Who were the Deer Touchers?

Who were the Deer Touchers?


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About 20 years ago I read an article in a periodical (can't remember which periodical) about a tribe of natives (I believe they were North American) who had a tradition of touching live deer. They would strip down into a loincloth, smother their bodies with ashes from a fire to mask their scent, stick grass and twigs in their hair then walk very quietly and slowly (~80 seconds per step) right up to deer. The test was to see if they could approach the deer without it noticing them or registering that they were a living being, and pluck a hair out of their tails as proof of their accomplishment. Some techniques used were to try and act like a bush, swaying with the breeze, some men got their hairs by extending their arms out like branches letting their fingers comb through the deers fur as it walked past ignorant of their presence, quickly plucking a tail hair at the last second.

I'm trying to rediscover this tribe of people, but I've so far had no luck in searching them out. Does anyone know who they were?


"The Man Who Touches Deer", by Bill Heavey, Field and Stream, October 2000, p. 44.

The article is an interview of naturalist author Tom Brown, Jr., who claims he was taught as a child by a Lipan Apache scout.


The History of Whitetail Deer

Scientists believe that deer once inhabited bitter-cold regions around the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t until about 4 million years ago that the first deer migrated to what we now call the United States.

Deer were an integral part of Native American’s lives. Meat and bone marrow made up a large part of their diet. Indians used hides for clothing, rugs, blankets, fishnets and the like. They crafted arrowheads, clubs, fishhooks and tools out of bones.

The first settlers of America feasted on various animals, such as turkeys and grouse. Then they discovered the big Virginia whitetail. Native Americans taught the colonists how to utilize a deer efficiently, using every scrap of meat, hide and bone.

Over time, deer populations have undergone fluctuations. The first big decline was tied to the fur trade. Native Americans killed an estimated 5 million deer per year to supply the trade. In the early 1800s, due to a decline in fur sales and the natural expansion of deer into new habitats, populations were on the rise again. However, this increase did not last long.

Rampant market hunting in the late 1800s reduced the whitetail population to an all-time low of 500,000, and does and bucks disappeared completely in some areas. In 1900 The Lacy Act, the first federal wildlife law, was enacted. Lacy prohibited the interstate trafficking of venison and other wild game, and the exploitation of whitetails began to slow. In 1908, 41 states established departments of conservation, furthering the protection of deer.

The Great Depression was hard on Americans. But it was boom time for whitetails in the East, South and Midwest. As people flocked from the country to scrap out a living in cities, abandoned farms and home sites sprouted weeds, brush and saplings. Biologists and sportsmen began to realize that America’s changing habitat was good for growing numbers of deer. Once considered denizens of big, contiguous forests, whitetails would be forever known as “edge” animals.

In the late 1950s, a biologist named Crockford developed a dart-gun system for capturing deer. That technology, along with future inventions like the cannon net, played a key role in the successful restocking of whitetails across the United States.

By 1970 whitetail populations were growing steadily across the lower 48 states. For years hunters had thought it a crime to shoot a doe. But a landmark study in 1974 changed that. Scientist M.L. Walls found that the long-term management of booming deer herds should include the harvest of both bucks and does. States gradually began implementing “doe days” and “antlerless’ hunting seasons.

Whitetail populations continued to soar throughout the 1980s and 󈨞s. Solid deer management was one reason. And then there was suburban sprawl. In many regions more and more people built single-family homes in once-rural areas, creating a checkerboard of “farmettes” and small estates. Developers carved subdivisions, golf courses and strip malls in farms and woodlands. Ironically, this created ideal strip and pocket habitats for the adaptable whitetail, which has an uncanny knack of living alongside man. This trend continues in the new millennium, and it is not without its downsides. Burgeoning numbers of deer ravage shrubs, fruit trees and crops, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages annually in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. Deer-auto collisions are on the rise in many states.

Today, the whitetail, Odocoileus virginianus, is the most widespread deer in the world. Scientists recognize 30 whitetail subspecies in North and Central America, and another eight in South America. North America’s whitetail population is estimated at 20-25 million animals. The whitetail is by far the most popular game in the U.S., chased by some 11 million hunters each fall.


The History of John Deere—From the Early Plow to Farm Tractors

The John Deere tractor is one of the most enduring icons of American farm life. The John Deere tractor manufacturing company was founded in 1837 and the story of its founding is tightly interwoven with the development of the steel plow. Deere’s desire to improve on an imperfect plow design resulted in the founding of what became the leading tractor company in the world for 177 years, known today as the Deere Company.

The story of the company’s founder dates back to 1804 when John Deere was born in Rutland, Vermont. He began work as a blacksmith apprentice at the age of 17 and set up his own smithy business within four years. Deere’s work consisted of making hayforks, horseshoes and other necessary implements for farming. The nature of his chosen trade, combined with the local economic climate made it necessary for Deere to move from town to town. By age 33 he decided to move westward, coming to rest in Grand Detour, Illinois.

Much of John Deere’s work involved repeatedly repairing cast iron and wooden plows, proving to him that these plow designs were not strong enough to cut through the prairie sod and heavy soil of Illinois. Making design changes of his own, Deere built a lightweight polished steel plow from a broken steel sawmill blade. The plow he created cut through the tough midwestern sod efficiently and was self-scouring, meaning it could cleanse itself of the cut sod so it wouldn’t need to be constantly cleaned while working. By 1838 he built and sold three of his plows to local farmers, 10 in the following year, and 40 the year after that. Deere partnered with Leonard Andrus and by 1846 they collectively were able to make nearly 1,000 plows.

By 1847 Deere was feeling that business would be better in Moline, Illinois, located on the Mississippi River. It would be easier and less costly to transport his goods via the river. He sold off his part of the blacksmith shop to his partner and moved to Moline. By 1850 Deere was manufacturing 1600 plows a year as well as additional tools to accompany the steel plows. The John Deere steel plow was considered a state-of-the-art farming tool at the time. The material used and the shape of the plow were revolutionary and continually evolved as Deere listened to feedback from his customers and adjusted the design accordingly.

In 1875 John Deere introduced their first ride-on plow. It was the two-wheel, horse-powered Gilpin sulky plow. In 1888 steam driven plows were being produced and in 1892 another inventor, John Froelich of Iowa sold the first two gasoline powered tractors. These and many other early designs of gasoline powered tractors had their beginning in Iowa, but it was the John Deere Company in Illinois that broke out of the pack to become the leader in farming equipment.

In 1971 the slogan “Nothing Runs Like a Deere” was introduced to promote their newly released line of snowmobiles. By 1983 the snowmobile line was ended but the slogan remained.

One of Deere’s earliest steel plows is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution.


The Return Of The White-tailed Deer

There is a common belief that wildlife conservation has been a losing proposition. The destruction of the buffalo herds, the fate of the passenger pigeon, are common knowledge. In our own time we see the whooping crane and the California condor at the very brink of extinction. But wildlife conservation has not been without its successes. And none has been more spectacular than the restoration of the Virginia white-tailed deer to the woodlands of the East and the Middle West.

