17 February 2010

Affray Between Whooping Crane and Farmer in Historic Tennessee

This is such an interesting and unique account of a Whooping Crane, in this case dealing with a farmer along the Hatchee River in Tennessee, that the original article is presented in its entirety, as first published in the Cincinnati Chronicle in 1832. The crane had probably been injured or wounded and suffered a fate best described by the narrative.

Novel Combat With a Bird.

By a friend residing in Tennessee, we have been politely favored with the following account of a fierce and extraordinary contest, between a man and a bird which occurred on the banks of the Hatcheee, not far distant from Bolivar. The gentleman to whom we are indebted for this narrative, is one of unimpeachable veracity. It is, perhaps, considering the character of the combatants, as unique and bloody a battle, as can be found on record.

"About three months since, a farmer living four or five miles up the Hatchee, was searching on the bottom land of that river, for strayed cattle, when he observed something of unusual appearance pass through the thicket, which he pursued, and soon discovered to be a large bird. The bird attempted to rise, but its wings becoming impeded by the bushes or cane, had no chance to get off that way, and finding itself gained upon by its pursuer, it turned upon him. Somewhat surprised by this unexpected attack, he started to run from it — tript and fell : the bird dashed at him, with wings, beak and claws; and the man found it necessary to turn immediately on his face; but finding himself sorely annoyed by his antagonist, and his knife-blade coming out of the haft, (a shoe-knife,) he scrambled up and ran, the bird pursued but a short distance, stopping at his hat, (which had fallen off in the flight,) on which he commenced a ferocious attack : after which he returned towards the water. A man of more than six feet high, and weighing about 180 lbs. to be beaten by a bird! — this would not do to tell. The blade of the knife was searched for, found, and fitted to the handle, and two sticks cut, one with a fork, to yoke the enemy's neck in his advance, - the other to strike him with. The bird was soon found, and nothing loth, returned to the combat. The onset of the feathered biped was so severe and sudden, that the forked stick missed his neck, and only a sudden movement of the head, probably saved an eye of the man from the bill of the bird. The struggle now became most violent for the man had seized the bird by the neck, while the bird dealt him such blows with his wings, and so tore him with his claws, that a very coarse shirt was literally torn off his back. At last the bird was strangled, and lay apparently lifeless at the feet of the conqueror. — While, however, he was taking breath and rest after his toil, his feathered enemy fell unexpectedly again upon him — having now revived : another struggle ensued — the coup de col was resorted to a second time, with success; and the bird being again strangled, his adversary gnawed his windpipe in two, having lost his knife, and being completely tired of his contest.

"This is an interesting fact to ornithologists, and the curious generally. The bird was purely white, except at the head of the wings — head bald — a bunch of feathers over the rump — bill 9 or 10 inches long - eight feet high — wings 9 feet from tip to tip — legs and feet resembling a turkey's, but stout — large knees and thighs — its cry very harsh, resembling as my informant says, that of a jack ass! He declares 'its braying was right frightful.' I have conversed with several persons who saw the bird after it was dead one of whom has brought me several feathers, which are bright and beautiful, and promised me a wing, both of which have been preserved; but the body, unfortunately, was left for the hogs to destroy. The body and face of the man were examined two months after the battle, by a respectable physician of this place, and he asserts that the wounds strongly corroborated the story. I have no doubt of the facts. The bird was undoubtedly the whooping crane.

"Bolivar Ten., July 10, 1832."
Included with the article was the account for the whooping crane, Grus Americana as published in the Encyclopedia Americana.

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