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figure, which proved to be a woman, if I might take shelter under her
roof for the night. Her voice was gruff, and her attire negligently
thrown about her. She answered in the affirmative. I walked in, took
a wooden stool, and quietly seated myself by the fire. The next object
that attracted my notice was a finely formed young Indian, resting his
head between his hands, with his elbows on his knees. A long bow rested
against the log wall near him, while a quantity of arrows and two or
three raccoon skins lay at his feet. He moved not; he apparently breathed
not. Accustomed to the habits of the Indians, and knowing that they pay
little attention to the approach of civilized strangers (a circumstance
which in some countries is considered as evincing the apathy of their
character), I addressed him in French, a language not unfrequently
partially known to the people in that neighbourhood. He raised his head,
pointed to one of his eyes with his finger, and gave me a significant
glance with the other. His face was covered with blood. The fact was,
that an hour before this, as he was in the act of discharging an arrow
at a raccoon in the top of a tree, the arrow had split upon the cord,
and sprung back with such violence into his right eye as to destroy it
for ever.

Feeling hungry, I inquired what sort of fare I might expect. Such a thing
as a bed was not to be seen, but many large untanned bear and buffalo
hides lay piled in a corner. I drew a fine time-piece from my breast,
and told the woman that it was late, and that I was fatigued. She had
espied my watch, the richness of which seemed to operate upon her feelings
with electric quickness. She told me that there was plenty of venison
and jerked buffalo meat, and that on removing the ashes I should find
a cake. But my watch had struck her fancy, and her curiosity had to be
gratified by an immediate sight of it. I took off the gold chain that
secured it from around my neck, and presented it to her. She was all
ecstacy, spoke of its beauty, asked me its value, and put the chain round
her brawny neck, saying how happy the possession of such a watch should
make her. Thoughtless, and, as I fancied myself, in so retired a spot,
secure, I paid little attention to her talk or her movements. I helped
my dog to a good supper of venison, and was not long in satisfying the
demands of my own appetite.

The Indian rose from his seat, as if in extreme suffering. He passed and
repassed me several times, and once pinched me on the side so violently,
that the pain nearly brought forth an exclamation of anger. I looked at
him. His eye met mine; but his look was so forbidding, that it struck a
chill into the more nervous part of my system. He again seated himself,
drew his butcher-knife from its greasy scabbard, examined its edge, as
would do that of a razor suspected dull, replaced it, and again taking
his tomahawk from his back, filled the pipe of it with tobacco, and
sent me expressive glances whenever our hostess chanced to have her back
toward us.

Never until that moment had my senses been awakened to the danger which
I now suspected to be about me. I returned glance for glance to my
companion, and rested well assured that, whatever enemies I might have,
he was not of their number.

I asked the woman for my watch, wound it up, and under pretence of
wishing to see how the weather might probably be on the morrow, took up
my gun, and walked out of the cabin. I slipped a ball into each barrel,
scraped the edges of my flints, renewed the primings, and returning to
the hut, gave a favourable account of my observations. I took a few
bear-skins, made a pallet of them, and calling my faithful dog to my
side, lay down, with my gun close to my body, and in a few minutes was,
to all appearance, fast asleep.

A short time had elapsed, when some voices were heard, and from the corner
of my eyes I saw two athletic youths making their entrance, bearing
a dead stag on a pole. They disposed of their burden, and asking for
whisky, helped themselves freely to it. Observing me and the wounded
Indian, they asked who I was, and why the devil that rascal (meaning
the Indian, who, they knew, understood not a word of English) was in the
house. The mother—for so she proved to be, bade them speak less loudly,
made mention of my watch, and took them to a corner, where a conversation
took place, the purport of which it required little shrewdness in me to
guess. I tapped my dog gently. He moved his tail, and with indescribable
pleasure I saw his fine eyes alternately fixed on me and raised towards
the trio in the corner. I felt that he perceived danger in my situation.
The Indian exchanged a last glance with me.