Originally, some thirty varieties (subspecies) of the white-tailed deer occupied North America. Most inhabited the fringes of the great eastern hardwood forest that reached from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi Valley. West of the forests mule deer and elk predominated, although some whitetails roamed the thickets in the bottomland around the rivers of the Great Plains. The little Sonoran whitetail inhabited the foothills around the great southwestern desert, and pockets of local abundance of other subspecies occurred in the northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. North of a line running roughly from Minneapolis to Portland, Maine, dense forests of spruce, fir, and pine provided little food for deer.

The whitetail attained greatest abundance on islands and around marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in the brushlands and grasslands that separated the eastern hardwoods and the Great Plains. It never penetrated deeply the virgin timber of the uplands, where the interlaced crowns and limbs of giant trees shaded the earth, checking the development of the lush undergrowth deer need for food. But even on the uplands occasional breaks in the forest canopy permitted the growth of deer foods and the presence of deer. Lake shores and riverbanks supported thickets of underbrush. Beavers, common on all eastern streams, helped the deer by their cutting and flooding activities. Hurricanes and tornadoes cut swaths that were soon reclothed with seedlings, shrubs, and vines growing among tangled windfalls.

Most of the eastern Indians led a semi-nomadic existence, moving on every few years under the pressure of enemy attack or because of exhausted crop fields. All the woodland tribes used fire extensively—to clear garden patches and homesites, to minimize surprise attack, to drive game, or to improve hunting. Burned lands encircled most Indian villages for miles, and any land abandoned or not intensively cultivated was soon revegetated with ideal deer food and cover. Indeed, the Indian probably helped create many more deer than he killed.

This was most of the story of the eastern deer before the seventeenth century. How many there were then no one knows. But the pattern of white exploration and settlement probably gave a misleading impression of abundance. Colonization began on coastal lowlands, as at Jamestown, or on abandoned Indian lands, as at Plymouth, and exploration of the interior usually followed the rivers, through some of the finest deer habitat in the East.

Colonial agriculture was an extension of Indian methods in that the white man also used fire to clear the land. But colonial farming was far more expansive, and rarely did the white man permit the land to revert to forest. Cleared lands not used immediately for new settlements were burned repeatedly to maintain grasslands. Increasing numbers of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, and swine were raised largely on the open range and competed with deer wherever suitable deer range developed. Not long after the Revolution most of the virgin forests east of the Appalachians had been cut and the lands burned over —in many cases, not once but dozens of times.

Still, in spite of such destruction of their habitat, deer persisted. There were lands between the widely spaced towns where light burning and logging improved their range. There were morasses—like Virginia’s Dismal Swamp—that defied destruction by fire and drainage. There were rocky ravines and mountains too rugged for farming or grazing. All of these harbored deer. But they also provided refuges for the cougar and timber wolf, traditional natural enemies of the whitetail. And they soon became the haunts of that even deadlier predator—the meat and market hunter.

Venison and buckskin became staples of the colonial economy with the first landings at St. Augustine, Jamestown, and Plymouth. Once the Indian learned that a venison haunch was worth a yard of calico or a trade axe, he trapped, snared, and shot deer wherever he encountered them. By 1630 many coastal tribes had access to European firearms, and one Indian hunter with a gun could kill five or six deer in a day.

Deer declined rapidly along the Atlantic seaboard throughout the seventeenth century. On February 4, 1646, the town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, ordered a closed season on deer hunting “from the first of May till the first of November and if any shall shoot a deere within that time he shall forfeit five pounds …” The ordinance set a pattern for laws adopted by most of the colonies by 1720.

The preamble of the Connecticut law reflected official concern over the future of the deer: The killing of deer at unseasonable times of the year hath been found very much to the prediudice of the Colonie, great numbers of them having been hunted and destroyed in deep snowes when they are very poor and big with young, the flesh and skins of very little value, and the increase greatly hindered.

And in 1705 the General Assembly at Newport, Rhode Island, noted that it hath been informed that great quantities of deer hath been destroyed in this Collony out of season … and may prove much to the damage of this Collony for the future, and … to the whole country, if not prevented.

There were scattered convictions, but none of these colonial laws was effectively enforced, and by the mid-eighteenth century there were few deer left to protect near the larger communities. Frontier farmers still lived off the land and took their venison when they wanted it. Along the edges of the retreating wilderness Indian and white market hunters still combed the thickets for game in all seasons, far from the reach of the nearest “deer reeve,” the officer appointed to track down poachers.

After the Revolution, along the valleys of the Ohio, Wabash, Cumberland, and Mississippi, and on the southern shores of the Great Lakes, the destruction of the wilderness continued on a grander scale. And by this time the market hunters, still operating in the van of civilization, had reached the prairie fringes, the most productive part of the original whitetail range. A spreading network of canals, roads, and rails kept them near to the markets of the East. On a single day in 1818 a party of hunters in the township of Medina, Ohio, killed three hundred deer, twenty-one black bears, and seventeen wolves. (On the average this meant about twelve deer per square mile.) In the winter of 1859 meat hunters killed the last of Iowa’s original deer by hatcheting them in deep snow. Similar slaughters occurred regularly throughout the Middle West as long as deer could be found in numbers large enough to warrant the effort.

With the opening of the West, the center of the market-hunting activity shifted to the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. There most of the burden was borne by the bison, the pronghorn, the elk, the mule deer, and the bighorn sheep. But thewhitetailsinthe vulnerable range along the prairie bottomlands ended in the stewpots of wagon trains, cavalry patrols, and riverboat crews.

In New England and the states bordering the Great Lakes, land clearing and meat hunting had eliminated most of the deer within their original range. But logging of the northern conifers had created new and better range in the North. By 1870 deer had become common in the northern counties of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Maine, where fifty years earlier there had been few or none. To the deer, however, the cutting of the conifers was a mixed blessing. Each of the logging camps employed hunters to provide fresh meat for the lumberjacks. And the market hunters, who by now had exterminated the deer farther south, flocked into the newly developed range.

Using dogs, guns, steel traps, and wire snares, a skilled hunter could average ten deer a day. In December, 1872, Litchfield, Minnesota, shipped six tons of dressed venison to markets in Boston. In 1880 the freight offices in Michigan alone handled more than one hundred thousand deer destined for Chicago and the East.

This direct slaughter was bad enough but the fires that followed logging in the northern pine woods around the Great Lakes were worse. In the wake of the timber cutting, dry, pitch-filled slash—discarded treetops and limbs—covered hundreds of thousands of acres, awaiting only a spark to ignite it. One of the first sparks hit the stumplands upwind of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, on October 8, 1871. Before the fire burned itself out, it devastated more than 1,280,000 acres and snuffed out the lives of some twelve hundred people (see “Fire Makes Wind: Wind Makes Fire,” in AMERICAN HERITAGE , August, 1956). Fires swept the north country repeatedly until the turn of the century, killing nearly every living thing in their paths, including deer, and converting millions of acres into weedy wastelands where no deer could survive.

