we gave him a Stroud-water-Blew, to make his Wife an Indian Petticoat, who went with her Husband. After two Hours Refreshment, we went on, and got that Day about twenty Miles; we lay by a small swift Run of Water, which was pav’d at the Bottom with a Sort of Stone much like to Tripoli, and so light, that I fancy’d it would precipitate in no Stream, but where it naturally grew. The Weather was very cold, the Winds holdingNortherly. We made our selves as merry as we could, having a good Supper with the Scraps of the Venison we had given us by theIndians, having kill’d 3 Teal and a Possum, which Medly all together made a curious Ragoo.

red wolf

This Day all of us had a Mind to have rested, but the Indian was much against it, alledging, That the Place we lay at, was not good to hunt in; telling us, if we would go on, by Noon, he would bring us to a more convenient Place; so we mov’d forwards, and about twelve a Clock came to the most amazing Prospect I had seen since I had been in Carolina; we travell’d by a Swamp-side, which Swamp I believe to be no less than twenty Miles over, the other Side being as far as I could well discern, there appearing great Ridges of Mountains, bearing from us W.N. W.

 One Alp with a Top like a Sugar-loaf, advanc’d its Head above all the rest very considerably; the Day was very serene, which gave us the Advantage of seeing a long Way; these Mountains were cloth’d all over with Trees, which seem’d to us to be very large Timbers.

At the Sight of this fair Prospect, we stay’d all Night; our Indian going about half an Hour before us, had provided three fat Turkeys e’er we got up to him.
The Swamp I now spoke of, is not a miry Bog, as others generally are, but you go down to it thro' a steep Bank, at the Foot of which, begins this Valley, where you may go dry for perhaps 200 Yards, then you meet with a small Brook or Run of Water, about 2 or 3 Foot deep, then dry Land for such another Space, so another Brook, thus continuing. 

The Land in this Percoarson, or Valley, being extraordinary rich, and the Runs of Water well stor’d with Fowl. It is the Head of one of the Branches of Santee-River, but a farther Discovery Time would not permit; only one Thing is very remarkable, there growing all over this Swamp, a tall, lofty Bay-tree, but is not the same as in England, these being in their Verdure all the Winter long; which appears here, when you stand on the Ridge, (where our Path lay) as if it were one pleasant, green Field, and as even as a Bowling-green to the Eye of the Beholder; being hemm’d in on one Side with these Ledges of vast high Mountains.

 Puma(mountain lion/cougar/catamount/panther)

Viewing the Land here, we found an extraordinary rich, black Mould, and some of a Copper-colour, both Sorts very good; the Land in some Places is much burthen’d with Iron, Stone, here being great Store of it, seemingly very good: The eviling Springs, which are many in these Parts. issuing out of the Rocks, which Water we drank of, it colouring the Excrements of Travellers (by its chalybid Quality) as black as a Coal.

 When we were all asleep, in the Beginning of the Night, we were awaken’d with the dismall’st and most hideous Noise that ever pierc’d my Ears: This sudden Surprizal incapacitated us of guessing what this threatning Noise might proceed from; but our Indian Pilot (who knew these Parts very well) acquainted us, that it was customary to hear such Musick along that Swamp-side, there being endless Numbers of Panthers, Tygers, Wolves, and other Beasts of Prey, which take this Swamp for their Abode in the Day, coming in whole Droves to hunt the Deer in the Night, making this frightful Ditty 'till Day appears, then all is still as in other Places.

The next Day it prov’d a small drisly Rain, which is rare, there happening not the tenth Part of Foggy falling Weather towards these Mountains, as visits those Parts. Near the Sea-board, the Indian kill’d 15 Turkeys this Day; there coming out of the Swamp, (about Sun-rising) Flocks of these Fowl, containing several hundreds in a Gang, who feed upon the Acorns, it being most Oak that grow in these Woods. These are but very few Pines in those Quarters.
Early the next Morning, we set forward for the Congeree-Indians, parting with that delicious Prospect. By the Way, our Guide kill’d more Turkeys, and two Polcats, which he eat, esteeming them before fat Turkeys. Some of the Turkeys which we eat, whilst we stay’d there, I believe, weigh’d no less than 40 pounds.

