John James Audubon.

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find incompatible with their habits and the gratification of their
unbridled passions. On the extreme verge of civilization, however, their
evil propensities find more free scope, and the dread of punishment for
their deeds, or the infliction of that punishment, are the only means
that prove effectual in reforming them.

In those remote parts, no sooner is it discovered that an individual
has conducted himself in a notoriously vicious manner, or has committed
some outrage upon society, than a conclave of the honest citizens takes
place, for the purpose of investigating the case, with a rigour without
which no good result could be expected. These honest citizens, selected
from among the most respectable persons in the district, and vested with
powers suited to the necessity of preserving order on the frontiers,
are named _Regulators_. The accused person is arrested, his conduct laid
open, and if he is found guilty of a first crime, he is warned to leave
the country, and go farther from society, within an appointed time.
Should the individual prove so callous as to disregard the sentence,
and remain in the same neighbourhood, to commit new crimes, then woe
be to him; for the Regulators, after proving him guilty a second time,
pass and execute a sentence, which, if not enough to make him perish
under the infliction, is at least for ever impressed upon his memory.
The punishment inflicted is generally a severe castigation, and the
destruction by fire of his cabin. Sometimes, in cases of reiterated
theft or murder, death is considered necessary; and, in some instances,
delinquents of the worst species have been shot, after which their heads
have been stuck on poles, to deter others from following their example.
I shall give you an account of one of these desperadoes, as I received
it from a person who had been instrumental in bringing him to punishment.

The name of MASON is still familiar to many of the navigators of the
Lower Ohio and Mississippi. By dint of industry in bad deeds he became
a notorious horse-stealer, formed a line of worthless associates from
the eastern parts of Virginia (a State greatly celebrated for its fine
breed of horses) to New Orleans, and had a settlement on Wolf Island,
not far from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi, from which he
issued to stop the flat-boats, and rifle them of such provisions and
other articles as he and his party needed. His depredations became the
talk of the whole Western Country; and to pass Wolf Island was not less
to be dreaded than to anchor under the walls of Algiers. The horses,
the negroes, and the cargoes, his gang carried off and sold. At last,
a body of Regulators undertook, at great peril, and for the sake of the
country, to bring the villain to punishment.

MASON was as cunning and watchful as he was active and daring. Many of
his haunts were successively found out and searched, but the numerous
spies in his employ enabled him to escape in time. One day, however, as
he was riding a beautiful horse in the woods, he was met by one of the
Regulators, who immediately recognised him, but passed him as if an utter
stranger. MASON, not dreaming of danger, pursued his way leisurely, as
if he had met no one. But he was dogged by the Regulator, and in such a
manner as proved fatal to him. At dusk, MASON having reached the lowest
part of a ravine, no doubt well known to him, hoppled (tied together the
fore-legs of) his stolen horse, to enable it to feed during the night
without chance of straying far, and concealed himself in a hollow log
to spend the night. The plan was good, but proved his ruin.

The Regulator, who knew every hill and hollow of the woods, marked
the place and the log with the eye of an experienced hunter, and as he
remarked that MASON was most efficiently armed, he galloped off to the
nearest house, where he knew he should find assistance. This was easily
procured, and the party proceeded to the spot. MASON, on being attacked,
defended himself with desperate valour; and as it proved impossible to
secure him alive, he was brought to the ground with a rifle ball. His
head was cut off, and stuck on the end of a broken branch of a tree,
by the nearest road to the place where the affray happened. The gang
soon dispersed, in consequence of the loss of their leader, and this
infliction of merited punishment proved beneficial in deterring others
from following a similar predatory life.

The punishment by castigation is performed in the following manner. The
individual convicted of an offence is led to some remote part of the
woods, under the escort of sometimes forty or fifty Regulators. When
arrived at the chosen spot, the criminal is made fast to a tree, and a
few of the Regulators remain with him, whilst the rest scour the forest,
to assure themselves that no strangers are within reach, after which
they form an extensive ring, arranging themselves on their horses, well
armed with rifles and pistols, at equal distances and in each other's
sight. At a given signal that "all's ready," those about the culprit,
having provided themselves with young twigs of hickory, administer the
number of lashes prescribed by the sentence, untie the sufferer, and
order him to leave the country immediately.

