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Reminiscences of a
Sportsman



By



J. Parker Whitney

Author of " The Silver Mines of Colorado " ; " The Reclamation and

Cultivation of Tidal Overflowed Lands " ; " Colonization ";

"The Orange and its Cultivation in California," etc.



Forest and Stream Publishing Co.

New York

igo6



Copyright, 1906

BY

J. PARKER WHITNEY



■ttbe Unfclicrboclicc ptesB, Wcw IPotli



PREFACE

OOME time ago I was induced at the request of a
^ friend who had charge of a Sporting Review to
write some articles for his paper.

These were continued longer than I had originally
contemplated, and I give them with some additions m
this volume.

From youth I have been very fond of out -door life,
and sports of all kinds, and although for many years
engaged extensively in business affairs, I have never
failed in giving way for these pursuits. Often such
indulgence was seemingly to m}^ disadvantage, but
after half a century of gratification in this respect, I
am well satisfied in believing I have no occasion for
regret, for one cannot be deprived of enjoyments once
possessed. I may add, that in pursuit of adventure,
I have gained some important pecuniary advantages
from opportunities offering.

The material in this volume of reminiscences is
given in the order as first contribvitcd, and not classi-
fied as it would be if written lately.



281G82



Reminiscences

FISHING has been my predominating pastime, to
which I have given more time and attention than
to any other. At eight years of age, my father then
being a resident of New Orleans, I commenced the
gratification of this taste along the route of the Pont-
chartrain canal running from the city by the shell
road to the lake of the same name.

I well remember now, after many years have
elapsed, the exciting joy I felt when with my short
rod and line I drew forth from amid the tree roots
and rushes skirting the canal the small perch which
I afterward fried in buttered tins by the kitchen fire.
They tasted good, as well as the soft -shell crabs
which I netted at the lake. And I remember how
late on Saturday afternoon, after school, I prolonged
my stay at the canal and lake until darkness came
on and how frightened I became as I sped my way
home at running speed, imagining the logs and roots
by the canal to be bears or alligators, which abounded
in the neighboring swamps.

At ten years of age I accompanied my two elder
brothers upon a bear-hunting excursion in Texas,
where my action was a minor part, but which resulted
in the capture of two.

At twelve years of age I passed the summer
near my birthplace in Massachusetts, where I spent the



2 Reminiscences of

most of my time in trout and pickerel fishing. The
former was fairlj' good, and the latter particularly
so over the many ponds in the vicinity, and I trudged
many miles for constantly alluring prospects at more
promising ponds at a distance, when my results were
less than I could have accomplished nearer home.
Thus ever is the sportsman beckoned on to distant
fields by the ignis fatmts of expectation, and too often
misled.

I remember one day, although I fished for pickerel
generally with a skittering bait of frog's legs, of set-
ting a quantity of lines off the dam of a mill-pond
in the deep water, bai ted with live minnows, and
making a great catch. I employed a number of boys
who caught bait and attended the lines, using quite
a number of winter lines belonging to my uncle. I
paid the boys in fish, but had so many, and more than
could be eaten at home, that, with the boys, I lugged
them two or three miles to a neighboring hotel and sold
them for a small handful of silver, which I was not
above making pocket-money of, and' thought at the
time I was making great headway in finance. This
success inspired so much attention toward the pond
that it soon became depleted of its precious holding.

I noted in later years, when visiting the trotit brooks
I fished that summer with tolerable success, that
these brooks had dwindled away in volume and life,
owing to the denudation of the forests, a result which
is now clearly evident with many New England brooks,
and which is shown on a larger scale in many countries
and particularly in Spain in the country about Madrid,
where are seen large bridges of iron and stone con-
structed in the sixteenth century over then large



A Sportsman 3

streams, which have now dwindled down to insignifi-
cant volume.

At the time of founding Madrid in the early part of
the sixteenth century, which was centrally located in
Spain, it was surrounded by forests of magnitude,
all of which have disappeared from view. They
were rain breeders and moisture holders, and with
their loss the country became deprived of water
supply and dependent upon irrigation.

