History Of Beaver Dam Camp
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The History of Beaver Dam Deer Camp
Walter J. Cooper

Forward to Current Revision , 2002

It has been my contention for some time that the history of Deer Hunting in America and with this camp in particular is inextricably linked to the history of armed conflict. In looking back at the history of the families involved in this camp we find a resurgence in interest in hunting as a pastime after each war, dating back to the French and Indian conflict of the 1750’s. I want to make that distinction clear: between hunting for sustenance and hunting as a sport. In our families, there is clear evidence of an interest in hunting as a sport dating back to the early 1800’s. More evidence, by inference, can push that date back as early as 1767. With the ebb and flow of human affairs, our ancestors have regularly sought solace in the wilderness in pursuit of wild game, particular whitetail deer. It is as though there are secrets so dark in a man’s soul they can only be shared with the game they pursue. The whitetail deer have obliged and shouldered that burden; living with the men of Cooper, Williams, Steinholtz, McKay, Woodward, et al.

Earliest Records

It is recorded in the family bible of the Cowpers family in Cowpers Bridge, ME that the men of the Cowpers farm were “hunting wilde gayme” in the surrounding forest when Indians attacked the farms of the Cowpers and made off with three women, Jessica Cowpers, Mary Cowpers, and 12 yr. old Gwendolyn Cowpers. Upon their return, the men “persued the raydin partee for a fortnyght.” Jessica Cowpers left pages of the family bible along the trail as a guide. The pages were retrieved with the women after a brief battle between the raiding indians and their persuers. The bible was sent back to England to be repaired and finally came to rest in the Cowpers Bridge Historical Society Museum.

Cowpers became Cooper a generation later when Benjamin Cowpers, a Revolutionary War veteran, left Maine to escape debtors and pursued his interests in the Northwest Territories. He was later to achieve some local fame as a minor player at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. His likeness can be seen in depictions of the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, however, it is documented that he had already left the area by the time of the signing.

A similar story from the Williams family indicates that Captain William Williams of Lancaster, OH was attached to the staff of General William Tecumseh Sherman during the period beginning late in 1864 and ending after the cessation of hostilities in 1865. The next record of Williams is an interview he gave the Lancaster paper in 1905, where he claimed to have been “out West, and down South, and up in the Yukon.” His life in the intervening years seems to have fluctuated between an attempt at stable work and home life and periods of extreme emotional disruption.

“I would get it in my head and just take up and leave.” He was quoted saying. “Sometimes I went looking for something—like the gold in Alaska. Mostly I just went off hunting.”

1910- 1952

At this point in the story we begin to have something more than simple historical facts.

Williams had married out West, left his wife after 5 years and returned to her after 3 years in the Yukon. The wife, Hanna Bergstrom Williams, had born him two sons and a daughter while they were living in Salt Lake City, Utah. William had made a nice fortune in the Yukon, come back to Salt Lake City, reconciled with his wife and then taken the family back to Lancaster. Hanna died in 1897. William then moved to our county, and remarried. This time to Jean McKay, the daughter of a childhood sweetheart. She bore him two additional sons.

By 1905 there were no recorded sightings of free-ranging whitetail deer in the state.

William Williams met Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Wayne Cooper in Port Simmons in 1912 while Williams was managing a hotel and bar in Port Simmons. In that same year, William and the Coopers bought land in what is now Roosevelt State Park and began farming deer. From a herd of five, bought from a petting zoo, Williams and the Coopers were able to grow the herd to 200 by 1925. The original plan had been to sell venison to William’s hotel. However, the operation branched out, and a small number of hotel guests were allowed to shoot their own for a premium. Some of the recipes served at camp were served at the restaurant of Williams’ Port Simmons Hotel. The place became a favorite haunt of two state Governors and numerous other state political figures.

In 1925, the state bought the Williams/Cooper herd and the land, and began to expand the operation. They also brought in other deer from private owners and by 1932, when the high fence blew down in a storm, and herd of 900 deer escaped. By 1939 there were enough deer in the surrounding counties for the state to announce its first modern deer hunting season.

William Williams died in 1929 at age 86 of exposure. He was survived by sons Ambrose and William T. Williams , both veterans of WW I. Than, another son, had not survived the war. The other Williams children appear unaccounted for after reaching adulthood.

The Cooper and the Williams families acquired the first parcel of what now forms Beaver Dam Camp from Daniel Woodward in 1931. The Woodward family had farmed the land since settling it in the 1820’s. There then started a competition between the Beaver Dam Association and the State to acquire adjoining parcels for the new Roosevelt State Park. In 1938, Erick Steinholtz of Centerville, filed suit in Federal District Court on behalf of the Beaver Dam Association to block the state from exercising eminent domain rights on several parcels on the southern boundary of the park. The Association was able to negotiate a settlement in 1940, the results of which remain sealed. As long as the Beaver Dam Association maintains a presence on the property, the state will not attempt to acquire it. In succeeding years the Beaver Dam Association, through an “associate membership program” has also thrown its arm around adjoining farm land, saving it from acquisition and conversion to non-agricultural uses.

Recent History:

Erick Steinholtz received lifetime membership in the Association in exchange for services rendered to the Association. Steinholtz and Steinholtz of Centerville maintain the trust that funds the Association and perform other legal duties for the farm. The seed money for this trust came from William William's estate.