By 1880 scientists and a few pioneer conservationists were beginning to express concern for the future of the white-tailed deer as a species. Ten years later the deer population in North America hit rock bottom. The Appalachians and most of the country west to the Rockies were practically without deer. Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska all counted their whitetail herds at near zero. The “last deer” in Indiana was shot near Red Cloud in 1893. Southern Maine and southern New Hampshire had none.

Only the wilder parts of the Adirondacks, the Arkansas mountains, the remote swamps of the southern shore, and the Gulf coast gave refuge to the deer. T. S. Palmer of the U. S. Biological Survey (antecedent of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service) estimated the wild white-tailed deer population of the United States and Canada in 1890 at around three hundred thousand. His agency spent considerable effort in encouraging people to raise deer in captivity, since the future of the whitetail seemed to rest with those kept in fenced deer parks.

But even as the decline continued, seeds of restoration had begun to sprout. In northern New England and the Maritime Provinces logging was converting the original coniferous forests into young mixed hardwood-deciduous woodlands ideally suited for deer. Rocky soils and an inhospitable climate discouraged any massive invasion of agriculture. By 1890 deer had spread throughout northern Maine and New Hampshire and deep into New Brunswick and Quebec, far north of their original range. In this region the wolf, the only significant northern deer-predator, teetered on the brink of extinction.

East of the Appalachians the industrial age had drastically changed land-use patterns. Thousands of marginal farmers, unable to compete with the flourishing agriculture of the West, had abandoned their worn-out farms, taken factory jobs in town, or had gone west. In the Piedmont region of the South the boll weevil, the end of slavery, and competition with foreign markets had forced the abandonment of thousands of cotton fields. The deserted land was soon invaded by quicksprouting, fast-growing pines. By 1885 there were millions of acres of maturing “old-field” pine forests in the eastern United States. Pine alone is a poor deer food, and these new forests supported few deer but the maturing of the pines brought a new logging boom to the East that was in full swing by 1890. And as the pines were cut, they were replaced by the scrubby, mixed hardwood-coniferous forest that makes ideal deer range.

Coinciding with the return of this largely deerless deer habitat was the development of the modern conservation movement. For the first time more than a few people began to recognize values in wildlife other than those measurable in meat, hides, and feathers. In large part this concept originated, somewhat incongruously, with sport hunters in the eastern cities. Until about 1830 the pursuit of game for sport had been primarily a pastime of the wealthy. But the postGivil War era had produced a new middle class with money, leisure, and, often, a desire to escape temporarily from urban living. Lavish tourist camps and hotels blossomed on the shores of wilderness lakes and rivers. Most of these resorts offered, among other outdoor diversions, excellent deer hunting.

As interest in recreational hunting spread, pioneer conservationists sought ways to increase the limited supply of deer. Game laws had changed little since colonial times. As recently as 1870 the deer-hunting seasons ran from three to seven months, bag limits were nonexistent, and the use of dogs, flares for night hunting, and salt licks were accepted sporting practices.

Gradually, one state after another tightened its game laws. In 1873 Maine adopted the first bag limit for deer—three for any one hunter in any one season. Michigan and Minnesota imposed five-deer limits in 1895, and Wisconsin a two-deer limit in 1897. Weeks and even months were lopped oil’ theopen hunting seasons, and most states prohibited deer hunting entirely in counties where deer were scarce in 18g8 Massachusetts closed the whole state to deer hunting for a period of five years. By the turn of the century every state north of Virginia and Arkansas had outlawed night shooting and the use of dogs for deer hunting. Moreover, by this time nearly every state had an official agency entrusted with the protection of wildlile.

Many of these reforms were aimed directly at the market hunter, whose importance to the economy was on a sharp decline. Most were initiated and fought through by sportsmen who had organized politically potent fish and game protective associations. The market hunter was finally forced out of business by a federal law (the Lacey Act of 1900) that banned interstate shipment of game killed in violation of state laws.

By the turn of the century both the deer and their habitat were receiving real protection for the first time. Their old natural enemies were nearly gone. People were fighting forest fires instead of setting them and watching them burn. Slate and federal forestry agencies were replanting old burns. The cover was returning to the land.

The response of the deer to these near-ideal conditions, especially in the Northeast, was explosive. From the islands of cover where they had survived precariously for nearly a century, deer pushed out in all directions. Those in northern New England spread southward into the farming counties. The deer in southeastern Massachusetts fanned out into the central counties and southward into Rhode Island and Connecticut. Adirondack deer rcpopulated the Catskills, western Vermont, and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. By 1908 Ernest Thompson Selon, the best-known naturalist of the day, guessed the deer population easl of the Mississippi to be about five hundred thousand.

This natural spread and increase was assisted by sportsmen’s organizations and the newly organized state game agencies. In 1878 a sportsmen’s club in Rutland County, Vermont, had purchased seventeen captive deer (ten of them from the keepers of the New York State Prison at Dannemora) and had released them in woodlands closed to hunting by the state. By 1895 this nucleus had increased to several hundred.

The success of the Vermont experiment inspired several eastern states to adopt a similar approach. In Pennsylvania it succeeded almost beyond belief. Soon after 1899 the Pennsylvania Game Commission began to purchase deer and release them in state forests. In 1905 the first units of an extensive deer refuge system were stocked with animals live-trapped in state forests. Two years later there were enough whitetails to warrant limited hunting. In 1907 hunters bagged two hundred bucks in a state where there had been no wild deer at all less than twenty years earlier.

By the mid-1920’s deer seemed to be everywhere in Pennsylvania. Herds of forty or more could be counted along almost any country road in the evening. Dozens could be flushed from any wood lot. They were invading barnyards, cornfields, and orchards. Strollers on the outskirts of Harrisburg and Philadelphia were frequently startled by the snort of a frightened buck or thrilled by the sight of a doe’s white flag.

The great Pennsylvania deer bubble burst soon after 1925. Game biologists had begun to notice that the animals taken by hunters were becoming stunted. Antler development was so poor that sportsmen complained of seeing up to a hundred deer in a day but not one with a forked antler that would have made it legal game. Then, in the bitter winter of 1926, the deer began to die. They died singly, by dozens, and sometimes by hundreds, in snowbound, overbrowsed winter yards. Vernon Bailey, a leading federal mammalogist, tallied in a few weeks more than one thousand dead deer in four townships of one county.

Bailey’s verdict confirmed that already reached by the Pennsylvania Game Commission—a drastic reduction in the deer population had to be made if the state was to save its forests and any deer at all. Winter ranges had been stripped of all vegetation as high as a man’s head by thousands of starving deer.

Until then, Pennsylvania, like most states that then permitted deer hunting, allowed each hunter only one buck with at least one forked antler each year. But a buck usually mates with several does, and most spikehorns and other sublegal bucks are capable of breeding. Because of this, the deer population had doubled every two or three years in spite of a mounting annual buck kill. And each spring the does were producing hundreds of thousands of fawns for which there would be no winter food. In 1930 the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in the face of bitter public opposition, declared an open season on antlcrless deer. Between 1931 and 1941 hunters killed more than 725,000 deer in Penn’s Woods. This harsh but necessary treatment cut the herd from near the million mark to below a half million. In the years since, regulated special antlerless deer seasons, now generally accepted as a standard management practice, have stabilized the deer population at around an optimum four hundred thousand.

