Meshack Browning: The Celebrated Bear Hunter Of The Alleghanies

In 1781 was born in Frederick County, Maryland, a pioneer who was truly entitled to the name of “The Mighty Hunter.”

The son of one of General Braddock’s soldiers, who had settled in this beautiful country, Meshack Browning lived his life in the wild fastnesses of the then uncleared mountains of the Blue Ridge, and, at the close of a long and eventful career as a huntsman and trapper, could say with pride that he had killed from eighteen hundred to two thousand deer; from three to four hundred beaver; about fifty panthers; and scores of wolves and wildcats. He was the hero of every man’s conversation in this mountain republic. All looked up to the hardy pioneer, and, after his long and eventful life was brought to a close, when well beyond eighty years of age, no one was more cordially missed than this sturdy old man of the mountains.

Young Meshack’s father died when he was an infant of but two weeks of age, leaving his mother desperately poor, with one daughter named Dorcas, and three sons. It was a hard struggle to bring them up, but by working in the garden, by raising plenty of vegetables, and by spinning, saving and knitting, the good lady managed to scrape along somehow or other. Little Meshack had to learn how to use the rifle at an early age, for by this means only was it possible to supply the larder with fresh meat. Wild turkeys were abundant; deer, wildcats, wolves and bear roamed all through the rugged hills round about their home. Thus he quickly became expert in the use of the flint-lock.

The hunting season usually began in October, and during this month the task was commenced of laying in the winter’s provisions. Some days little Meshack would go out with a kindly uncle who had joined the family and would hunt for deer. On other days he would chase after bees, and as he and his uncle were most successful in this kind of hunting, they would often spend more time in searching for honey than in seeking venison. It would not be long before the table would be well supplied with both deer steaks and honey. The high, fresh grass which surrounded the log cabin would cause their cows to give a quantity of milk, from which little Meshack’s aunt, who was an industrious woman, made plenty of butter; and frequently a fat turkey would be added to the store. Thus life was simple, easy, and healthful in the wild fastnesses of the Blue Ridge.

Things went on well enough until word came to the pioneers that General St. Clair’s army had been defeated and cut to pieces by the redskins under Little Turtle, which you no doubt remember. This was frightful news, and little Meshack’s mother was very much afraid.

“What if the Indians fall upon us here,” said she. “We could not protect ourselves against these terrible red men. Let us move further back into the country where there are more white people. We can thus combine for our own defense.”

Meshack’s uncle thought about the same way, so, packing up their few belongings, the little family hurried to a place called the “Blooming Rose,” where there were thirty or forty other families. This was in 1792—long, long ago, it seems—and yet I, myself, have known old fellows of these mountains who appeared to be well conversant with the terrible battles of St. Clair, “Mad Anthony” Wayne, and the redskins under Little Turtle. These many struggles had been often narrated to them by their parents; most of whom had taken part in those stirring events.

Not long after coming to this settlement, the youthful Meshack had his first adventure with a bear. While milking a cow one day, he heard a great deal of noise at the house, and inquiring what it all meant, was told by one of the girls who lived there that a bear had just gone by. Running to the front portico he there found that four or five gentlemen, who had come to visit the owner of the house (bringing with them their bird-guns, and several little dogs), had gone in pursuit of the beast. The dogs were so small that two of them would have made about a mouthful for Brother Bruin.

The owner of the house, Mr. Caldwell, was a successful bear hunter and had two fine dogs which were well trained to fight these animals. Meshack called them, took the old man’s gun, and ran in the direction of the noise, until he overtook the party of huntsmen, who had halted just as the bear reached a clump of woods. The little dogs would not leave their master, for they seemed to be afraid that the bear would tear them to pieces. But as soon as Mr. Caldwell’s animals scented the bear, off they went, heads down and tails up. Meshack followed on behind.

On, on, coursed the dogs: on, on, went Meshack. Hastening towards the sounds of the fray, the young hunter saw both bear and dogs turning somersaults down a very steep hill. Over and over they rolled, Meshack after them as hard as he could tilt, and the way that the fur flew was most interesting. The fight became desperate, and the bear found that his hindquarters were suffering severely; so severely, in fact, that he determined to climb a large tree. When halfway up to the lowest branches, he saw Meshack come puffing and blowing down the hill. This frightened him and he attempted to descend to the ground.

As he crawled slowly towards the sod, Meshack let drive and sent a small rifle ball through the middle of his body. The bear plunged to the earth, making two or three somersaults as he did so, but finding the dogs too ferocious for him, he immediately ascended a large oak tree. The oak being forked and very high, he went up to the first branch, and, lying down on it, refused to move. By this time the gentlemen who owned the little dogs had come up, and as many of them had never seen a bear before, they began to consult among themselves about what was to be done. Meshack had no more balls for his little rifle and they had nothing but small shot.

After a lengthy discussion it was agreed to try and see what a load of shot would do for Mr. Bruin. Meshack agreed that it was impossible to kill the bear with that and told the other huntsmen to let the beast alone until he fetched some more balls, or else secured some one else to come and shoot him.

“Stand back and keep your counsel to yourself,” cried one of the men. “We know how to handle this rascally bear. Let us finish him off!”

Taking aim at the animal’s head, one of them again fired, but this only made the bear snort, scratch his face, and climb up the tree as far as he could go. Here he seated himself upon another fork, and, although repeatedly shot at, would not budge.

