03 February 2014

Historic Trumpeter Swan Records from Oldtime Newspapers

Historic newspapers are chronicles of past times in many ways, and this includes notes or articles which mention a variety of different wildbirds, including swans. Notable among these accounts is a mention of the Trumpeter Swan, especially obvious because of their large size and being an unusual occurrence. When a bird of their size occurred and was seen, there may have been a note on a page of the local newspaper. Typically the account conveyed that the bird(s) were shot and killed by someone at a particular place.

During past times while researching the occurrence and distribution of birds in northern America prior to ca. 1885, a multitude of records have been gathered and compiled for all species, including swans. Published accounts were evaluated first, and newly available online resources have increased the extent of material available for review, especially from newspapers.

Especially valuable sources for past times have been digital versions of newspapers. The sources reviewed, include: 1). Chronicling America, as provided by the Library of Congress; 2). Elephind.com, which does not have its own unique content, but is a "search engine" for multiple online resources (i.e., California Digital Newspaper Collection; Door County newspapers; and, Pennsylvania newspapers, etc.), and is especially valuable because it provides a "textual content" helpful in determining whether or not to look further at the linked resource; 3). a personal endeavor based in New York state (fultonhistory.com) which has an immense number of searchable pages, mostly for this state; though it lacks some essential search options, it is still valuable because of the extent of its content; and 4). state initiatives such as Missouri and Pennsylvania. There are other sources of this sort to consider to a greater of lesser extent. Freely available sites obviously are preferable. The fee-based services have not been given any consideration. Most of the available sites worth considering can be found through the web-search "online historic newspapers."

Finding Swan Records of Past Times

All of online material is obviously in a digital format, and typically a portable document format which is a scanned image that has gone through a process of character recognition. Results convey a great lack of textual clarity in the computer interpretation of letters shown on the old pages, since many of them are a second-generation source, having been scanned from microfilm.

Despite the limitations, swan occurrences readily found were the result of text searches, simply because it would be impossible to review every page of every newspaper now available online. Especially useful search options were the phrase "white swan" or a proximity search using "tip to tip" and swan in combination. The latter option is especially significant in that many of the notations indicate the wing-span of the swan. This feature is also very useful in evaluating if the species being referred to was a trumpeter or a tundra swan. Trumpeter was the least useful word.

Once a record was located, the account was printed and key bibliographic details noted. The details were then entered into a relational database with a strict requirement for consistency and thoroughness. There are three entries for each record: 1). source details indicating a citation and source particulars, including date of issue ; 2). site details designated as a distinct geographic locale, if needed; and 3). specifics of the report, which is usually a summary of the article.

Four Decades of Newspaper Records

A first record for this evaluation is from 1843, and the final record considered is from 1885, the self-determined termination year for this project regarding ornithological history for northern America.

The following list is a summary of the found details. There are many more references to swans in the newspaper chronicles, but these appear to refer to the Trumpeter Swan, based on the particulars given.

An example of an indistinct species identification is this account: "A flock of white Swans made their appearance in Hempstead Bay last week, and one of them was shot. He was of full size, but rather thin in flesh, weighing but 17 pounds. It is very rarely that these birds visit our bays, and these must have been driven from their course by the late severe gales." — New York Post, December 1846

The records are given in a consistent manner, noting the year seen, a designated date is it could be determined, the record site and state (without the designated county which is part of the recordset), date when seen if indicated (with a special recognition of timeanddate.com for its essential service), notes derived from the newspaper item and the citation used for the publication.

One confounding aspect of these records are that a record may have been originally issued in one newspaper, then replicated in a second newspaper which used the same details so a reference to a particular day may actually refer to an event that happened weeks earlier.

This summary does not include all of the subtle nuances of the original mention in the paper. To enjoy the original verbiage and expression, the source material can be read.

This is a preliminary list, since additional interest and effort can contribute to the history of this swan.

Any incorrect misinterpretations are solely the responsibility of the author.


