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Western Maryland's Daniel Boone

September 07, 2008

To the editor:

Just as Kentucky and Tennessee had their Daniel Boon and Davy Crockett, Maryland had its Meshach Browning. Meshach's life remains somewhat unique because all his hunting adventures and life were centered in one area - Western Maryland.

Hunting to Meshach was both a profession and hobby. With his flintlock rifle (on display at the Smithsonian in Washington) and hunting knife, Meshach harvested, by his own estimates, close to 2,000 deer, 400 bears, 50 cougars and panthers, and scores of wolves. Elk had vanished from Western Maryland before Meshach was old enough to handle a rifle, and two of the last four buffalo seen in Garrett County had been harvested before Meshach reached adulthood, or most certainly, both would have been added to his tally.

Meshach Browning was born in 1781, in Frederick County, Md. His father eked out a living as a farmer. But, just two weeks after his birth his father died. At the age of 5, along with an older sister and brother, his mother was forced to send him to live with a neighbor. They hitched a ride with a wagoner headed for Western Maryland. At Sideling Hill, a wheel broke on the rocky and rough road and the wagon tumbled down the mountain. Miraculously, Meshach and his siblings survived the crash. They settled on a 20-acre farm at the headwaters of Flintstone Creek in Allegany County.

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A few years later, Meshach was adopted by an aunt. Two days of travel found them at Blooming Ridge - near current day Friendsville. A short time later they moved several miles from there to the glades at Buffalo Marsh, where they eventually settled.

At the age of 12, he received his only schooling, three months of reading and writing. He spent days away from home hunting raccoons and wild cats, whose fur he traded for a heavier deer rifle. At 15, on his initial try to bag a deer he succeeded. He improved his markmanship by shooting squirrels by the hundreds. In frontier America, to hit the mark as small as a moving squirrel signified manliness and could also earn a bounty from farmers, whose crops were being ravaged by the common nuisance.

In 1799, at the age of 18, Meshach married a schoolmate, Mary McCullen. He traded his pony for a squatter's farm on some 20 acres in Blooming Rose. Meshach, Mary and their infant daughter later moved southeast to what became Garrett County, then called Bear Creek Glades, a tributary to the Youghiogheny River. The valley was engulfed with wild flowers, tall grass, ridges, heavy timber, and abounded with game. Meshach wrote, "we had nothing to do but rise, slay and eat," which he did, for the four years they lived there.

With few neighbors, and even those separated by rough packhorse trails, the Brownings lived in happy isolation until they lost their home and most of their possessions to a slick-bargaining pioneer. After a year in a rough cabin on the Youghiogheny River near the mouth of Sang Run, Meshach moved his family, which now consisted of several children - the Borwnings eventually had 11 children - back to the Bear Creek area and lived there until the early 1820s. He collected the county's bounty on panther and wolves and sold bear meat, venison and furs, which he carted to Hagerstown to sell downstate. In Hagerstown it was not unusual for him to get admiring glances as he walked through town dressed in buckskins and moccasins. The Brownings made their last move to Sang Run where he built a cabin and gristmill. This is where Meshach and Mary lived out their lives.

In 1839, Mary Browning passed away. The loss of Mary hastened the close of his hunting days. Meshach harvested his last bear that fall on Meadow Mountain. Two years later he shot his last deer.

By the end of Meshach's life in 1859, few hunters could live off the bounty of the land. Hunters such as Meshach, with their hundreds of kills, were largely responsible for the reduced number of game, although Meshach blamed "all other hunters who were not governed by the kind and fair feelings which used to regulate their actions in bygone years."

American folklore tells us that Davy Crockett could, "grin a raccoon down a tree." Daniel Boone liked to carve inscriptions on trees to commemorate a good kill. Meshach, carved no inscriptions nor spun no tales of grinning furry creatures down a tree. He did, however, leave behind for the enjoyment of hunters, future hunters and adventures in his memoir, "Forty-four Years of the Life of a Hunter."

Unrestricted hunting, trapping and fishing, the clearing of woodlands, and over-grazing combined to deplete the fauna of Western Maryland. It wasn't until the 1900s that the revitalization of the once plentiful deer and wild turkey of the western counties was revised in numbers.

The bear population, once declared an endangered species in Maryland, now requires a hunting season to control its expanding population - a result of the diligent work of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The glades, where Meshach roamed and hunted, are now centered around Deep Lake, an active and growing tourist attraction. But, still Western Maryland remains somewhat frozen in time with its pockets of wilderness and the frontier mentality of its residents, who view hunting as a fundamental right. The once remote mountains, streams and lakes of Western Maryland have receded. However, the rolling terrain of mountains and meadows, and the pristine forest still beckons hunters and adventurers alike to Meshach's domain.

Paul H. Inskeep
211-806/M.C.T.C.
Hagerstown

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