The bear hunters were feeling very much discouraged. After a long parley they decided to send for a certain pioneer called John Martin, who could shoot a squirrel off the highest tree in the woods. A scout was dispatched for him, and, at about nine in the evening, he returned with the famous marksman, who brought a rifle shooting an ounce ball. After the trapper had had full time to recover his breath, which climbing the high hill had rendered rather short, he placed himself in a good position and let drive. Mr. Bear remained in his place unscathed. Several more shots were fired by the old fellow, but Bruin simply hugged the limb in apparent comfort.

“Here, boys,” cried one, “is a Mr. Morris—a Revolutionary officer—who has killed many an English soldier. Let him have a crack at this elusive mark!”

“Yes! Yes!” called several. “Give some one else a chance.”

The new marksman cleaned and loaded his gun, took careful aim, and off went the musket. The bear snorted, groaned, and made a great fuss, but remained in its place. Another load was prepared and the Captain again tried his luck, when the bear, apparently provoked by such ill treatment, rose from his resting-place and started for the group. But upon arriving at the lowest fork of the tree, and seeing so many men and dogs, his courage failed him, and he again lay down. Mr. Martin tried two or three more shots without any result. Bruin seemed to be made of cast iron.

“Let me have a shot at him,” said Meshack, at this juncture. “I believe that I can kill the old boy.”

“Stand out of the way!” cried the Revolutionary soldier. “I am sure that I can finish him off, and I’ll knock you out if you interfere with me.”

It was getting dark by now, and Bruin was still unkilled. It soon was so dark that Mr. Martin could not see the powder in the pan. The gun missed fire.

“Here, Mr. Martin,” cried young Browning. “Give me your gun, and I will finish this confounded rascal.”

The old frontiersman passed him the piece.

“Take it,” said he, “and good riddance.”

Meshack felt for the powder in the pan and found it empty, but having some in a horn, he placed it carefully in the proper vent and was ready to try his luck. There were fourteen men now around the tree.

The young pioneer could only see the bear by getting him between himself and the sky, but he took the best aim that he could, and fired. Pow! Down came the bear this time with a thud; and, with a wild yelping and barking, the dogs made for him. A shout of horror arose from the bystanders as they all took to the trees, while over and over, down the steep hill, rolled the bear and the dogs, until they fell into a hole, where they stopped. A terrible snarling, yelping and growling now ensued.

The last shot had so disabled the bear that he lay upon his back defending himself valiantly as the dogs made for him. Meshack had now nothing to shoot him with, so he went in search of a club, and pulling a dry pole out by the roots, broke it off short, and went into the fray.

Creeping behind the bear, as he was reaching after the dogs in front, he struck him on the head between the ears, while down he went, the dogs attacking his hindquarters, meanwhile, and holding on to him tightly. The tough, old fellow uttered one despairing growl, then rolled over, stone dead. His end had come.

Meshack kept absolutely still, and, as he crouched near the bear, the back-track party began to come up. All had descended from their trees when they saw the bear rolling down the hill.

“Where is Browning?” asked one.

“Goodness only knows,” answered another.

“I expect that the young fool has run on the bear and has been killed by him.”

“Hello, Browning! Hello!” cried many.

Young Meshack would not answer.

“It’s no use to call,” said one of the tree climbers. “He’s as dead as a door nail.”

Still Meshack would not answer, because he wanted to hear what they would all say.

“Hello! Browning!” was repeated.

“What do you want?” at length cried the young pioneer.

“Where is the bear?”

“Here he is.”

“What is he doing?”

“He is dead.”

“Well, I reckon that isn’t true, because you couldn’t kill him without a gun or a tomahawk, and you haven’t got either of them.”

“I beat him to death with a club.”

“By George! you are fool enough to do anything. We don’t believe you.”

So saying, they gingerly began to come nearer and nearer, until they were at the edge of the hole where the bear lay dead. They would come no closer until young Meshack took the bear by the foot and shook it in the air.

“By Jingo! he is dead!” said one. “Bully for you, my boy.”

The young pioneer now held up the club with which he had dispatched the bear, and each took it and struck the dead beast on the head in order to say that he had helped to kill the long-lived animal, but no one congratulated Meshack. In fact, several let it be known that they themselves had killed the tough, old fellow.

The question now arose as to how Bruin was to be carried home. Some were for getting two oxen and a cart, but young Browning suggested that they carry him on a pole. This they did, and staggering and tumbling onward, the animal was gradually towed towards the house of Mr. Caldwell. The bear was laid in the kitchen, where the owner of the house came to view him and to taunt the back-trackers and the climbers for their cowardice. When closely examined, it was seen that Captain Morris’s two shots had struck him, one passing through his ear, the other breaking two of his tusks, without doing any serious injury. No ball from Martin’s numerous fusillades had touched him at all.

“Your shot killed the bear, Browning,” said he, turning to Meshack. “If the bear’s backbone had not been weakened by the last shot he would have undoubtedly killed many, if not all of them. As for these fellows who climbed the trees, it was a most cowardly trick, and the same thing would have occurred had they been in a fight with the redskins.”

This was very galling to the back-trackers, and they envied and abused young Meshack whenever they had an opportunity. When the bear was cut up they even did not wish to give Meshack a share of it, but Mr. Caldwell insisted that he should have his just proportion of the game.

“I have no use for the meat, sir,” said the youthful pioneer. “But if you will give me the skin, I shall be glad to have it.”

Mr. Caldwell immediately took up the hide and presented it to him.

“It is justly yours,” said he, “for my dogs treed him, and you killed him. You have a right to the skin, because it has always been a rule among hunters that the first blood drawn takes the skin, be it bear or deer.”

