31 October 2013

Game-birds and Market Prices at Historic Brownville

The uniquely expressive valley of the Missouri River valley and its westward uplands hills and prairie were a faunal haven when Brownville, Nebraska was established in the mid-1850s. Once pioneer settlers created this residential place, thenceforth came a newspaper, the Nebraska Advertiser as started by Robert W. Furnas during the latter summer of 1856.

Its pages soon included terse but expressive details about local game birds, and their pursuit by various men with a loaded gun.

One of the earliest known instances reported was late May, 1858, when a prominent local sportsman gave some edible birds to the paper's editor:

"Mr. Wm. T. Den will accept our thanks for a present of a bountiful supply of local game — duck, plover and snipe of his own shooting. Mr. D. is sure shot, especially among feathered game. His delight is with gun and dog, and he never fails to bag game sufficient for his own bachelor table, and to divide with his friends. Long life to him."

There were wild geese and a vast myriad of other birds present along the wild environs of the river's flowing waters, sandbars, wooded islands, oxbow lakes and other associated habitats. The harvested take was indicated on more than one occasion when results were significant enough for the paper editor to scribe details. There was a variety in how particulars were presented.

An especially unique presentation was game as featured at one of the first banquets held in this river town, associated with a so-called "Christmas Hop" at the slight city of Brownsville.

"Do not forget the Christmas Ball, at the residence of A.M. Barnes, Esq., on Monday evening next. Mr. B. will spare no pains to get up an entertainment that will be agreeable to everybody accustomed to attend social balls. We are informed he is procuring an inexhaustible supply of quails, wild geese, wild turkeys, and everything else necessary to gratify the tastes of epicurians. He has also secured the service of a Brass and String Band, also a Melodeon. We suppose this will be the most brilliant affair of the kind that ever come off in the vicinity of Brownville."

Was it a grand event? The expressed plans indicate features that would result in a grand festivity for attendees.

There are so many unknown details, including the people that attended, and why. The pages of the newspaper may contribute further specifics as to reportable details and perhaps, based upon further focused research into census details or homestead particulars could convey a sense of local historic particulars and associated specifics of the people at this place.

As known newspaper reports continued, an upland bird species, was the subject of the next article, from a December 1860 issue of the Advertiser.

"That Eli Wilcox and John Coddington are some at bagging quail, and that Eli knows how to fix 'em up, we do assert; — Evidence that "quail fry" the other night."

It must have been an affair lively enough to get attention from the paper's reporter, whether by actual experience or from someone's comments.

Takable game was a repeated subject. A short article on "Game" on the same page of this paper's issue also mentioned quails, which along with "prairie chickens, rabbits, turkeys and deer, are now plenty, and fat as butter."

During the right time within these years, any epicurian or patron with money that wanted to feast on flesh of some wild bird only had to walk though the door, and take a seat at a table within a Brownville eatery and place an order for a delicious meal.

There were a variety of establishments ready to serve a suitable meal of bird meat.

"Those prairie chickens and quails, filled in with fresh bivalves, kept constantly in hand by Bob Morrison, at the Union Eating Saloon of this city as some, and no mistake, for all sich, a cup of good coffee; ham and eggs, etcetera, Bob's is a mighty good place." — January 1861

The plethora of wild game taken for eventual sale to consumers was once again indicated, in the next week's issued of the city paper.

"Western grub. So far as eating is concerned, the past few weeks, we have been enjoying the fat of the land. Venison, turkey, prairie chickens, quail, rabbits, fresh buffalo steaks and roasts, fried sassengers, and sich. Too good for poor folks." — January 1861

There were was an article issued as news to bring customers to the eateries, from February, 1861. It indicated there was "Food for the Hungry. Uncle Ben Whyte, long a favorite in this community and famous for getting up good things to eat," had opened a new eating establishment next door to the U.S. Land Office along a primary street within the river city. On the menu were chickens, quails, oysters, and ham and eggs.

A two-line advertisement was lower down the same column of newspaper print:

"For quail and prairie chicken - Uncle Bennys - We know the way!"

Another "eating house" was actively pursuing customers.

"Chapin is still running the City Eating House, in connection with Worthing's Saloon. He is prepared to accommodate day boarders, furnish single meals at all hours, and answer promptly to the call for oysters, pig's feet, ham and eggs, prairie chickens, quail, hot coffee, etc. etc."

Obviously wild game, including several sorts of birds, were readily available to be served, well cooked, and presented suitably upon a plate and provided to a patron at this Brownville business.

There are certainly other indicative facets of birdly facts among the pages — which would require an intensive, visual search of each and every page.

Search services indicate the next readily discovered item of interest is also from December, but in 1868.

Notes of occurrence for prominent fowl continued after the paper got a new owner, when J.L. Colhapp was the editor. Consider:

"Winter has only just set in this section, as wild geese were seen flying south yesterday." — December 1868

In January 1870, businessman J. Huddart wanted game, indicating a particular interest in prairie chickens, quail and wild turkeys. He would pay cash, according to his paid advertisement.

An alternative perspective of the diminutive quail was expressed in an October 1870 editorial, which conveyed the need to restrict "town boys" from hunting quail in the town suburbs. A few days before the paper was published, there was an outrage, with a resultant perspective indicated in an editorial:

"Monday three lights were broken out of the front windows of Tom McLaughlin, on the hill, and two of his children were standing in the door when the shot was fired, and heard the shot rattle against the side of the house."

The editor of the newspaper called for action to bring an end to this recklessness!

"This must be stopped even if it be necessary to arrest the boys, and put them through for it. Parents are responsible for the action of their minor children."

