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Odd Wisconsin Archives: Animals

Birds of a Feather

Enjoying the birds at your feeders from the warmth inside your house this weekend? Here are some of the people who first studied and popularized our feathered companions. Pioneer Scientists Before the Civil War, R.P. Hoy cataloged the birds of southeastern Wisconsin and reported his findings to scholars in the East. Another mid-century scientist, Increase Lapham, built on Hoy's work... :: Posted on January 23, 2014

Muskrat Pie for Christmas Dinner

During the winter of 1811, fur trader Thomas G. Anderson was far from civilization, isolated with five French-Canadian helpers deep in the frozen forest of the northwest. They'd eaten all the migrating waterfowl shot the previous autumn, and their friendly Sioux hunters were all in the field collecting beaver pelts. But that didn't keep the lonely little party from attempting... :: Posted on December 4, 2013

Kitty Ryan Subdues the Bear

Early in the last century, Jack Ryan kept a saloon for woodsmen at Mercer, Wisconsin. Fresh from a long winter in the forest, lumberjacks would often blow their entire season's wages on a grand spring bout of drinking, gambling, fighting, and debauchery. Ryan kept a pile of old gunny sacks in a corner where they could pass out on the... :: Posted on September 3, 2013

The Amazing Curative Power of Rattlesnakes

At the battle of Wisconsin Heights in 1832, Sgt. John McNair took a bullet in the behind. Although it was just a flesh wound, he complained loudly about it and insisted he could no longer ride his horse. His comrades thought he was milking a minor injury for all it was worth and teased him mercilessly, as young men will... :: Posted on August 22, 2013

"The fish of the state belong to the people..."

That was how commissioner of fisheries Brayton O. Webster put it, at the height of Wisconsin's Progressive Era. But presumably he didn't consult the fish. The 1887 institution that gave its name to Madison's Fish Hatchery Road, shown here in a somewhat romanticized lithograph, was among the first fish hatcheries in the nation. Read about a visit to it in... :: Posted on April 25, 2013

Crabs and Beer

While you were watching the Packers Sunday, you probably had a bowl of chips, popcorn, or pretzels within easy reach. But in 19th-century Milwaukee taverns, the bowl on the bar was more likely to be full of dead crayfish lifted from a nearby swamp. To hide their humble origins and make them sound more appetizing, these were usually called "krebs"... :: Posted on September 8, 2012

A Croak of Bull

"If any man wants to know what frogs can accomplish in the matter of making a noise, let him take a summer trip to Green Bay," wrote Alfred Cope (1806-1875) when visiting that city in 1849. To be completely honest, we must admit to a personal fascination with frogs that goes back decades and might lead us to see merits... :: Posted on June 21, 2012

Dog Follows Master to the Grave

When the Civil War erupted, Wisconsin's immigrants quickly joined up to fight for their adopted homeland. Company F of the Sixth Infantry, for example, was composed entirely of Germans from Milwaukee. One of its officers, Capt. Werner von Bachelle (shown here), had been trained as a soldier in the French army before coming to America. Col. Rufus Dawes recalled... :: Posted on May 24, 2012

Mother Impresses Tough Logger

For Mother's Day, here's a peculiar story about a humble woodchuck that won the heart of a rugged lumberjack named John Nelligan. Nelligan was a tough character who braved death many times, punched out more than his share of bullies and brawlers, and demanded unquestioning obedience from his crew. He once drove a bear from his camp by sneaking up... :: Posted on May 10, 2012

Bearly Believable

As spring unfolds and campers, hikers, and cyclists fan out across our north woods, encounters between Wisconsin's bears and humans will start making headlines again. Long ago our ancestors lived in much closer contact with bears, and run-ins between people and bruins were a simple fact of life. Close Encounters In 1855, a bear tried to carry a pig off... :: Posted on April 26, 2012

Cats, Cats, and More Cats

Media around the globe reported this week on a cat named Daniel who saved a Milwaukee area animal shelter. Daniel was born with 26 toes, and when the shelter needed funds to keep its door open this fall, its staff requested donations of $26. As reported in this video, more than $100,000 was donated in about six weeks. So Daniel... :: Posted on December 15, 2011

Spanked a Bear

In frontier Wisconsin, it was not too uncommon for settlers to own a tame bear. If a female killed during a hunt had a cub, once in a while a hunter would decide to raise it. Keeping a tame bear was not without its challenges, of course, and could lead to peculiar situations like the following. The neighbor of a... :: Posted on August 11, 2011

Natural Calamities

Last weekend's deluge of dead birds in Beebe, Arkansas, called to mind the invasion of Oconto by Leopard frogs. In two days during the summer of 1952, the New Yorker reported, an estimated 175,000,000 frogs -- yes, million -- emerged from local marshes and "practically enveloped the town. The explosions of amphibians beneath the wheels of automobiles at night sounded... :: Posted on January 3, 2011

Badger Detective

In May of 1872 a body was discovered in a Peshtigo lumber camp. The man had been knocked unconscious by a blow to the head and then strangled. This murder naturally produced much gossip in a nearby tavern, the Dew Drop Inn, but after several days talk moved to other things and the murder was left unsolved. About a... :: Posted on November 18, 2010

Monkey Business at the Capitol

You've probably heard of Old Abe, the eagle that accompanied Wisconsin troops during the Civil War. But how about Joe the Monkey, a regimental mascot during World War Two? David Mackin of Milwaukee won the pet monkey from French sailors during a crap game in North Africa. Joe tagged along as Mackin's unit moved across Africa and then north through... :: Posted on October 21, 2010

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