Sporting Editor [Sandy Griswold]. January 17, 1892. Omaha Sunday Bee 21(214): 13. Portion of column.
Midwinter's Breezy Sport.
Among the Geese and Ducks on the Lugenbeel Marshes.
Duck shooting on the Lugenbeel marshes!
I had a week of it this fall along with Jack Morrison and George Tzschuck of this city, and Colonel J.C. Hoffmayr of Council Bluffs. We left her on the morning of November 3, via the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley road, and after a pleasant journey of thirteen hours reached the little railroad station, whence we proceed by wagon to the ducking grounds, just six miles distant. This part of the trip was made after midnight, and notwithstanding it was over one of those execrable sandhill roads, it was not without its enjoyment. The night was warm and pleasant, the stars affording sufficient light to give us a vague idea of the topography of the country, interesting from its very barrenness. The gloomy sandhills stretched away for miles on our right, while in front of us and to the left was one broad expanse of sterile plain, relieved occasionally by scraggy mottes of timber, wild cherry, dwarf oak and sumach.
Hans Newberry, our host and driver, is one of the oldest settlers of the region, and was, of course, possessed of an inexhaustible fund of information anent the interesting features of the country-its Indians, wolves, ducks, geese and chickens, and his conversation kept us in the liveliest condition of life in the journey's end.
It was nearly 2 o'clock in the morning when we pulled up at Newberry's house, a rudely constructed, though comfortable, two roomed affair, the very ideal of a duck hunter's lodge. A short distance from the house were a half dozen Indian tepees, which we could discern looming up dimly against the background sky. They belonged to a party of itinerant Sioux on their way from the agency to the station to trade, and had stopped over at Newberry's place for the night, as is their custom on all such occasions. As much as we would have liked to, our host did not think it advisable to disturb them at that hour of the night, so we deferred satisfying our curiosity until a more favorable opportunity. We were quickly in the house and after having our beds assigned to us, we opened up our trunks, lay out our hunting apparel and accoutrements for an early start in the morning, and retired, th dream of quacking mallards and honking geese.
We were up at an abnormal hour, and gulped down Mrs. Newberry's relishable breakfast long ere the sun had planted his golden sandals on the summit of the highest bluffs that towered up misty and indistinct, to the north of the house.
Everything was soon in readiness, and it was decided that Morrison, myself and Newberry's son, a young man of twenty-two or three, should take one of the flat-bottomed scows, and the Colonel and Tzschuck the other, hunt out our own stands, make our blinds and get to work, for already the whiz of wings cutting the air high above was heard. Fifteen minutes brisk walk and the Lugenbeel marsh or lake lay before us, stretching down toward the southwest, and reflecting upon its broad bosom the blue and white of the soft heavens. In front of us was a narrow channel cutting its tortuous way through the dark green reeds, until it led into the main lake itself, with its acres of cane and rice and swamp willow. The yellowish sandhills stood like a row of grim sentinels along the northern shores, while to the southwest an entrancing picture closed by an abrupt curve into the impenetrable reeds; yet, as we slowly paddled along on the qui vive for a suitable place for a blind, the imagination continued on, fancying a hundred fairy hooks and bayous, stately reaches sad romantic shades. There was a cool gray light over the limpid waters, which lay like glass. The opposite uplands rose indistinctly, as if reared in the air, with dark pictures of floating fogs below them. THe atmosphere was fresh, even to chilliness, but sweet with the fragrance of aquatic vegetation. A broad turning to the northeast looked dismal, but into it we turned. A loon, near a jutting point, was sending forth his weird cachinnation, awakening a hundred quivering echoes. A fish hawk was sailing round and round above the water, while a drowsy twitter was beginning to creep through the marsh. The largest stars were still shining, though dimly, through the somber tints of the sky.
Finally we selected a place for our first blind, a darksome cul-de-sac among the reeds, with open reaches of water before and upon both sides of us. The decoys were quickly out, and the cumbersome scow laboriously worked back among the resistant reeds, and guns in hand we crouched low, impatient for the first flight.
It seemed an age, but really we had but a brief time to wait before young Newberry, with hand lifted admonishingly, uttered that electrifying monosyllable:
And peering through the reeds, Jack and I saw a big bunch of mallards bearing down from the north.
"Quack! quack-quack-quack!" sounded the pusher's caller, and the birds began to decoy nicely, setting their wings and coming directly toward us.
