This latest printing of Meshach Browning's autobiography is a faithful reproduction of his scarce work, originally penned with turkey quill and first published in 1859. His Reminiscences from 1795 through 1839 describe his remarkable adventure-filled "hunting-fever" years in the forests and hills of the Appalachians.
Mr. Browning presents in vivid detail many life-threatening encounters while stalking white-tailed deer, bears, panthers and wolves in the "western" wilderness, known today as western Maryland and the surrounding region of West Virginia. His "roughly written down" observations about hunting, woodcraft and wild animal behavior reveal early hunting methods helpful to the hunter of today. Meshach's hunting episodes have entertained and endeared many generations of young and old game stalkers, and has established Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter as an important American frontier hunting classic of the 19th century.
Yeah, I'll say! If you want a first-hand story of what life was like on the frontier in the late 1700s, this is the book for you. From details of daily living, courting manners, family life, food ways, and community, it's all there. So this book has general interest well beyond the area of what's now Garrett County, Maryland, the western most county in the state.
My first surprise gleaned for the pages was how plentiful game was then. Take bears for instance. Now, of course, they have been hunted to near extinction. Oh, you hear reports of one wandering on the edge of a farm or crossing a back road now and again, but that's rare and makes the newspapers. Back then, they were a nuisance because they would kill livestock or people. And as reported in the book, bear meat was delicious if prepared well. Much of the bear taken by Meshach was salted and stored for winter when he couldn't hunt from January to about April. Large quarters of bear were also shared with neighbors.
Deer was taken, also in great numbers. Today the deer population has come back strong such that they are now almost a nuisance. They graze on crops and if you hit one while driving, you might be badly hurt. Hunters once again cull the herds. But for Meshach, he hunted for food. Venison, as we now might call it if on the menu, was in second place after bear as a food item.
Wild turkeys were abundant, such that Meshach's wife Mary sometimes requests one for supper. So out he'd go and find a big plump one for their table. Turkeys also will devastate a corn crop. Today, in the same area he hunted, hunters now work to keep numbers in check and the flocks healthy.
My favorite story so far is about the bear hunt in which Meshach crawls into a cave that's a 300 pound bear's den. He takes a candle on a stick to light the way. Once in, he sees the bear sound asleep, and the giant creature will not be aroused. So he shoots him in place. Candle goes out, he's temporarily deaf from the blast, and his hair is on fire from the flash! You could see this one coming a mile away! Meshach is honest in the telling of this and all of his stories.
I'm about half-way through the book at the moment. I'll likely post again when I finish. As I read, I noticed that place names haven't changed. I can find them on a map easily so that made it all the more fun to track his exploits and hunting expeditions.
I also found some familiar names as his acquaintances and neighbors. Ancestors of ours. Then I thought to search him in my Family Tree Maker program and check to see if he's on Mom's tree. There he was, just as Mom said he'd be! He's the father-in-law of the brother-in-law of my 1st cousin 3 times removed. I followed the dots and saw just how he and I are connected through family lines. That was a blast!
Truth be told, now I like this book even more than I did before!
Treasure Chest Thursday is a blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.
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