  • 1843; Feb 1843; Raleigh Vicinity; North Carolina
    on Tuesday last, white swan killed; measured 7 feet 4 1/2 inches from tip to tip of wings — Carolina Watchman 1843
  • 1843; May 1843; Mukwanago, Wisc.; Wisconsin
    white swan shot near Mukwanago a few days since by J. Colburn which stands 5 feet tall and measures 7 feet and 11 inches from tip of one wing to that of the other — Burlington Free Press Jun 1843


  • 1851; Feb 1851; Eastern Neck Island, Maryland; Kent County, Maryland
    gentleman shot with a rifle a swan weighing 30 pounds; measured 7 feet 4 inches from extremities of its spread wings — Southern Recorder Feb 1851
  • 1851; Nov 1851; Sandusky, N.Y.; New York
    George Littleton, near Sandusky, shot a swan on the wing which measured 8 feet from tip to tip of wings — Pittsburgh Morning Post 1851
  • 1851; Nov 1851; Kanawha River, Mason County, W.V.; West Virginia
    two swans killed last week; one by F. Dawson and the other by John S. Myers; one brought to town measures 7 feet from tip to tip of its wings; only kinds of these birds known to visit this section of the country — Gallipolis Journal 1851
  • 1852; Southeast Nebraska Territory; Nebraska
    occasionally small flocks of swans — New York Herald 1852
  • 1852; Jan 1852; Chautauque Outlet, Jamestown
    beautiful white swan, killed by Charles Barnes; measured 6 feet and 6 inches from tip to tip of wings; color purest white; two other swans present; bird purchased by E.A. Dickinson who succeeded in preserving the skin; placed in cabinet at Academy — Fredonia Censor 1852, et al.
  • 1853; Feb 1853; Heron Island in the Potomac
    eleven swans killed at a single fire by Leonard Neal, F. Thompson and a colored boy; all three guns fired simultaneously; also, six killed the next day; width between tips of wings 7 feet 3 inches — Pittsburgh Morning Post 1853, et al. as originally from the Leonardtown Beacon
  • 1854; Jan 1854; Bayside, Talbot County; Maryland
    F.W. Lowe shot a swan measuring across its wings 7 feet — Southern Recorder 1854

  • 1856; Dec 1856; Humboldt Bay; California
    white swan, measuring 8 feet from tip to tip of wings shot — Sacramento Union Jan 1857

  • 1857; Apr 1857; Pymatuning Creek, Trumbull County; Ohio; 4/2/1857
    George Thompson of Orangeville shot a large white swan; measured 6 feet 9 inches from tip to tip; a rare and beautiful bird — Western Reserve Chronicle Apr 1857

  • 1859; Jan 1859; Plain Township, Wayne County, O.; Ohio; 1/1/1859
    George Kauffman shot a very large white swan on New Year's day; measured 7 1/2 feet from tip to tip of the wings — Pittsburgh Gazette 1859


  • 1860; Feb 1860; Red Bluff, Cal.; California
    William Myers recently shot a swan, measuring from tip to tip of wings 7 feet and half an inch — Sacramento Union Feb 1860
  • 1860; Mar 1860; Skunk River by Newton; Iowa
    two large and beautiful white swans killed by Frank Reeves; largest measured some 7 feet from tip to tip of the wing; such birds rare in this region — Cincinnati Press Apr 1860
  • 1861; Feb 1861; Selinsgrove, Penn.; Pennsylvania
    persons shot a white swan in the river; measured 7 feet from tip to tip of its wings; Mr. Starick intends to stuff the skin — Union County Star 1861
  • 1867; Apr 1867; Bruces Marsh, Springfield Township; Ohio
    shown one of the finest of white swans that we have ever seen; measured from tip to tip of its wings 7 feet; shot by A. Guiles — Ashtabula Telegraph Apr 1867


