21 July 2012

Passenger Pigeon Business - Minnesota

The Rush of Trappers - Heavy Shipments of the Birds Eastward.

Within the past few days large numbers of pigeon trappers have been coming into the State from Illinois, Wisconsin, and other States east of us, following up the flocks of pigeons and trapping them for Eastern markets. It is made a regular matter of business, and a most profitable one, too, if the statements of the trappers may be relied upon. How can it be otherwise, when it is estimated that a hundred trappers have gone out on the Winona and St. Peter Railroad within the past week, and still they come! Kasson appears to be the chief center just now, although the hunters scatter along at neighboring stations from there as far east as Rochester, over by Pine Island, Oronoco, and vicinity. Wherever the pigeons are there are the trappers gathered together with their wiles, their decoys and nets, catching the birds by the hundreds and shipping them by the barrel, to tickle the palates of Eastern epicures.

From Mr. Knight, the express agent at this place, we learn that the first shipment of pigeons for the season came East by express, from Kasson, last Thursday, the 8th inst., and consisted of ten barrels. Since then the shipments have increased daily, justifying the inference that the trappers are doing a land office business. On Monday, twenty-five barrels came down; Tuesday, thirty-eight; Wednesday, thirty-two; and so it will probably keep up for several days, until the pigeons fly to fields and (mis)fortunes new, only to be followed by the "onward march of civilization."

How the naughty trappers catch the poor little innocent pigeons whose only fault is pulling up a few grains of wheat, now and then (to be to their faults a little blind), may interest the reader, if he will take a description of the modus operandi, second hand. The trapper has a long net, varying according to his pleasure and ability to manage it, from thirty to fifty or sixty feet in length. Width, probably, ten, twelve, or fourteen feet. This net is spread upon the ground, while at one side is scattered a tempting banquet for the coming victims. Pigeons are treated exactly on the same plan adopted for "the lords of creation." Whenever any nice little scheme of diplomacy is on foot a judicious feeler is advanced in the way of an inviting repast, and under the pacifying influence of a well stored interior the negotiations proceed harmoniously.

But aside from the grain the trappers have another decoy. They capture a pigeon, and perform the operation of refined cruelty by blinding it by stitching its eyelids together, in order that it will not struggle to free itself when the pigeons come around. The trapper himself is ambushed in a rustic bower at a convenient distance, where he can manipulate the net and cause the decoy pigeon to rise from the spring stool when a flock comes flying over. Seeing this fellow pigeon "living in clover," and flying up a little way and then dropping again, as is the coaxing way of the birds, the flock accept the invitation and descend upon the grain, which they have no sooner fairly commenced upon than the trap is sprung and they find themselves pinned under the net.

Then the slaughter commences. The trapper passes quickly among them, picking them up one by one and pinching their heads between his thumb and forefinger, making quick and almost painless death for the captives. The operation is sudden but effective, the tender bones of the head being crushed in by the process. As fast as this is done the birds are thrown into a pile to await the dressing operation, which consists in removing the inwards and roughly plucking the feathers, after which the birds are washed, packed in barrels with ice, and started upon their journey by express.

One old trapper said he has been in the business thirty years, but even this statement was outdone in importance by the succeeding one that he paid to the express company, last season, five thousand dollars for charges on his shipment of pigeons. His bill of telegraphing amounted to two thousand dollars. We understand that the pigeons net the trappers forty-eight dollars per barrel, in New York, there being from thirty to thirty-five dozen in a barrel. In Winona, pigeons are selling at $1.25 per dozen.

A few years ago there were large pigeon roosts at Chatfield and near Wabashaw, and now, after slighting their old haunts for a while, the birds are coming back again.

May 15, 1873. City and Vicinity. The Pigeon Business. Winona Daily Republican 14(4123): 3.