27 January 2012

Newspaper Reports of Wild Pigeons 1843-1850

Chronicles of wild pigeons are prevalent on the pages of historic newspapers. Stories of various length typically revolve around the flights of the immense flocks, and anecdotes of shootists and others. It was death and mayhem in many ways.

The news also conveys considerate details on the occurrence of the Passenger Pigeon several decades before it was to become extinct. It is all essential elements of a bird species which now has nothing but a history.

An article representative of the era is about a Wisconsin roost, where the term "innumerable" applied, and which conveyed subsequent results.

"A Mr. McDowell came to our office yesterday, and told us that there is an immense Pigeon Roost in the forks of the Musquoketa in Jackson county, such as has never been seen in this country before -- it is three miles long, and half a mile in width. There can be no estimate of their numbers. Their roosting places are about a mile distant from their nests and feeding places, being three in number, and each one covering a section of land! and in passing to and fro, they darken the air with their number, and break down young trees with their weight, and hundreds are killed by getting entangled in the falling limbs and branches. The people kill them with clubs, and the noise is so loud that when a gun is fired amongst them, the report cannot be heard -- and a person can stand in one place and shoot all day, the birds returning as soon as you can load. They are building their nests, and the people are much alarmed, lest they may destroy their crops." — May 1843

Another great pigeon roost was also notable, in Illinois.

"There is one now, about sixteen miles north of this place, near Kirkersville, Licking county; which, it is said, covers a tract of five miles in diameter, and which has been visited by many of our citizens. We noticed a wagon in our market yesterday morning; loaded with live pigeons, brought from the same place." — June 1843

Later in the same year, on October 26th, 1843, near Canton, Ohio, many hundreds were taken. The "Repository" noted that several parties of sportsmen went in pursuit. One party "killed 1100, another 1000, another 900, and several others from 5 to 600. The game was afterwards distributed gratis to the citizens of Canton.

In 1844, near Nashville, Tennessee in October, flights were going over the city: ..."the skies have been literally hid from the view by immense flocks of wild pigeons -- so heavy that they can only be computed by square miles and acres."

On the morning of February 21, 1847, wrote a writer for the Cincinnati Chronicle: "the whole southern horizon was covered with pigeons, which continued to move on over the face of the skies, in squadrons of various magnitude, forming an innumerable army of this prolific bird. They were moving northwardly, as the Spring approaches." A followup report indicated the immense flight continued, and noting that woods of nearby Kentucky were also filled with these birds.

The report for a roost on the lower Licking River indicated: "...the fields around are strewn with the dead and wounded birds which have escaped the search of their destroyers."

The Sunbury, Penn. market had a vast supply in the spring of 1850.

"During the past week, large quantities of pigeons were flying. Many have been taken by our farmers and others, fond of the sport. Live pigeons have been selling from 37½ to 50 cents per dozen. Dead ones as low as 18¾ cents per dozen."

Easton also had a vast supply in their market. One state paper reported the capture of seventy dozen in two hauls with a net, near Upper Mount Bethel.

It was a busy time for the bird hunters, as indicated by this account from someone at Laurel, Indiana:

"I am completely worn down. the pigeons are roosting all through the woods, and the roosts extend for miles. Our neighbors and ourselves have for several nights built large fires and keep up reports of fire-arms to scare them off.
"While I write, within a quarter of a mile, there are thirty guns firing; the pigeons come in such large quantities as to destroy a great deal of timber, break limbs of large trees and even tear up some of the roots. The woods are covered with dead pigeons, and the hogs, are getting fat on them. Our old friend Hetrich, formerly of Baltimore killed fifty at four shots." — April 1850

In York, Penn., a Mr. Herbert arrived in town on Monday "with a wagon loaded with about 700 wild pigeons, which had been taken with a net." Someone else near Lancaster had taken about two thousand with a net.

The paper also reported on a "dreadful accident" where Wm. Emmons and Augustus Judon went out after some pigeons. The returned to the store in town, and when going through "military evolutions with two guns," supposedly not loaded. Judon pointed a gun at Emmons, pulled the trigger. A unexpected bullet pierced the latter's head, above the left eye. The 23-year-old was survived by his mother and younger brother.