  • 1871; Jul 1871; Stevens County, Minn.
    Prof. Moore returned from a hunting trip; one of the trophies was a large swan, the skin of which he dressed with the down on — St. Cloud Journal Aug 1871
  • 1871; Swan Lake by Estherville; Iowa
    annual nesting place for swans — Cedar Falls Gazette Sep 1871
  • 1872; May 1872; Greene County Pond; Iowa;
    train ran into an immense flock of birds; one stately swan had a wing injured in crash with railroad — Pueblo Chieftain 1872
  • 1874; Mar 1874; Little Sioux River, Monona County; Iowa
    swan recently shot on Little Sioux; measured 8 feet and 10 inches from tip to tip of wings — Cairo Bulletin Apr 1874
  • 1874; Apr 1874; Emporia, Lyon County; Kansas
    W.C. Smith, living a few miles east of the city, killed a white swan which measured 7 feet and 10 inches from tip to tip — Emporia News April 1874
  • 1875; Mar 1875; Dry Fork Jasper County
    V.G. Bradbury killed a wild swan on Dry Fork; pure white; and 7 feet from tip to tip of wings — Carthage Banner Mar 1875
  • 1875; Apr 1875; Quitman, Nodaway County, Missouri
    D. McH. Mckay and John W. Welsh killed a swan last Thursday; bird killed by McKay was at the Nodaway bottoms; Welsh killed his bird just west of Quitman — Nodaway Democrat Apr 1875
  • 1875; Sep 1875; Grand River, Portland; Michigan
    large white swan, measuring 6 feet 4 inches from tip to tip of wings shot by Geo. Goodwin — Cheboygan Northern Tribune Oct 1875
  • 1876; Dec 1876; Lake Winnebago by Oshkosh; Wisconsin
    for two or three weeks two or three large swans have been attracting the attention of sportsmen; Martin Madison on Tuesday shot one; measured 7 feet from tip to tip of its wings; color of purest white — Colorado Banner December 1876
  • 1877; Apr 1877; Whitewater Falls, Winona County; Minnesota; 4/3/1877
    large white swan killed by Stacy H. White; measured 8 feet from tip to tip of wings — Winona Republican 1877
  • 1878; Apr 1878; Peninsula of Sandusky Bay; Ohio; 4/6/1878
    John Bredehoft, a resident of the peninsula; shot a white swan a week ago last Saturday; bird exhibited at White's hardware in Sandusky; from tip to tip of wing the swan measured 9 and one-half feet and its length was 4 and one-half feet — Tiffin Tribune Apr 1878
  • 1878; Apr 1878; Eagle Lake, Dakota; North Dakota; 4/8/1878
    hunter brought in from Eagle Lake a white swan which measured 7 feet between its extended wings and 6 feet from the end of its bill to the end of its tail; while hanging in front of Hallett & Keatings Meat Market it attracted considerable attention — Bismarck Tribune Apr 1878
  • 1878; Nov 1878; Big Lake near Grand Tower; Illinois; 11/28/1878
    Sam Hewitt shot a trumpeter swan; white as driven snow or blemish that measured from tip to tip, 8 feet — Cairo Bulletin Dec 1878
  • 1878; Dec 1878; Dry Creek near Oroville; California; 12/9/1878
    wild swan measuring 7 feet 3 inches from tip to tip of wings shot — Sacramento Union Dec 1878
  • 1879; Mar 1879; Buck Pond, Monroe County; New York; 3/24/1879
    magnificent trumpeter swan shot at outlet of Buck Pond; five charges brought it down; body perfectly white; wings measured 6 feet from tip to tip — New York Post Mar 1879
  • 1879; Apr 1879; Greece, N.Y.; New York
    party of young men shot a large white trumpeter swan; measured 6 feet across the wings — Wellsboro Agitator Apr 1879
  • 1879; Nov 1879; Soap Creek near Corvallis; Oregon
    Mr. Bevens shot a swan that measured 7 feet from tip to tip of wings — Sacramento Union November 1879
  • 1879; Nov 1879; Ten Mile Creek, Washington County; Pennsylvania; 11/19/1879
    white swan measuring 85 inches across the wings, and weighing 11 1/2 pounds shot; will be presented to the Sportsmen's Club of Pittsburgh — Bradford Reporter 1879
  • 1879; Nov 1879; Santa Rosa, Cal.; California
    swan which weighed over 20 pounds and measured 6 feet from tip to tip of wings shot lately — Sacramento Union Dec 1879


