DEVOURED BY WOLVES

A Thrilling Tale of Peril and Death in the Woods near Beaverton, Ninety Years Ago

 

Of the stories told at the cabin fireside of a winter's night of the depredations of the wolves, the following is amongst the saddest and most thrilling:----

On the removal of the seat of Government from Niagara to York, in 1796, amongst those who followed in its wake were Corporal Crawford, his wife and two children. He was a discharged soldier, having left the British army a short time previously, on account of the loss of an eye, through an accident. He was a very fine looking man, athletic and well proportioned, and standing over six feet in height. His wife, Mary, whom Crawford had married six months before, was the widow of a deceased soldier and her two children, a girl and a boy, four and six years of age, respectively, were by the first husband. She was a tidy, clever, hearty young Irishwoman of five and twenty; Crawford, who was about ten year's her senior, was a Scotchman. He was much given to hunting and fishing, spent a good deal of his time in the woods and was a most successful sportsman. Although he was privileged to take up 400 acres of land, and might have done so almost anywhere in the front along the Lake shore at the time, he was careless about selecting his location. In company with a friendly young Indian of the Mississagua tribe, for whom he had done some friendly service, and who was very much attached to him, Crawford spent days and weeks camping in the woods, and trapping fur bearing animals, which were then so numerous in the unbroken forest. In one of those excursions, the soldier was taken to a "beaver meadow," on the borders of a little stream flowing into Lake Simcoe (supposed to be somewhere near the site of the present village of Beaverton), where the game was very abundant. There were many delightful spots on the margin of the lake, looking out over the tranquil waters, and to one of these Crawford was specially attracted, and had determined upon making it his home. He managed to build a hut and make a little clearing, and to this spot, with the help of the friendly Indian, the wife and children were removed in the early spring. The wife was charmed with the beauty of the place and its surroundings; and if the hut was small it was well provided. Venison was plentiful and could be had almost anywhere in the woods with little trouble, and the most delicious fish might be taken at pleasure from the stream and lake. Wild strawberries and raspberries also grew in great abundance about the place. The wife was soon able to manage a canoe and paddle over the waters of the lake with the delight - children. Summer and fall passed over joyously for the contented little family in the woods. There was an early snow fall, and with this intimation of the coming winter, the wife wished to be nearer the settlement at York. She had an additional reason for this, being near her confinement. the Indians were, however, very friendly, and the Indian path from their village (now Orillia), to Lake Ontario, led by the hut. Their departure was delayed; the wife was suddenly overtaken in her confinement; her illness brought her to death's door, and her life would be endangered by any attempt at removal. Winter in all its severity came on apace and this year, much earlier than usual. The husband exhausted all his ingenuity and resources in providing for the wants of his family. Indeed from the ample means at command, he had no difficulty in laying in stores of food and procuring firewood -- bread and flour to make it with was the one great deficiency, and the little stock on hand was supplemented by large gathering of nuts. The mother and infant grew stronger. But by this time the snow was so deep that a journey through the forest, for the woman and young children, was out of the question.

That winter was one of unusual severity. Towards its close, the howling of the starving wolves was incessant throughout the night, and filled the poor woman and children with terror. Crawford had his gun but only a scant supply of ammunition. He was in the habit of making short excursions, in order to get supplies of fresh venison, which he was always able to fetch to the hut before night to the expectant family. From one of these--the last in this tragic story--he did not return as usual. Night came on, and the uneasiness of the wife grew to alarm at the husband's absence. She "tooted the horn" again and again, but there was no answering response. Solitary wolves were seen prowling about the hut when the affrighted wife looked out at the door and "tooted" in the blinding snow storm which came on. This it became unsafe for her to do any longer, so the door of the hut was kept shut and barred. far into the night, the howling of the pack, at first distant came nearer and nearer to the hut; the watching woman heard a rush past, and believing that her husband was pursued, in her fond eagerness to give him succour opened the door. Fatal step! The ferocious brutes rushed in, tumbling over each other in their bloody eagerness; the woman, with her infant in her arms, was knocked down, and the savage animals fought and tore each other in glutting on their defenceless prey. a child's crib, clumsily made of heavy timber, was overturned in the dreadful onslaught and covered up in it was the little girl, the oldest of the children. She was completely hidden by the overturned crib, and, rendered unconscious by fright, never moved. Daylight broke in upon this horrible home in the woods when Crawford arrived, to see the wolves, some of them with bloody jaws, slinking away from his wretched cabin. He had followed too far after a buck which he had wounded, and on his return home night had fallen, the snow storm had came on, and pursued by a hungry pack which had got on the trail of the wounded deer had taken refuge in a tree. this was scarcely a mile distant from his home. While in this place of safety, the wolves, which were howling and jumping at the foot of the tree, suddenly followed in pursuit of the buck, which unluckily had taken a course that led towards the hut. Crawford could tell from the savage howling which arose above the storm that something terrible was going on in that direction. With the first streak of daylight he made his way for home, where, frantic and heartbroken in his agony, he encountered the tragic scene described.

Turning up the crib, the little girl was found, unhurt. Some bloody tresses of his poor wife's hair, some fragments of clothing and half-devoured carcass of a wolf were all that was left to show the dreadful havoc that had taken place over the bodies of the defenceless woman and two younger children. Immediately outside the door of the hut were found the antlers of the deer, from which it was conjectured that the hunted animal ran towards the light when the door was opened by Mrs. Crawford.

Corporal Crawford never again returned to civilized life. The event of that dreadful night completely unhinged his mind. Through his friendly Indian companion, he was adopted by the Mississaguas, who regarded his infirmity of mind as an additional reason for their protection. The little girl, whose life was so miraculously preserved from the ravening jaws of the wolves, was returned to relatives of her mother on the American side, and was afterwards lost sight of in the march of events and settlement.

Joseph Guild lived to see a thriving village grow up on the spot to which the foregoing story related, and to see a populous, well settled county, with railways and telegraphs, and all the adjuncts of advanced civilization take the place of the dense forest which sheltered the wolves.--[From life and memories of Joseph Guild, Toronto, C. Blackett Robinson.]


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