In the South and in the Middle West south of the Great Lakes, restoration of the deer came later. But all of the states in these regions profited by the techniques developed and the mistakes made by Pennsylvania, New York, and New England. As recently as 1930 most of the states between the Rockies and the Appalachians still had comparatively few or no white-tailed deer. South of the Potomac in the Appalachians, the only thriving deer herd was in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Elsewhere in Appalachia the mountaineers—law or no law considered any edible wildlife as fair game at any time.

During the Depression many of these families left the hills. Their farms, and sometimes whole villages, were absorbed into state and national forests and parks. Another vast tract of prime deer habitat—still almost without deer—quickly developed. And again the return of the cover coincided fortuitously with another major advance in the wildlife conservation movement.

Until 1937 practically all state wildlife agencies received little or no income except from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. And often state legislatures diverted large portions of these funds to highway construction and other projects unrelated to wildlife conservation.

Then in 1937 Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. The law earmarked the existing 11 per cent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition for use by the states in financing approved wildlife restoration projects. It also stipulated that to be eligible for federal funds, a state had to apply all hunting-license revenues to running its wildlife agency. Every state quickly complied.

In the East the white-tailed deer was one of the first principal beneficiaries. Within a remarkably short time restoration efforts in one state after another bore fruit. Small resident herds that had survived the dark days of the iSoo’s multiplied and spread. Transplants of a few animals mushroomed to thousands within a few years. And as its woodlands refilled with deer, one state after another reopened its long-closed hunting season. In 1965, when Kansas felt that it had enough whitetails to warrant an open season, every state east of the Rockies had again become a “big-game” state.

Although hunting is distasteful to many, it is, in the absence of the original natural checks on the growth of the deer population, essential to the well-being of the deer and of the forests on which they depend. In the autumn and early winter of 1968 hunters in the United States brought home nearly a million and a half white-tailed deer half again as many as existed in all of North America only fifty years ago! But that was less than a fifth of the summer’s whitetail population.

With nearly all of the suitable range in America fully stocked, this is probably all the white-tailed deer that the woodlands of America can support. But it is enough. The hit-or-miss conservation efforts of the past have been replaced by scientific research, law enforcement, and habitat management. In most states flexible hunting regulations keep the deer populations in balance with their food supplies and still assure the survival each year of a more-than-adequate breeding stock. As for the future, the constant demand of the American economy for wood products and for protected watersheds should assure the maintenance of the large blocks of young woodlands that deer must have to thrive. The white-tailed deer should be around in numbers for many years.


Deer Island: A History of Human Tragedy Remembered

In October, 1675 (Just five months after the start of the King Philip’s War, 1675-1676) some 500 Nipmucks from what is now South Natick were forcibly removed to Deer Island, a barren strip of land off Boston Harbor, as a concentration camp for Indians (later it would become a holding area for Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine (1800s), a major hospital (1847), a prison (c. 1882-1988), and now a wastewater treatment facility and national park), was established by the Massachusetts Council that same year. King Philip’s War, or Metacomet’s Revenge, as it came to be known, was the first large-scale military aggression in the American colonies and the bloodiest conflict between settlers and Indians in 17th century Puritan New England. Without adequate food, clothing, shelter or medicine, the pro-English Algonquian coverts, who had been converted to Christianity by the zealous Congregationalist minister from Roxbury named John Elliot, half of the Indians confined on the Island died of starvation or exposure during their imprisonment when John Eliot visited them in December, he could only report with horror, “The Island was bleak and cold, their wigwams poor and mean, their clothes few and thin.” These were the same Indians who once welcomed the English in 1621 with their Sachem, Massasoit.

In the years prior to King Philip’s War, Eliot worked with his devoted teacher (and servant of 35 years) Job Nesutan to learn the language. Later, Eliot worked with Nesutan and other Indians in translating the Holy Bible into the local Natick dialect of Massachusett or Massachusêuck (first published in 1663 at Harvard University) had taught hundreds of Indians to read and write and had established fourteen “praying towns,” Indian settlements built as Christian communities.

The first and largest was Natick, Massachusetts. Eliot took seriously his goal of conversion. He was convinced that only by being able to communicate with Native people in their own language could he achieve the goal of spreading Christianity prompting greater migrations of English to come to New England’s rocky shores as Indians were becoming more 𠇌ivilized” as a result.

However, from the very start of the war, the new English colonists became fearful of Eliot’s converts joining Philip’s reign of terror. Convinced of these fears, the Massachusetts Council ordered all Christian Indians to be barged down the Charles River in shackles and incarcerated on the island for the duration of the war. It was also known that slavers came to steal Indians off Deer Island to engage in the lucrative trade of human trafficking in Barbados or Jamaica.

But after enduring decades of fraudulent land deals, Massasoit’s son, Philip, determined to wage war to oust the colonists from New England and push them back over the sea from whence they came. He nearly succeeded. Beginning in June of 1675, not only Wampanoags, but Narragansetts, Nipmucks, and Pocumtucks rallied behind Philip to destroy the English.

To Puritan minister Increase Mather it seemed that the Indians had “risen almost round the country,” torching one town after the other. Before the final shots were fired over half of all the English settlements in New England𠅎verything west of Concord—had been laid waste. As Boston merchant Nathaniel Saltonstall explained in a letter to a friend in London, “Nothing could be expected but an utter desolation.” Philip’s Indians attacked and destroyed 25 frontier settlements: Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Cumberland, Groton, Lancaster, Longmeadow, Marlborough, Medfield, Medford, Millis, Plymouth, Portland, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Simsbury, Springfield, Sudbury, Suffield, Warwick, Weymouth, and Wrentham, including what is modern-day Plainville.

The war ended with Metocomet’s death, August 12, 1676 with 600 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans dead, including several hundred native captives who were tried and executed others were enslaved and sold in Bermuda and elsewhere. The Deer Island prisoners were released, and over half of the Indians confined to the Island had died, others too sick to enjoy their liberty for long.

Almost 400 years have passed as we remember this tragic point in our collective history. The Deer Island Memorial Committee, headed by Executive Director Jim Peters, Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs, along with other committee members, had issued an RFP to create a memorial commemorating the Nipmuc Indians who died there. Lloyd Gray (Mohawk) has been contracted to create the memorial. It is anticipated that there will be a ceremony as part of the unveiling during the last weekend in October, 2013. It will be a time for reflection, commemoration and healing. In the language of Eliot’s Praying Indians, 𠇊yeuhteá࿊sh,” we stand firm (strong) and will continue to do so.


White-tailed Deer Timeline

1900 – Market/subsistence hunting and unregulated harvest eliminate nearly all deer from the state.

1917 –Total statewide deer population estimated at 500 animals. Legislature bans deer harvest.

1917 to 1922 – From western Oklahoma moving east, counties previously open to deer hunting are systematically closed to deer hunting.

