03 September 2013

Follies of Oldtime Snipe Hunting in the 1870s

Snipe Hunting at Rocklin. — We have been furnished the particulars of an extraordinary snipe hunt at Rocklin in which a man prominently connected with the railroad office at that place, whom we will designate as "Stevey," played a prominent part. It appears that two or three of the amateur sportsmen of the town informed Stevey in a confidential way on Tuesday that they had found an excellent place for snipe, and confided to him what they represented to be the modus operandi of old hunters when they sought to capture a number of the birds, viz: to go out at night — darker the night the better — with a gunny sack, which, on arriving on the ground to be hunted, one of the party would hold open, after having a light conveniently placed to serve as an attraction for the game, which, on being aroused by the other members of the party, would run to the light as a moth to a candle, and directly into the sack! Stevey swallowed it all. It was agreed that the party should go out Tuesday night to try this system of hunting, and go they did. Arrived at the spot where the snipe were represented to be, the other members of the party kindly agreed that Stevey might have the easiest portion of the work — he should hold the sack while they trudged round and scared up the birds. Accordingly Stevey was placed in position and warned to exercise due watchfulness, as there was no knowing when the game would come it might be in a few minutes and it might not be for half an hour! The balance or the hunters then left him, and after going a short distance, ostensibly hunting, they returned to town, leaving Stevey, solitary and alone, watching for the snipe! He was faithful to his trust, and kept the light burning for about two hours, when, finding that the sport was inclined to be monotonous, he returned to town, where the broad smile with which he was greeted on all sides convinced him, if he had not felt any intimations of it before, that he had been badly sold. When his friends ask him now "How are you, Snipey?" he feels that they are making game of him.

Issued March 17, 1870. Sacramento Daily Union 38(5919): 3.

A Western Joke. — The Peoria Transcript tells this joke on one of the denizens of that place: two gentlemen recently went across the river, several miles, hunting snipe. One of them understood the business; the other did not, having only "herd tell or it," and dreamed about it. The man who was posted told the other that lie must take a bag, hold its month open, and stand quietly until the birds Hew into the bag, as they surely would do. So the uninitiated chap took his post to wait for the coming of the birds, while the other went into the woods to scare them towards the man with the bag. Instead of attempting to scare up any birds he walked leisurely back to the city and went to bed. The victimized individual came back about one o'clock at night, complaining that he had not caught a bird, and that his companion in hunting had been lost. When the story came out somebody was mad, but had to treat, nevertheless.

January 3, 1873. Portland New Northwest 2(34): 1.

The Snipe Catchers.

By Ed Eggleston, in Youth’s Companion.

The huge red brick building on the top of the hill was the County seminary. Everybody thought the location appropriate, because the building looked like the Temple of Fame on the Hill of Science in the frontisspiece to the spelling book.

When the seminary was opened the boys and girls from New Geneva had to climb a steep hillside three hundred feet up; and as the county boys and girls who attended it boarded in town, the school was like Jefferson's windmill built to saw timber on a mountain where it was sure to catch the wind from every quarter, but where there was not a stick of timber to be sawed.

And so it happens now that you may see the deserted red brick temple of education, standing desolate, without doors or windows, a monument to the stubbornness and wisdom of three grave county commissioners, about whom I have neither the time nor the inclination to write.

But for a year or two the seminary flourished, and during that time it was that the town boys taught some of the county boys how to catch snipes. One of these boys was familiarly known as Jack Thomson. The first day that he appeared in school he was asked his name.

"John Thomson, Judge Thomson's son." he replied.

The boys laughed at this. Judge Thomson had held the indifferent office of Associate Judge, and this parade of his father's title gave him the sobriquet of "Judge Thomson's son." He was a pompous boaster, also, and so came in for the title "Pompey Smash No. 3," two other boys having borne the title of Pompey Smash before him.

It was natural that the boys should hit upon Jack Thomson when they went "snipe hunting." They wanted a victim, and Pompey Smash No. 3 was just the sort of victim they wished for.

"Did you ever hunt snipes, Jack?"

"Many a time," says he. "I don't believe there's a feller in this county can beat me at that."

And Thomson drew his great strapping form up to its full height. He was full twenty years of age, and looked down upon boys of eighteen.

"No, but did you ever catch snipes with a bag," asked one of the other boys.

"Many a time," said lying Jack, though he could not for the life of him tell how snipes were caught in a bag.

But he readily accepted an invitation to go on a bag hunt for snipes that very night.

I must inform those of my readers who have never had the felicity of hunting snipes with a bag, that midnight is the true time for starting. A snipe will not readily run into a bag before he has had his first nap nor after he has had it, either so it doesn't matter. But midnight was considered by the boys the appropriate hour.

All the boys agreed to this, and Pompey Smash insisted on it when he found that the rest were unanimous about it. He had never, in all his life, hunted snipes in a bag except at midnight, and he didn't think it good to start before.

So just at twelve o'clock the boys who were in the plot sallied forth. One of them carried the bag into which the snipes were to be driven. The beech woods, in the bottom land above town, was unanimously concluded to be the best place.