  • 1880; Jan 1880; Toombsboro, Ga.; Georgia
    Dr. W.R. Robinson recently killed a perfectly white bird measuring 7 feet from tip to tip of its wings — Columbus Enquirer-Sun Jan 1880
  • 1880; Mar 1880; Winona - Homer; Minnesota; 3/31/1880
    Fred Moebus shot a large white swan; measured 8 feet 2 inches from tip to tip of wings; hunting between Winona and Homer — Winona Republican Apr 1880
  • 1880; Apr 1880; Prairie Creek, Platte County; Nebraska; 4/6/1880
    J.C. Tucker shot a swan on Prairie creek; measured 7 feet and an inch from tip to tip of wings; weighed 14 pounds — Columbus Journal Apr 1880
  • 1880; Dec 1880; Knappa, Or.; Oregon
    Mr. Minnaker killed a swan recently which measured 8 feet from tip to tip of wings; probably weighed not less than 30 pounds — Astorian January 1881
  • 1881; Mar 1881; Mount Vernon, Ohio; Ohio; 3/12/1881
    two white swans were killed out of a flock of seven; measured 7 and a half feet from tip to tip of wings — Indianapolis Leader Mar 1881
  • 1881; Mar 1881; Delaware River Flats, Jersey Side; New Jersey; 3/29/1881
    W.J. Oglesby was gunning for ducks; came across a pair of fine large white swans; killed one; measured 7 feet 2 inches from tip to tip — Chester Times Mar 1881
  • 1881; Nov 1881; Butte County, Calif.; California
    Butte county hunters killed a swan which measured 7 feet 9 inches from tip to tip of wings — Sacramento Union Nov 1881
  • 1881; Nov 1881; Smallwood Place, Shenandoah River; Virginia; 11/10/1881
    Jas. H. Smallwood shot a swan; measured from tip to tip of wing 7 feet, and from bill to tail 4 1/2 feet, and weighed 18 pounds — Stephens City Star 1881
  • 1882; Dec 1882; Rock Lake, Jefferson County; Wisconsin
    H.F. Conklin shot a white swan which measured 7 feet and 4 inches from tip to tip of its wings — Sturgeon Bay Expositor Independent Dec 1882
  • 1882; Spirit Lake, Ia.; Iowa
    swans; among large variety of birds; nest here — Spirit Lake Beacon 1882
  • 1883; May 1883; La Moure, North Dakota; North Dakota
    A.J. Smith shot a beautiful white swan, weighing 11 pounds and measuring 6 feet from tip to tip of wings; intention is to have it stuffed — Jamestown Alert May 1883
  • 1883; Jun 1883; Columbia Slough; South Dakota
    large white swan shot in the slough 5-6 miles east of Columbia; measured about 9 feet from tip to tip and is a beautiful specimen — Jamestown Alert Jun 1883
  • 1884; Mar 1884; Republican River, Webster County; Nebraska; 3/5/1884
    O.G. Roberts east of town on the Republican, shot and killed a large white swan which measured 7 feet from tip to tip; neck nearly 3 feet long — Red Cloud Chief Mar 1884
  • 1884; Apr 1884; South Stockton Pond, Chautauqua County; New York
    wild white swan shot; distance between tips of its wings measured 7 feet; on display at Jamestown — Buffalo Express 1884
  • 1885; Jan 1885; Umpqua River by Roseburg; Oregon; 1/10/1885
    Charley Clements and Perry Lewis killed three large swans; swan known as the trumpeter, according to taxidermist Langenberg — Marshfield Coast Mail 1885
  • 1885; Jan 1885; Canon City, Colo.; Colorado; 1/22/1885
    Mr. Gardner killed a swan which measured 8 feet from tip to tip of its wings — Colorado Transcript 1885
  • 1885; Mar 1885; Columbus, Indiana; Indiana
    James Pearce killed a white swan measuring 7 feet six inches between wing tips — Hocking Sentinel 1885
  • 1885; Mar 1885; Platte River, Fremont; Nebraska
    Frank Moore killed a swan on the Platte River near Fremont; measured 7 feet from tip to tip of wings — Sioux County Herald Apr 1885
  • 1885; Mar 1885; Tippecanoe City; Ohio
    A.E. Burkholder killed a large swan; wingspan of 8 feet — Springfield Globe-Republic Mar 1885
  • 1885; Jul 1885; Ludlow Falls, Ohio; Ohio
    white swan shot; measured 8 feet from tip to tip of wings; from tip of bill to tip of tail four feet seven inches; weights 18 pounds and is now on exhibition — Omaha Bee Aug 1885