I was strongly reminded while there, and viewing
the desolate appearance of the environs of the city,
of those about the comparatively treeless region
of the city of Santa Fe in New Mexico, where one
looks out upon a desert country, but scantily re-
lieved by habitation.

I have noted in New Mexico the effect of forest
denudation, as it is well known that at the time
of the Francisco Vasquez de Coronado Spanish invasion
in the early part of the sixteenth centviry, diverted
from the Hernando Cortes, that considerable parts
of New Mexico were forest -gro\vn, now barren, which
supported a much larger native population than found
at the time of the acquisition of that territory by
the United States in 1848.

Frequent forest fires were the occasion which, even
before the Coronado advance in search of the golden
cities of Mexican tradition, had made prominent
ravages, and diminished a population which had so
far as indications show, been the most dense at one
time in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado
that existed upon the North American continent.

I have witnessed on the Estancia plains, and at
Algodones and other localities in New Mexico and



4 Reminiscences of

Southern Colorado, and especially about Algodones,
comparatively unsettled now, the plentiful remnants
of pottery, which can be dug up at about every shovel-
ful, ancient watercourses, and adobe walls extending
over many square miles, which have withstood the
exposure of centuries. Ruins of stone watch-towers,
and walls of immense community houses which were
occupied by hvmdreds of the earlj^ Toltecs, remain as
monuments of a departed race.

The question of forest preservation is becoming
one of increasing importance, not only for game life
but for commercial purposes, and the consumption
at present by fires, and the demands for lumber, and
especially wood pulp, and for domestic uses, is reach-
ing alarming proportions; and in view of a rapidly
increasing population on the North American conti-
nent, which in another century will be four or five times
greater than now, one may readily see that the ques-
tion of wood supply and its preservation and cultiva-
tion will be one of vital interest.

At fourteen and fifteen years of age — in 1849-50 —
I had plentiful experience in Illinois over its plains
and in the wooded region along the Mississippi River.

The State was then young, containing about one
twentieth of its present population. Game was
plentiful : bear, deer, raccoons, opossum, wild turkeys,
water-fowl, prairie chickens, and quail. SquiiTels
were common about the hickory groves — gray, fox,
and some black — and many of the gray and fox fell
before my gun. I was very fond of this shooting, and
I have never seen such quantities of squirrels else-
where as were in evidence at that time. The fox
squirrels here moved about the com bins and fields,



A Sportsman 5

while the gray I found more plentiful about the trees.
These were more cunning in escaping observation, and
had a habit of rapidly disappearing around the oppo-
site side of the trees, where they were securely hid-
den from view, excepting a small portion of their
heads, projecting for observ'ation. As I would pro-
ceed around the tree I would be baffled by the alert
squirrels, which would slip arovmd in sequence with
my movements.

It has been a mooted question if, in circling a tree
in this manner, one who made the circuit with a
squiiTel upon the opposite side of the tree would
actually go aroimd the squirrel while going around
the tree. This question I will leave open.

I soon overcame this difficulty by throwing a con-
venient stone or stick of wood as far as I could to the
opposite side of the tree, which landing with some
noise would almost invariably throw the squirrel
momentarily off guard, when he would flash quickly
to my side of the tree to investigate the probably
new source of danger. The stay would scarcely be
more than half a second, but sufficient in my pre-
paredness to accomplish the end.

One day I bagged four grays out of five from a
single hickor}" tree, which set the color vividly in
mind. This was equalled on a moonlight foray we
made with dogs for 'coons.

One evening we secured a family of four from a
single tree where they had taken refuge. This hunt-
ing at night on horseback with dogs was a pastime
much in vogue in my locality, and an occasional wild-
cat was taken in. I had an adventure with a 'coon one
day which was not very pleasant. It was after a light



6 Reminiscences of

fall of snow when I sallied out with axe and gun with
two old, almost toothless dogs, the only ones about,
and after tracking a 'coon to a hollow tree I proceeded
to cut it down. No 'coon appeared, but while inspect-
ing the upper part of the decayed tree a large one in
its fright leaped out directly upon me. Down I fell in
confusion, and upon me the 'coon and my two old dogs.
To save myself I struggled hard, but the more I strug-
gled the more I seemed to be the centre of attack, and it
was an occasion of pleasant surprise when I succeeded in
removing myself from the conflict, when the dogs had dis-
abled the 'coon, to find I had received no bites, although
sadly scratched, and with my clothing badly torn.

