Last year, the Monroe County Historical Society received an unusual donation. Descendants of James Cephus Fox turned over a set of 10-point antlers from a white-tailed deer reputedly taken by their illustrious ancestor in 1848 or 1849. The antlers must have been uncommonly well cared for. They don’t look a day over 100.
The artifact is of particular interest to Monroe County historians. The man who bagged the bragging buck was the founder of Paris, Mo., the county seat. His father, Ezra, was the first European settler in what today is Monroe County. Documentation of the antlers’ provenance is a mite thin. Nevertheless, the story certainly is enough to set the average hunter’s mind wandering.
What was Monroe County like in the mid-19th century? Did elk bugle in its valleys each fall? Did the occasional bison still roam its fertile prairies? Was this wide, graceful rack typical of deer of that era? Within a century, Missouri’s deer would be wiped out except in a few remote Ozarks refuges. But at that time, game was still plentiful enough to be shipped to markets in St. Louis. We can only guess how common deer of this caliber might have been in 1849.
More is known about the Fox family. Monroe County Historical Society President Nancy Stone gathered much of what is known about J.C. Fox and published it in the Monroe County Quarterly, the historical society’s newsletter. That item records that he was born in 1802, which would have meant he was middle-aged when he shot his big buck.
At that period of history, hunters were using muzzle-loading rifles charged with black powder and round lead balls. Rifles using percussion caps had just replaced flintlocks, making firearms much more reliable and practical for hunting in all kinds of weather. Within Fox’s lifetime (he died in 1878), percussion caps were incorporated into brass cartridges combining primer, powder charge and bullet into a single unit and launching the era of modern, breech-loading and repeating firearms.
Hunting with a muzzleloader might seem like a handicap to modern-day deer hunters, but the art of firearms manufacture was well-developed by the mid-19th century, and skilled marksmen with quality muzzleloaders had no trouble getting game. Venison surely must have graced the Fox family’s dinner table frequently.
Fox was a successful Paris merchant and pillar of his community. His many descendants now are scattered across the country. Three returned to Paris last year. Dan Fox and his son Kevin journeyed from Texas to meet with Dan’s brother, Jim Fox, of Jefferson City, at the Monroe County Historical Society Research Center. They brought the storied antlers and shared genealogical research on the Fox family.
Do you have any trophies with family stories?