Henry Traber’s Impossibly Surviving Trilobite

Did Henry Traber really pull a living trilobite from the Great Miami River in 1875? Was it only a fisherman’s fable? Or did Traber capture some unknown creature from the muddy stream?

This antique plate from Sir Roderick Impey Murchison’s widely popular book, Siluria, illustrates the sort of trilobites found preserved in the rocks near Hamilton. There has not been a living trilobite for hundreds of millions of years.
This antique plate from Sir Roderick Impey Murchison’s widely popular book, Siluria, illustrates the sort of trilobites found preserved in the rocks near Hamilton. There has not been a living trilobite for hundreds of millions of years.

From Siluria: A History of the Oldest Fossiliferous Rocks and Their Foundations By Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, Digitzed by Google, Image extracted from PDF by Greg Hand

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer [24 October 1875], Traber really did pull something very unusual out of the Great Miami while on a fishing trip, with several witnesses.

“Traber, feeling a gentle pull at his line, waited for a time for a spinning of his reel, drew in his line, found on his hook that which neither of the party could recognize as belonging to the finny tribe.”

Accompanying Traber on this excursion were three other men: Jervis Hargitt, David Yeakle, and H.A. Dilge. All, including Traber, were residents of Hamilton, and all were Democrats and courthouse cronies. Hargitt was an attorney. Dilge worked in the auditor’s office. Yeakle was county treasurer. Traber, a former treasurer, had found himself a sinecure as the court house janitor.

The quartet met at the Court House and walked down to the banks of the Miami, near the West Hamilton Hydraulic Dam. Hargitt and Yeakle were out for bass, and baited their hooks with minnows. Traber and Dilge were after catfish and used liver and crawfish.

Fishing was good. By the end of the day, they had caught nearly 96 pounds of fish, with Yeakle’s string totaling 27 pounds, 3 ounces; Hargitt’s 24 pounds, 9 ounces; Traber’s 22 pounds, 13 ounces; and Dilge’s 22 pounds, 5 ounces. Although Dilge’s total was smallest, he had reeled in an 11-pound catfish. Yeakle had a 7-pound bass and Traber a 7-pound buffalo.

But there was Traber’s strange catch.

“Traber said that it had the appearance of a trilobite, its back very much resembling the kidney of a beef. It was brought to the city in a living condition, and examined by gentlemen versed in natural history and geology, who say that it is a trilobite, which can be seen by the curious in its natural element (water) at Reutti’s dining-saloon.”

Now, Herman Reutti’s Saloon and Restaurant, located at the corner of High and Front streets in Hamilton, had undoubtedly witnessed a great many unusual occurrences in its day. But, a living trilobite?

It is generally accepted that trilobites went extinct at the end of the Permian Period, around 250 million years ago. It is also generally accepted that no trilobite ever resembled a beef kidney. Trilobites are arthropods, related to lobsters and crabs. They had hard shells. Although trilobites did not have claws, maybe Henry Traber caught a large crawfish. Or, maybe, it was all a joke. Stephen D. Cone’s 1896 Biographical and Historical Sketches, A Narrative of Hamilton and Its Residents, describes Traber thusly:

“Mr. Traber was a whole-souled, genial man and could entertain a crowd to perfection with his repertoire of funny stories.”

Maybe this was just one of his funny stories. Was his unusual catch really investigated by “gentlemen versed in natural history and geology,” or was that an ironic assertion?

Keep in mind that, although this article appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer, it was not written by an Enquirer reporter. The article was written by Henry Traber himself, identified as the historian of Hamilton Fishing Club No. 1. The Enquirer ran the piece as part of its regular column of Hamilton news.

Henry Traber eventually left Hamilton to live near his daughter in New York. The Hamilton Fishing Club gave way to better government in Butler County. Herman Reutti’s restaurant is no more.

And no one remembers what became of Henry Traber’s trilobite.

This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities

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