The Passenger Pigeon/Chapter XIX
TTHE earliest mention of the wild pigeon I have been able to find is the following, taken from Forest and Stream, to which it was contributed by F. C. Browne, Framingham, Mass. It is from an old print entitled, "Two Voyages to New England, Made During the Years 1638-63," by John Josselyn, Gent. Published in 1674. I am not so fortunate as to possess an original copy. This extract is from the Boston reprint of 1865, and is from the "Second Voyage" (1663), which has a full account of the wild beasts, birds and fishes of the new settlement:
"The Pidgeons, of which there are millions of millions. I have seen a flight of Pidgeons in the Spring, and at Michaelmas when they return back to the Southward, for four or five miles, that to my thinking had neither beginning nor ending, length nor breadth, and so thick that I could see no Sun. They join Nest to Nest and Tree to Tree by their Nests many miles together in Pine-Trees. I have bought at Boston a dozen Pidgeons ready pulled and garbidged for three pence. But of late they are much diminished, the English taking them with Nets."
It will be noted that the wild pigeons began to be "much diminished" even at that early date.
The following extract is from the journal of the voyage of Father Gravier in the year 1700:
"Through the Country of the Illinois to the Mouth of the Mississippi."
Under date of October 7th he says:
"Below the mouth of the Ouabache (meaning the Wabash River), we saw such a great quantity of wild pigeons that the air was darkened and quite covered by them."
The journal of Alexander Henry, the younger, written in August, 1800, states that large numbers of wild pigeons were seen and used for food by his party. This was at a point on the Red River not far north of what is now Grand Forks, N. D.
The Passenger Pigeon found a place in a book called "Quebec and Its Environments; Being a Picturesque Guide to the Stranger." Printed by Thomas Cary & Co., Freemasons' Hall, Buade Street, 1831. A rare copy was found in the library of the late Charles Dean, having been purchased by him while visiting Quebec in 1841. It is now in the possession of Ruthven Deane of Chicago. I quote from this old guide-book as follows:"At one period of the year numerous and immense flights of pigeons visit Canada, when the population make a furious war against them both by guns and nets;
they supply the inhabitants with a material part of their subsistence, and are sold in the market at Quebec remarkably cheap, often as low as a shilling per dozen, and sometimes even at a less rate. It appears that the pigeon prefers the loftiest and most leafless tree to settle on. In addition to the natural beauty of St. Ann and its environs, the process by which the inhabitants take the pigeons is worth remarking. Upon the loftiest tree, long bare poles are slantingly fixed; small pieces of wood are placed transversely across this pole, upon which the birds crowd; below, in ambush, the sportsman with a long gun enfilades the whole length of the pole, and, when he fires, few if any escape. Innumerable poles are prepared at St. Ann for this purpose. The other method they have of taking them is by nets, by which means they are enabled to preserve them alive, and kill them occasionally for their own use or for the market, when it has ceased to be glutted with them. Behind Madam Fontane's this sport may be seen in perfection. The nets, which are very large, are placed at the end of an avenue of trees (for it appears the pigeons choose an avenue to fly down); opposite a large tree, upon erect poles two nets are suspended, one facing the avenue, the other the tree; another is placed over them, which is fixed at one end, and supported by pulleys and two perpendicular poles at the opposite; a man is hid in a small covered house under the tree, with a rope leading from the pulleys in his hand. Directly the pigeons fly against the perpendicular nets, he pulls the rope, when the top net immediately falls and incloses the whole flock; by this process vast numbers are taken."
"Tanner's Narrative," a story (authentic) of thirty years among the Indians, published in 1830, refers frequently to great numbers of pigeons, and gives their range from the Kentucky, Big Miami and Ohio Rivers to Lake Winnipeg, or "The Lake of Dirty Waters."
Mr. Osborn further adds: "Tanner was a United States Indian interpreter at the Soo."
William Glazier made a trip to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in 1881 and wrote a book entitled "Down the Mississippi River." In three different places in this book he mentions seeing wild pigeons. In one place he says that a small flock of pigeons dropped down in the tops of some tall pines near him.
In Hayden's Survey Report, Interior Department, as given in Coues' "Birds of the Northwest," 1874, it is mentioned that wild pigeons were found on the Pacific coast, and Cooper reports them in the Rocky Mountains. [High authority, but it must have referred to the band-tailed pigeon.—W. B. M.]
From the foregoing chapters I have summarized the latest reports of the presence of the wild pigeon in its former haunts. These instances have been reported as follows:
N. W. Judy & Co., St. Louis, Mo., the largest dealers in poultry and game in that section, said, in 1895, they had had no wild pigeons for two years; the last they received were from Siloam Springs, Ark. This would mean that they were on the market during the season of 1893. Until 1890 frequent reports were recorded of pigeons seen singly, in pairs and in small flocks.
