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