Sportmen at Brownsville

Mr. Den, as previously noted, was active in the shooting scene years later, and in 1871, because of his personal interest as well as his business, which sold supplies important to the fraternity. A spring event was noted on the page of the paper usually devoted to local events.

"A grand pigeon shooting match will take place at the Fair ground, at Brownville on Friday afternoon, the 28th inst., the winner of the match to receive a Parker's celebrated breach loading shot gun, worth $75.00, the pigeon will be shot at 21 yards rise from the trap and 80 yards boundary. All sportsmen are invited to participate, as a full supply of birds will be on the ground." — April 1871

Based upon the given details, it seems that domestic pigeons were to be the targets. The only other option would be wild pigeons, which may not have been readily available at this place, and at this time.

Interest in shooting sports and its camaraderie, continued to occur and the men soon formed an association, according to a blurb on page 3 of the Advertiser.

"Notice to Sportsmen. That a Brownville hunting club has been organized and that a meeting will be held at the store of W.T. Den on Saturday evening the 9th inst., for the purpose of adopting a constitution and by-laws to govern said club. All sportsmen are invited to attend and become members of said club. By order of, Captain." — December 1871

Spring shooting was prevalent these years, and another May report indicated the variety of Missouri Valley species in 1872.

"A good day's shooting was that of Henry Baker and Charley Whitman, on Thursday last; they bagged near a hundred birds, such as plover, snipe, curlew and duck." — May, 1872

The terse identifications convey such a variety. The plover may have been Killdeer or Upland Plover or any of several species; snipe could have been the Wilson's Snipe or maybe even any one of many sorts of sandpiper; curlew seem to indicate the Long-billed Curlew, put perhaps it was a godwit; and as for the variety of duck, well that could represent at least a dozen species.

Some of the earliest records of prices for game were issued during the first months of 1875 at Brownville, Nebraska. It was an era when game could still be shot and taken at any time, based upon state game laws.

This included harvesting wildbirds for what was an active game market along the Missouri River valley.

A perspective article was published in the January 13, 1876 issue of the Nebraska Advertiser on the "Game Law of Nebraska" considered the situation, and included this sentence of particular interest: "The farmers of the State probably netted from $20,000 to $30,000 last winter from the sale of prairie chickens," as known from the months prior to January, 1874.

There was obviously an active profitable market and an unknown number of shootists made money from selling taken prairie chickens to brokers or market reps for shipment beyond the confines of the state of Nebraska. Some indications of the market value for these game birds were denoted in the "Market Reports" section among the local news columns of the Nebraska Advertiser.

Prairie chickens and quail were the only two bird species available, and list in the "Market Reports" section, along with other items such as apples, flour, crop commodities, potatoes, eggs, domestic dressed turkeys and chickens, lard and dressed hogs. As a comparison, a few items were given for the representative, and very active Chicago market.

The season's news associated with game birds started in the January 14th issue of the Nebraska Advertiser, among the other newsy items in the Local Matters was the indication that: "Prairie chickens plentiful in market." Subsequent details provide actual prices and indicate that they were mostly constant for a two-month period. Prairie chickens started at $1 per dozen, and then remained at $1 to 1.50 per dozen. Quail were consistently offered at 60 cents per dozen.

Market Item Date Prairie Chickens
(Greater Prairie Chicken)
(Northern Bobwhite)
01/20/1875 $ 1.00 per dozen 0.60 cents per dozen
01/27/1875 $ 1.00 @ 1.50 per dozen 0.60
For comparison, on March 2nd at Omaha, further north along the Missouri River, prairie chickens were selling at $1.75, apparently for a dozen, and quails were being sold for $1.
02/03/1875 $ 1.00 @ 1.50 0.60
02/10/1875 $ 1.00 @ 1.50 0.60
02/24/1875 $ 1.00 @ 1.50 0.60
03/10/1875 $ 1.00 @ 1.50 0.60
03/17/1875 $ 1.00 @ 1.50 0.60

The March 24th market report did not list any game items.

During the weeks while these prices were given, there were vast flocks of migratory fowl moving northward along the Missouri River. There were wild geese. Wild ducks were prevalent.

This issue on the 24th for this newspaper said the wild geese and ducks were becoming plentiful on the area rivers and ponds.

In late March, the "Local Matters" column mentioned:

"Many of the ungodly Nimrods of this city went hunting ducks and geese last Sunday. Their guns and dogs seemed to work just as well as if it had been the middle of the week, but they will get hell for it hereafter, however, unless we have been misinformed about the matter." — April 1

In mid-April, wild geese were numerous, and there were "tem million cranes" on a river sandbar every night east of Hillsdale which was a place along the river's edge, and where the details referred to a river sandbar near this place, just a couple of miles north of the southern boundary of Nemaha county.

With the multitudes of many sorts of different birds shot during the migrational seasons, there is no apparent reason why geese and ducks were not available at a market at a local town. Yet, there was no apparent details indicated on the pages of the Advertiser.

Later in the year, there was an indication of market interest in Nemaha County, at Sheridan, according to the "Sheridan Short-stops" column, also in the Nebraska Advertiser in November. It said: "There will be a market at Sheridan for prairie chickens, quails, &c., as soon as the weather is cold enough to ship them."

Its an indication that local birds were being purchased for shipment to other, likely eastern, markets.

An extent of readily available prairie chickens, especially, was indicative for the mid-1870s among the Missouri River valley, which at this time must have had a greater prevalence of grassland habitat so essential for these prairie-land birds.

This unique historic perspective is indicative of another distinct aspect of the ornithology for Nebraska, and which has not been previously considered!