Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The forest claims one of its own

Mysterious disappearance of a Kentucky frontiersman

Here is a brief biography of one of Kentucky's earliest settlers, James Harrod, who founded the first permanent settlement in Kentucky:

JAMES Harrod, born in Virginia in 1746; reared and educated in his native state, immigrated to Kentucky in 1774, and built the first log cabin on the present site of Harrodsburg; he was a successful agriculturist, an expert with the rifle, and a brave and intrepid soldier, ranking as one of the leaders in military affairs, distinguishing himself at the battle of Point Pleasant in 1774; subsequently he represented Harrodsburg (which was named in his honor) in the Transylvania Assembly; he was in the habit of making solitary excursions into the forest, and from one of these trips, which was undertaken about the year 1825, when he was about eighty years of age, he never returned, nor was any trace of him ever discovered.

Source: History of Kentucky (p. 628) by Charles Kerr, William Elsey Connelley, Ellis Merton Coulter. Published in 1922 by the American Historical Society, Chicago and New York.

Unfortunately, the authors were mistaken about the date of Harrod's disappearance. Dozens of other sources say that Harrod disappeared in 1792. He would have been less than fifty years of age at the time.

Coincidentally or not, Harrod prepared a will shortly before his disappearance. The settlers searched the woodlands surrounding Harrodsburg, but no trace of him was ever found.

To this day, no one knows what became of Harrod, but there are three lines of speculation: 1) He suffered an accident in the woods and died. 2) His wife had been unfaithful and he decided to leave. Rumors circulated to this effect. 3) He was murdered. Various rumors were spread about this as well.

James Harrod was a skilled and experienced woodsman and hunter, strong, brave, and resourceful. One writer of the mid-19th century considered him a "hunter-naturalist" of note, a man who met the challenge of the wild land in which he lived.

One thing that can be said with certainty is that Kentucky was virtually untouched by European settlers when James Harrod build a log house at Harrodsburg in 1774. The forests were in their perfect primeval state. Chestnut, American elm, and ash trees were untouched by disease and exotic insects. Elk, wolves, bears, and passenger pigeons were as familiar as blackbirds, deer, and rabbits. What dramatic changes the next two centuries brought!

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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