In his wonderful book on the history of Hancock County, D.B Beardsley, speaks of an area in Hancock County known as “The Big Cat Thicket”. This was an area of the forest in Hancock County that had been blown down, presumably by a hurricane, nobody knew for sure, it was an area of broken trees, and the overgrowth that accompanied, one to two miles wide and ten miles in length. It began in western Portage Township, extended through Allen and Cass townships, and terminated in western Washington county.
“this tract of land was covered with a dense undergrowth, the larger timber having all been blown down by a hurricane, it is supposed, which passed over it, no one knows when. Indeed, from its then appearance, the entire body of timber, both large and small, must have been prostrated by the violence of no ordinary storm, and the present growth of timber dates since that period. Many of the older inhabitants well remember the look of desolation which was here presented — trunks of forest trees, decayed and decaying, an almost impenetrable thicket of bushes and wild vines, all believed to be, and possibly was inhabited by wild cats, and other dangerous animals. Hence, the name of “Wild Cat Thicket.”” — Beardsley, History of Hancock County, p.36
It’s interesting residents of these small towns and townships in Ohio do not know these interesting stories about where they live. The forest had been knocked down by a powerful storm, and then, of course regrew, into a tangled mess virtually impassable. In addition, the forests of northern Hancock County were the southern most reaches of the Great Black Swamp, a network of wetlands and forest, characterized by stagnant water, chest high on a horse. The water would evaporate in the summer months, you can just imagine the sticky, smelly, mess. The opportunity for profit was too great to resist man influenced draining of the wetlands creating some of the richest farm land in America. The deciduous forests of Hancock County, Seneca County, Allen County, were an unbroken wilderness, teeming with game and timber, and inhabited for centuries by Indians. The forested areas of Hancock County were treasured hunting grounds by native tribes because of their abundance and coveted by European settlers for the same reasons. The pioneers came to Hancock County in 1815, to Fort Findlay, on a path cut by the army, then ventured into the unbroken wilderness (the swamp was north) to the east and west to clear forest (a plot for their home and a plot to farm). This was the way Hancock County was settled. This is why Ohio was settled. And every state that followed Ohio (31 of them, you must exclude Alaska and Hawaii) was settled in this way by Europeans and it’s the European history we read, and teach, our children. It’s just easier to tell them this area was all swamp, uninhabited, and it was the hard working, clever white man who came and made this area what it is today. Farmland. We cut down the forest, we drained the swamp, and the people who lived here before the white settlers came, well, they just got sent west, always west. It’s the direction defeated people have moved on this continent starting in the 16th century when Europeans discovered an unbroken wilderness in the form of an entire continent and it’s inhabitants by the “things” they possessed, trinkets, how foreign they must have seemed when the first Redmen of Ohio met the first European explorers, traders that followed, and settlers that followed them, bringing ever more “everyday” life items, commonplace in Europe, yet completely foreign, and amazing, to the indigenous people of North America. And the European people fascinated with what seemed like a “savage, barbaric” people who lived without these modern conveniences and a European craving for the treasures of the new world, like fur. Beaver fur was coveted as a symbol of status and it did not take long for word to spread amongst the many tribes of indigenous North Americans the white men were willing to trade metal items for beaver pelts. Metal tools made man’s life easier and these were completely foreign to the people of North America starting in the early 16th century.