In 1891 Mr. F. M. Woodruff, Assistant Curator of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, secured a pair at Lake Forest, Ill.
A nest with two eggs and two birds were collected by C. B. Brown of Chicago in the spring of 1893 at English Lake, Ind.
In September, 1893, three were reported in Lake County, Ill.
In April of the same year, a male pigeon was reported as having been seen in Lincoln Park, Ill,
Mr. R. W. Stafford of Chicago, Ill., reported seeing a flock in the latter part of September, 1894, at Marengo, Ill.
Mr. John L. Stockton, Highland Park, Ill., reported that while trout fishing on the Little Oconto River, Wis., early in June, 1895, he saw a flock of ten pigeons for several consecutive days near his camp.
A young female was killed at Lake Forest, Ill., in August, 1895.
In October, 1895, Dr. Ernest Copeland of Milwaukee killed one in Delta, Northern Peninsula, Mich.
On December 17, 1896, C. N. Holden, Jr., while hunting quail in Oregon County, Mo., observed a flock of about fifty birds.
Chief Pokagon reports there was a small nesting of pigeons near the head waters of the Au Sable River in Michigan, during the spring of 1896.
A. Fugleburg of Oshkosh, Wis., reports that on the morning of August 14, 1897, he saw a flock of pigeons flying over Lake Winnebago from Fisherman's Island to Stony Brook. This flock was followed by six more flocks containing from thirty-five to eighty pigeons each. The same observer reports that on September 2, 1897, a friend of his reported having seen a flock of about twenty-five near Lake Butte des Mortes, Wis.
W. F. Rightmire reports that while driving along the highway north of Cook, Johnson County, Neb., August 18, 1897, he saw a flock of seventy-five to one hundred birds; some feeding on the ground, others perched in the trees.
A. B. Covert of Ann Arbor, President at one time of the Michigan Ornithological Club, reports seeing stray birds during 1892 and 1894, and states also that on October 1, 1898, he saw a flock of 200 and watched them nearly all day.
T. E. Douglas of Grayling reports seeing a flock of ten near West Branch, Mich., in 1895, and in 1900 he saw three on one of the branches of the Au Sable River in Michigan.
In 1897 C. S. Osborn of Sault Ste Marie reported having seen a single wild bird flying with the tame pigeons around the town.
In 1897 or 1898 C. E. Jennison of Bay City saw six or seven at Thunder Bay Island near Alpena, Mich.
In 1900 Neal Brown of Wausau, Wis., killed one near Babcock, Wis., in September.
George King of Otsego County, Mich., in 1900 saw a flock of one dozen or more birds on the Black River, and he says he heard two "holler" in 1902, but was unable to find them. In May, 1905, he is certain he saw six near Vanderbilt, Mich.
John Burroughs reports that a friend of his, Charles W. Benton, saw a large flock of wild pigeons near Prattsville, Greene County, N. Y., in April, 1906.
EARLY LEGISLATION TO SAVE THE PIGEON
Wild pigeons were used largely by trap-shooters for tournaments. In 1881, 20,000 of them were killed in one of these trap-shooting butcheries on Coney Island, N. Y. The following editorial protest against this outrage appeared in Forest and Stream, July 14, 1881:
Mr. Bergh's Anti-Pigeon Bill.—Just as we go to press we learn that the Senate has passed the bill prepared by Mr. Henry Bergh prohibiting the trap-shooting of pigeons. The bill awaits Governor Cornell's signature before becoming a law. Its provisions are:
Section 1. Any person who shall keep or use any live pigeon, fowl, or other bird or animal for the purpose of a target or to be shot at either for amusement or as a test of skill in marksmanship, and any person who shall shoot at any pigeon, fowl, or other bird or animal, as aforesaid, or be a party to any such shooting of any pigeon, fowl or other bird or animal; and any person who shall rent any building, shed, room, yard, field, or other premises, or shall suffer or permit the use of any building, shed, room, yard, field, or other premises for the purpose of shooting any pigeon, fowl, or other bird or animal, as aforesaid, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Section 2. Nothing herein contained shall apply to the shooting of any wild game in its wild state.
The bill is a direct and not wholly unexpected result of the Coney Island pigeon-killing tournament of the New York State Association for the Protection of Fish and Game. Had the sport of pigeon shooting been confined to individual clubs of gentlemen testing their skill at the traps, it is doubtful if the matter ever would have received, as it would not have merited, public attention. But when a society, which organized ostensibly for the protection of game, treats the public to such a spectacle as that at Coney Island, neglects the matter with which it should be concerned and devotes 20,000 pigeons brought from their nesting ground to its wholesale slaughter, its members can hardly look for any other public sentiment than exactly that feeling which has been aroused. An afternoon's shoot at a few pigeons, and a ten days' shoot at unlimited numbers of helpless birds—many of them squabs, unable to fly, and others too exhausted to do so—are regarded by the public as two very different things.