13 March 2012

Accounts of White Cranes on the Plains

Among the historic chronicles there is an occasional mention of the white crane. Most times it refers to the demise of these large birds, and a few details of how it occurred.

With some of the accounts, there may be enough to indicate that the white crane was the Whooping Crane. One item of particular significance was the bird's wingspan. Cranes and egrets have the following length from tip to tip of the wings:

Whooping Crane: 7.5 feet
Sandhill Crane: 7 feet
Great Blue Heron: 5.5 to 6.5 feet
Great Egret: 55 inches

With this measurement known, it is possible that among the following news accounts, there are previously unknown records indicating the occurrence of the large Whooping Crane. Other details are also helpful in making an evaluation.


"A white crane was recently caught at Hickory Grove, Iowa and on its bill there was a young turtle firmly fastened. The bird was a huge specimen, measuring seven feet from tip to tip, but it was almost starved to death. While stalking around on the prairie it had stuck its bill completely through a small turtle, but could not get the turtle off again, and in this condition had remained for days. When discovered it was fed, but it died within two days." — June 24, 1880; Saline County Journal 10(21): 4.
"Two large sea birds or cranes, white as the driven snow, sailed over the city this forenoon with tail feathers pointing northward." — August 10, 1881. Waco Evening News 1(24): 3. In the City News column.
"Mr. C.H. Crawford succeeded in shooting a large white crane a few days ago. As a practical shootist our friend C. is hard to beat." — April 9, 1884; New Ulm Review 7(14): 3. From Minnesota.
"Mr. George Sheidle, one of our old settlers, shot a white crane of a very rare kind on his place southwest of town. He presented it to I. Niemoller. It measured from tip to tip of wings, 7 feet, six inches, from beak to tip of claw, 5 feet, 9 inches; weight 16 pounds.— May 7, 1884; Columbus Journal 15(2): 3. From Nebraska

This bird report was included in the Platte Center community news column as submitted by "T" the correspondent. It is another example of a likely report of the whooping crane.

"Wm. Walker has a white crane that measures ten feet from tip to tip of wings." — May 20, 1885. Columbus Journal 16(4): 3. From Nebraska.

This locality is near the central Platte River, a known migratory stopover for the big cranes.

"A large white crane is on exhibition in the window of a Lincoln drug store. The bird was found on the prairie north of that city by W. Messenger, who dispatched it with his buggy whip, it having been previously wounded by hunters, evidently. It measured 8½ feet from tip to tip of wing, and has been mounted." — May 20, 1886, McCook Tribune 4(51): 2. From Nebraska.
"All crops look fine over the Frisco, and consequently everybody feels good. Today an immense white crane was killed two miles southwest of Leon by Mr. Pettitt and brought to town. It was a beautiful specimen of the long-legged family. An Eagle representative was in town and as the folks thought him somewhat of a bird man they presented it to him. It will be prepared and stuffed." — July 12, 1889; Wichita Eagle 11(47): 1. From Kansas.


"Lemuel S. Bennett living on the farm of W.D. Wyman three miles east of Cambria last week shot a large white sand hill crane on the ponds near his house. It measured seven feet six inches from tips of wings, stood five feet six inches in height and weighed eighteen pounds; this is the largest one ever captured by any one in this vicinity and was therefore quite a curiosity. — April 17, 1890; Saline County Journal 20(16): 3.

This readily fits the description of a Whooping Crane. The account was in the "New Cambria Chatterings" column submitted by the Jewell, the community correspondent.

"A white crane measuring eight feet from tip to tip was shot and brought into Guthrie, Monday." — November 6, 1891; Wichita Daily Eagle 15(147): 4. From Oklahoma.
"A.N. Reed shot a crane at his place, three and a half miles northeast of Central City, Monday, measuring eight feet from tip to tip of the wings." — April 26, 1897; Omaha Daily Bee, page 3.


"White Crane Killed at Orlando.
"Guthrie, O.T., Nov. 6. — The Oklahoma aid says Thursday evening of last week Rev. R.L. Morton shot and killed a white crane. It was the largest ever seen in this country. From the tip of one wing to the tip of the other it measured over eight feet and from the end of the beak to the feet it measured over five feet. It was a very fine bird, pure white except the tips of the wings, which were black. Mr. Morton gave the bird to Sheriff Rinehart, who was here Friday to take to Guthrie to have it mounted." — November 7, 1900; Wichita Daily Eagle 33(148): 3.

Undoubtedly a Whooping Crane, based on size, feather coloration, and the date and location of occurrence.

This sample gives an intriguing glimpse of what other items may still be lurking among the pages of papers from the Great Plains region.