In the years after the American Revolution, thousands of people left their homes in the East and South behind and made the long and often difficult journey to the land across the mountains called the Ohio Country.
Ceded to the new United States after the war by Great Britain, the land north and west of the Ohio River was highly desirable and often was occupied by settlers before a proper survey was conducted or terms made for the sale of the property.
It was not hard to see why. Unlike New England, where the soil was thin and often full of rocks, the topsoil in Ohio was dark, rich and deep. Upon arriving in central Ohio, many early settlers thought they had found heaven on earth -- agriculturally, at least.
Inconveniences such as forest fires, floods and occasional attacks by Native Americans did not deter the new settlers. Compounding the advantage of good soil, the amount of readily available fish and wildlife was nothing less than astonishing.
Joel Buttles was an early settler in central Ohio. His diary recorded what he found here:
"When we first came to this country there was a great deal of wild game of course. I have sometimes killed three deer in one day. Turkeys were numerous and easily killed. Wolves were also numerous. Bears were few, the country being too level to suit their habits. Buffaloes had long before left the country, though there had been a time when there were many about. Raccoons were an annoyance because of the damage they did to the corn in the fall season. The wolves could not do much damage because the sheep were so few at that time, but they destroyed young pigs, and it was in our interest to kill them when we could."
There was an element of danger even in hunting deer, as one account related:
"Peter Putnam, one of the earliest settlers of Columbus went out hunting one day, and shot an old buck, but when he approached the fallen animal to cut its throat it gave a kick with its hind legs that knocked the knife out of old Peter's hand, then sprang up and gave him fight. Putnam retreated behind a convenient tree followed by the enraged buck, which kept him dancing around that tree for some time. Finally, the buck drew off and disappeared, giving Peter an opportunity to hunt for his knife which, however, he was unable to find. He went home without game or knife, completely chopfallen."
Then there were the snakes.
In a written history of his family, Joseph Sullivant recorded his memories of a frontier youth:
"I have heard my father state that on another occasion, he was again ascending the Scioto with his party in canoes, in the latter part of April, and when a half mile below the place now known as the Marble Cliff quarries, with the wind blowing downstream, they encountered a most peculiar and sickening odor, which increased as they advanced, and some of the men were absolutely overcome with nausea occasioned by the intolerable effluvium.
"When arriving opposite the cliff, the cause was revealed, and it was found to proceed from a prodigious number of snakes, primarily rattlesnakes, which, just awakened from their winter torpor, were basking in the spring sunshine. Mr. Sullivant said, unless he had seen it, he never could have imagined such a sight. Every available place was full, and the whole face of the cliff seemed to be a mass of living, writhing reptiles.
"It will be remembered by the early settlers of Franklin Township that the fissures and holes in the rocky bank of the river were the resorts of great numbers of snakes that came there every fall for winter quarters, and that several regular snake hunts, or rather snake killings took place. The most famous snake den known was at the Marble Cliffs. There were two entrances into the rocks from three to five feet in diameter, leading into a fissure or cave of unknown extent, and the bottom part of these entrances was as smooth as polished glass, from the constant gliding in and out of these loathsome creatures, which were the annoyance of the whole neighborhood ...
"For years after the settlement of the neighborhood, frequent attempts were made to break up this resort, particularly when the premises were owned by Thomas Backus, who one cold winter, had large quantities of dry wood and brush carried into the cave, and set on fire in the spring; gunpowder was also used in an attempt to blow up this snake den, as it was universally called, and one of the blasts found vent on top of a ridge a half mile away, and formed a sinkhole which remains until this day. One of the most efficient means was building a hog pen, early in the fall, in the front of the den, and the hogs were said to have destroyed great numbers."
In a few years, the snakes were gone -- or at least most of them were.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.