Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/248

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To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

SIR: A singular natural phenomenon has recently come under my observation. As I have never heard of it before, and as it appears almost incredible to all who have heard me speak of it, I thought it well to give it publicity through the columns of your monthly.

During the present month, while out on a scouting expedition, I spent three days in Deep Spring Valley, a lonely place in the White Mountains in Inyo County, California. During one day of my stay, the 5th of March, I found that the Indians were catching wild aquatic birds of all sorts in Deep Spring Lake by simply wading into the water and seizing them with the hands. The birds, at that time, had their plumage so heavily coated with a saline compound that they were totally unable to fly, and thus fell an easy prey to the savages. On inquiry, I was told that this salt formed on the birds' breasts and wings, so as to prevent flight, only during a very short season of the year, and then under a peculiar combination of circumstances. The season lasts from about the first of March to the middle of April, and the birds can only be caught from dawn until about nine o'clock in the day, when the previous night has been perfectly clear, with a gentle wind from the north. The birds are then found in the southern part of the lake, incrusted with the salt. On the first night that I spent there the sky was cloudy and the wind was from the north; on the third night the sky was clear and the wind was from the south, and no ducks were caught on the following morning; and from my own observation I can say that none were incrusted. But during the second night of my stay the conditions were exactly favorable, and ducks were caught in abundance next day. In 1875 I visited the same locality in the month of December, and neither heard nor saw anything of this mode of catching water-fowl.

I weighed one duck immediately after it was caught, with all the incrustation intact, and again when the salts were cleaned off, and found that the latter weighed six pounds. The duck seemed to have been drowned by its burden; its eyes and bill were completely closed by a large lump of the salt.

Some small fresh streams enter the lake at the northern end; and on the favorable nights the Indians take the precaution to build fires and hang out cloths at the mouths of these streams, to prevent any of the ducks from entering the fresher water and thus

having the salty incrustation dissolved or washed off. During these favorable nights, also, the Indians collect on the southeastern shore of the lake and perform a duck-dance, in which they artistically imitate the motions, habits, and calls, of different kinds of water-fowl. Throughout my entire sojourn on the shores of the lake, its shallow waters were rendered turbid by the wind; but they were equally turbid with a south as with a north wind.

As the lake of which I speak is the only one known to these Indians where ducks may be caught in this manner, it may be well to describe it more particularly. It lies in a desert valley, 6,200 feet above the sea. It is about one mile in length from north to south, and about three-quarters of a mile wide from east to west. Its average depth does not exceed three feet, although there are a few deeper holes in it. The land around is sandy, and covered with "sage-brush." During the past summer the Indians took from the bottom of the lake several tons of salt, which was sold to quartz-mills in this neighborhood as chloride of sodium, sufficiently pure to be used in the reduction of ores. It is said that the amount obtained in two days was fourteen tons; but this estimate may be taken, in more senses than one, cum grano salts.

I send you a specimen of the salt, which I gathered myself from one of the ducks, and am very anxious that you would have it analyzed. W. W. Wotherspoon,

Lieutenant Twelfth U.S. Infantry. Camp Independence, Into Co., Cal., I March 15, 1877.

The following analysis, made by Dr. Elwyn Waller, of the School of Mines, Columbia College, gives the composition of the deposit above referred to:

Sulphate of soda[1] 57.37 per cent.
Sulphate of potash 8.09 "
Chloride of potassium 0.82 "
Carbonate of lime 2.24 "
Carbonate of magnesia 2.50 "
Sand and clay 10.41 "
Moisture 16.30 "
Bicarbonate of soda (trace) "
Organic matter 2.32 "


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

Prof. Tyndall's lecture on "The Relation of Fermentation to Putrefaction and

  1. Calculated from the data afforded by the weight of the combined sulphates, and a determination of the sulphuric acid present.