One of these castigations which took place more within my immediate
knowledge, was performed on a fellow who was neither a thief nor a
murderer, but who had misbehaved otherwise sufficiently to bring himself
under the sentence with mitigation. He was taken to a place where nettles
were known to grow in great luxuriance, completely stripped, and so
lashed with them, that although not materially hurt, he took it as a
hint not to be neglected, left the country, and was never again heard
of by any of the party concerned.

Probably at the moment when I am copying these notes respecting the early
laws of our frontier people, few or no Regulating Parties exist, the
terrible examples that were made having impressed upon the new settlers
a salutary dread, which restrains them from the commission of flagrant




It is where the Great Magnolia shoots up its majestic trunk, crowned with
evergreen leaves, and decorated with a thousand beautiful flowers, that
perfume the air around; where the forests and fields are adorned with
blossoms of every hue; where the golden Orange ornaments the gardens and
groves; where Bignonias of various kinds interlace their climbing stems
around the White-flowered Stuartia, and mounting still higher, cover
the summits of the lofty trees around, accompanied with innumerable
Vines, that here and there festoon the dense foliage of the magnificent
woods, lending to the vernal breeze a slight portion of the perfume
of their clustered flowers; where a genial warmth seldom forsakes the
atmosphere; where berries and fruits of all descriptions are met with
at every step;—in a word, kind reader, it is where Nature seems to have
paused, as she passed over the Earth, and opening her stores, to have
strewed with unsparing hand the diversified seeds from which have sprung
all the beautiful and splendid forms which I should in vain attempt to
describe, that the Mocking Bird should have fixed its abode, there only
that its wondrous song should be heard.

But where is that favoured land?—It is in that great continent to whose
distant shores Europe has sent forth her adventurous sons, to wrest for
themselves a habitation from the wild inhabitants of the forest, and to
convert the neglected soil into fields of exuberant fertility. It is,
reader, in Louisiana that these bounties of nature are in the greatest
perfection. It is there that you should listen to the love-song of the
Mocking Bird, as I at this moment do. See how he flies round his mate,
with motions as light as those of the butterfly! His tail is widely
expanded, he mounts in the air to a small distance, describes a circle,
and, again alighting, approaches his beloved one, his eyes gleaming
with delight, for she has already promised to be his and his only. His
beautiful wings are gently raised, he bows to his love, and again bouncing
upwards, opens his bill, and pours forth his melody, full of exultation
at the conquest which he has made.

They are not the soft sounds of the flute or of the hautboy that I hear,
but the sweeter notes of Nature's own music. The mellowness of the song,
the varied modulations and gradations, the extent of its compass, the
great brilliancy of execution, are unrivalled. There is probably no bird
in the world that possesses all the musical qualifications of this king
of song, who has derived all from Nature's self. Yes, reader, all!

No sooner has he again alighted, and the conjugal contract has been
sealed, than, as if his breast was about to be rent with delight, he again
pours forth his notes with more softness and richness than before. He
now soars higher, glancing around with a vigilant eye, to assure himself
that none has witnessed his bliss. When these love-scenes, visible only
to the ardent lover of nature, are over, he dances through the air, full
of animation and delight, and, as if to convince his lovely mate that to
enrich her hopes he has much more love in store, he that moment begins
anew, and imitates all the notes which nature has imparted to the other
songsters of the grove.