1922 – All deer hunting in Oklahoma is prohibited.

1933 – First regulated deer season (five days) is held. Hunt is restricted to six southeast counties and Major County in western Oklahoma, resulting in the harvest of 235 bucks. Also, this year marks the beginning of safety regulations for wearing a red upper outer garment (later to become “hunter” orange).

1934 – No deer season authorized.

193537 Area is expanded to seven southeast counties only. Harvest total is 331 in 1935 375 in 1936 and 347 in 1937.

1938 – No deer season authorized.

1939-40 – Harvest totals: 384 in 1939 and 318 in 1940.

1941-43 – All deer hunting is closed. Many OGF personnel are called to active military service.

1943 – Deer restoration program started with the trap and transplant of 22 deer.

1944 – 379 deer harvested.

1945 – A total of 469 deer are harvested. Restoration efforts continue, with most deer trapped from either the Wichita Mountains NWR or Ft. Sill, but includes 50 captured from Aransas Pass NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast.

1946 – Participation in the deer gun season jumps to more than 7,000 (certainly due to returning World War II Vets looking for recreation). The first archery season (one day) is held. No deer harvested. A total of 35 deer are transplanted from the Wichita Mountains NWR to the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot near McAlester (in less than a decade the military installation, now known as the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, would serve as a source herd for trapping activities).

1946 – Oklahoma had its first archery season (1 day) on November 11, 1946, in seven southeast counties. No deer were harvested.

1949 – Special Archery season (five days) is designated only at Camp Gruber, resulting in the first buck taken by bow and arrow during a regulated season. The deer, taken by Roland Barber, is the state’s first archery buck and was a fallow deer. It was part of Camp Gruber’s small herd that had been established in the area during the late 1930s.

Photo (left): Roland Barber harvests the first deer taken with a bow and arrow in Oklahoma. The 120-pound fallow buck was harvested November 2, 1949, at Camp Gruber.

1951 – First whitetail deer taken by bow and arrow during a regulated season since the days that Native Americans hunted deer for subsistence is harvested by Larry Embry, Jr.,13. The deer was harvested at Camp Gruber.

Photo: Larry Embry Jr harvested the first whitetail at Camp Gruber on November 11, 1951, with a bow.

The Daily Oklahoma November 13, 1951, has the full story.

1954 – First statewide gun deer season (5 days) results in a harvest of 1,487 bucks.

1969 – First primitive firearms season (three days) is held, resulting in two deer harvested. Hunt is restricted to part of LeFlore County.

1970 – Statewide 16-day deer gun season. The total harvest of 6,882 bucks.

1972 –Nine-day deer gun season with all open counties and special two-day antlerless season. Total harvest 7,670 deer.

1975 – Cy Curtis Awards Program initiated by the Department to recognize trophy deer (harvested during the 1972 season and thereafter). For eligibility, whitetail deer must have a minimum typical score of 135 or a non-typical minimum of 150 using the Boone & Crockett scoring system. In the first year, only seven deer are entered. The program is named in honor of the man most responsible for the restoration of whitetail deer in Oklahoma.

1976 – Department begins broadscale antlerless harvest in 19 counties by issuing antlerless permits by special drawing. Total harvest 11,548 – 26 percent does.

1982 – Antlerless permit system deemed unpopular due to perceived inequities, and replaced by antlerless days available to all hunters. Total harvest 19, 255 – 23 percent does.

1986 –The Department ceases any further trap and transplant efforts with sufficient populations of deer available to repopulate all suitable habitats statewide.

1990 – Statewide deer population estimated at 250,000 deer. Total harvest 44,070 deer – 24 percent does.

1992 – Total harvest tops 50,000. Much to the surprise of many, a new state record buck is taken by an archer in Oklahoma County (Chris Foutz took the buck, which measured 179 6/8 typical score), proving that quality deer can come from just about anywhere in Oklahoma even the state’s most urbanized county.

Photo (left): Chris Foutz with 179 6/8 scored deer harvested with a bow in Oklahoma County on December 23, 1992.

1999 – Statewide deer population estimated at 425,000 deer. Total harvest yields 82,500 deer – 36 percent does.

2000 – Deer population levels spawn a multitude of stakeholder desires and management possibilities. For the first time, deer harvest numbers top 100,000.

2001 - First Special Antlerless season is held in December and expanded deer archery season in January.

2003 - First statewide youth antlerless deer gun season is held in October and yields 2,285 deer.

2004 - Statewide deer population estimated at 475,000 deer. Bowhunters set a new harvest record with 14,639 deer taken. Statewide harvest is 94,689 - 40% does.

2005 - Statewide harvest is 101,111 including 40% does. The number of counties that recorded more than 1,000 deer harvested increased to 43.

2006- Hunting regulations remain unchanged from 2005.

2007 – Not one, but two tremendous whitetail bucks are harvested from Pushmataha County during the deer gun season one by John Ehmer that scored an impressive 194 typical, and one by Jason Boyett that scored 192 5/8 typical. Boyett takes his buck on Nov. 18, surpassing the previous state record that had held the top spot for an entire decade (see Larry Luman photo below). Then just 10 days later, on Nov. 28, Ehmer takes his outstanding buck from the same county. By now, a total of 4,500 deer (including 19 mule deer entries) have been entered into the Cy Curtis Program.


2013- Physical deer check stations are replaced with an electronic check-in system, called E-Check. The Wildlife Department initiates the "Hunters in the Know Let Young Bucks Grow" campaign.

2014- Hunters are able to submit photos of their deer jaws, and have their deer aged by Wildlife Department biologists.

2015- marked the participation record for archery hunters for the third year in a row.


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Anyone who has stood on or driven along Ocean Springs' Beach or East Biloxi's Highway 90 has glanced or looked at Deer Island. They may have even wondered about this deserted island and its past history. The western and eastern tips are wind swept sand where mainly sea oats, grasses, and various small plants grow. The eastern and southeastern areas are mostly salt-water marshes with stands of pine trees sprinkled throughout. There are several bayous or inlets, some being large enough for a skiff to enter. The western and northern areas are covered with stands of pine trees and some oak trees. Through the years hurricanes have taken their toll by eroding portions of the southern shores and in 1985 Elena cut out a section of the western end.

Deer Island was occupied and used as hunting ground as early as 8,000 B.C. Artifacts from the four major periods of Native American history have been found on Deer Island. Those periods are Paleo Indian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian Periods. During the Mississippian Period 1,000 A.D. to 1700 A.D. Native American artifacts indicate some early and late occupation but the largest occupation occurs from about 1200 A.D. to 1550 A.D. This corresponds with two Mississippian sites on the Biloxi peninsula. One site was on the east end of the southern shore and the other on the northern shore of the peninsula. The only thing that remains today is the artifacts and shell midden. Shell middens are areas where Native Americans discarded their refuse and other items. Some portions of the Native American sites on Deer Island are underwater due to eroding shorelines. Unfortunately those that are not underwater, pothunters and others have ravished for years. Pothunters are individuals looking for whole clay vessels. They dig the site up looking for these vessels but during the process they destroy the site and artifacts. They never record or report what they find because they know what they are doing is wrong and against the law.

