July 28, 2011

Market hunting, poisoning wolves, and invasive species

An apparent market hunter in Hall County, Nebraska in the 1890s with his
large take of prairie-chickens.  Such hunters often shipped their goods to
Chicago via the railroad.  Photo available in the collections of the
Stuhr Museum in Grand Island; scan made from a photocopy.  
Some readers will remember that I'm spending odd hours (my 'free time') scouring libraries, historical societies, and museums for material that I eventually hope to place in a book.  This past week, I spent an afternoon in the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, NE.  I knew they had some good archives and I wasn't disappointed.  I want to share with you the passage below, found in the book "History of the First Settlement in Hall County, Nebraska" written by William Stolley in 1907. 

Mr. Stolley was a founder of the settlement in the 1850's and wrote his book in German.  It was translated to English in 1946 and published as a special edition of the Nebraska History Magazine.

To set the stage, I had been trying in vain to find information and photos about market hunting in the late 1800s in Nebraska.  This passage was pure gold for me.  I also found a separate photo (not in his book) that is the first photo I've seen of a market hunter in Nebraska.  It was a good afternoon in the research room! 

Towards the end of his book, Mr. Stolley writes this reflection on the change in fauna that he has seen since moving to Nebraska--over a span of 50 years.  I've added some notes in [brackets] in the following direct quote from the book:

Especially in the case of wild fowl has so-called 'civilized society', which crowded out the Indians, demonstrated that it must have descended from vandals.  They kill, destroy, and shoot at them until there is nothing left to shoot.

All rivers and creeks were alive with beaver, otter, mink, muskrats and raccoons, along with various kinds of geese, ducks, pelicans, swans, and other water birds.  These birds of passage appeared by the thousands every spring and fall.  Cranes, gray and white [sandhill and whooping], and several species of wood cocks [perhaps referencing snipe, curlews, and/or sandpipers] were seen in large flocks.  All this had changed entirely in the fifty years that have passed since the founding of our settlement.  The above-mentioned birds and animals who great multitudes gave the land its peculiar character and appeal in those early days [I just love that line] have decreased in numbers to almost the vanishing point.

On the other hand, it must be affirmed that the world of song and other small birds has increased enormously, probably due to the plantings of woods and shrubs which offer them a better opportunity for building nests.

Prairie chickens and quail also are more numerous than they were in the early years.  They multiplied very rapidly, as wolves and foxes were greatly decimated in a few years by poisoning [it should be pointed out that Mr. Stolley provides evidence, earlier in the book, that he poisoned about 10 wolves during one night, using strychnine wrapped in buffalo meat; the wolves were attempting to scavenge on a buffalo he had shot for meat in 1859].  Later, when the railroad reached us, the flocks of prairie chickens and quail were cleaned up in a few years [market hunters sent thousands of birds to Chicago and other destinations on the trains] so that game laws were necessary to prevent their complete extermination.  Now, these birds, so useful to the farmer, are again increasing rapidly in numbers.

That is a question which arises involuntarily in my mind.  If things go on in as insenseless a manner as in the past, then of the wild fowl, probably only the European sparrow will remain.  [and here is where this really takes an interesting turn!]  I imported the birds from New York early in May, 1876, in the hope of using them to combat migratory grasshoppers.  For 24 years since I set free five pair of these sparrows on our farm, they have proven themselves worthy representatives of their tribe, and seem to be ever mindful of the command of their Creator, "be fruitful and multiply."

When fifty more years have passed into oblivion and all wildfowl can only be seen as mounted specimens in museums, I hope that the hotels and restaurants in Grand Island will still serve delicious sparrow pie at a reasonable price.
Some blog experts suggest that the number of hits on an blog is related to 'catch phrases' that are picked up by search engines.  If it's the case, then this blog title may get a couple of hits for me...


  1. hello friends hello admim how are you.?? ı m from turkey in ankara ı working hunting shop everybody thanks

  2. I see this was written a few years ago. I appreciate your work and enjoy reading this piece.

    Thank you and i look forward to finding your book on the shelves.