19 November 2014

The Chicago Game Trade

Where the Game is Obtained - How Much is Consumed - How it is Preserved.

December 12, 1868. Memphis Daily Appeal 29(99): 1.

A lengthy article in a Chicago paper gives some account of the game trade in that city. While it is not so extensive as we might suppose, nevertheless a number of interesting facts are given. We learn that there are in Chicago about a dozen wholesale firms, by whom hunters are kept in regular employment to furnish them game of every sort, from the buffalo or the "bar" down to the squirrel or the snipe, and by whom some hundreds of dealers all over the city are supplied. In addition to these there are quite an army of commission merchants, to whom game is consigned from the country, and who also furnish supplies both to wholesale and retail dealers, the former resorting to them principally when they have on an emergency to fill up orders from the East. A large body of men are thus enabled to follow hunting as an occupation in the Western States, whither the game is being gradually driven by the steady advance of civilization. Many farmers, also, engage in the lucrative sport, taking a circuit within reach of their homes at night, and often bagging a sufficient quantity of birds to make their day's shooting a profitable occupation. The hunter's calling is of course most remunerative in the winter months, when a heavy fall of snow renders them more easy to be trapped. There is also at this season less risk of loss on game exported eastward than in mild weather, when even with extreme care it is liable to spoil on the way.

The region from which our game-dealers obtain the bulk of their supplies comprehends the States of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. The two first named States abound in prairie chickens, wild ducks and quails, and those constitute, at this time of the year, the staple commodity to our markets under the head of game, exclusive of venison. The shooting season begins in the middle of August, but not too much is done commercially until the cold weather sets in, when the birds are more acceptable and the wholesale traders here can venture on shipping large consignments to the Eastern markets. The abundance in which these birds are found, and the enormous quantities in which they are shot and sent in to supply the luxurious tables of Chicago citizens, may almost be inferred from the fact that two skillful and fortunate "boys" from Indiana, between the 9th of September and the 13th of November, this year, pursuing their avocation along the line of the Illinois Central Railroad, supplied to one wholesale firm in this city 1172 quails, which they themselves had shot. Wisconsin and Michigan are the principal sources of supply for venison; Missouri sends us prairie chickens, quails and wild turkeys; and Indiana likewise furnishes ducks and quails in considerable abundance. Such luxuries as bear and opossum meat must be looked for farther west.

Amount of Game Sent to Market.

The probable supplies of prairie chickens to the Chicago market since the commencement of shooting will have been not less that from 25,000 to 30,000; of quails, about an equal number; and of wild ducks between 2000 and 3000. Large as these figures appear, they are in all likelihood under rather than over the actual quantity received and disposed of in the Chicago market. For a period of barely two months this is tolerably extensive trade, and yet the general report is that the supplies this season are considerably short of the demand for home consumption alone, and few of our wholesale merchants are doing anything at present in the way of exportation. As compared with former years, there is a much greater scarcity of all kinds of game in the market. After the cold weather fairly sets in, however, it is anticipated that large quantities of game will find their way to Chicago, and probably the supply and consumption this year will not fall below, if they do not surpass, those of former years. When the Pacific Railroad is opened, an immense further expansion of the game trade of Chicago may be looked for. Already, parties in Cheyenne are making arrangements with some of the Chicago dealers for the consignment of regular supplies from that locality.

Preservation of Game.

Apart from the risks of competition, there has always been a difficulty in the way of extensive exportation to the East, in the liability to loss by a sudden change of weather spoiling the game on the way. This difficulty is now likely to be entirely removed by the general introduction of a new kind of refrigerator car on the principal railroad lines, patented by Mr. C.F. Pike, of Providence, R.I. Already there is in operation, at the establishment of Messrs. Francis & Webber, corner of State and Madison streets, one of Mr. Pike's ice-boxes, in which they are enabled to preserve fruit and game for a length of time even in the hottest weather. In the top of the box is fixed a range of galvanized iron receivers, from which tubes of the same metal run down the entire depth of the box. These receivers are filled with ice and salt, to the proportion of twenty pounds of salt to one hundred pounds of ice, and when fully charged they are capable of reducing the temperature to a frost as severe as any experienced here in the months of January. In September last, 100 baskets of peaches were kept in good condition for thirty days, with a temperature of 39 degrees, and in the hottest term it is possible to keep poultry in a frozen state in this refrigerator. Mr. Pike contemplates introducing cars constructed on the same principle on the principal railroad lines, and by their means it will be possible to export game to the Eastern States. He took a car load of peaches from Chicago to Worcester, Mass., last season, and astounded the people there by bringing them into market in splendid condition. The advantage of Mr. Pike's patent over the old style of refrigerator is obvious. The latter consists of zinc-lined boxes, into which lumps of ice are put, and they can never be kept for a great length of time continuously at an even temperature. In the new patent the temperature is completely under control, and can be regulated at will, according to the quality of the ice with which the receivers are charged. All the companies run cars on the old refrigerator principle, but in these it is impossible to get a temperature lower than 60 degrees in warm weather, while peaches should have a temperature not higher than 34 degrees or 40 degrees, and for game and poultry the thermometer should be still lower. A company has been organized in Providence, which has bought the patent and the transportation right for the whole United States, and intend to run cars on this principle, on all the lines of railroad. If successful, this enterprise will give a great stimulus to the shipment of perishable articles all the year round. It will remove the principal obstacles to the shipment of game from Chicago to the markets of the East; and hence, by the increase of railroad facilities bringing in large supplies on the one hand, and the increase of facilities for transportation on the other, the game market of Chicago is destined to grow in importance from year to year, its prosperity being only limited by the quality of game to be found, and the capacity of birds and beasts to propagate their species, and repair the ravages made in their tribe by the unerring rifles of our Western huntsmen.

More than 20 species of birds were sold in the Chicago Market from 1857 to 1885. Quail, prairie chickens, wild ducks (i.e., mallard et al.), canvasback and passenger pigeon were among the most prominent. Especially important during the early years, were the number of offered for sale. This value was typically indicated by the dozens, with variable prices indicated by the market report in the newspaper.