The Land we pass’d over this Day, was most of it good, and the worst passable. At Night we kill’d a Possum, being cloy’d with Turkeys, made a Dish of that, which tasted much between young Pork and Veal; their Fat being as white as any I ever saw. Our Indian having this Day kill’d good Store of Provision with his Gun, they being curious Artists in managing a Gun, to make it carry either Ball, or Shot, true. When they have bought a Piece, and find it to shoot any Ways crooked, they take the Barrel out of the Stock, cutting a Notch in a Tree, wherein they set it streight, sometimes-shooting away above 100 Loads of Ammunition, before they bring the Gun to shoot according to their Mind. 

We took up our Quarters by a Fish-pond-side; the Pits in the Woods that stand full of Water, naturally breed Fish in them, in great Quantities. We cook’d our Supper, but having neither Bread, or Salt, our fat Turkeys began to be loathsome to us, altho' we were never wanting of a good Appetite, yet a Continuance of one Diet, made us weary.

black bear

The next Morning, Santee Jack told us, we should reach the Indian Settlement betimes that Day; about Noon, we pass’d by several fair Savanna’s, very rich and dry; seeing great Copses of many Acres that bore nothing but Bushes, about the Bigness of Box-trees; which (in the Season) afford great Quantities of small Black-berries, very pleasant Fruit, and much like to our Blues, or Huckle-berries, that grow on Heaths in England.

 Hard by the Savanna’s we found the Town, where we halted; there was not above one Man left with the Women, the rest being gone a Hunting for a Feast. The Women were very busily engag’d in Gaming: The Name or Grounds of it, I could not learn, tho' I look’d on above two Hours. Their Arithmetick was kept with a Heap of Indian Grain. When their Play was ended, the King, or Cassetta’s Wife, invited us into her Cabin.

 The Indian Kings always entertaining Travellers, either English, or Indian; taking it as a great Affront, if they pass by their Cabins, and take up their Quarters at any other Indian’s House. The Queen set Victuals before us, which good Compliment they use generally as soon as you come under their Roof.
The Town consists not of above a dozen Houses, they having other stragling Plantations up and down the Country, and are seated upon a small Branch of Santee River. Their Place hath curious dry Marshes, and Savanna’s adjoining to it, and would prove an exceeding thriving Range for Cattle, and Hogs, provided the English were seated thereon. Besides, the Land is good for Plantations.

These Indians are a small People, having lost much of their former Numbers, by intestine Broils; but most by the Small-pox, which hath often visited them, sweeping away whole Towns; occasion’d by the immoderate Government of themselves in their Sickness; as I have mention’d before, treating of the Sewees. Neither do I know any Savages that have traded with the English, but what have been great Losers by this Distemper.

Source: John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of that Country (London, 1709), 25–28.


John Lawson, an early naturalist explorer (See ), did write that he saw a “tyger” once.  He never went west of North Carolina, and he knew the difference between a cougar and a jaguar, so I regard this as probable evidence of a jaguar in North Carolina between 1700-1711.  They were rare but present.  Here’s his account:
“Tygers are never met withal in the Settlement; but are more to the Westward, and are not numerous on this Side the Chain of Mountains.  I once saw one, that was larger than a Panther and seem’d to be a very bold Creature.  The Indians that hunt in those Quarters, say, they are seldom met withal.  It seems to differe from the Tyger of Asia and Africa.”

The Pleistocene fossil record proves that jaguars once ranged over most of North America.  Jaguar fossils have been found as far northwest as Whitman County, Washington and as far northeast as Port Kennedy, Pennsylvania.  Across the southeast jaguar fossils are among the most common of the large carnivores found by fossil collectors.  Along with dire wolves they were probably a dominant predator in the region’s forests for most of the Pleistocene, being more common than the infamous saber-tooth.  So how recently did this dominant predator of the Pleistocene roam North America east of the Mississippi?

A newspaper article from a June 1886 edition of the Donaldsonville Chief, may be the most recent documented proof of a jaguar east of the Mississippi River.  A big cat had been killing cattle in Ascension Parish, Louisiana which is 10 miles east of the Mississippi River.  Allen Martin and Johnny Walker tracked the big cat down and sicked their dogs on it.  The cat killed 3 of the dogs before one of the hunters “laid it low” with a rifle shot.  They reported that it was 8 feet long and weighed 250 pounds, and they referred to it as an “American tiger,” not a panther.  They were familiar with panthers.  This cat was significantly larger than a panther, or cougar. 