For a while, each long day and pleasant night are thus spent; but at
a peculiar note of the female he ceases his song, and attends to her
wishes. A nest is to be prepared, and the choice of a place in which to
lay it is to become a matter of mutual consideration. The Orange, the
Fig, the Pear-tree of the gardens are inspected; the thick briar patches
are also visited. They appear all so well suited for the purpose in view,
and so well does the bird know that man is not his most dangerous enemy,
that instead of retiring from him, they at length fix their abode in
his vicinity, perhaps in the nearest tree to his window. Dried twigs,
leaves, grasses, cotton, flax, and other substances, are picked up,
carried to a forked branch, and there arranged. The female has laid an
egg, and the male redoubles his caresses. Five eggs are deposited in due
time, when the male having little more to do than to sing his mate to
repose, attunes his pipe anew. Every now and then he spies an insect on
the ground, the taste of which he is sure will please his beloved one.
He drops upon it, takes it in his bill, beats it against the earth, and
flies to the nest to feed and receive the warm thanks of his devoted

When a fortnight has elapsed, the young brood demand all their care and
attention. No cat, no vile snake, no dreaded hawk, is likely to visit
their habitation. Indeed the inmates of the next house have by this
time become quite attached to the lovely pair of Mocking Birds, and
take pleasure in contributing to their safety. The dew-berries from the
fields, and many kinds of fruit from the gardens, mixed with insects,
supply the young as well as the parents with food. The brood is soon
seen emerging from the nest, and in another fortnight, being now able
to fly with vigour, and to provide for themselves, they leave the parent
birds, as many other species do.

The above account does not contain all that I wish you to know of the
habits of this remarkable songster; so, I shall shift the scene to the
woods and wilds, where we shall examine it more particularly.

The Mocking Bird remains in Louisiana the whole year. I have observed
with astonishment, that towards the end of October, when those which had
gone to the Eastern States, some as far as Boston, have returned, they
are instantly known by the "southrons," who attack them on all occasions.
I have ascertained this by observing the greater shyness exhibited by
the strangers for weeks after their arrival. This shyness, however, is
shortly over, as well as the animosity displayed by the resident birds,
and during the winter there exists a great appearance of sociality among
the united tribes.

In the beginning of April, sometimes a fortnight earlier, the Mocking
Birds pair, and construct their nests. In some instances they are so
careless as to place the nest between the rails of a fence directly by
the road. I have frequently found it in such places, or in the fields,
as well as in briars, but always so easily discoverable that any person
desirous of procuring one, might do so in a very short time. It is
coarsely constructed on the outside, being there composed of dried
sticks of briars, withered leaves of trees, and grasses, mixed with wool.
Internally it is finished with fibrous roots disposed in a circular form,
but carelessly arranged. The female lays from four to six eggs the first
time, four or five the next, and when there is a third brood, which
is sometimes the case, seldom more than three, of which I have rarely
found more than two hatched. The eggs are of a short oval form, light
green, blotched and spotted with umber. The young of the last brood not
being able to support themselves until late in the season, when many
of the berries and insects have become scarce, are stunted in growth;—a
circumstance which has induced some persons to imagine the existence in
the United States of two species of Mocking Bird, a larger and a smaller.
This, however, in as far as my observation goes, is not correct. The
first brood is frequently brought to the bird-market in New Orleans as
early as the middle of April. A little farther up the country, they are
out by the fifteenth of May. The second brood is hatched in July, and
the third in the latter part of September.

The nearer you approach to the sea-shores, the more plentiful do you find
these birds. They are naturally fond of loose sands, and of districts
scantily furnished with small trees, or patches of briars, and low bushes.

During incubation, the female pays such precise attention to the position
in which she leaves her eggs, when she goes to a short distance for
exercise and refreshment, to pick up gravel, or roll herself in the dust,
that, on her return, should she find that any of them has been displaced,
or touched by the hand of man, she utters a low mournful note, at the
sound of which the male immediately joins her, and they are both seen
to condole together. Some people imagine that, on such occasions, the
female abandons the nest; but this idea is incorrect. On the contrary,
she redoubles her assiduity and care, and scarcely leaves the nest for
a moment; nor is it until she has been repeatedly forced from the dear
spot, and has been much alarmed by frequent intrusions, that she finally
and reluctantly leaves it. Nay, if the eggs are on the eve of being
hatched, she will almost suffer a person to lay hold of her.