The lads had eaten and drunk themselves into such condition, that I
already looked upon them as _hors de combat_; and the frequent visits
of the whisky bottle to the ugly mouth of their dam I hoped would soon
reduce her to a like state. Judge of my astonishment, reader, when I saw
this incarnate fiend take a large carving-knife, and go to the grindstone
to whet its edge. I saw her pour the water on the turning machine, and
watched her working away with the dangerous instrument, until the cold
sweat covered every part of my body, in despite of my determination to
defend myself to the last. Her task finished, she walked to her reeling
sons, and said, "There, that'll soon settle him! Boys, kill you ——, and
then for the watch."

I turned, cocked my gun-locks silently, touched my faithful companion,
and lay ready to start up and shoot the first who might attempt my life.
The moment was fast approaching, and that night might have been my last
in this world, had not Providence made preparations for my rescue. All
was ready. The infernal hag was advancing slowly, probably contemplating
the best way of despatching me, whilst her sons should be engaged with
the Indian. I was several times on the eve of rising, and shooting her
on the spot:—but she was not to be punished thus. The door was suddenly
opened, and there entered two stout travellers, each with a long rifle
on his shoulder. I bounced up on my feet, and making them most heartily
welcome, told them how well it was for me that they should have arrived
at that moment. The tale was told in a minute. The drunken sons were
secured, and the woman, in spite of her defence and vociferations,
shared the same fate. The Indian fairly danced with joy, and gave us
to understand that, as he could not sleep for pain, he would watch over
us. You may suppose we slept much less than we talked. The two strangers
gave me an account of their once having been themselves in a somewhat
similar situation. Day came, fair and rosy, and with it the punishment
of our captives.

They were now quite sobered. Their feet were unbound, but their arms
were still securely tied. We marched them into the woods off the road,
and having used them as Regulators were wont to use such delinquents,
we set fire to the cabin, gave all the skins and implements to the young
Indian warrior, and proceeded, well pleased, towards the settlements.

During upwards of twenty-five years, when my wanderings extended to all
parts of our country, this was the only time at which my life was in
danger from my fellow creatures. Indeed, so little risk do travellers
run in the United States, that no one born there ever dreams of any to
be encountered on the road; and I can only account for this occurrence
by supposing that the inhabitants of the cabin were not Americans.

Will you believe, good-natured reader, that not many miles from the place
where this adventure happened, and where fifteen years ago, no habitation
belonging to civilized man was expected, and very few ever seen, large
roads are now laid out, cultivation has converted the woods into fertile
fields, taverns have been erected, and much of what we Americans call
comfort is to be met with. So fast does improvement proceed in our
abundant and free country.




The French and Spaniards of Louisiana have designated all the species of
the genus Falco by the name of "_Mangeurs de Poulets_;" and the farmers
in other portions of the Union have bestowed upon them, according to
their size, the appellations of "Hen Hawk," "Chicken Hawk," "Pigeon
Hawk," &c. This mode of naming these rapacious birds is doubtless natural
enough, but it displays little knowledge of the characteristic manners
of the species. No bird can better illustrate the frequent inaccuracy
of the names bestowed by ignorant persons than the present, of which on
referring to the plate, you will see a pair enjoying themselves over a
brace of ducks of different species. Very likely, were tame ducks as
plentiful on the plantations in our States, as wild ducks are on our
rivers, lakes and estuaries, these hawks might have been named by some
of our settlers "_Mangeurs de Canards_."

Look at these two pirates eating their _déjeuné à la fourchette_, as it
were, congratulating each other on the savouriness of the food in their
grasp. One might think them real epicures, but they are in fact true
gluttons. The male has obtained possession of a Green-winged Teal, while
his mate has procured a Gadwal Duck. Their appetites are equal to their
reckless daring, and they well deserve the name of "Pirates," which I
have above bestowed upon them.