 The name American tiger was formerly used for jaguar.  Though this probably is an account of a jaguar, curiously there’s no mention of a spotted coat, so it’s not 100% certain.  If it is, this means jaguars persisted in Louisiana 26 years later than those in California which were eliminated there by 1860.  Jaguars continued to range the big thicket region of eastern Texas until about 1902.  An average of 1 was killed annually in south Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico until 1948 when a predator control poisoning program on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border caused their complete extirpation north of the Rio Grande along with Mexican grizzlies and wolves.  Within the last decade jaguars have occasionally ranged into New Mexico, but the xenophobic fence built to keep Mexicans from crossing the border will hinder the jaguar’s return as well.

Daggett, Pierre; and Dale Henry
“The Jaguar in North America”
American Antiquity 39 (3) July 1974
Nowak, Ronald
“A Possible Occurrence of the Jaguar in Louisiana”
The Southwestern Naturalist 17 (4) 1973
See also:


Anonymous said...

Reading John Lawson's accounts are eye-openers regarding early EASTERN North American landscapes and fauna, aren't they? Another such who traveled much more widely was William Bartram, of course. Such accounts make me sad at how much was lost.....I've always had a THEORY regarding Jaguar presence, especially in the Southeast, as is substantiated by the fossil record, but the fact that they seemed exceedingly rare or nonexistent in such areas by the time of European exploration and settlement began. Before the indigenous Native population was decimated by European diseases(that wiped out entire cultures long before Europeans actually began penetrating these locales), some of these cultures, like the mound builders, had huge populations and very organized societies, with their equivalent of royalty and commoners. And royal classes virtually anywhere where there are spotted cats of any sort, all over the world, value spotted cat skins for decoration and adornment--often as badges of their high status. With such large, demanding human populations, and jaguars being limited in numbers in any given area as most apex predators are, is it not feasible that Native hunting pressures targeting them specifically might not have wiped them out over large areas where they formerly ranged, long, long before Europeans arrived on the scene? Just as it is theorized early Paleo Indians had a major impact on the megafauna of the Pleistocene in North America.....L.B.

Rick Meril said...

LB............Based on other writers commentary about indigenous populations likely being much more numerous prior to European 16th Century "marches across the the Americas", I concur with your theory ............likely any number of species were less populous until disease knocked down Indian numbers by as much as 90%, allowing other creatures to gain back some lost ground and numbers

Shadowcat said...

Please Note that all the writers you refer to are "pinkys" (that's what we call you nowadays) History books are filled with lies to make Pinkys look good.

Rick Meril said...

a bit obtuse, are we not this morning Mr/Ms. shadowcat?..........Are you afraid of all learning material,,,,,,,,,Do you enjoy living in the "shadows" and existing in an acute parochial state of being?

Anonymous said...

Ha! It's taken me awhile to get back around to this blog and read the "shadowcat's" comment--not sure exactly what you mean by it, but it seems you've misconstrued--perhaps--my comments on Native American impacts on wildlife BEFORE the European invasions. I was NOT trying to be derogatory, just stating what the most recent research is discovering, or is FINALLY overcoming the Eurocentric view in the history books of Native Americans as all being primitive, unadvanced savages--which the highly advanced Mound Builders, for example, most assuredly weren't! But, of course, it was easier to justify the extermination or expulsion of the natives(AND predators!) to portray them as "savage"! I most readily agree that when reading these old accounts, one must READ BETWEEN THE LINES, and ALWAYS keep in mind the cultural limitations and prejudices of the writers; BUT YOU CAN STILL glean A LOT from these accounts, and, well, if you want to learn about those times, it's about all there is! I ALSO read/study all the Native American accounts and traditions as well, that I can get my hands on(and I prefer them), so labeling me a "pinky" would be MOST inaccurate! I'm actually a mongrel hybrid, like most modern Americans. More on the subject of Native American philosophy on this subject on the most recent post.....L. B.