Wild turkeys aboimded in the neighboring for-
est, and their gobblings could often be heard at a dis-
tance in the early mom. Small-brained and stupid
as they are in many respects, they are nevertheless
very quick and alert to take alarm, and when dis-
tiarbed depend more upon their running than on flying.
Stupid they are to allow themselves to be trapped in
a rough structure of logs of a few feet in height, with
open spaces between the logs, but not sufficiently wide
to allow their egress.

One part on one side is left open to a height of
twelve or thirteen inches from the ground. Com is
strewed plentiftiUy on the ground inside of the struc-
ture and in a stringing way leading in several direc-
tions from it. The turkeys, reaching the com leaders,
follow up and unsuspecting enter the open way to the
interior. After a while a sense of confinement occurs,
and one flies up to escape between the logs, and, failing,
gives panic to the balance, who lose their heads and
all become frantic in their efforts to escape in the same



A Sportsman 7

manner without seeking the place of ingress. This sim-
ple method is often followed with nnich success.

We occasionally in the autumn caught turkeys in
the cornfields, where they were seen, attracted by the
com in husk pendent upon the stalks. This was
done by chasmg with dogs. Those hard pressed
behind would take flight over the fence into the
woods beyond, but those in advance would run to
the fence to get through, and finding they could not,
as the fences about the field were of rails zigzag
and hog-proof at the bottom, in their close quarters
nmning along the fence for possible openings and
vmable to rise abruptly enough to get over, would be
seized by the dogs.

One day, while riding through the woods and ap-
proaching a settlement, I came upon a flock of turkeys
which moved about near me with so little alarm that
I thought it domestic, but having, after leaving
them, a suspicion that it might not be, inquired at
a near-by house and found that it was a wild one.

Prairie chickens were in great plentifulness at that
time, and I can remember seeing the farm fences
so loaded with them on frosty mornings as to be in
danger of breaking down. On one occasion when I
accompanied some older hunters upon the plains for
chicken shooting we filled the wagon body with birds.
The prairie chicken — pinnated grouse, — indigenous over
a large area of the middle-western country of the United
States, existed in great waves of plentifulness in the
grain regions of Illinois at this time — 1849, — which in
abundance gradually diminished as the State became
settled up, and the wave of plentifulness extended
westward.



8 Reminiscences of

In August, 1880, when I accompanied a party
from Chicago in a special sportsman's car into Min-
nesota and Eastern Dakota, we found this great
wave of plentifubiess there, and I remember my first
day's shooting in the fields, when I bagged twenty-
eight birds. We had a box freight -car accompanying
with ice, and were enabled to preserve our birds for
forwarding back to our friends, though we ate a great
many, as well as blue- winged teal, which were in force
about the waterways.

The region was then settled largely by Danes
and Norwegians, and entirely open from fences ; and
chicken hunters were in some abimdance, to the an-
noyance of the settlers, who came out to warn us
off their lands.

Dear Uncle Jake (J. K. Armsby, of Chicago, now
deceased) was with us. How gently and well he would
take the hurrying-out settlers as we drove up to their
houses to ask permission to shoot over their lands !

Before they could speak a word he would conciliate
them with a hearty greeting, and, having a big flask
of whiskey and sundry small bags of smoking-tobacco
and cigars, and children's picture books, he would
have them placated before they could deny, which
would result in a hearty invitation to make ourselves
at home over the harvested fields.



THE pinnated grouse, or prairie chicken, is a purely
indigenous American bird, and like the ruffed
grouse, or partridge, commonly called, was formerly
foimd extensively scattered over the continent, and



A Sportsman 9

until late years existed upon some of the small islands
of the Atlantic Coast.

The male bird has on each side of the neck a dis-
tensible orange-colored sac, which at mating season
it inflates and dilates with a single booming sound,
which is supposed to be very attractive to the gentler
bird, or of challenging quality to its own kind.