The 1699 arrival of the French ushered in a new period along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Deer Island. The French explored the whole Gulf Coast but it was not until 1717 that any indication of Deer Island being occupied. The Commissary M. Hubert petitions the French Ministry of the Colonies to grant him the concession, land grant, of Deer Island to raise rabbits. Later he withdraws his petition after learning that another inhabitant already has the Deer Island concession. Unfortunately he does not name the person who has the Deer Island concession. On November 2, 1738 M. Louboey, Governor of Louisiana, writes about Deer Island in a letter to M. Maurepas, Minister of the Colonies. He indicates that the small nation know as the Capinans have abandoned its village on the Pascagoula River and retired to Deer Island. The Capinans were a small tribe connected with the Biloxi and Pascagoula tribes. Their villages were located on the Pascagoula River when the French first arrived.

Records dated 1746 indicated that a cattle ranch is being operated on Deer Island by a settler who owns and operates a shallop (ship) of sixty tons. During the 1790s a Pierre La Fontaine, a ship owner from Deer Island has been paying tolls to enter St. John Bayou in Louisiana. It would appear that Pierre and the early settler may be one and the same.

On the twenty first of April 1798 fourteen persons on Deer Island were confirmed by the Bishop Francisco Penalver y Cardenas of the Diocese of New Orleans. Among the confirmed was 100-year-old Louis Christian Ladner as well as other Ladners, Cueves, Carquottes and other early gulf coast settlers. Between 1840 and 1850 Father Gerin, a Catholic priest from Biloxi, would visit Deer Island about once a month.

The Harrison County 1850 census lists 11 people living on Deer Island. These 11 consist of three families and one single person. Albertus King Aken 30 was listed as a farmer and being from New Jersey his wife Jane 26, Bay St. Louis their son Joseph 9, and Mr. Aken's sister Laura Aken 19. Mr. Aken at one time was lighthouse keeper at Cat Island. About 1865, Mr. Aken began harvesting the sap from the pine trees and set up a still from the manufacturing of turpentine. In 1917 L. Lopez Company, per an agreement with Mr. Aken, set the first shells for an oyster reef in the waters off Deer Island.

Joseph Field Aken, who grew up on Deer Island, would marry Harriet Waters of Horn Island during the Civil War. Harriet was born on September 18, 1839 in Pascagoula and raised on Horn Island where she first married Peter Baker on December 28, 1852 at the age of thirteen. Peter and Harriet struggled to make a living on Horn Island. Confederate and Union soldiers took cattle from the family. Final Harriet and her children left Peter who she later divorced. Harriet, in later years would be known as Grandma Aken along the Gulf Coast. On Deer Island she helped Joseph run the turpentine business and the oyster reefs. They lived by hunting, crabbing, fishing, oystering, as well as what could be raised on the island. Joseph died July 13, 1913, leaving Harriet to carry on and raise 17 children. Grandma Aken would also raise and give a home to 25 boys and a girl Rhoda Louise Williams. She continued to hunt and harvest oysters late in life. Even when she became almost blind she would not let that slow her down. She would set on her porch and knit fishing nets for the family.

In her young days it was said that she could handle a gun as well as any man.
She was considered an excellent hunter, swimmer, and she had walked every inch of Deer Island. During her active years she would row a skiff from the island to various locations on the main land.

Grandma Aken had reached her hundredth birthday in 1939. Friends and family journeyed to Deer Island with gifts and cakes for the happy occasion. Though she had been ill Grandma Aken sat in her large armchair and in her natural agreeable manner received her guests. Boats were secured for the occasion and guests were ferried to and from Deer Island. Rev. E.A. Demiller, rector of the Church of the Redeemer, conducted religious services on the island. In addition to Mrs. Aken’s birthday, her great granddaughter who was born the same day, Mary Jane Hall’s birthday was also celebrated.

Six months later Grandma Aken would die on Deer Island. The seawall was crowded with friends as her coffin was carried on the Sea Queen from Deer Island to Oak Street pier. She was interred at the Old Biloxi Cemetery, thus closing another chapter on Deer Island.

Grandma Aken was one of the most beloved and enduring individuals on Deer Island. Yet, one of the most interesting characters was The Hermit of Deer Island. Jean Guilhot, a Frenchman, who had operated a citrus grove in the Bahamas and a turtle soup cannery in Florida. He arrived in Biloxi in 1921at 46 years of age and began working as a barber. He met and married a widow, Pauline Lemiene, who with her son Elmer had a house on Deer Island. Elmer would later marry Rhoda Louise William, the adopted daughter of Grandma Aken, and have two children Elmer and Elaine who were born on Deer Island. On Deer Island he gave up being a barber and became an oyster fisherman. A few years later his wife died, but Guilhot continued to live on Deer Island and make his living by tonging oysters. During the 1947 Hurricane Guihot climbed a tree and weathered the wind and water. The storm flooded the island and destroyed his home but he built a new shack from driftwood. By this time his skin was like leather from the sun and saltwater. He lived on a diet of cheese, fruit, and various seafood but refused to eat meat.

In early 1950, Louis Gorenflo, captain of the tour boat Sailfish offered to pickup and deliver groceries to Guilhot. On a small pine sapling 75 feet from shore, Guilhot would place his grocery list and Gorenflo would retrieve the list and on the next visit return the groceries. At first Guilhot would only retrieve the groceries after the Sailfish departed. Gradually, he began to row out and meet the Sailfish. Later he would sing songs in French and English for the tourists. The tourists would take his picture and throw coins in to Guilhot's boat. On May 27, 1959, Guilhot died in his sleep at the age of 82. One account of his passing implies that it occurred on Deer Island. His family attests that he died at the residence of his stepson Elmer Lemien on Tucker Road in the St Martin community. According to the Bradford O’Keefe funeral records Jean Guilhot died at Latimer Route 2 Jackson County. Jean Guilhot’s death closed another chapter of history on Deer Island. The Hermit of Deer Island lives now only in the memories of those who knew and saw him.

One of the most interesting and short-lived developments on Deer Island occurred in June of 1915. The Deer Island Improvement Company purchased property from Grandma Aken and opened an amusement park. The park was equipped with dance pavilion 60 x 100 feet and featured a huge bath house with a roof complete with a garden and refreshments, fishing, row boat rentals, carnival rides, penny arcade, and daily concerts. Visitors were transported by a ferry system to and from Deer Island by way of the Lameuse Street pier. The company also sold property for cottages and camps, which in no time began to appear. The venture was a huge success but that fall the 1915 Hurricane hit the coast and wiped out the amusement park, several cottages, and summer camps. The investors never recovered and in 1917 the property was returned to Grandma Aken and her heirs.

After Grandma Aken’s death many of her decedents continued to live on Deer Island. From her first marriage to Peter Baker, a native of Arandahl, Norway, their children Frank Ben, Joseph, and Hannah Olena grew up on Deer Island. Baker Family history indicates that Peter Baker’s last name was originally Olsen but he changed it to Baker. From Grandma Aken’s marriage to Joseph Aken their 5 daughters Ella 1871, Nora 1873, Margaret 1875, Cora 1879, and Julia 1881were born and grew up on Deer Island.

