I sometimes wonder what the fish and wildlife was like when the early settlers reached South Carolina.
My own family came through the port of Charleston in the 1760s, all the way from the Black Forest area of Germany to the Dutch Fork, the triangular area between the Broad and Saluda rivers. The family patriarch, whose kids anglicized the spelling of the last name a generation or so later, got a 300-acre land grant near St. Paul’s Church in Pomaria — a church that burned down a couple of years ago.
On the return end of a fishing trip to Charleston a year ago, my son and I headed up I-26 with the idea of dropping by Davy Hite’s spread in Ninety Six and sampling some of the bass and bream in his pond, but a big thunderstorm wiped out that idea. We wound up at a couple of cemeteries, the last one just outside of Prosperity, taking photos of all the gravestones bearing the names of my ancestors — an old history buff trying to fill in a few branches in the family tree.
I’m assuming that the early Kiblers farmed and lived off the land, as most residents of Newberry County in the late 1700s. What about that land? If we believe old texts, the land was full of whitetail deer and wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and quail. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that deer and turkeys started to disappear, and only in the last 50 years have quail all but vanished from the landscape — as deer and turkeys have returned.
Did the settlers have coyotes and wild hogs to worry about? As far as the hogs go, not likely. Who knows about the coyotes? It seems like they just showed up about 15 years ago, and now they’re eating half the deer fawns dropped every year.
What about the fishing? With impoundments not arriving until the 20th century to harness hydroelectric power and control flooding, most of it would have been in the rivers and their tributary creeks — probably more of the latter — where settlers were likely to tangle with catfish of various colors and sizes, except that blues would have been non-existent. Without flatheads, streams would have an abundance of little bullheads.
Bass and various sunfish would have rounded out most of early settlers’ fishing larder. I assume smallmouth bass would have been in the Broad, as they are now, and I’d expect the sunfish would be divided between bluegills and redbreasts, the former in calmer water and the latter in water with more current. The anadromous shad that move out of the ocean and up coastal rivers in the spring to spawn couldn’t have gotten past the big shoals areas along the fall line. Ditto striped bass, the landlocked version of which weren’t even a dream of biologists in a fish hatchery.
In some respects, we’ve got it better because we have so many opportunities. But there was little concrete and asphalt and no pollution, so who is to judge? I don’t dare.