The area that eventually became Adams County had long been rich with game, including big game. Lima Lake, east of Meyer in Lima Township, was drained for farming about 1930. Archaeologists believe indigenous people were living there already in the first century A.D. Bison bones found south of the Lima Lake site in the 21st century were dated to the middle 1400s, when Oneota Western Upper Mississippian culture along the Mississippi would have depended on game for their meat. By the time settlers came in the 1800s, both the Oneota culture and the bison were gone.
According to Quincy attorney, civic leader, and historian Henry Asbury, writing in 1882, the miles of bluffs above the Mississippi north and south of Quincy were still a particularly rich hunting ground for Native Americans when they reluctantly abandoned it to the settlers in the early 1800s. The new arrivals had to decide to live with, drive out, or hunt the game animals and their predators that threatened their livestock.
Tales of observations of–and encounters with–various kinds of birds and animals are common in the accounts of the early settlers. Seasonal migrations brought vast numbers of fowl to the Mississippi River Valley. Asbury said, “large flocks of wild geese, ducks, swans, pelicans and brant” (a small, dark-colored goose) were common throughout the area.
Deer and wild turkeys occupied the forests and prairies and provided a significant portion of newly arriving rural families’ food supply. Raccoons, beavers, minks, and muskrats lived in and near the many waterways. Some were used for meat, and their hides and furs were commonly sold in Quincy as sources of income.
In addition to the presence of the small game animals, some larger predatory animals still occupied the county. Asbury stated, “There was one very fierce and strong creature to be found in the thickets, as well above as under the bluffs—a species of wildcat. The country people used to call him the lynx.” The lynx was considered a threat to personal safety and to the farmers’ livestock, since it “had the reputation of being fond of roasting pigs.” Meatpacking was one of the main businesses in Quincy–in 1837-38, some 7,000 hogs were processed, so anything that threatened pigs was a threat to citizens’ livelihood.
Asbury reported his own last sighting of a lynx in 1838, southeast of Quincy.
“In going through a hazle [sic) thicket into which a large tree had fallen, I mounted the tree as it lay, and walking out upon it towards the top and into a place where I could overlook the entire thicket, heard a rustle in the leaves near by, when, looking in the direction whence proceeded the sound, I saw the largest one of these animals I ever saw, slowly and sullenly moving off, as if he did not care whether he went or not . . .I did not follow him, preferring to let him alone if he would let me alone.”
The occasional lynx did not seem to be of much concern, but although they avoided human contact at least as much as the big cats did, wolves were considered a significant threat. Between a quarter and a half million were estimated to live in the U.S. A long folk history of hating and fearing wolves existed in Europe, and as European settlers flooded into the U.S. in the 1840s and 50s, they brought that deeply held fear and hatred with them. By the late 1800s eradication of wolves was a goal at the national level.
So many wolves lived in Illinois when it was opened for settlement and statehood followed; the State paid a bounty for wolf scalps. In spite of the effectiveness of the bounty, Asbury reported that in the middle 1840s, a small pack of gray wolves (today also called “timber wolves”) moved into central Adams County “which made sad havoc among the sheep.” Locals were soon to discover that what Asbury called “a small pack” was indeed very small.
A wolf hunt was “judiciously” organized, and more than 1,000 men came to participate, which was extraordinary, since the entire population of Quincy had been only 2,686 in 1841. At the organizing meeting five captains were appointed—“a chief, who had command of the whole,” and one for each of the boundaries on the east, west, north, and south sides of the area to be hunted. The men lined up, spacing themselves to cover the entire boundary, and encircled an area of nearly 40 square miles to drive the wolves toward a central place where shooters would dispatch them. The central point was designated west of Little Mill Creek on Columbus Road, where a thicket was surrounded on three sides by open prairie. The thicket offered cover for the “two old Kentucky hunters with rifles” who had been selected to do the actual shooting, while the prairie offered high visibility for them to make clean shots.
Asbury wrote, “At a given hour the men on each division, facing inwards and towards the centre [sic], advanced. Every advancing party as it made, say one mile, towards the center, was shortened and became more compact, until they arrived within about 150 yards of the thicket, when the line was solid, or so that each man could nearly touch his neighbor.”
The 1000 men corralled– and the Kentucky sharp-shooters killed–two gray wolves. Two. They were estimated to stand about three feet high and measure six feet from nose to tail. That was the last organized wolf hunt in Adams County. By 1860, the wolves were officially gone from all of Illinois.
Due to a radically different viewpoint and approach to wildlife management from those of the 19th century, wolves are now a protected endangered species. A few occupy habitat in northern Illinois, but no official sightings have been made in Adams County. But sightings of big cats? That depends entirely upon whom you ask.
Adams, David. 2013/2014. “ANSWERS: Questions about Lima Lake, Christmas decorations and city elevation.” Herald-Whig, January 25/November 28. Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.whig.com/story/20711616/answers-questions-about-lima-lake-christmas-decorations-and-city-elevation#//
Asbury, Henry. 1882. Reminiscences of Quincy, Illinois Containing Historical Events, Anecdotes, Matters Concerning Old Settlers and Old Times, Etc. Quincy: Wilcox & Sons.
Brant. nd. “Classic Collection of North American Birds.” Accessed April 14, 2018. https://www.birds-of-north-america.net/Brant.html
Department of Natural Resources. nd. “Illinois DNR/USFWS Clarify Status of Gray Wolves in Illinois.” Accessed April 14, 2018. https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/news/Pages/IllinoisDNRUSFWSClarifyStatusofGrayWolvesinIllinois.aspx
Husar, Edward. 2012/2014. Scientific dating sheds light on another aspect of Lima Lake’s history. Herald-Whig, July 28/November 29. Accessed April 14, 2018. http://www.whig.com/story/19138304/scientific-dating-sheds-light-on-another-aspect-of-lima-lakes-history
PBS. Nature. 2008. “Wolf Wars: America’s Campaign to Eradicate the Wolf.” September 14. Accessed April 14, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/the-wolf-that-changed-america-wolf-wars-americas-campaign-to-eradicate-the-wolf/4312/
Historic Map Works. nd. “Adams County.” Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/25055/County+Map/Adams+County+1872/Illinois/
ThoughtCo. nd. “The Oneota Culture—Last Prehistoric Culture of the American Midwest.” Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/oneota-culture-of-the-american-midwest-167045
University of Illinois Extension. nd. “Living with Wildlife in Illinois. Wildlife Directory.” Accessed April 18, 2018. http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/directory_show.cfm?species=wolf