The Woodward Family did not participate in the Association until 1960, when Dan’s son Daniel joined. Since that time, there has been active participation by Woodwards, even though none live within 200 miles. The Woodward Family reunion is held at the Dam Camp every second weekend of July.

The Strickland Family entered the Association in 1962 through a marriage between Anthony Cooper’s granddaughter Jessica and Paul Strickland. Strickland family involvement ended in 1972 with the death of Paul.

The Schnurman Family entered by way of the involvement of Ernest Schnurman beginning in 1915. “Uncle Ernie” had been a boy who worked at the Williams/Cooper farm. During the hiatus of 1925-1939, he had run the town dump of Port Simmons. He continued on in various capacities at the Association and dump until his death in 1979. Earnest Junior and Earnest III still belong to the Association.

There are several other families that play a role in the Beaver Dam Association. Membership is open to direct decendants of the following families:
Williams, Cooper, Mckay, Woodward, Strickland and Schnurman families.
Steinholtz maintains membership as compensation for their work for the Association. Other families can be allowed in by unanimous vote. The last of these was Strickland in 1962.

We are a bunch of busy little beavers, and our ranks are growing.

The Beaver Dam Camp

The Beaver Damp Deer Camp started as a wall tent thrown up in 1915, near the site of the present lodge. At the time, it was on land owned by Daniel Woodward. Logging in and around the area had ceased in the 1890’s, and the area had begun to reforest on its own. An earlier link to this location is mentioned in William William’s account of spending weeks on end in the years immediately after the Civil War, camped out in a hollow log in this valley. Williams showed the Cooper brothers the remains of his camp in 1914. His fire ring still remains. Excavation of the site in 1962 recovered a set of brass buttons and various other items from a spot where Williams said he’d buried his Civil War uniform, sword, and other items in 1867 as a way of purging himself of the memory of the war.

The original Woodward homestead is now only a pile of rubble near the camp, surrounded by the remains of an orchard. The Woodward family plot is on a hill overlooking this site. By the 1930’s the Woodwards had moved to another farm up the road.

In 1932, a picnic shelter was built where the tents had been pitched. In 1933, the stone fireplace in the “Old Lodge” was constructed as an outdoor kitchen and the picnic shelter acquired walls in 1938. The Grubhouse and indoor shower/toilet facility was built in 1952. The Bunkhouse was added in 1952, the New Lodge in 1979. There is a part of the old lodge, called Strickland’s Wall that is all that is left of Paul Strickland’s efforts to renovate and modernize the facilities in 1966-72.

Other points of interest include

Poacher’s camp: There are the remains of a home-brew pop-up camper built on the rear chassis of a Ford Truck in the Woodward Orchard. It was put there by three men in 1968, pursuant to a quick after-season poaching trip. Ernie Schnurrman caught them as he was coming out to shut down camp just after New Year’s 1969. The bumper of their 1967 Ford Country Squire, complete with intact bumper hitch is still attached. We are not sure what Ernie did to convince them to leave so quickly.

The Quarry: Bob McKay left several nice craters in this old rock quarry as permanent testament to his abilities as a child prodigy in the realm of explosives. The quarry now serves as our shooting range.

There is a place on the back end of the property that adjoins the original Williams/Cooper deer farm. In spots, there is still signs of a high fence. At one spot in the fenceline, there is a place where the fence broke during a summer storm in 1932. There is some speculation that the tree that fell on the fence was actually pulled down by the Cooper boys and a team of borrowed mules. Ernie Schnurrman, the Elder once admitted he was the one that skinnied up the tree and attached the chain.

William William’s Grave: It is a story that William William’s grave is on the property. Supposedly the Cooper boys found him dead of exposure after a bad snowstorm. Some accounts have Williams out camping in the blizzard. Other accounts claim the Coopers knew he was going out to expose himself and die. One of Cooper’s sons claimed his father and uncle stole the body and sent a box of rocks back to Lancaster, Ohio. Coop Cooper put a headstone at the clearing in the woods where he believed the location to be. There is now a slight depression in the ground. For some, this is hallowed ground.

The Benjamin Cowpers (Cooper) Homestead was part of the Woodward farm since the 1840’s. All that is is left is a foundation and a chimney. It is a roadside picnic area along the State Highway with a nice historical marker. The inscription reads in part:

Benajamin Cowpers AKA Ben Cooper (1762 -1851)

Cowpers is a veteran of the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Fallen Timbers and was a close friend of Mad Anthony Wayne. After the Indian Wars, he came to this county and settled in a farmstead on these grounds. In 1817 he founded The Society of Lost Souls, a fraternal organization of surviving war veterans. This society lasted until 1879. Its first and last meetings were held in Port Simmons. At its height, the organization hosted a membership of 30,000 Lost Souls nationwide. However, interest in the organization began to wane in the 1850’s after the death of Cowpers. It was revived for a while after the Civil War by returning veterans under the patronage of General William T. Sherman.

This plaque was placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, August 1957

There is a solemn toast made at every evening meal at Beaver Dam Camp.
Glasses are raised to "Lost souls, wherever they may be." The leader of the toast then adds: "May they sleep soundly tonight." This is the only known remaining practice of the rite left in the world.

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