Joseph Baker would marry Madeline Gelineo and move to Biloxi. He would be a carpenter by trade. Their children were George and Edward who lived in Biloxi and Marion who lived in New Orleans, Mrs. Henry Lechner and Mrs. Holly Ford of Biloxi. Joseph died on July 16, 1956 in Biloxi.

Frank Ben Baker was born on Deer Island July 6, 1869 and married Dorothy Ryan. Frank and Dorothy would live with their children on Deer Island. Their sons Ralph and Arthur would continue to live on Deer Island. Their daughters Vera would marry Fred Lusk and Dorothy would marry Elbert Meaut and move to Biloxi. Frank died on December 3, 1947 on Deer Island.

Hannah Olena Baker married James Wentzell and they had two children, J.W. Wentzell and Charles Wentzell. Ella Aken would marry William Thompson on June 29, 1892 and have one child named Ada and would make their home on Deer Island. Nora married Charles McCaleb on September 24, 1890 and lived in Biloxi. Margaret married Harry Edwards on March 1, 1893 and moved to New Orleans. Cora Aken would marry on November 12, 1893 in Biloxi to Thomas Kneale from New Orleans. They had seven children before she divorced Thomas. She never remarried but ran Kneale Grocery at 414 Nixon. She died February 6, 1943 in Biloxi. Julia Aken would marry Armond Rousseau and live in Biloxi.

One individual who purchased property from the Deer Island Improvement Company was Joseph Fortune Meyer. Some readers will recognize Joseph Meyer’s name from the art world. Joseph Meyer was born in France the son of Francois Antoine Meyer and Jeanne Francoise Bebin. The family moved to America and took up residence in Biloxi before the Civil War. Francois Meyer was a potter whose business and home was on Biloxi’s Back Bay. Francois would teach his son Joseph the pottery trade. Joseph Meyer would become friends with another Biloxian by the name of George E. Ohr. After the Civil War, the Meyer family relocated to New Orleans where Joseph operated a pottery. It would be in New Orleans that young George Ohr would be taught by Joseph Meyer the pottery trade. Both Joseph Meyer and George Ohr were hired by Newcomb College to instruct pottery classes at the Newcomb Art School. Today both men’s works of pottery are considered extraordinary art ware.

After Joseph purchased the Deer Island property he continued to live in New Orleans. His Deer Island home became a resort to escape the city life and enjoy the quietness. In a letter dated May 20, 1920 written to his daughter Norma, Joseph describes a visit to Deer Island. On May 16, Joseph indicates that his wife, Charles Wolfarth from Biloxi, and himself went to Deer Island. They found the weather cloudy and very windy. Joseph had written to Frank Ben Baker to meet them at Oak Street but upon arrival Mr. Baker had not shown up. Joseph thought the rough weather may have been the reason so attempts were made to signal to Mr. Baker from Riley’s wharf and then from Johnson’s Fish and Oyster wharf, but to no avail. Mr. Raley proposed to bring them over. Joseph indicated that the crossing was very rough. Upon their arrival they were greeted by Frank’s wife Dorothy Baker. She indicated that Frank Baker had gone across with son Arthur to secure Mr. Hewes’ boat that had broken loose and was a drift. After their visit the return to Biloxi was also affected by a terrific squall. They tried to signal someone to come and get them but it was too misty. During a lull Joseph convinced Mr. Sidney Reynolds to take advantage of the lull to return them to the mainland. Due to the squall some schooners had taken shelter between Deer Island and the mainland. When they reach a point about 300 feet off the anchored schooners the wind began to blow again from the east and just as they touched the wharf the rain fell in sheets. Joseph indicated that before to long they were perfectly drenched.

In another letter Joseph describe the serenity of the Island. Until his death on March 16, 1931 Joseph continued to visit Deer Island on regular bases. The Baker family would refer to Joseph Meyer very affectionately as Uncle Joe. Like Grandma Aken and The Hermit of Deer Island Joseph Meyer would also leave his mark of society.

Frank Ben and Dorothy Baker’s descendants continued to live on Deer Island. One son Ralph eventually moved from Deer Island to Biloxi. Of their two daughters, Vera married Fred Lusk and Dorothy married Elbert Meaut, and both moved to Biloxi. Their son Arthur would continue to live on Deer Island. While Arthur was a young man, Joseph “Uncle Joe” Meyer had introduce him to his future wife, Eva Walther of New Orleans. Arthur and Eva married and had six children: Arthur, Frank, Donald, Alvin, Ronald, and Fred. They raised their six boys on Deer Island. When their son Ronald married Velma Demet, they made their home on Deer Island. Three of Ronald and Velma’s six children David, Larry, and Cynthia, would begin their lives on Deer Island.

The Aken and Baker families had lived on Deer Island for six generations. What one has to realize is that Deer Island was continually occupied from the 1700s to 1969. During the 1800s to early 1900s, life on Deer Island would be view as a typical way of life for the times. Yet with the advent of electrical power to homes all along our coast, there began a change and a new way of life. On Deer Island life continued the same as before electric with the exception of a 32 volt system of lights generated by storage batteries. Of course, one would turn the light on, take care of business, and then turn the light off. By the mid 1950s, the Baker family added a gasoline generator to power the lights and other appliances. Free flowing artesian water was fed from the well to a gravity tank to furnish the family’s water needs. Weekly, the Family would secure grocery items from Esse Gonsoulin’s Grocery & Market located at 1101 East Beach. One of the interesting facts about the Baker family was that the children attended the Biloxi Public Schools by taking a boat to Oak Street in Biloxi in the morning and back in the afternoon.

The Baker family lived on Deer Island until the events of August 1969. Hurricane Camille had entered the Gulf of Mexico and was threatening Mississippi and Louisiana. On Sunday morning August 17, Arthur and Eva Baker gathered their family and left their home unaware that it would be the last time. That evening Camille came ashore as a category 5 storm causing unbelievable destruction. After Camille the Baker family would live on two boats tied to the Baker Pier on Deer Island for 3 months. The two boats were the Doris Mae and the Progress. The family finally left Deer Island the first week of November and moved to Biloxi. This ended a long line of Bakers, and Aken family members who had lived their lives on Deer Island. Even though the Baker family still owns three sections of Deer Island, no one has officially lived on Deer Island since 1969. Yet to the Baker and Aken family decedents Deer Island has remained a place for family socials and their play ground.

We have discussed Deer Island early Native American history, its colonial
history and some of its most enduring individuals. We have yet to touch on
the legends and tales that embraced Deer Island, our coast, and our culture.
There has been numerous tales of pirates and of gold being buried on the
barrier islands. One of the most interesting stories appeared in the Biloxi
Herald on April 1, 1902. It seems that an elderly Biloxian, who was not
identified by the paper, told this story to the editor. In 1859 an elderly
gentlemen by the name of Senor Cardenas was a passenger on the steamboat
Creole that was headed to Biloxi. When he became ill Captain Charles
Walker asked the Biloxian to care for Senor Cardenas. The Biloxian stayed in
the cabin with Senor Cardenas and cared for him but Senor Cardenas died
during passage. Per Senor Cardenas request, Captain Walker handed the
Biloxian a sealed letter and a note. In the note Senor Cardenas asked the
Biloxian to have his remains shipped to New Orleans and to keep the sealed
letter until someone called for it.