Thus ended the young trapper’s first bear fight. It raised his reputation as a fearless boy, and made him admired and respected by all the stout backwoodsmen of the Blue Ridge. Frequently, thereafter, when he would be seated in the kitchen with the other children, they would induce him to tell the whole tale and would ridicule the back-track huntsmen for their cowardly conduct. One of them, Miss Nancy Lee, said to him one evening:

“Browning, I always thought that you were a great coward, but I do not think so now. And I heard father tell a strange man the other day that if he had you in an Indian fight he knew that you would attack the redskins as fearlessly as you did that bear. Meshack, I have often wished that I had been born a boy, then I would be some day a man and would be able to kill or drive away the red rascals who followed General St. Clair, so that they would never again come back to murder the whites. If you had seen as much of their work as I have, you would feel as vindictively towards them as I, myself, do. Let me tell you a story about them:

“Some years ago, before General St. Clair lost so many men in a great fight with the Indians, father and mother were compelled to leave this place, and we all went up to the Fort at Wheeling, West Virginia. The neighbors were forced to vacate their farms, also, and go into the stockade. My father and three or four of his friends used to go out to hunt for game sometimes, and a few pioneers always stood guard while they were away. Others worked at planting and harvesting corn and at chopping wood. There was ever the danger of an onrush by the redskins.

“At length news came to us that the Indians were in the neighborhood. The Fort was put in the best possible condition for defense, and we awaited their approach. But no attack came. Several days passed by, no sound came from the depths of the forest and it was supposed that the savages had given up the assault. But such was not the case.

“One day two Indians made their appearance on the high hill above the town, across the river, and opposite the Fort. They fired their rifles at the stockade and then went slowly away, slapping their hands behind them in token of derision and contempt for the frontiersmen within the log enclosure.

“Many of the pioneers were outraged by such an insult, for they were hot-tempered fellows. Several began to run after the savages, and they would have all gone had not the commanding officer stood in the gateway and stopped them. Twenty-four of the boldest and most dashing ran up the steep hill after the Indians, who kept on retreating as if with no intention to offer battle. When the whites reached the summit, they suddenly found themselves surrounded. Crack! Crack! sounded many a rifle, and bullets began to whizz by on every side. They gazed about them in dismay. Fully four hundred painted redskins were on three sides of them. Their only hope was to turn and make a break for the Fort.

“The redskins, meanwhile, had moved to their rear, and, as the frontiersmen approached, put up a stern resistance to their assault. Many fell. Some escaped unhurt and dashed madly for their haven of refuge, pursued by the red men with wild, vindictive yelping. My father was one of the last to get through the lines, and, as he ran for his life, with a close friend of his before him, he saw his companion fall to the ground. As he passed him, the wounded man cried out, ‘John, don’t leave me to be scalped,’ but my father ran on, as he knew that he could do nothing for him. A moment more and he saw a white renegade, who had gone to live with the Indians some years before. The fellow was close to him and carried a spear, mounted on a handle like that of a pitchfork. He was at my father’s heels when they arrived at a narrow defile in the hill next to the Fort. A large tree was lying on the ground and another small one was standing very near it. Something tripped up my father’s feet, and in he fell, between the two trees. As he went down, the white renegade made a furious lunge at him. The spear, however, glanced off the log, turned its point upward, and stuck so fast in the standing tree that the white savage could not withdraw it before my father leaped to his feet, escaped unhurt, and reached the Fort in safety.

“The poor fellow who had called out to him for help had had his thigh broken; but he crawled upon his hands and knees to a hollow log, in which he hid himself until dark, and then wriggled to the Fort. A short time later a frontiersman came in with his arm broken, but the rest all fell before the rifles, arrows and tomahawks of the redskins.

“Thus perished twenty-one of the best and bravest men in West Virginia. Their death was a great loss to the frontier settlements, as also to the strength of the Fort, which, in a few days, was hotly besieged by these same red men. Their success had made them bold. Having intercepted a boat loaded with cannonballs, destined for the use of the garrison, the savages procured a hollow tree, bound it round with as many chains as they could, drove wedges underneath the chains in order to tighten them as much as possible; loaded it like a cannon, and, at a favorable moment, let go a most tremendous broadside. Whang! The whole thing exploded with a resounding boom, killing several, wounding others, and frightening the rest half out of their wits.

“They did not remain frightened, however, and soon renewed their attack upon the Fort. Near by was a log house belonging to Colonel Lane and the assault was mainly directed against this place, but the redskins were driven off. The powder became very scarce in the house, so it was proposed that some men should run to the log barricade for a supply. Among the volunteers for this dangerous task was a sister of Colonel Lane, who said that she, herself, would go. It was objected to, and the young men insisted on going themselves. But she was firm in her purpose and replied that the loss of a woman would be felt less than the loss of a man. Pinning up her dress, so that her feet would have fair play, she started upon her dangerous mission.

“The Indians were perfectly astonished at this sight and did not fire a single shot at her. Thus she reached the Fort in safety, secured plenty of powder, which she tied to a belt around her waist, and off she bounded again for the house. The red men were not so lenient this time. Suspecting some mischief, they fired a volley of balls after her, all of which missed the fleeing woman, so that she reached the house in safety, with plenty of powder with which to withstand the future attacks of the savages.

“The Indians were now discouraged. Capturing a fat cow, they roasted her hind quarters, had a feast, and kept up a fusillade on the stockade while they ate the tender meat. When the repast was over, they all marched away in profound silence. As they disappeared, a settler at one of the port-holes drew a bead upon the last savage, but a random shot from somewhere in the forest dropped him like a stone. A wild war-whoop echoed from the sombre woodland and the Indians had vanished.”

Thus ended the story of the attack. It was a thrilling tale, and Nancy concluded with the remark:

“I think, Browning, that if the Indians were to commence hostilities again, while you were living with us, you would fight for our family, wouldn’t you?”