On the way the boys pretended to dispute about which should hold the bag as though that were the post of honor. Each one insisted on his experience in the matter. But Jack declared that he knew better than any of them. He had always held the bag!

So the rest, affecting a flattering confidence in Jack's skill, agreed that he was pre-eminently the one to hold the bag. And Jack modestly agreed with them. So he stood by the water's edge and held open the mouth of the bag while his companions hastened off to wake up the sleepy snipes, and drive the confiding things straight into the open trap. Of course they went straight home and went to bed, and hunted snipes in the land of dreams, where one is quite as likely to catch them in a bag as any other way.

How long the expectant Jack stood there out the margin of the Ohio, listening to hooting owls and looking for snipes, will never be known. He did not appear in school the next morning, but departed for home, and Judge Thomson wrote an indignant letter to the Weekly Palladium. After that he threw all his influence against the levying of any more taxes for the benefit of County Seminary.

Nobody had much sympathy for Jack. It is one great evil of boasting that it loses the boaster all sympathy, even when he deserves it.

There was, however, one young fellow in the school who disapproved of such practical jokes, and who said so. Tom Graves had an old-fashioned notion that lying was not gentlemanly, and he said the snipe business was a lie. He said that getting fun at somebody else's expense was not much better than getting anything else at the expense of another; in other words, it was stealing.

Tom drawled this out in his good natured way, and it was not until he had said it that all the boys began to perceive how severe it was.

One of them bristled up and said that Tom shouldn't call him a liar or a thief. But as Tom showed no signs of "backing down," his antagonist thought it would not improve matters for "him to give Tom who was a brawny farmer-boy a chance to whip him.

After a few days another country boy, extremely poor and humble, came to town to "do chores" for his board, and to attend the seminary on the hill. He did not know anything, but was exceedingly anxious to learn. A big boy of eighteen, in a state of sublime ignorance, was a fine subject for fun.

Tom Graves, however, kept the poor fellow under his care, and warned him of all tricks; and as the boys couldn't think of trying to whip two such fellows at the same time, Dick Blain went unmolested, except that he had to bear the nickname of "A-b-abs," because he was just beginning his education; and a still meaner one of" Cross-eyed Coon," on account of an ugly squint with which nature had endowed him.

One evening the boys found him apart from Tom Graves, and persuaded him to hunt snipes with a bag, which they told him was much the best way. Dick was pleased to find his schoolmates friendly, and readily assented. At midnight they all set off for the beech woods, and after much adroit discussion, and not a little objection on the part of Blain, he was persuaded to hold the bag while the rest should drive up the gentle snipes.

The boys left Dick with many cautions about holding the bag close to the water's edge, and about keeping very still. They assured him they would bring up the snipes within an hour.

Then they scattered, and reunited again shortly, and went sauntering homeward, stopping now and then to laugh at the thought of Dick's weary watch at the river.

When they entered the village they saw, sitting in the tavern door, a figure which they readily divined to be Wash Tomkins, the toper.

They resolved to stir him up, and have some additional sport. But what was there consternation, on coming up, find that it was none other than Dick Blain himself, who had run around reached the town ahead of them.

"Got the bag chock full," he said, "they came up, and I low’d ef I staid thar tell you fellers come up you'd claim all the snipe. So I tuck my bag snipes home, and come and sot down here to wait for you. You didn't fine none I s'pose liker'n not. I low'd you wouldn't. I jest whistled Dan Tucker, and they knowed the toon, and all on ‘em come right in."

The seminary boys never took a bag to catch snipes after that.

April 8, 1875. Highland Weekly News 38(52): 3.

Snipe Hunting.

After the excitement or the day, a number of young gentlemen determined to spend last evening in the pleasures of a snipe hunt, and selecting their victim from among the numerous clerks or a popular Elm street establishment, proceeded beyond the Dallas branch, armed with the conventional bag and all the necessary paraphernalia. The victim was placed in position, and for two long weary hours he waited, with the mouth of the bag open, for the snipe that never come. Last night was a bad night for driving, and the young man had better try it again; but we're afraid he won't. A two hours lonely watch and a lonely two-mile walk, will probably cure him of nocturnal hunts in the future especially after snipe.

April 5, 1876. Dallas Daily Herald 4(45): 1.

Snipe Hunt. — A suitable subject having been found the first snipe hunt of the season came off on Tuesday evening. The "subject" and about seven or eight "operators" betook themselves to the woods about a mile and a half from town. Subject and operators arrived in town about the same time no birds caught — operators had but little to say. Quid nuncs put in an oar; subject had been posted and operators given away.

December 26, 1879. Brenham Weekly Banner 14(52): 3.

Ledger Lines

Last night a squad of dry good men visited Noncoonah bottom in order to initiate four of their number into the mysteries of snipe hunting. The would be hunters had shot snipe in "bold England," but never did, "you know," in this "blarsted" country. As one of them said to another, "It was a bloody good joke, my lad, but some fellahs don't like it, you know."

Snipe Hunting

Four New Disciples to This Rare and Ancient Sport

The old game of snipe hunting was perpetrated last night by four dry goods.

November 25, 1876. Memphis Public Ledger 23(74): 3.