Different species of snakes ascend to their nests, and generally suck
the eggs or swallow the young; but on all such occasions, not only the
pair to which the nest belongs, but many other Mocking Birds from the
vicinity, fly to the spot, attack the reptiles, and, in some cases, are
so fortunate as either to force them to retreat, or deprive them of
life. Cats that have abandoned the houses to prowl about the fields,
in a half wild state, are also dangerous enemies, as they frequently
approach the nest unnoticed, and at a pounce secure the mother, or at
least destroy the eggs or young, and overturn the nest. Children seldom
destroy the nests of these birds, and the planters generally protect
them. So much does this feeling prevail throughout Louisiana, that they
will not willingly permit a Mocking Bird to be shot at any time.

In winter, nearly all the Mocking Birds approach the farm-houses and
plantations, living about the gardens or outhouses. They are then
frequently seen on the roofs, and perched on the chimney-tops; yet they
always appear full of animation. Whilst searching for food on the ground,
their motions are light and elegant, and they frequently open their wings
as butterflies do when basking in the sun, moving a step or two, and
again throwing out their wings. When the weather is mild, the old males
are heard singing with as much spirit as during the spring or summer,
while the younger birds are busily engaged in practising, preparatory
to the love season. They seldom resort to the interior of the forest
either during the day or by night, but usually roost among the foliage
of evergreens, in the immediate vicinity of houses in Louisiana, although
in the Eastern States they prefer low fir trees.

The flight of the Mocking Bird is performed by short jerks of the body
and wings, at every one of which a strong twitching motion of the tail is
perceived. This motion is still more apparent while the bird is walking,
when it opens its tail like a fan and instantly closes it again. The
common _cry_ or _call_ of this bird is a very mournful note, resembling
that uttered on similar occasions by its first cousin the _Turdus
rufus_, or, as it is commonly called, the "_French Mocking Bird_." When
travelling, this flight is only a little prolonged, as the bird goes
from tree to tree, or at most across a field, scarcely, if ever, rising
higher than the top of the forest. During this migration, it generally
resorts to the highest parts of the woods near water-courses, utters its
usual mournful note, and roosts in these places. It travels mostly by day.

Few hawks attack the Mocking Birds, as on their approach, however sudden
it may be, they are always ready not only to defend themselves vigorously
and with undaunted courage, but to meet the aggressor half way, and force
him to abandon his intention. The only hawk that occasionally surprises
it is the _Falco Stanleii_, which flies low with great swiftness, and
carries the bird off without any apparent stoppage. Should it happen
that the ruffian misses his prey, the Mocking Bird in turn becomes the
assailant, and pursues the Hawk with great courage, calling in the mean
time all the birds of its species to its assistance; and although it
cannot overtake the marauder, the alarm created by their cries, which
are propagated in succession among all the birds in the vicinity, like
the watchwords of sentinels on duty, prevents him from succeeding in
his attempts.

The musical powers of this bird have often been taken notice of by
European naturalists, and persons who find pleasure in listening to the
song of different birds whilst in confinement or at large. Some of these
persons have described the notes of the Nightingale as occasionally
fully equal to those of our bird. I have frequently heard both species
in confinement, and in the wild state, and without prejudice, have no
hesitation in pronouncing the notes of the European Philomel equal to
those of a _soubrette_ of taste, which, could she study under a MOZART,
might perhaps in time become very interesting in her way. But to compare
her essays to the finished talent of the Mocking Bird, is, in my opinion,
quite absurd.

The Mocking Bird is easily reared by hand from the nest, from which
it ought to be removed when eight or ten days old. It becomes so very
familiar and affectionate, that it will often follow its owner about
the house. I have known one raised from the nest kept by a gentleman at
Natchez, that frequently flew out of the house, poured forth its melodies,
and returned at sight of its keeper. But notwithstanding all the care
and management bestowed upon the improvement of the vocal powers of this
bird in confinement, I never heard one in that state produce any thing
at all approaching in melody to its own natural song.

The male bird is easily distinguished in the nest, as soon as the brood
is a little fledged, it being larger than the female, and shewing more
pure white. It does not shrink so deep in the nest as the female does,
at the sight of the hand which is about to lift it. Good singing birds
of this species often bring a high price. They are long-lived, and very
agreeable companions. Their imitative powers are amazing, and they mimic
with ease all their brethren of the forests or of the waters, as well as
many quadrupeds. I have heard it asserted that they possess the power
of imitating the human voice, but have never met with an instance of
the display of this alleged faculty.

