16 May 2014

Wild Pigeons in Virginia

Aldie, Va., March 21.

My dear P. — More than twenty years ago Charles Kelly was Sheriff of Independence County, in the state of Arkansas. He resided on his farm in the Oil Trough bottom, some twenty miles below Batesville, in which last place he had a store. One morning, just after his leaving town for his farm, Egner, who attended to his store, discovered an entry on the blotter, which he tried in vain to decypher — a charge of 'twenty-five cents' could be made out, but against whom he could not tell. I with others was called to his aid, but it was no go. During the day, John L. Daniel, who had lived some time with Kelly as his deputy, came into the store, and the entry was shown him. 'Why,' says Daniel, after looking at it, 'it is very easy to make that out — it is Izekiel Burris,' Well, we knocked under, though nobody knew such a man, but supposed it some non-resident that Kelly had charged with two bits worth of tones. In the course of the week Kelly came to town. Egner referred him to the entry, and asked what it was. 'Why,' says Kelly, 'it is a quart of huckleberries, that I purchased and charged myself with.'

I introduce this anecdote, my dear P., by way of reminding you that I am made to say I caught a codfish in White river. the word I used was couple, and had reference to trout. Why, my dear fellow, I never caught a codfish in my life. The nearest I ever came to it was drinking two bottles of Cod-liver Oil, for a shocking bad cough.

Wild pigeons have been caught by hundreds since I last wrote you. I have attended a net on two occasions, and can endorse it as being most delightful sport. Nothing can be more simple than the process. Selecting a favorite point, generally a field in which was corn last year, is preferred — a blind is built out of corn-stalks. There are two posts placed in the ground, about four feet high — the one in the blind, the other at a distance of some eighty paces — a rope, the size of an ordinary plough line, extends from the top of the poles — the net is about forty feet in length, and ten in width — at a distance of some forty or fifty yards from the blind the net is fastened length-wise to this rope — and at the distance of the width of the net from a right line between the poles, the other side of the net is fastened in the ground by two small stakes, at either end, with shoulders to them — there are a couple of treadles about three feet long, which rest on the ground, the other ends pass under the shoulders of the stakes, and a shoulder or notch in the opposite ends of them receive the rope which holds the net. It is then set and piled up ready to be sprung — the bait is made, a stool pigeon is placed near it — his eyes are sewed up, and he sits on a pole, at the end of which is made a place as large as the crown of a hat — he is tied there, and a pulley reaching to a blind controls him. As the pigeons appear he is played by the pulley — there are also flyers, these consist of pigeons with their eyes sewed up, and attached to long cords, at one end of which is a light brush — they are thrown up to attract the pigeons as they fly over. It is truly exciting sport. George McCouty has caught some 1600, and has used but one stool pigeon — an old hen, decidedly the greatest pigeon in these diggings. Many others beside McCouty have been catching them. I think I may safely say, there have been more than ten thousand caught in this neighborhood. Hawks are sometimes troublesome customers — some years since one of them made a dash at a stool pigeon, the net was sprung on him, but not in time to save the pigeon. the keeper of the net was so much enraged at the loss of his favorite pigeon, that he picked all the feathers but those on the wings from the hawk, and sewing up his eyes and another part not to be mentioned, he turned him loose. They do say, he went like no blue streak.

Truly yours, N.

March 30, 1850. New York Spirit of the Times; A chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage 20(6): 1.