Historic Animals of The Warrior Mountains
Hunting parties, an important part of wilderness life, provided a means of obtaining meat for hungry families, hides and furs which could be traded for goods, and the thrill of the hunt along with the fellowship of friends and neighbors. However, unregulated hunting practices began taking their toll on the native wildlife. Between 1890 and 1910 big game species were eliminated from the Warrior Mountains and most of Alabama by "over hunting". This tragedy is believed to have eliminated wildlife such as the whitetail deer, the black bear, the Timber Wolf (Grey Wolf), the Black Wolf, the Red Wolf, the Eastern Cougar, the Elk, and the Eastern Bison (Buffalo).
After the last original Warrior Mountains whitetail deer was eliminated from the forest, this herd was restocked with a northern subspecies of deer during the 1920's. Again in the 1990's, deer from South Alabama were restocked in the Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area.
Mr. Rayford Hyatt, past conservation officer of Bankhead, relates an interesting story about the last native deer to be killed in the forest. According to Mr. Hyatt, the last pure blood native deer was a small racked buck that was hunted for two or three days before it was eventually killed. The deer was killed by James M. Flanagin on Hagood Creek in early 1909. Mr. Amos Spillers, one of the first conservation officers of the Bankhead Forest, had the antlers of this beloved creature which was once taken for granted by many in the forest.
According to Mr. Hyatt, the last known Timber Wolf of Bankhead was killed during snowy weather in the Hurricane Creek area in 1910 by William Straud Riddle. William Straud Riddle, the son of Jonson (Rake) Riddle and Martha, was at least 3/4 Cherokee Indian. His father was a full blood and his mother was 1/2 Cherokee.
The Wolf had killed several sheep owned by a Mr. Sewell who resides south of Grayson. After hunting and tracking the Wolf in the snow nearly all day, the hunt ended without success. As Mr. Riddle started home toward the western side of the Sipsey River, he found fresh Wolf tracks in the snow. After tracking the animal a short distance, he saw the Wolf standing next to a huge hollow log where it denned. Once the Wolf was killed, it was taken home and was placed in a standing position before it became stiff. Many people came to see the carcass before it was finally discarded.
In the early days of this county, Wolf scalps could be used in the payment of taxes. Notice the following law:
ACTS OF ALABAMA 1835 SESSION.
ACT NO. 123 Pages 119, 120
"After passage of this Act, it shall be lawful for Tax Collectors of Franklin and Lawrence Counties to receive all wolf scalps in payment of any county tax due from any person in the county, on prior affidavit made before an acting Justice of the Peace that the wolves were killed in Franklin or Lawrence County, as the case may be - Scalps received at the following rate; all scalps under one year $1.00; all scalps one year and upward $1.50. Tax Collectors of each county to return affidavits with scalps to the County Treasurer as money for any county tax due from them as tax collectors - no money to be paid our for scalps; only receive scalps in payment of taxes."
Three species of Wolves were known to exist in Bankhead Forest: Grey, Black, and Red Wolves. The last known Black Wolf was shot in 1917 and is now considered extinct. The Red Wolf is recovering from the verge of extinction with one small pack re-established in Cades Cove of the Smokey Mountains National Park. The Timber or Grey Wolf if found only in the northern portion of the United States.
Bear and Panther
The Black Bear and Eastern Cougar were eliminated from Bankhead as a breeding population in the early 1900's. Specific information about the demise of the last bear and cougar in Bankhead is unknown, however, many mountaineers tell stories of encounters their grandparents had with bears and panthers during the early 1800's. Reports of bears and cougars still persist to this very day, but no known population of either exist in the Warrior Mountains.
It is estimated that some 30 wild Eastern Cougars still roam the swamps of Florida and rank as the most endangered animal in the Southeastern United States. Today, beautiful captive Eastern Cougars can be seen in Lawrence County at the Animal House Zoological Park in Hatton.
The Eastern Elk migrated the Appalachian Mountains into Alabama in the early 1800's. The elk were rapidly eliminated by Indian and early settler hunters. The Eastern Elk were killed out in the state Tennessee by 1870. No known record exists on the demise of eastern elk in the Warrior Mountains of Lawrence County.
Eastern Bison or Buffalo
The Eastern Bison or Buffalo ranged from the Great Lakes into Alabama. The Eastern Buffalo was much larger than the Western Buffalo and was very black. The last known Eastern Bison were killed in West Virginia in 1825.
Old Growth Hardwoods
Today, the demise of our old growth southeastern hardwood forest continues at the hands of clearcutting (even-aged harvesting) experts of the U.S. Forest Service and the timber industry. If changes are not soon forthcoming, our native old growth hardwood forest will be replaced by the pine plantations of modern tree farmers. According to the original field surveys of 1817, the vast majority of the vegetation of the Bankhead was mature old growth hardwoods of oak, hickory and chestnut.
We have slowly demised a great majority of our states natural predators and grazers. At the present, we are demising our National Forest as well. If we cannot learn from History, we will soon pay the consequences as we already have with the (Timber "Grey", Black, and Red) Wolf , the Black Bear, the Cougar (Black Panther), the Eastern Bison (Buffalo), the Elk, and the Native White Tail Deer. Soon the only breeding population of wildlife will be bacteria and virii, which is something we cannot extinguish.....yet! Take part in the Conservation of Alabama! Do not let the United States Forest Service harvest the timber of our National Forest. Most importantly remember that we are the government and we are responsible for its actions. The Government is not a "machine" that cannot be stopped. The harvest of our Forests are "our" fault as consumers and as citizens and we now have to get up and do something about it! Click here and print this petition to stop the destruction of our National Forest. Have concerned friends sign it! Tomorrow WILL be too late!