“Indeed,” replied the young bear hunter, “no Indian would ever put hands upon you while life and strength was left in my body sufficient to save you from their accursed hands.”

And he meant what he said.

Not long afterwards the young frontiersman was married, and desiring some bear meat for the winter supply, started into the forest in order to secure a quantity of this article. He knew where there was a swamp of black haws (trees of which bears are very fond) and so he walked rapidly for the bottom where these grew. When in sight of the place, he went around it in order to let his dogs have wind of the thicket. He had two excellent hounds with him, the older of which was sent into the swamp in order to raise the game. In he went, and he was scarcely out of sight before a loud snapping, howling, and yelping came to the ears of the eager huntsman.

The young dog was crouching at the heels of the trapper, but now he dashed into the thicket, also. Soon there was hard fighting going on. Meshack, himself, ran as fast as he could in the direction of the battle. When he came up with the dogs, the bear had taken to a tree, just out of their reach. He was a big, brown fellow; very sleek and shiny. As he heard the trapper rushing through the bushes he let go his hold, dropped to the ground, and was in an immediate battle with the dogs. Browning ran the muzzle of his gun against him and fired, but the bullet struck too far back to seriously injure Brother Bruin. As the musket went off, the dogs closed in and the fight became most desperate. The bear was giving them more than they could stand.

Meshack had dropped the gun in the weeds, and had no means of protecting his pets except by means of a large knife in his belt. It was now or never, for the bear had one of them on the ground and was biting him severely. In a few moments it would be all over with him. Therefore the trapper ran up to Brother Bruin and made a lunge at his side. The knife struck him far back, and did not cause a mortal wound. Still on he fought, though the blow released the dog, who arose and attacked the bear again with renewed energy, just as the beast attempted to crawl beneath a log which was raised from the ground. The young dog caught him by the nose as he went under, while the other seized him by his right hind leg. Both held fast, while Meshack ran upon him with his knife and dealt him two or three severe blows. Growling, snuffing, and breathing hard, the tough old Bruin rolled over dead.

This was one of many such adventures. There were also encounters with wildcats, panthers, wolves, and other denizens of the woods. With deer, also, there were many strange happenings, as the following will prove:

In February, 1800, the trapper and another young man, called Louis Van Sickle, went into the woods in order to catch a young deer, which Browning intended to raise as a pet. The Virginia red deer will become tame in two or three days, and even the oldest bucks will prove quite docile after a few weeks’ confinement. Several had been so tamed by the trapper that they would come to him, put their nose in his pocket, would take apples or moss out of it; would eat this food, and would then search in his pockets for more.

The snow was about four feet deep as the two trappers went into the laurel swamps where the deer took winter refuge. As they drew near the edge of the swamp, they discovered many paths made by the animals as they came out of the thicket in order to browse upon the small bushes and on the moss upon the fallen timber. They struck off, down one of the paths, and soon saw seven large deer running and jumping up and down in the deep snow. They pursued as best they could, for they had snow-shoes on underneath their moccasins, and soon Meshack was far ahead of Van Sickle, who was unable to travel over the snow with any speed.

When the trapper reached the hindmost deer, the foremost ones, being tired out, had stopped to take breath. The last one attempted to pass by those in front and leaped into the deep snow, where he stuck fast. Meshack caught hold of him with the intention of tying him, but he was too fat and strong and fought viciously. They were struggling together, when Louis came up with a long clasp-knife and cut the throat of the buck. With the knife in his pocket, Meshack now ran after the others, and soon overtook them as they were crossing a small branch, with steep banks upon either side. A large tree, which had fallen over the stream, lay a short distance from the ground, where many leaves had drifted under it. One of the bucks, being hard pushed and greatly frightened, darted among the leaves, and thus escaped the eyes of the trapper, who had his attention upon the deer in front. Meshack passed by, pursued the others for some distance, caught a large buck, which he attempted to tie, but he fought him desperately, and was so strong that he could not handle him.

While engaged with this buck he heard Louis crying out from behind:

“Hello! Browning! Come to my assistance! Come quickly!”

Meshack left the buck and ran to the relief of his friend, thinking, as he did so, that he had probably fallen among the stones and had broken his leg, for the ground was rocky and full of holes. As he ran towards him, he said to himself: “If he has broken a leg, I will first take my ropes and will tie him to a tree, then I will pull it out straight, set the bone, and will tear up some clothes and wrap them around the limb, scrape a place clear of snow, build a good fire, and leave him here while I go for a horse and sled on which to carry him home.”

He was to be agreeably disappointed. As he came in sight of his friend, he observed him lying upon his back with his knees drawn up towards his face, and his large, wide snow-shoes turned up to the sun. Before him stood one of the largest bucks, with his tail spread, his hair bristled up, and his eyes glowing fire. He was carefully watching the prostrate trapper, and every time that he moved the buck would spring upon him and would beat him over the head and face with his feet until he became quiet again. The irate deer would wait until Louis would make another move, then he would again jump upon him.

This was the same buck that had hidden underneath the log when Meshack had passed by. The animal had recovered his breath, and, as Van Sickle approached, sprang upon him suddenly. Striking the astonished trapper with his fore feet, he threw him backwards in the deep snow, and every time that the scout would attempt to arise, the deer would attack and strike at him until he would lie still.

How often the buck had repeated this chastisement before Meshack came in sight is difficult to say. When the trapper saw his companion lying motionless, and hallooing vociferously for help, he could not suppress a loud laugh. Van Sickle made several attempts to rise, but in vain; for the buck gave him a sound beating at every move. The prostrate woodsman was furious with rage. He cried out loudly:

“You intend to let me freeze here in the snow, Browning? That is death, anyway, and I am going to get out of this fix, or else lose my life in the attempt. Can’t you drive this cursed buck away?”

