The great ring hunt

So, it’s hunting season!

Actually, it may not be. I don’t know. I do know that it’s the 150th anniversary of Beech Creek, which is sort of my strength — local history. My brother would know about hunting season, but I don’t feel like calling him to find out, not just for the purpose of this article. I’m way better at history than hunting, is what I’m saying here.

But I feel like a master compared to the citizens of Beech Creek in the mid-1800s.

In the middle of the 1800s, in the Beech Creek area, no other event quite topped the Great Ring Hunt for excitement and amusement. Which is kind of odd, considering what a failure it eventually turned out to be.

It was the autumn of 1849. (Which, I assume, is hunting season. Though I could be wrong.) The forest around Beech Creek was teeming with wild game, and the men of the area came up with a plan to get some of it out of the forest and onto their dinner table. They’d heard of “ring hunting,” which is pretty close to what it sounds like — it essentially consists of surrounding the animals and closing in.

They decided to try it. Which may have been a mistake.

Three hundred men gathered with various random implements of destruction: pitchforks, lumbering poles, fishing spears, and even the occasional rifle. Shockingly, there is no record of anyone having lost an eye during this incident.

They split into two columns, both of which moved off to surround a 10-acre clearing. Local men James McGhee and James Linn took charge of each column, because apparently men named James were trusted in Beech Creek back in those days. This resulted in a circle of people, all armed, closing in on one another and ready to shoot. It’s hard to see how that could go wrong.

The signal to begin was the sound of a bugle. These days, someone would just send a text, but that technology was over a century away. The men moved forward, and the circle started out two miles wide and began to shrink, driving the animals toward the center. They waved their pitchforks and shouted, trying to frighten the animals. (Again, it was 1849. Safety wasn’t invented until the 1970s or so.)

John Blair Linn’s “History of Centre and Clinton Counties” reports on the incident. Linn says, “Thus a circle of hunters, armed as described, was formed, enclosing an area of two miles in diameter. At the sound of a bugle, as the flanks of two divisions met, all advanced toward the cleared field in the center, where the deer, bears, panthers, wolves, etc. were to be driven and shot by the ‘six expert marksmen’.” (For the record, safety-wise, I don’t care for the quotes around the expert marksmen.) “As the line closed in, the men yelled and shouted and flourished their pitchforks and pikepoles enough to frighten every wild animal in the Tangascootac valley.”

This is not the first time I am hoping PETA doesn’t read my column.

The men closed the circle, moving in, making noise, and approached the middle point. They hadn’t really bothered to come up with much of a system other than to walk toward each other shouting, so there wasn’t a lot of coherence in the circle. The animals slipped out through the gaps, of which there were plenty. At one point, seven deer were seen escaping through one gap in the line.

So it turned out to be not so much a coordinated hunting effort as a bunch of guys in a circle, waving sharp objects and screaming at each other. Again, it’s kind of amazing that nobody got hurt. And for the record, that also includes the animals.

At the end, when the 300 men came together in the middle, not one animal had been shot or captured. The men stood around in confusion for a while, and learned that they didn’t really understand the concept of ring hunting. So they all went home, presumably to eat vegetables, which are slower and easier to catch.

And this concludes the story of the Great Ring Hunt. Now it’s time for me to go and cook dinner, which I’ve let the employees of the grocery store provide for me. Based on the ring hunt, it sounded like the safest option.

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Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at ross13@rosslibrary.org or 570-748-3321.

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