The Great-footed Hawk, or Peregrine Falcon, is now frequently to be
met with in the United States, but within my remembrance it was a very
scarce species in America. I can well recollect the time when, if I shot
one or two individuals of the species in the course of a whole winter,
I thought myself a fortunate mortal; whereas of late years I have shot
two in one day, and perhaps a dozen in the course of a winter. It is
quite impossible for me to account for this increase in their number,
the more so that our plantations have equally increased, and we have now
three gunners for every one that existed twenty years ago, and all of
them ready to destroy a hawk of any kind whenever an occasion presents

The flight of this bird is of astonishing rapidity. It is scarcely ever
seen sailing, unless after being disappointed in its attempt to secure
the prey which it has been pursuing, and even at such times it merely
rises with a broad spiral circuit, to attain a sufficient elevation to
enable it to reconnoitre a certain space below. It then emits a cry much
resembling that of the Sparrow Hawk, but greatly louder, like that of the
European Kestrel, and flies off swiftly in quest of plunder. The search
is often performed with a flight resembling that of the tame pigeon,
until perceiving an object, it redoubles its flappings, and pursues
the fugitive with a rapidity scarcely to be conceived. Its turnings,
windings and cuttings through the air are now surprising. It follows
and nears the timorous quarry at every turn and back-cutting which the
latter attempts. Arrived within a few feet of the prey, the Falcon is
seen protruding his powerful legs and talons to their full stretch.
His wings are for a moment almost closed; the next instant he grapples
the prize, which, if too weighty to be carried off directly, he forces
obliquely toward the ground, sometimes a hundred yards from where it
was seized, to kill it, and devour it on the spot. Should this happen
over a large extent of water, the Falcon drops his prey, and sets off
in quest of another. On the contrary, should it not prove too heavy,
the exulting bird carries it off to a sequestered and secure place. He
pursues the smaller Ducks, Water-hens, and other swimming birds, and if
they are not quick in diving, seizes them, and rises with them from the
water. I have seen this Hawk come at the report of a gun, and carry off
a Teal not thirty steps distant from the sportsman who had killed it,
with a daring assurance as surprising as unexpected. This conduct has
been observed by many individuals, and is a characteristic trait of the
species. The largest duck that I have seen this bird attack and grapple
with on the wing is the Mallard.

The Great-footed Hawk does not however content himself with water-fowl.
He is generally seen following the flocks of Pigeons and even Blackbirds,
causing great terror in their ranks, and forcing them to perform various
aerial evolutions to escape the grasp of his dreaded talons. For several
days I watched one of them that had taken a particular fancy to some
tame pigeons, to secure which it went so far as to enter their house at
one of the holes, seize a bird, and issue by another hole in an instant,
causing such terror among the rest as to render me fearful that they
would abandon the place. However, I fortunately shot the depredator.

They occasionally feed on dead fish that have floated to the shores
or sand bars. I saw several of them thus occupied while descending
the Mississippi on a journey undertaken expressly for the purpose of
observing and procuring different specimens of birds, and which lasted
four months, as I followed the windings of that great river, floating
down it only a few miles daily. During that period, I and my companion
counted upwards of fifty of these Hawks, and killed several, among which
was the female represented in the plate now before you, and which was
found to contain in its stomach bones of birds, a few downy feathers,
the gizzard of a Teal, and the eyes and many scales of a fish. It was
shot on the 26th December 1820. The ovary contained numerous eggs, two
of which were as large as pease.

Whilst in quest of food, the Great-footed Hawk will frequently alight
on the highest dead branch of a tree in the immediate neighbourhood of
such wet or marshy grounds as the Common Snipe resorts to by preference.
His head is seen moving in short starts, as if he were counting every
little space below; and while so engaged, the moment he spies a Snipe,
down he darts like an arrow, making a rustling noise with his wings that
may be heard several hundred yards off, seizes the Snipe, and flies away
to some near wood to devour it.

It is a cleanly bird, in respect to feeding. No sooner is the prey dead
than the Falcon turns its belly upward, and begins to pluck it with his
bill, which he does very expertly, holding it meantime quite fast in his
talons; and as soon as a portion is cleared of feathers, tears the flesh
in large pieces, and swallows it with great avidity. If it is a large
bird, he leaves the refuse parts, but, if small, swallows the whole in
pieces. Should he be approached by an enemy, he rises with it and flies
off into the interior of the woods, or if he happens to be in a meadow,
to some considerable distance, he being more wary at such times than
when he has alighted on a tree.

The Great-footed Hawk is a heavy, compact, and firmly built bird for
its size, and when arrived at maturity, extremely muscular, with very
tough flesh. The plumage differs greatly according to age. I have seen it
vary in different individuals, from the deepest chocolate-brown to light
grey. Their grasp is so firm, that should one be hit while perched, and
not shot quite dead, it will cling to the branch until life has departed.

