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Stories of New Jersey
Fins, Rattles, And Wings
The Wild Animals of Early Days

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

WHEN the first settlers came to New Jersey, they found in that country plenty of wild animals, some of them desirable, and some quite otherwise. In the first class were great herds of red deer (especially in the central portion of the State), beavers, hares and squirrels, and, among the dangerous kinds, bears, panthers, wolves, wild cats, and rattlesnakes. There were also many foxes, which were a great injury to the poultry yards of the settlers. Some of these creatures were so troublesome, that bounties were paid for the heads of panthers, foxes, and some other animals.

The white settlers found New Jersey a capital hunting ground. Nothing, however, that is told about hunting in the early days of New Jersey equals the accounts which are given of the fishing in the waters of that State. Soon after the settlement of Burlington, one of the townspeople wrote to his friends in England, describing the manner in which the people fished in that place.

The Delaware abounded in fish, and in the spring it swarmed with herring. When the early Burlingtonians wanted to catch herring, they did not trouble themselves about nets, or hooks and lines, but they built in the shallow water near the shore a pen, or, as they called it, a "pinfold," made by driving stakes into the sand so as to inclose a circular space about six feet in diameter. On the side toward the open water an aperture was left ; and a big bush was made ready to close this up when the proper time came. Then the fishermen waded into the water, carrying with them great birch bushes. Sweeping the water with these, they slowly advanced toward the pinfold, driving swarms of herring before them, and so surrounding the frightened fish, that they had no way of escape, except by rushing through the entrance of the pinfold. Into the inclosure the shining creatures shot,-pushing, crowding, and dashing over each other, -until the pen was packed with fish, almost as closely jammed together as sardines in a tin box. Then the bush was driven down into the opening; and all that it was necessary to do, was to clip into the pinfold and take out great handfuls of fish. In this way bushels of herring could be procured at one time.

It is not to be supposed that in those clays game thing flourished to any extent; that is, sportsmen did not go out with rods and flies to catch little fish one at a time, when it was so easy to scoop them up by dozens.

Shad, too, were very abundant in those days, but not so highly valued as now. In fact, it is stated that when the settlers became more numerous, and the herring fewer, these fish were held in higher repute than shad ; so that, when a man bought one hundred herring, he was expected to take ninety-five herring and five shad, or something in that proportion, shad being then rather a drug in the market.

In those early days there were denizens of the waters on the shores of New Jersey very much more valuable than herring, shad, or any other of these tinny creatures, no matter in what dense throngs they might present themselves. These were whales, of which there were numbers in Delaware Bay, and even some distance up the river. When the Dutch De Vries first came into these waters, he came after whales: and even at the present day one of these great water monsters occasionally investigates the western coast of New Jersey, generally paying dear for his curiosity.

There were a great many snakes, many of them rattlesnakes, especially in the hilly country. The early settlers had a curious way of making themselves safe from these creatures. When they were going to make a journey through the woods or along wild country, where they expected to find snakes, they would take with them several hogs, and drive these grunting creatures in front of them. Hogs are very fond of eating snakes, and as they went along they would devour all they met with. It did not matter to the hogs whether the snakes were poisonous or harmless, they ate them all the same; for even the most venomous rattlesnake has but little chance against a porker in good condition, who, with his coat of bristles and the thick lining of fat under his skin, is so well protected against the fangs of the snake, that he pays no more attention to them than we to the seeds of a strawberry when we are eating one.

Rattlesnakes were in fact the most dangerous wild animals with which the early settlers had to contend; for they were very numerous, and their bite, if not treated properly at once, was generally fatal. The Indians, who well knew the habits of the snake, were not nearly as much afraid of it as were the whites.


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