More than twenty states are represented by these records, and include, in alphabetical sequence:

  1. California (5 records)
  2. Colorado (1)
  3. Georgia (1)
  4. Illinois (1)
  5. Indiana (1)
  6. Iowa (5)
  7. Kansas (1)
  8. Maryland (3)
  9. Michigan (1)
  10. Minnesota (3)
  11. Missouri (2)
  12. Nebraska (4)
  13. New York (5)
  14. North Carolina (1)
  15. North Dakota (2)
  16. Ohio (7)
  17. Oregon (3)
  18. Pennsylvania (3)
  19. South Dakota (1)
  20. Virginia (1)
  21. West Virginia (1)
  22. Wisconsin (3)

The records given here are new information regarding the historic occurrence of the Trumpeter Swan in North America. Not included here are a myriad of other published reports including historic journals or narratives, items in early ornithology journals and other miscellany — also from prior to 1885 — which refer to the occurrence of this iconic swan in northern America. In combination, they convey an indicative occurrence and distribution for this and other species prior to 1885.

Source Citations

This list of citations does not conform to the usual established strictures of some modern-era bird journals for several reasons. The records documented in the bird database are from more than eight thousand sources. There are instances of several records on different dates for one month in a particular year and from the same newspaper, so a suitable method to indicate a unique citation had to be derived. This was followed in a strict manner so the origin of the record was distinct and obvious. Multiple references for a single sighting had to be dealt with. This list of citations is derived from my database of records. Sometimes the published newspaper does not indicate the volume and issue, so there might be some inconsistency, since only what is available can be indicated.

» Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph 18(14): 3. Issued April 6, 1867. From the Reporter.
» Bismarck Weekly Tribune 5(45): 4. Issued April 12, 1878.
» Bradford Reporter 40(25): 2. Issued November 20, 1879.
» Buffalo Express, page 6. Issued April 9, 1884.
» Burlington Free Press 16(52): 2. Issued June 2, 1843. From the Wisconsin Courier.
» Cairo Bulletin, page 2. Issued April 3, 1874.
» Carolina Watchman 31(11): 2. Issued February 25, 1843. From the Raleigh Star.
» Carthage Banner 9(9): 3. Issued March 4, 1875.
» Cedar Falls Gazette 12(26): 1. Issued September 29, 1871.
» Cheboygan Northern Tribune 1(12): 4. Issued October 2, 1875. From the Portland Observer.
» Chester Daily Times 10(1411): 3. Issued March 30, 1881.
» Cincinnati Daily Press 3(38): 1. Issued April 4, 1860. From the Newton Free Press.
» Colorado Banner 2(13): 6. Issued December 21, 1876. From the Oshkosh Northwestern.
» Colorado Transcript 19(10): 2. Issued January 28, 1885.
» Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun 22(7): 3. Issued January 8, 1880.
» Columbus Journal 10(49): 3. Issued April 7, 1880.
» Daily Astorian 14(1): 3. Issued January 1, 1881. On January 7th in Williamette Farmer.
» Daily Cairo Bulletin 10(140): 4, new series. Issued December 1, 1878.
» Daily Pittsburgh Gazette 72(27): 2. Issued January 11, 1859.
» Emporia News 17(15): 3. Issued April 10, 1874.
» Fredonia Censor 32(6): 4. Issued April 6, 1852. From the Jamestown Journal. Also: April 17, 1852 in the Erie Observer 22(49): 2.
» Gallipolis Journal 17(1): 2. Issued December 4, 1851.
» Hocking Sentinel 43(51): 1. Issued April 2, 1885.
» Indianapolis Leader 2(32): 2. Issued March 19, 1881.
» Jamestown Alert 5(47): 1. Issued June 15, 1883.
» Jamestown Weekly Alert 5(42): 4. Issued May 11, 1883. From the Lisbon Star.
» Marshfield Coast Mail 7(3): 3. Issued January 15, 1885. From the Roseburg Plaindealer of January 9th.
» New York Evening Post 78(n.a.): 1. Issued March 31, 1879.
» New York Herald 7141: 3. Issued May 20, 1852.
» Nodaway Democrat 6(23): 1. Issued April 15, 1875.
» Omaha Daily Bee 15(42): 2. Issued August 8, 1885.
» Pittsburgh Daily Morning Post 10(101): 4. Issued November 14, 1851.
» Pittsburgh Daily Morning Post 11(178): 2. Issued February 25, 1853. From the Leonardtown (Md.) Beacon. Also: February 26, 1853 in the Richmond Daily Dispatch 3(113): 1.
» Pueblo Daily Chieftain 1(29): 2. Issued May 31, 1872.
» Red Cloud Chief 11(34): 5. Issued March 7, 1884. Also: March 20, 1884 in McCook Weekly Tribune 2(42): 6.
» Sacramento Daily Record-Union 14(74): 1. Issued November 15, 1881.
» Sacramento Daily Record-Union 7(253): 3. Issued December 17, 1878. From the Oroville Mercury.
» Sacramento Daily Record-Union 8(308): 8. Issued November 8, 1879.
» Sacramento Daily Record-Union 8(332): 6. Issued December 6, 1879. Similar note in December 13, 1879 issue.
» Sacramento Daily Union 12(1802): 3. Issued January 5, 1857.
» Sacramento Daily Union 18(2776): 2. Issued February 18, 1860.
» Sioux County Herald 14(16): 2. Issued April 2, 1885.
» Southern Recorder 32(5): 7. Issued February 4, 1851.
» Southern Recorder 35(5): 3. Issued January 31, 1854.
» Spirit Lake Beacon 12(15): 1. Issued March 9, 1882. From Forest and Stream.
» Springfield Globe-Republic 5(111): 4. Issued March 30, 1885.
» St. Cloud Journal 14(3): 3. Issued August 3, 1871.
» Stephens City Star 1(20): 2. Issued November 26, 1881.
» Sturgeon Bay Weekly Expositor Independent 10(9): 4. Issued December 8, 1882.
» Tiffin Tribune 30(28): 2. Issued April 11, 1878.
» Union County Star and Lewisburg Coronicle, page 2. Issued February 15, 1861.
» Wellsboro Agitator 26(14): 4. Issued April 8, 1879.
» Western Reserve Chronicle 41(35): 3. Issued April 15, 1857. From the West Greeneville Times.
» Winona Daily Republican 18(5383): 3. Issued April 9, 1877.
» Winona Daily Republican 21(6203): 3. Issued April 1, 1880.

Notes in these newspapers contribute to a better understanding of the history of the Trumpeter Swan. Even more attention can be given to the historic records of this wonderful bird, if there were no limitations upon source material access.

There are opportunities for further evaluating historic occurrence and distribution. Especially since, overall, this database has 349 records for the Trumpeter Swan if all sources are included.