Like most other Hawks, this is a solitary bird, excepting during the
breeding season, at the beginning of which it is seen in pairs. Their
season of breeding is so very early, that it might be said to be in
winter. I have seen the male caressing the female as early as the first
days of December.

This species visits Louisiana during the winter months only; for although
I have observed it mating then, it generally disappears a few days
after, and in a fortnight later none can be seen. It is scarce in the
Middle States, where, as well as in the Southern Districts, it lives
along water-courses, and in the neighbourhood of the shores of the sea
and inland lakes. I should think that they breed in the United States,
having shot a pair in the month of August near the Falls of Niagara.
It is extremely tenacious of life, and if not wounded in the wings,
though mortally so in the body, it flies to the last gasp, and does not
fall until life is extinct. I never saw one of them attack a quadruped,
although I have frequently seen them perched within sight of squirrels,
which I thought they might easily have secured, had they been so inclined.

Once when nearing the coast of England, being then about a hundred and
fifty miles distant from it, in the month of July, I obtained a pair
of these birds, which had come on board our vessel, and had been shot
there. I examined them with care, and found no difference between them
and those which I had shot in America. They are at present scarce in
England, where I have seen only a few. In London, some individuals of
the species resort to the cupola of St Paul's Cathedral, and the towers
of Westminster Abbey, to roost, and probably to breed. I have seen them
depart from these places at day dawn, and return in the evening.

The achievements of this species are well known in Europe, where it
is even at the present day trained for the chase. Whilst on a visit
at Dalmahoy, the seat of the Earl of Morton, near Edinburgh, I had the
pleasure of seeing a pair of these birds hooded, and with small brass
bells on their legs, in excellent training. They were the property of
that nobleman.

These birds sometimes roost in the hollows of trees. I saw one resorting
for weeks every night to a hole in a dead sycamore, near Louisville in
Kentucky. It generally came to the place a little before sunset, alighted
on the dead branches, and in a short time after flew into the hollow,
where it spent the night, and from whence I saw it issuing at dawn. I
have known them also retire for the same purpose to the crevices of high
cliffs, on the banks of Green River in the same state. One winter, when I
had occasion to cross the Homochitta River, in the State of Mississippi,
I observed these Hawks in greater numbers than I had ever before seen.

Many persons believe that this Hawk, and some others, never drink any
other fluid than the blood of their victims; but this is an error. I
have seen them alight on sand bars, walk to the edge of them, immerse
their bills nearly up to the eyes in the water, and drink in a continued
manner, as Pigeons are known to do.

FALCO PEREGRINUS, _Gmel._ Syst. vol. i. p. 272.—_Lath._ Ind.
Ornith. vol. i. p. 33.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synopsis of Birds of
the United States, p. 27.

PEREGRINE FALCON, _Lath._ Synopsis, vol. i. p. 73, and Suppl.
p. 18.

GREAT-FOOTED HAWK, _Wilson_, Americ. Ornith. vol ix. p. 120,
Pl. 76.

Adult Male. Plate XVI. Fig. 1.

Bill shortish, as broad as deep, the sides convex, the dorsal outline
convex from the base; upper mandible cerate, the edges blunt, slightly
inflected, with a process towards the curvature on either side with a
hollow, the tip trigonal, descending obliquely, acute; lower mandible
involute at the edges, truncate at the end, with a notch near it,
corresponding to the process above. Nostrils round, lateral, with a
soft papilla in the centre, connected with the upper edge. Head rather
large and round. Neck shortish. Body ovate, anteriorly broad. Legs
robust, short roundish; tarsi covered all round with imbricated scales,
the anterior largest, broad, and subhexagonal, the posterior small and
rounded. Toes robust, covered above with broad scutella, scabrous and
tubercular below; middle and outer toes connected by a membrane; claws
roundish, strong and curved, acute, marginate beneath.