On February 17, 1902 (some 43 years later) Senor Cardenas son appeared at the Biloxian's door. After receiving and reading the letter Don Cardenas asked the Biloxian if a tree grew in Biloxi with a ring created by nature in its limbs. The Biloxian says yes and took him to location of the oak refereed to as the Ring in the Oak. Don Cardenas climbed the tree and took his bearings off the ring to a location on Deer Island. The Biloxian and Don Cardenas rowed over to Deer Island and using the instructions in the letter dug up a metal box and two old swords. According to the story the box contained gold coins of Spanish origin. The Biloxian received a handsome reward and Don Cardenas returned to New Orleans. The article indicated if you don't believe the story go to J. B. Lemon's drug store in Biloxi and look at the sword and old coins he had placed there. One interesting note is that the Cardenas mentioned here spell their names the same as Bishop Cardenas who confirmed the families on Deer Island in 1798.

The stories of ghost, pirates, civil war, storms, and other legends have haunted Deer Island for centuries. Several proposed developments have occurred from the 1950s to the present, but Deer Island has weathered all of them. Just like the aftermath of a hurricane, Deer Island is a little battered but it seems to restores itself in time. It may be that Grandma Aken and The Hermit of Deer Island taught us a lesson that must be read from in-between-the-lines. That is, it may be better to conform to Deer Island and the life it offers instead of trying to conform Deer Island to us. The State of Mississippi recently purchased a large section of Deer Island with exception to the western sections owned by Baker family descendents. Only time will tell what will become of Deer Island, thus closing another chapter in Mississippi Coast History.

The Biloxi Herald, April 1, 1902
The Biloxi Herald, February 22, 1896 page 8 columns 1, Peter Baker
The Biloxi Herald, Saturday July 12, 1913, Joseph Aken, Old Biloxian Dead
The Biloxi Herald, September 18, 1939, Grandma Aken turn 100 years, page 9
Times Picayune, March 22, 1940 Harriet Aken 100 dies, page 1
The Biloxi Herald, March 24, 1940, Deer Island Resident Today Celebrates Century of Life Grandma Aken death
The Daily Herald, January 4, 1928, Page 10, Column 4, Joseph Meyer Lived in Biloxi
A History of Mississippi, edited by Richard Aubrey McLemore, Volume One
Mississippi Provincial Archives French Domination by Rowland, Sanders, and Galloway
Joseph Meyers Letters, Ohr/O’Keefe Museum of Art collection.
Stevens Collection located in the Historical & Genealogical Section of the Biloxi Library
Oral Baker Family History from conversations with Alvin Baker, Arthur Baker, and Cynthia Baker Powell.
Lemein Family History conversation with Mrs. Elaine Lemein Rolls
Aken Family History from emails with Elaine Kneale Knafla.


Did You Know?

  • In 2019, 164,939 youth participated in the Seedlings for Schools program, an increase of 4,663 children.
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  • The PA Game Commission’s Howard Nursery administers the Seedlings for School program and Wildlife for Everyone helps subsidize this free program for students.

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How did the white deer herd at the former Seneca Army Depot get started and why has it lasted?

The white deer at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus have been protected since the late 1940s by the fence that has surrounded the depot. They now number about 200.

(Stephen D. Cannerelli [email protected])

Romulus, N.Y. -- How did white, white-tailed deer at the former Seneca Army Depot get there and why has the herd lasted so long?

The depot, which was hurriedly built back in 1941 as World War II loomed, was fenced in for security reasons. And within that 24 miles of fenced in land were several dozen, regular brown-colored white-tailed deer and numerous other wildlife.

The history of the white deer herd at the depot, the world's largest, traces its roots back to 1949, when the depot's commander, Col. Franklin Kemble, was first alerted of their presence and gave orders not to shoot them.

Kemble told his men, "'If any of you guys shoot them, you're on the next plane to Greenland," said Dennis Money, president of Seneca White Deer and a retired project environmental analyst who worked at Rochester Gas and Electric.

The white deer were not albinos, which have pink eyes. These deer simply carried a recessive gene for white hair. They had brown or gray eyes.

The white ones lived and interbred with the brown deer. The combined, protected herd continued to grow and by the mid-1950s numbered more than 2,000. Two tough winters, though, resulted in a number of them starving.

The military teamed up with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and devised a plan to keep the herd healthy and genetically solid, Money said. They started offering nearly two weeks of hunting each fall, attended by past and current military personnel, along with (now former) civilian employees at the depot. The depot staff also planted food plots and mowed the grass in certain sections to encourage the growth of plants that the deer savor.

At first only brown deer could be shot, but in time the white deer were numerous enough to be included. Currently, the numbers of hunters are restricted to about a little more than three dozen a day and they have to participate in a lottery to see who gets to shoot white ones, said Stephen Absolom, the depot's environmental coordinator and installation manager in a 2010 interview.


When I was a boy I learned about a tribe of natives (Lipan Apache) that had an initiation into manhood which involved plucking a hair from the tail of a live deer. These people had developed a mode of stealth that allowed them to walk right up to deer–head on–without the deer sensing their presence or noticing their advance. I adopted the technique for moving through the woods silently, but never to the point where I could stealthily touch a deer.

I'll skip the masking your scent and disguising your appearance parts and just give you the silent walking part.

First of all, you must have good balance, so take a semi-squat stance to lower you body weight. With each step, you will balance on one foot, while you test the ground ahead of you with the smallest toe of your other foot. You want to plant your foot where it isn't going to make any noise, first touch the ground with your small toe, using it to part the grass or move leaves, then gently rock onto your lateral arch down to your heel as you shift your weight onto your forward foot and flatten it out onto the ground, the last part of your foot to touch the ground is your big toe. Complete the step by transferring all your weight to your forward foot, then feel ahead with the other.

The deer touchers did this very slow, averaging about 80 seconds per step, in a breeze they could rock with the grass and branches and go about 60 seconds a step. The super slow speeds were so the deer wouldn't register them moving, even if they were staring straight in their direction.

When nothing's watching you you can move quickly through the woods stepping this way, just touch with your small toe first and ease into each step, when you get good you tend to glide more than you stride. The part to practice is making contact with the ground without making a crunch, it's easy to do on a path, but harder to do when moving through the bush.

As far as what clothes and shoes to wear: the deer touchers went barefoot and wore nothing but a loincloth and ash from a fire, but any soft soled shoe will work for foot wear, toeshoes would be the best. For clothing you don't want to wear anything synthetic, nylon and polyester make that whishing sound when you walk. Soft cotton or wool is best for moving silently, think ninja knickers, light and breathable.


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