TURDUS POLYGLOTTUS, _Linn._ Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 293.—_Lath._
Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 339.—_Ch. Bonaparte_, Synopsis of
Birds of the United States, p. 74.

MIMIC THRUSH, _Lath._ Synops. vol. iii. p. 40.

MOCKING BIRD, TURDUS POLYGLOTTUS, _Wils._ Americ. Ornith. vol. ii.
p. 14. Pl. x. fig. 1.

Adult Male. Plate XXI. Fig. 1, 1.

Bill of moderate length, rather weak, compressed, straightish; upper
mandible slightly arched in its dorsal outline, little declinate at
the tip; lower mandible nearly straight, acute. Nostrils basal, oblong,
half-closed by a membrane. Head of ordinary size. Neck and body rather
slender. Feet longish, rather strong; tarsus compressed, acute behind,
covered anteriorly with a few long scutella; toes scutellate above,
the middle one hardly shorter than the tarsus; inner toe free; hind toe
rather robust; claws compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage soft and blended. Wings of moderate length, rounded; third and
fourth primaries longest, first short. Tail long, much rounded, of twelve
nearly straight, rather narrow, rounded feathers.

Bill brownish-black. Iris pale yellow. Feet and claws dark brown. Upper
parts of the head, neck and body dark grey, tinged with brown on the
forehead and sides of the head. Under parts brownish-white. Quills
brownish-black; primaries white in their proximal part, forming a large
spot of that colour on the wing, concealed on the first three, and on
the last reaching to near the tip. Large primary coverts white, with
a line of black at the tip. Secondary coverts and second row tipped
with white. Outer tail-feather white, excepting a light streak of dusky
near the tip; the next two also white, but with a longitudinal streak
of black on the outer web, larger and broader on the third. The rest
brownish-black tinged with grey, and, excepting the middle ones, tipped
with white.

Length 9½ inches, extent of wings 13½; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap 1; tarsus 1½, middle toe 1.

Adult Female. Plate XXI. Fig. 2, 2.

The female differs very little from the male. The plumage is slightly
duller, with more brown, the lateral tail-feathers have more black, and
the white parts are less pure. The dimensions are nearly the same.


GELSEMINUM NITIDUM, _Mich._ Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 120.
_Pursh_, Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 184.—PENTANDRIA DIGYNIA;
_Linn._ APOCINEÆ, _Juss._

A climbing shrub, with smooth lanceolate leaves, axillary clusters
of yellow flowers, which are funnel-shaped, with the limb spreading
and nearly equal, the calyx five-toothed, the capsule two-celled and
two-valved. It grows along the sea-coast, especially near rivers, from
Virginia to Florida, flowering through the summer. The flowers are
fragrant. It is also named _Carolina Jessamine_ and _Yellow Jessamine_.




The Purple Martin makes its appearance in the City of New Orleans from
the 1st to the 9th of February, occasionally a few days earlier than the
first of these dates, and is then to be seen gambolling through the air,
over the city and the river, feeding on many sorts of insects, which
are there found in abundance at that period.

It frequently rears three broods whilst with us. I have had several
opportunities, at the period of their arrival, of seeing prodigious
flocks moving over that city or its vicinity, at a considerable height,
each bird performing circular sweeps as it proceeded, for the purpose of
procuring food. These flocks were loose, and moved either eastward, or
towards the north-west, at a rate not exceeding four miles in the hour,
as I walked under one of them with ease for upwards of two miles, at that
rate, on the 4th of February 1821, on the bank of the river below the
city, constantly looking up at the birds, to the great astonishment of
many passengers, who were bent on far different pursuits. My Fahrenheit's
thermometer stood at 68°, the weather being calm and drizzly. This flock
extended about a mile and a half in length, by a quarter of a mile in
breadth. On the 9th of the same month, not far above the _Battle-ground_,
I enjoyed another sight of the same kind, although I did not think the
flock so numerous.

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 12 of 50)