As he ceased speaking, he made another move, and, as the buck sprang upon him again with his fore feet, he reached up, passed one arm around the animal’s neck, and then the other. Drawing the deer close to him, he vigorously endeavored to upset his valiant opponent. Meshack continued his laughter, for it was certainly a novel wrestling match, and the buck seemed to have the trapper at his mercy. He determined to let his friend fight it out to the bitter end, without any assistance on his part.

The buck seemed to be weakening after fifteen minutes of struggling, and Louis now raised his legs and threw them over the animal’s back. The snow-shoes were somewhat in the way, but he withdrew his right hand from the deer’s neck, and, as he lay beneath him, began to strike him in the ribs with his closed fist.

“It’s now your turn, you rascal,” he called out. “You have had your innings, and it is now my opportunity. How do you like this—and this—and this?”

Every time that he punched the buck the deer would grunt and endeavor to strike him with his fore feet.

Meshack had stopped laughing by now, and walking up to the fighting trapper, said:

“Let go of the buck, Louis, and I will finish him with my hunting-knife.”

“No! No!” replied the woodsman. “I have a good hold on him now, and I refuse to let go until either he or I lose our lives.”

He continued to strike heavy blows upon the buck’s side, as Meshack seized the animal by the ear. Now determined to end the affair, he quickly dispatched him with his hunting-knife, and, as he dropped to the snow, the prostrate trapper drew himself to his feet with a loud shout of satisfaction and delight.

“Meshack,” said he, “you have saved my life! If you had not come, I do not believe that I would have whipped this fellow, for he was the toughest customer that I ever tackled in my entire woodland experience.”

Van Sickle was so upset by the beating which the buck had given him that he would never hunt any more unless Browning went in advance, and if a bush rattled, would jump back in deadly fear that another buck was coming after him. He was severely injured, having many black and blue lumps upon his head, and one very black eye. Two or three days later, he exhibited a long war-club, which he had made to defend himself with, as well as to attack the fighting bucks. It was eight feet in length, with a large knot upon the upper end, and was a deadly means of defense. He would never venture to the woods again unless Meshack went along, and, as the trapper would not go with him, he had no opportunity of trying his murderous instrument.

Shortly after this strange and novel battle in the woods, Meshack was asked by his wife to bring home some young turkeys for supper. Telling her that he could soon do this, he called his dog, Watch, and was off into the woodland. His faithful hound had been lame for more than a month from the bite of the last bear which he had tackled, and was still very stiff. He frisked about his master in spite of this, and seemed to be all ready for anything that might turn up.

It was not long before the trapper saw three or four old turkeys with perhaps thirty or forty young ones. He sent Watch after them, in order to drive them towards him, but they flew into some low, white oak trees. When Meshack walked fast, as if he were going past them, they would sit still as they could for him to pass on. After taking twelve or fifteen steps the trapper would shoot off their heads. He thus kept on, until he had shot off the tops of nine young turkeys. This was sufficient for the larder, and whistling to his dog, he turned about for home.

Watch, however, seemed to be very much excited, and kept whining and sniffing, as if some species of game were near.

“What is it, my boy?” asked his master.

For answer the dog bounded away towards a large mass of rocks. Here he began to bark vociferously, so that the trapper felt sure that a bear was concealed near by.

“Fetch him out, boy! Fetch him out!” he cried.

Down went the dog, and into a crevice in the rocks, while Meshack raced to the other side. To his astonishment no bear came forth, but a huge panther bounded into the open, and, jumping from rock to rock, was soon out of sight. The dog followed along the rocks as best he could, and both quarry and pursuer were soon lost to view. After a few moments, however, the dog opened again, and seemed to be coming back on the other side of the stones and laurel bushes, which here grew in profusion.

Meshack turned to follow the dog. When he had gone a few steps he heard something moving, and wheeling about, saw the panther creeping close upon him. As he went behind some rocks Meshack levelled his rifle. When he came out the trapper fired, directing the ball, as near as he could, to the heart of the ferocious beast. The gun cracked. The panther sprang into the air, snapping at the place where the ball struck him. Then, turning towards the trapper, he came on, put his paws on a small, fallen tree, and looked his adversary full in the face.

Meshack drew his hunting-knife, and, as the panther made a lunge at him, struck at him again and again. The sharp claws ripped the hunting-shirt of the bold pioneer and gashed his arms, but the fierce thrusts of the hardened woodsman soon made the beast cease his attack. He crawled into a leaning tree, where he sat for a moment glaring at the man in buckskin, and then came to the ground. In spite of the fact that he was bleeding profusely, he soon disappeared into a rocky cavern.

The bold trapper has written:

“I was really glad of it, for I found myself so nervous that I could scarcely load my rifle, and, when the panther was looking at me, I was determined that if he made an attempt to come near me, I would seek safety in flight. He would have been obliged to ascend a steep hill, and, as I had at least five steps the start of him, I do not think that he could have caught me. If any man would run at all, I think this would have been as good a cause as any he could have wished for. I know, furthermore, that I would not have been distanced in the race.”

In the meantime Watch returned.

“Heigh on, Watch!” cried the trapper. “Go seek him out! Go seek him out!”

The dog was off in a jiffy, and descended to a large mass of rocks where he could be heard worrying the panther. The growling, snarling, and yelping soon ceased, so Meshack hastened towards the sound. He saw a den before him evidently in use for many years, and in the opening lay the beast, stone dead. Watch was licking his chops, as much as to say, “Now, what do you think of me, old boy? Didn’t I do a good day’s work, eh?”