When rising, it flies very evenly, presenting a fine
mark for the sportsman. It has a most remarkable
quahty in its ability upon a comparatively bare
ground to hide itself from observation. I have often
observed this feature when without a dog I have
marked down and followed a covey from a short flight.
Approaching cautiously imtil I stood in the place of
descent I have looked in vain for the birds which I
knew were immediately about me, in fact almost under
my feet, and I have stood for minutes gazing intently
upon every nubbin of earth and spear of grass for a
bird and not one could I see. Advancing, finally, one
would fly up within a few feet of me, which would be a
signal for the balance to rise, and ofE they would go
from aU arovmd me.

I do not accoimt the prairie chicken — though very
tender and juicy when young — as particularly at-
tractive for continuous eating, or in any way equal
to the white meat of the ruffed grouse or partridge,
which to my taste is superior, when in condition and
well kept, to any bird in permanence of appetite hold.
I have observed in the latter bird a marked differ-
ence in flavor, in favor of those of the Atlantic Coast
over those of the Pacific. The latter I have often
found too highly flavored with odors of various kinds
arising from their particular food.



lo Reminiscences of

The hen partridge is very courageous in the de-
fence of her tender young, and I have more than
once been amused by seeing my pet colhe — who has
more gentlemanly qualities than most dogs — chased
out of sight by an enraged partridge mother, sur-
prised with her young. Several times in the Maine
woods I have warded off with my hands the sudden
attacks of a hen partridge when so surprised, and in
those solitary forests, where human beings are not
often seen, I have often watched for some minutes
a clucking cock partridge strolling about me, ob-
livious of any danger. They are often snared in
Maine woods by boys, with moderately long poles
with nooses attached. A feature I have also ob-
served has been the increasing tameness of these
birds about the sunset hour, more evident than at
any other time.

For several years I had one frequent my fishing
residence at the Rangeley Lakes, which would bud
on the poplar in front, and made free with the store-
room and woodshed, and would feed on the food
thrown out.

The spruce partridge of Maine is a bird still tamer
than the ruffed grouse, but is not of pleasant flavor,
though beautiful in plumage. It inhabits the swamps
and spruce trees, taking its flavor from the latter.

The sage cock of the great plains is another of the
grouse family which is not of agreeable eating flavor,
being tainted with the brush it inhabits and feeds on.
This bird has the distinguishing feature of being un-
like any of the grouse family, being gizzardless, hav-
ing no muscular development of that character, but
a membranous sac in its place.



A Sportsman ii

The ptarmigan is, I think, the poorest eating of all
the grouse family, not excepting the spruce grouse,
and is as tame in its home localities as the latter.
I have often encountered them in the heights of the
Rocky Mountains. When with tender young chickens
they will exhibit the actions of the domestic hen
and bustle about in a similar manner, and I have
taken up the young chickens in my hands and held
them momentarily, while the mother would flutter
around, and when let go would scamper away with
the brood. I have seen them in the winter fly into
vincrusted snow banks, when following them up would
be a useless effort, as the ptarmigan will travel faster
in a loose snow bank than one can dig after it.

I think our great American turkey may be put at
the head of the "gizzard" family, and may lead the
digesting procession, for it is capable of digesting
about anything which enters its crop, be it vegetable,
animal, or mineral. I have killed them when they
were unable to fly from the weight of their over-
loaded crops, which swept on the ground as they
walked, and have taken from single crops nearly a
quart of acorns and other nuts, which would surely
have been digested had the turkey lived.

The gizzard of a turkey is a wonderful piece of
muscular mechanism of great power, through which
the contents of the crop pass with the auxiliary
grinders of stones, and the great muscular exertions
of the gizzard pulverize the hardest acorns, some of
them being as large as a man's thumb. Experiments
have been tried with turkeys by setting stout needles
in glass marbles, and being covered with dough these
have been swallowed and, after a few days, have been



12 Reminiscences of

recovered from the gizzard and found with the needles
gone, and the glass pretty well worn away. The
turkey may be regarded at the head for its digestive
qualities, as well as for its delicious flavor.

Those were very happy days I passed in Illinois,
to which my memory frequently reverts, and while
many say they can only find pleasure in the expecta-
tions of the future, I find much in the contempla-
tion of the past ; and although I have committed
many follies, and probably but few wise acts. I
have certainly enjoyed life to a large extent, which
more than balances the disappointments I have ex-
perienced.

