Many if not most of us have an idyllic and even romantic view of life in frontier Ohio. To be sure, there were conflicts between the French and the English, between the English and their colonists, and between all of these people and the Native Americans who lived here before any of the rest had ever come close to Ohio.

Many if not most of us have an idyllic and even romantic view of life in frontier Ohio. To be sure, there were conflicts between the French and the English, between the English and their colonists, and between all of these people and the Native Americans who lived here before any of the rest had ever come close to Ohio.

But for all of these disagreements, the fact remains that there simply were not all that many people living here in the years before this part of the Northwest Territory became a state. At the time of the American Revolution, there were perhaps 20,000 Native Americans living in what is now the state of Ohio. By 1803, they had been joined by perhaps 50,000 more recently arrived settlers from the East and the South. But 70,000 people across the state was not all that many people.

It is easy to think, therefore, that life must have been good in this new land of few people with its rich soil, dense forests and ample numbers of all sorts of wildlife. And to many of the recent arrivals in Ohio, this new land was would remain just that -- a good place to be.

But because the newcomers liked it so much and because we sometimes long for a simpler time ourselves, we tend to forget how different this new country was from the Ohio we live in today.

It is a common practice of people the world over to read the present into the past. So when we cross an open field in rural Ohio in the summer, it is easy to believe that this is what it must have been like on the great Darby and Pickaway plains of frontier Ohio. Or that a walk in the woods today must have been much the same 200 years ago.

It really was not the same at all.

The great forests of frontier Ohio were "old growth" forests with trees rising 100 to 150 feet in height. The great trees blocked out the sun and permitted little to grow on the floor of the forest. Unlike the brambled undergrowth of the wood lots of today, the forests of frontier central Ohio were more like great green cathedrals whose light was filtered through leaves rather than stained glass.

And the plains -- the plains were different as well. They were not open fields easily scanned by an eager eye. Rather they were great expanses of high grass rising six to eight feet in height and moving in great waves with the wind like an ocean on a pleasant day.

And then there was the wildlife. Today when we visit the forests and prairies of Ohio, we count ourselves lucky if we see the occasional deer or wild turkey. But as late as 1803, one could still see herds of buffalo moving along the ancient trails of central Ohio's forests and fields. And the deer were so plentiful that they gave a river its name. Like many other animals, the coat of a deer becomes much thicker in winter. During the spring molting season, much of the winter fur is shed in anticipation of the coming heat of summer. So many deer came to the river to lose their winter fur in the water that the entirety of the river was covered with several inches of deer hair. Local Native Americans called the river "Scioto" or "Hairy River."

The squirrels of central Ohio were as numerous as the deer. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands in most parts of Ohio, the gray squirrels of the state were joined from time to time by migrating squirrels that crossed the state from north to south. Abel Hildreth's "Pioneer History of Ohio" notes the squirrels "coming in millions from north to south, destroying whole fields of corn in a few days." In the mid-19th century, the migration of these millions of squirrels occurred about every five years in 1842, 1847, 1852 and 1857 and laid waste to hundreds of acres of farm land. In the years after the Civil War, many of the great herds were eliminated by hunting, disease and the removal of open grazing lands.

Such was also the case with many types of birds in general and the passenger pigeon in particular.

An early French explorer of the Ohio and Mississippi Valley noted in his journal of the local pigeon population that "the air was darkened and quite covered with them." This turned out to be a bit of classic Gallic understatement.

More than a century later an Ohio observer wrote in 1803 that "The vast flights of pigeons in this country seem incredible. But there is a large forest in Waterford (on the Muskingum) containing several hundred acres, which had been killed in consequence of their lighting upon it during the summer of 1801. Such numbers of them lodged on the trees that they broke off large limbs."

Considerably later, Dr. J.B. Wheaton of Columbus wrote of the pigeons of central Ohio.

"Until about 1855, pigeons were extremely abundant in central Ohio, having at and before this time a roost and breeding place near Kirkersville, Licking County. Then for weeks at a time, they might be observed flying over this city or around its suburbs. In the morning soon after sunrise until nine o'clock or after, their flight was westward from the roost. In the afternoon from four o'clock until sundown, they were returning. During these periods they were never out of sight and dozens of flocks were in view at once.

"On several occasions, we have been favored with a general migration of these birds ... This was the case in 1854, when the light of the sun was perceptibly obscured by the immense, unbroken and apparently limitless flock which for several hours passed over the city."

And through all of these years and all of these flights, local settlers did their best to kill as many of them as they possibly could. As one local history noted, "Vast numbers were shot, killed with poles on their roosts, or captured in netsMany thousands were offered for sale in the market of this city."

And eventually, the seemingly endless flocks of pigeons began to decline. The decline then became extermination. By 1914, the last passenger pigeon in North America died and the great waves of birds that had once ruled the air of central Ohio were no more.

The squirrels and deer have proven to be a bit more resilient and are -- in ever larger numbers -- with us still.