Meshack was delighted, for the panther was evidently an old stager. He was of tremendous size. Many a dead deer had been found in this particular part of the forest in years past, so it was evident that the beast had ranged the woods for a long time. After his death no more half-eaten deer were seen in the woods by the hunters and backwoodsmen, so it was plainly evident that the mighty panther had been the cause of all this loss. Certainly the trapper had had a dangerous encounter, and had had a narrow escape from severe injuries.

Meshack had heard of a great den of bears on Meadow Mountain, called the Big Gap, and on April 4th, 1803, he started out to hunt them with a friend called Hugh. They were not long in reaching the ground where the bears had denned, or “holed,” as the hunters called it. “It was,” says the trapper, “the greatest place for bear holes I ever saw in my life. I really believe that at least twenty had laid in one acre of rock. They had all left their holes when we arrived, in order to go out after acorns, except an old female and her younglings, which were located in a deep place in the rocks.”

The dogs soon found this family of bears and attacked them, although the old one fought with great fury, while her cubs ran for their lives. As they passed by, Meshack shot at one and killed it, although Hugh missed the one at which he fired. The old bear had left her hole, meanwhile, and endeavored to follow after her young, but the dogs worried her to such an extent that she did not get out of sight of the hole before she was shot dead at the first fire. Two of the young ones escaped.

The two trappers continued their hunt, and in the evening of the same day fell in with another old female and two young bears. The dogs ran them all up the same tree, but the laurel was so thick that as soon as they shot the old one the young ones ran safely away, while the dogs were worrying the mother. The dogs soon finished the parent bear, and, setting off after the two young cubs, drew so close that they put up a tree. Running after them, the trappers were not long in dispatching the two fugitives. Thus, with two old bears, and three cubs, the huntsmen felt that they had done a good day’s work. With great difficulty the booty was carried home by means of two horses, and enough meat was thus secured to last for the entire winter. Besides this, the hides of the young cubs made an excellent carpet for the cabin of the pioneers.

Soon afterwards Meshack purchased some cattle, and, as there were scores of wolves about, on the same night that he took his stock to his home he missed one yearling, which he found had been killed by a wolf. This made him very angry.

“Mr. Wolf shall pay me for my calf,” said he, “and with interest.”

Taking a shoulder of the calf, he laid it in a steel trap and placed the bait in a running branch of water, taking care to hide it very securely. On the third morning after putting out this snare he went to the spot and found that the trap had disappeared.

Rain had fallen during the night and every trace of the wolf’s footprints was destroyed. Nothing daunted, Meshack returned home, called to both of his dogs, and endeavored to lay them on the trail. But they could not scent it on account of the great rain.

The trapper knew that the wolf would go to the nearest laurel swamp, to do which he had to cross a creek. Into this the pioneer waded and walked down it for some distance. Finally he saw where the trap had struck the bank as the wolf was crossing the stream. Wading back to the dogs, he carried them to the other shore, and harked them on the track of the wolf. At first the trail was very indistinct, but as they went forward it became fresher and fresher.

In about half an hour the dogs began to give tongue and soon were hot on the scent of the wary old fellow, who could not run very far because the trap was fast to his hind legs. Finally there was a terrible hullabaloo, and, running to the sound of the noise, Meshack saw that the wolf had taken to a hollow tree. His head was sticking out, and every time a dog approached, he bit at him and howled dismally.

The dogs were not afraid of the beast, and kept springing at him. Every time a dog would come near enough the animal would snap viciously at him, and, if possible, would sink every tooth in that part of his body which he could reach. He was a terrible fellow,—black and shaggy. Meshack encouraged his pets to do all in their power, crying:

“Hark on, boys! Lay on to him! Fetch the old varmint! Bite the old calf-killer. Hit him, boys! Hit him!”

Finally the strongest dog took a deep hold on one of the wolf’s ears, while the other seized the remaining one. The wolf came out of the tree in a second, but the now energetic attackers threw him to the ground. Again and again he endeavored to recover his feet, but they pulled him over and over. They were all growing exhausted.

At this moment Meshack seized a club and took part in the battle. Again and again he beat the old fellow over the head. Again and again the dogs rolled him about. At length the fierce and ferocious beast gave a great, despairing kick, and it was all over.

The trapper was delighted. Taking off the scalp and hide, he returned to his cabin, and subsequently sold both for nine dollars,—the price of two calves.

“My good wife,” said he, “I told you that I would make Mr. Wolf pay me well, with interest, for his incursions upon my cattle. I have done it.”

And his wife answered:

“Meshack, you are a man of your word—God bless you!”

One other adventure of this famous trapper of the Alleghanies is interesting, for he had another startling experience. This time he was accompanied by his good friend, Hugh, who was often his companion in bear and wolf hunting.

Deciding to go after bear at the Big Gap, Hugh and Meshack went into camp within three miles of some rocks where many of these animals had previously been seen in abundance. They arrived at the hunting-grounds quite early, having one of their best dogs along, a fellow who could handle almost any bear, whatever his size. The animal grew very lively when near some rocks, and soon ran into a hole, where his yelping was intermingled with loud growls, showing that some large animal was inside. Again and again the trappers called to their faithful hound, but he would not come out. There were three holes out of which Mr. Bear might come bounding forth at any moment.

Meshack had given Hugh a bayonet, fixed on a handle like a pitchfork, with directions to run it through the bear if he rushed by him. He, himself, guarded the hole at which the animal was most likely to appear. The dog was making a terrific noise, as he struggled with the infuriated beast. The fight continued for half an hour, at the end of which time Meshack espied a part of the bear, when peering through a small crack in the rock. Putting his musket to the opening he fired. With a roar and rush the wounded beast dashed into the open.