Some twenty years after leaving there, being near
the scenes of such pleasant memory, I procured a
vehicle and drove over to the old Stone farm, but —
sic transit gloria mundi — what a shock I received!
What an obliteration of all the old landmarks had
occurred! The woods on the south had disappeared
and in their place was an extensive cowfield inter-
sected with trails, and beyond cornfields and houses.
The dense forest extending to the river, and so wild
and sombre I hardly dared to penetrate its far depths,
had entirely disappeared. The brooks seemed to
have dwindled away, and the old hickory trees of
lofty height, which had appeared to me as sentinels
of time, were gone. In vain I inquired of the set-
tlers for the families of yore, only to be answered by
the response, " Moved over to Missouri," or " Gone to
Kansas." The tears unbidden came to my eyes, and
I departed for new scenes, never to return.

After leaving Illinois, I attended school at West-
minster, Mass., where I gave more attention to duck



A Sportsman 13

and partridge shooting and fishing than I did to
studies.

One Ossian E. Dodge, a spirited singer, came
along, accompanied by several minstrels of like
character, whose concerts interested the town. One
of their songs pertaining to California was given
with great effect, of which I remember only the fol-
lowing lines:

'T is there they say the gold is found.

In great big lumps all over the ground.

Who'll go? Who'll go?

And we all sleep sound on the cold damp ground

Except when the wolves come howling around.

Who'll go? Who'll go?

I thought I would.

Another thing influenced me somewhat in that
direction. One of the boys at school who had lately
returned with his parents from California indicated
a considerable degree of affluence by prodigally
throwing oranges at some of the boys, who so as-
sented for the privilege of keeping the oranges thrown.
How slight are the circumstances which seriously
affect ovu- lives!

In 1852, at seventeen years of age, I arrived in San
Francisco with my double-barrelled shotgun, a revolver,
and a large, double-edged knife with a blade thirteen
inches long, made from an old sword my elder brother
had acquired in the Mexican War of 1846-47. I made
a long passage of 142 days around Cape Horn, a
monotonous trip diversified occasionally by catching
sharks when becalmed in the tropics, spearing por-
poises, and! trolling for bonita and dolphins. Off
Cape Horn, where sea birds were plentiful, we caught



14 Reminiscences of

several varieties, and one day I caught a barrelful
of cape pigeons, so called from their resemblance to
that bird, but web-footed. These afforded several
good meals for all hands, and they seemed very good
eating at the time. I caught these with a long line,
to which was attached a good-sized morsel of salt
pork, below which extended a string of hooks on a
strip of wood, on which the feet of the birds became
entangled as the vessel moved on. This was a base
and unfair method, which I now regret.

I landed in San Francisco well armed, but com-
paratively penniless, ten cents being all of my remaining
capital of sixty dollars I had started with; fifty-nine
dollars and ninety cents having been diverted by poker
games, in which I was initiated by several yoimg men
on the voyage at one-cent ante and ten-cent limit.

An unfortunate incident occixrred in connection
with a family of Braggs, who had engaged passages
and had their baggage aboard our ship, by being left
behind. Our ship was delayed in loading for several
days after the date fixed, and this family, depend-
ing upon its being still longer delayed, were visiting
in an adjoining town and overlooked. The family
sailed two weeks afterguards for San Francisco in a
succeeding ship of the same line.

When we pulled in at San Francisco, Mr. Bragg
was on the wharf awaiting our arrival, having been
in the city two weeks before our arrival, our ship
being a month longer in passage than the one he
sailed on with his family. On this following ship,
which had .been loading some time before our ship
sailed, he had loaded all of his goods in trade, valued
at $10,000, consisting principally of furniture, giving



A Sportsman 15

up that business in Boston in view of continuing it
in San Francisco. He had insured it against loss,
but upon being left behind rescinded his insurance
to save the premium, concluding, as he should take
passage on the same ship with his family, that in
case of shipwreck resulting in the loss of his goods
he would probably with his family be lost also, and
have no advantage from insurance. When the ship
conveying him and his family and goods was entering



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