Jul 19, 2020

Ridge Historical Society

The history of Dan Ryan Woods – Part 3: The Sherman Farm at Forest Hill
By Carol Flynn

John B. Sherman of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company purchased the land that is now the Dan Ryan Woods in 1872 and used it as a livestock farm. Railroad tracks were laid to connect the stockyards and the farm. The farm was referred to as Sherman’s “laboratory.” 

Prize cattle and hogs were bred there or brought in for breeding. The cattle grazed on the farm’s meadows. Other parts of the farm were used for hay crops, and the section west of Western Ave. and north of 87th Street included an apple orchard.
Sherman won many awards for the size of his livestock. Prize animals were slaughtered, and cuts of meat given to his friends at Christmas and other times. Some of the more famous steers had their heads mounted for display at the stockyards.
Veterinary medicine experiments were also conducted there. In 1888, Sherman allowed some of his healthy cattle to be placed in a pen with cattle from Texas infected with “Texas fever” to see if the disease was contagious. All of Sherman’s cattle became infected. It later was determined the disease was caused by a parasite transferred by cattle ticks, which were eventually eradicated.
Sherman was described as a “venerable gentleman farmer” when at the farm on “a high ridge covered with oak and hickory trees.” He used the farm for social events. One newspaper in 1883 reported that the twelfth annual clam bake of the Union Stock Yard was held at the farm, with over 100 guests. At another time, he offered a night of dog-fighting and chicken-fighting for his guests.
There were a number of stories in the papers through the years about the farm. Wolves in transit to a menagerie escaped and were found in the woods at the Farm. Of course, wolves were once plentiful in the area but the settlers had hunted them all down a half century before. Other stories included a cow stolen from the farm, and the enormous hay crops produced in the fields there.
One curious story from 1902 involved John Andrews, 46, the manager of the farm. A calf had been attacked by a wild dog and developed rabies in 1898, four years before. While helping the calf, Andrews’ hand and arm were scratched. He showed no signs of being infected with rabies at the time, but he had “never been free from the dread that the disease might appear.” Now, four years later, he was bitten by a hog which gave him a “severe shock to his nervous system” and brought on the symptoms he had feared - “barking like a dog, snapping at his attendants, and fearing water.”
It was supposed this was acute hydrophobia, or rabies, that dated back to the incident four years earlier. After two weeks, his physicians pronounced him fully recovered. This was brought to the attention of the medical community as a rare survival from supposed rabies. [Note: Rabies, a viral disease, can actually have an incubation period of over six years. Inflammation of the brain can cause hallucinations and abnormal behavior. Once the symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal. If this really was rabies, and not a different illness or a psychosomatic illness, it was indeed a remarkable recovery.]

Another story was that in 1897, the mounted militia of the Illinois National Guard set up camp for several days and held maneuvers at 95th and Western. The ground used for drilling was a newly mown meadow of forty acres on the Sherman Farm. It was reported that the public – especially young ladies - enjoyed visiting the camp and watching the events.
Next installment: Murder comes to Sherman’s Farm

Thanks to Christine Leo who posted this on Facebook at:

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