“Run your bayonet through him, Hugh!” yelled the trapper. “Run your bayonet through him before he gets away!”

But Hugh was too timid to make the attempt. The enraged animal passed him with an evil snarl, and as he scampered to a tree Meshack vainly endeavored to ram another ball home in his rifle. The animal climbed slowly up to a limb and lay there growling evilly.

“Now is your chance, Meshack!” shouted Hugh. “Get after him! Give him a dose of lead!”

The trapper approached in order to secure a bead upon his victim, and, standing beneath the tree, was just raising his rifle so as to take good aim, when, with a mighty rush, Bruin came at him, through the air. It was an unexpected attack, and quite out of the ordinary, so you can well imagine what must the feelings of the trapper have been, as the bear whirled above his head. Stepping aside, he fired at the brown mass just as it reached the ground.

The fighting beast made a savage stroke at the trapper’s legs with his right paw, but Meshack was too quick for him and jumped swiftly aside. Again and again the monster endeavored to get a blow in upon the pioneer, but each time the trapper dodged. Just then his dog appeared, seized Bruin by the hind leg, causing the old fellow to turn about, and snap at his antagonist. This gave the trapper a chance to load, and, quickly ramming home another ball, he pointed his flint-lock at the struggling beast, pulled the trigger, and planted a bullet in his body near the heart. With a savage growl of despair the bear dropped to the ground, where the faithful dog soon terminated his career.

“Hugh, where were you all this time?” asked the smiling Meshack.

His companion approached; much abashed at the small part he had taken in the fray.

“R-e-ally,” said he, “I feared that my weapon was not sufficiently strong in order to dispatch this monster. It might have bent, you know. Then, where would I have been?”

Meshack laughed loudly.

“Well, I reckon, you would have been bent, too,” said he. “For this fellow was surely a scrapper. Here, help me swing him on a pole and we will take him home for the winter’s supply of food.”

This they did, and Bruin increased very materially the slender larder for the winter months, when snow covered the trackless forests and it was impossible to hunt, to fish, or to secure venison or bear-meat in the deep and sombre woodland.

The early settlers, you see, being but few in numbers, had a hard time to maintain themselves; if they had not been extremely economical they could not have lived in the wilderness at all. They fashioned their own clothes, they raised flax and wool, which the women spun and wove into linen and linsey for the men; and made flannel for their own wear. If any man wished to hire help there would be an understanding beforehand as to what the wages were to be paid in. Sometimes pork, beef, honey, or corn was used as a substitute for money. Sometimes a calf, pig, deer-skin, bear-skin, coon-skin, or a wolf’s scalp would suffice. The settlers all lived in cabins, and fed their children on bread, meat, butter, honey, and milk. Coffee and tea were almost out of the question. A few of the older ladies, who had been raised in other parts of the country, alone could use these staples of diet. Meat was plentiful, for, if the farmers could keep the wild animals away from their hogs, the nuts and acorns would make them very fat. Pork, beef, bear-meat, and venison were easily obtained. Wild meat was not thought very much of, because it was most plentiful at all times.

Politics were little understood among the men in buckskin. Most of them were Federalists. An election was usually held on the first Monday in October, when all the settlers would gather at the polling booths, arrayed in hunting-shirt and moccasins, almost every one of them with a big knife stuck in his belt. A stranger would have thought this some military party going to war, and, if a quarrel occurred, the two contestants would rip off both coat and shirt, and fight until one or the other acknowledged that he was the beaten individual. Then their friends would take the bleeding combatants to the nearest stream and give them both a good washing. This would usually end the quarrel. The people were generous to strangers travelling through the country, and if a wayfarer lost his path a hunter would pilot him five, six, or even ten miles, until he was out of danger of being lost. They would refuse all compensation for their services.

In such a community Meshack Browning continued his life, and, in spite of numerous hairbreadth escapes from wounded bears and panthers, successfully escaped from any serious injuries, and he did not kill merely for the sake of killing. Honest and warm sentiments stirred his bosom, as the following story will show.

One day he was following a large buck, which ran into a crevice in some high rocks and there lay down. The trapper hurried after him, and, mounting a large boulder, eagerly searched for a view of the cunning animal. He stood on the rock and looked about him with the utmost care, but could see nothing of the buck, until casting his eyes down at the base of the rock directly below where he stood, there lay the fine fellow contentedly chewing his cud, apparently considering himself perfectly secure. He was watching the ground in front, not thinking that an enemy could approach on the side which the rocks so completely covered. Let me here quote the old trapper:

“The rock being fully twenty feet high, I was obliged to shoot nearly straight down, but when I saw what a complete advantage I had, it greatly marred my pleasure to think that such a noble animal, possessing all the beauty bestowed by a pair of fine, large horns, a well formed body, and tapering limbs; whose life had been innocently spent (never having committed an injury against either man or beast) should be thus sacrified. My desire of killing him was so weakened, that I really had thought of letting him escape the death that was then hanging over him, but again it occurred to me that he was one of the creatures placed here for the use of man, that, if I let him go, probably the next hunter who caught him in his power would surely kill him, and that it would be as well for me to take him as to let any other person have him.

“So, taking a good aim, I fired at this monarch of the forest, when the poor fellow gave a few jumps, and fell dead. I declare the death of that deer gave me more real pain than pleasure. He was a large, old fellow, his head and his face being quite gray with age. I took his skin and returned to my cabin, having the river to wade and at least a mile to travel before I could reach home. The winter being then near, I believe that the death of this buck ended the fall hunt.”

