This Long Grove History article appeared in the March, 2018 issue of Long Grove Living magazine.Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to transport yourself back in time? How different would the past be from what we imagined? On a whim, I asked my mom to take me back to a typical dinner table from the farm she grew up on. I was surprised there was no meat. She dismissed my comment, with a “well, no, of course not, we didn’t have a refrigerator, so we tended to eat only things that didn’t have to be kept cold.”
If I could go back to Long Grove’s early days, say 1850, what animals might I encounter? Domestically, I’ll bet you wouldn’t guess the most important farm animal of all for those early settlers – the mighty oxen. They were preferred by over horses and mules for a number of reasons, such as:
- Stronger and less likely to get stuck in the mud
- Much less likely to die on long journeys
- They can survive on available grass, rather than grain
- Less likely to run off and easier to catch if they did
- Faster and easier to harness/yoke
In 1850, there were three times as many oxen on American farms as mules, and horses were a distant third. All three fell into decline with the advent of powered machinery, of course.
On the wild side in those early times, there were more threatening beasts than we have today, including bears, cougars, and wolves. It was the wolves that wreaked the most havoc on the farmers livestock. “Wolf Hunts” were organized regionally, and I came across an Northern Illinois account that describes the method. A circular area covering many square miles was declared with an easily recognizable center point. On the designated day, farmers and their dogs were requested at dawn to start at the outer edge of the circle and head towards the center, at a pace that would get them there in about four hours. This caused the wild animals to be driven towards the center point, where they were easily killed. Imaging that, I suspect you’re thinking of farmers taking aim with their rifles or shotguns. Remember, this is a circle of farmers, so how well do you trust the aim of that farmer that’s directly opposite of you? To avoid accidents to themselves or their dogs, the rule was no guns, only knives, swords, and clubs were to be used to kill the wolves. Ew!
To cleanse that wolf clubbing from your mind, this month’s Save The Bridge limerick conjures up a furry kitten by the bridge:
When cats walk under, they purr
It’s a bridge they tend to prefer
That fuzz on the railing
Is no sign of failing
It’s not rust or mold, it’s fur