Plumage ordinary, compact, imbricated. Feathers of the back rounded, of
the neck and breast anteriorly broad and rounded; of the sides long, all
acuminate; of the thighs long and rounded. Space between the bill and
eye covered only with bristly feathers. Feathers of the forehead with
bristly points. Wings long; primary quills moderately broad, attenuated;
first quill notched near the end; secondaries curved inwards, broad,
obtuse, with an acumen. Tail-feathers broadish, rounded, the tail rather
long, and nearly even.

Bill blackish-blue at the tip, pale green at the base, cere oil-green;
bare orbital space orange. Iris hazel. Feet lemon-yellow; claws
brownish-black. Head and hind neck greyish-black, tinged with blue; the
rest of the upper parts dark bluish-grey, indistinctly barred with deep
brown. Quills blackish-brown, the inner webs marked with transverse
elliptical spots of reddish-white. Tail greyish-brown, marked with
about twelve bars, the last of which is broad, the rest diminishing in
size and intensity of tint. Throat and fore-neck white; a broad band of
blackish-blue from the angle of the mouth downwards; cheeks whitish-grey;
sides, breast and thighs reddish-white, transversely marked with
dark brown spots in longitudinal series. Under wing feathers whitish,
transversely barred.

Length 16½ inches, extent of wings 30; bill 1⅛ along the ridge; tarsus
1⅞, middle toe 2½.

The figure represents a male in full vigour. When the bird gets older,
the colours of the upper parts acquire a lighter tint in the male, and
sometimes the back is ash-grey; but in the female, they gradually assume
a deeper hue.

Adult Female. Plate XVI. Fig. 2.

The colour of the upper parts is more brown; tips of the secondary quills
more or less whitish, tail tipped with brownish-white; throat and fore
neck yellowish-white; the latter longitudinally marked with guttiform
spots; general colour beneath yellowish-white, marked with longitudinal
broad spots. Vent-feathers reddish; under tail-coverts marked with narrow

Length 19½ inches, extent of wings 36; beak 1½ along the ridge; tarsus
2, middle toe 3½.




I have tried, kind reader, to give you a faithful representation of two
as gentle pairs of Turtles as ever cooed their loves in the green woods.
I have placed them on a branch of Stuartia, which you see ornamented
with a profusion of white blossoms, emblematic of purity and chastity.

Look at the female, as she assiduously sits on her eggs, embosomed among
the thick foliage, receiving food from the bill of her mate, and listening
with delight to his assurances of devoted affection. Nothing is wanting
to render the moment as happy as could be desired by any couple on a
similar occasion.

On the branch above, a love scene is just commencing. The female, still
coy and undetermined, seems doubtful of the truth of her lover, and
virgin-like resolves to put his sincerity to the test, by delaying the
gratification of his wishes. She has reached the extremity of the branch,
her wings and tail are already opening, and she will fly off to some
more sequestered spot, where, if her lover should follow her with the
same assiduous devotion, they will doubtless become as blessed as the
pair beneath them.

The Dove announces the approach of spring. Nay, she does more:—she forces
us to forget the chilling blasts of winter, by the soft and melancholy
sound of her cooing. Her heart is already so warmed and so swelled by
the ardour of her passion, that it feels as ready to expand as the buds
on the trees are, under the genial influence of returning heat.

The flight of this bird is extremely rapid, and of long duration. Whenever
it starts from a tree or the ground, on being unexpectedly approached,
its wings produce a whistling noise, heard at a considerable distance.
On such occasions, it frequently makes several curious windings through
the air, as if to prove its capability of efficient flight. It seldom
rises far above the trees, and as seldom passes through dense woods or
forests, but prefers following their margins, or flying about the fences
and fields. Yet, during spring, and particularly whilst the female is
sitting on her eggs, the male rises as if about to ascend to a great
height in the air, flapping his wings, but all of a sudden comes downwards
again, describing a large circle, and sailing smoothly with wings and
tail expanded, until in this manner he alights on the tree where his
mate is, or on one very near it. These manœuvres are frequently repeated
during the days of incubation, and occasionally when the male bird is
courting the female. No sooner do they alight than they jerk out their
tail in a very graceful manner, and balance their neck and head. Their
migrations are not so extensive as those of the Wild Pigeon (_Columba
migratoria_); nor are they performed in such numbers, two hundred and

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 10 of 50)