8/25/09 - hunting and the buck

In today's excerpt - early American hunters depleted the deer and other game so quickly that hunting lost its commercial importance within just a few decades—but not before the term 'buck' entered the American lexicon as a synonym for dollar:

"Game was abundant on the upper Yadkin [in North Carolina]. There were countless wild turkey in the bushes and beaver, otter and muskrat in the streams and ponds. Bear were common, too. According to one local story, Bear Creek near the Yadkin forks, took its name when Boone killed ninety-nine bear on the creek in a single season. Deer were even more numerous. Daniel Boone and another hunter reportedly killed thirty deer in a single day near the head of the Yadkin. Deerskin was a major part of the local economy and had been for years. In 1753 over thirty thousand deerskins were exported from North Carolina. As early as 1700, an average of fifty-four thousand deerskins were being exported each year to England from southern Carolina. There was so much trade in deerskin that a 'buck'—a dressed skin weighing about two and a half pounds, worth about forty cents a pound—became the synonym for a dollar in the American colonies. ...

"To hunt successfully and to survive in Indian country, you had to know where and when to find the game, how to prepare it, how to get it to market, how to tell whether Indians were nearby, and how to avoid them. Boone hunted many kinds of game, among them deer, bear, buffalo, beaver, otters, panther and turkey. For Boone, and for white and Indian hunters overall, deer were the most important. There was nothing paltry about peltry commerce in Boone's day. In 1767, for example, the commissary at Fort Pitt, at the site of what is now Pittsburgh, recorded receipt of 282,629 deerskins—178,613 'Fall Skins' and 104,016 'Summer Skins.' That volume was comparable to the volume of deerskins passing through Charleston and New Orleans. White and Indian hunters at that time must have been killing far more than a million deer a year in the watershed of the Mississippi River. Deerskins were important not only for sale in the colonies but also for export. In 1770 the British continental colonies in North America shipped out deerskins weighing 799,807 pounds and worth 57,750 pounds sterling. That aggregate value was not large relative to America's dominant exports at the time, such as tobacco (906,638 pounds sterling), bread and flour (505,553 pounds sterling) ,dried fish (375,394 pounds sterling), and rice (340,693 pounds sterling), but deerskins accounted for close to 2 percent of all American exports. ...

"The long hunter's life in Boone's Kentucky was inherently transient. There was an inexorable dynamic to market hunting and the fur trade—one that pushed the hunters ever farther westward and that ultimately destroyed hunting as a significant factor in the American economy. The simple fact was that Boone and the other market hunters killed far more game animals each year than were born in the wild, and fewer and fewer of these animals would be born each year as the number of adults shrank and as encroaching settlements destroyed the animals' habitat. The yield from hunting was not sustainable."


Meredith Mason Brown


Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America


Louisiana State University Press


Copyright 2008 by LSU Press


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