The seasoned trapper was not always accustomed to shoot bears. Sometimes he would trap them in large log traps, hewn out of the forest timber by means of the axe. To entice the animals into this box, he used to roast the leg of a deer, and, while the meat was cooking, he would rub honey over it, so that it would smell very strongly of the latter. Then he would cut off pieces of this sweetened meat, would tie them beneath his moccasins, would walk through the grounds which the bears frequented and would return to the trap. Every bear which smelled his tracks would follow the trail to the trap and would get caught in it.

Shooting wolves was also varied by trapping wolves, and for this he used to take a carcass of a cow or a horse, and lay it in a small stream of water. Then he would go off some distance, so that the wolf could not see where, and would cut bushes. He would stick the ends in the mud so thickly that the wolf could get at the meat only in one place, which was left open and clear. The carcass was so laid that the wolf could eat at either side.

A wolf will never jump over the bait, but will hunt the stream for a place to cross, in order to go around the other side, and eat. Therefore, the wise trapper would leave a passage for the animal to cross the water, and would set bushes about so thickly that they could not get through in any other place. The stream would then be widened where the wolves would pass, so that they could not step over it, and a flat stone be placed in the centre with green moss laid on top, so that it would look as if it had never been moved. Then meat would be cut into small pieces, and strewn on both sides of these crossing-places, both above and below the carcass.

When a gang of wolves would come to the meat the larger ones would drive the smaller ones off. These would run about seeking food, and, soon finding the small pieces strewn about the crossing-places, they would run across, stepping upon the moss-covered stone as they did so. Every time they returned they would be sure to go over the place, setting their feet precisely in the same position on the stone.

The trapper would carefully watch the marks of the presence of the wolves. When he found that they made tracks on the stone by wearing away the moss with their feet he would remove the stone and put a steel trap in its place, covering it over with green moss just as he had covered the stone. When the animals came back, in order to seek food, they would cross as before, place their feet in the trap, and would be securely caught. The old ones, being at the meat when a young one would be caught in the trap, would not be afraid to return,—as there was nothing to scare them. After a while, however, all would become afraid of the crossing-places. Then wise Meshack would place his trap in the mud where they would stand to eat the meat. But after one was caught in this place, all would desert, and trapping would be over with this particular gang of wolves.

After capturing them in this manner for several years they became so cunning that they would not touch any bait which was offered them. The trapper therefore adopted another plan, which was as follows:

He found that they would pick up any fragments of old bones that lay upon the ground, but if they lay in water, or close to it, they would not touch them. He therefore saved all the large bones from the table, particularly the joint ends of beef bones. He would beat them to pieces, mount his horse, so that his tracks would not be scented, and would scatter the stuff over a considerable area of land. Around this space he would then stick some bushes; so that the wolves, in order to get at the mess, would have to pass through an opening in the brush.

The wolves would soon find the bones and eat them up. Then they would be given a second meal. But, meanwhile, a trap would be placed at the opening of the bushes and would be stuck in a hole of its own size. All the extra dirt would be carried away. The trap would be pressed down an inch below the surface. Old leaves would then be laid over it, and it would also be covered with an inch of buckwheat bran, which would keep the wolves from smelling the iron. Then the skillful trapper would take some of the grass, which grew around the spot, and lay it carefully over the trap, so that no eye would discern the difference between that particular place and the surrounding earth. When this was done early in the morning, or before a shower of rain which would destroy all smell, a wolf would be always caught as he came up in search of the little bones. The pioneer was most successful in this method of defeating the cunning of the shy and treacherous animals, who were so destructive to the live stock of the settlers that a considerable sum was paid for their scalps.

That the wolves were fearless the following story will bear full witness:

A friend of the trapper’s called Mr. Calmes, was travelling from Virginia to Kentucky with a number of others, at a time when the Indians were very troublesome. In passing through the wilderness they saw so many trails of the red men that they were afraid to keep a fire burning at night for fear that the prowling savages might see their light and attack them by surprise. They would therefore let their wood burn until their supper was cooked, then they would smother the embers and lie down in the dark.

One night they heard an animal moving around them, and seizing their guns, made ready to shoot it. But the animal, whatever it was, made off in the woodland. By its tracks they could see that it was a huge wolf. After the excitement had subsided they all lay down again to sleep, and one of them so stretched himself upon the ground that his head was exposed outside of the camp. When he was asleep the wolf returned, and, creeping upon him stealthily, bit him so severely about the head that he died before daybreak, without speaking a word to his anxious companions. Mr. Calmes often said that had this ferocious animal found a man in the woods by himself, and if it was at a time when he was particularly hungry, he would have fallen upon him and would have killed him at once. He wound up this grewsome yarn with the sage advice to the trapper to kill all the wolves that he could.

“Browning,” said he, “your hunting is really a great service to this country, for, if you come upon one of these sneaking wolves, you must spare no pain to kill him. There is no knowing how many cattle, sheep, and hogs you will thus save to the inhabitants. I was going to tell you to be prepared for them, but I know that you understand the rascals and will take care of yourself. Whatever you do, do not let one of these bad fellows escape if you can help it.”

Meshack Browning did not do so. His long and active life was one of constant battling with the wild animals of the Blue Ridge, and at the close of his career all could justly say that nowhere had a more famous huntsman ever lived in the eastern portion of the then half-settled United States. Now little game is to be found where once deer, wolves, bears, and wild cats were plentiful, and, although sturdy and honest men still reside in the Alleghanies, seldom does one meet with a character like this bluff old trapper and pioneer.


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