"Steady!" I whispered, as Jack made a move for a better position, and the next instant they had dropped their red-orange legs over the decoys, hovering in mid-air as if suspicious of something wrong. Fatal hesitancy.
"Crack! crack! crack! crack!" went our four barrels in really too rapid succession, but as we heard a number of splashes in the water, we were satisfied.
"You got three!" exclaimed Newberry, as he stepped from the seat from which he had been peering over the swaying reeds into the open waters on our right, "but you oughter have had a half dozen, and they ar' corking birds, too!"
"Mark!" It was a small flock of canvass backs and they came cutting through the brightening air like so many arrows from the bow.
"Shoot on you own side, Jack," I continued as I poked my gun out through the rice to take the three on the left. We got a close shot with both barrels, but as in the first instance we knocked down but three.
"Canvas!" cried young Newberry, as the remnant of the flock dashed from sight over the flaggy expanse.
"What's that boy!" eagerly inquired Jack, "canvasbacks did you say? I don't believe it."
The change from robins, flickers and meadow larks to wild ducks, and canvasback at that, was a little too much for Morrison, and when assured again and again that that was what the last kills were, he would hear of no more shooting until the birds were retrieved.
The consequence was we had to push the boat out from among the reeds and gather them. I kicked and so did the pusher, but it didn't go, and realizing that the speediest way to settle the matter was to recover the birds, we proceeded to do so as expeditiously as possible, as small flocks of ducks were now to be seen cleaving the air in almost every direction.
The look that came over Morrison's face when young Newberry leaned over the low gunwales and grasping a big drake by the neck threw it, wet and dripping, into his pal, was a study indeed. It was a magnificent specimen, and as Jack stroked its cinnamon head, and turned it first on its ashen back, then on its white breast, admiring it with intensest pleasure, he kept repeating: "Well, I'll declare, I'll declare!"
All the ducks retrieved, and once more back in our reedy hide, we hadn't long to wait for a resumption of the excitement. A dozen green wings came whizzing over the rice and were past us before we were fairly ready, although Jack and I both cut loose.
"Too far," laconically observed the pusher, and as the flock never so much as dropped a feather, he was probably correct.
"Mark!" It was a pair of widgeon, and they were coming straight up the channel, their gray mottled breasts fairly brushing the rippling water. Jack took the one in the lead, and I the other, and at the crack of our guns they both dropped. Mine, however, was only wing-tipped and required shooting over, only succumbing after four loads had been sent after him in his frantic efforts to gain the reeds. Then it was mallard, bluebill, teal, redhead and widgeon, with an occasional canvas and merganser, for two hours, in which exciting interval both Jack and I emptied no less than a hundred shells each and possibly more, but only with indifferent success, for we soon discovered that we were not loaded heavily enough. Two drachms and a hail of American wood powder is no sufficient for the kind of shooting we were having. It is plenty powder for quail and snipe, but too light for geese or ducks.
Day was now breaking. The ash color of the east began to clear into semi-transparent gray, then to kindle into pale yellow. The outlines of the lower bluffs began to creep out of the massed shadows, and a streak of distant mist to crawl along the lake. The barren fields came out more boldly, and the honking of the geese starting for the corn fields could be heard; the waters showed diffusing, though still sober colors; here a space of marble gray, there a polished green. Now the edges of the drifting clouds at the zenith are blushing into rose; one long feathery mass in the east glows into ruby, beams into gold. Sunrise on the Lugenbeel marsh-a scene of wondrous, mystic beauty. Gemmed hues, sapphire, emerald, topaz and amethyst glance upon the surface of the waters. Yellow lines run along the tops of the tallest bluffs. The east fairly gleams with royal crimsons and imperial purples and at last through a vista of background hills, striking the breathing earth into gladdening light pours the luster of the risen sun!
"Mark! geese! geese! are the thrilling words that interrupts our trance, but peer as hard and eagerly through the glistening reeds as we might nothing awards the vision. "Honk! ahhonk-ahonk, honk-honk-honk!" is the melody that strikes our strained hearing, and we feel that no mistake has been made. The next moment we see them-a long crescent shaped line, with measured wing flaps is advancing over the low rice. With beating hearts, though as still as images cut from stone, we crouch and wait. On they come right at us. They would pass directly over the blind. What a picture of rapturous enchantment to a true sportsman! We could hardly curb our impatience, but the noble birds were coming swiftly one, the sturdy old leader sounding regularly his resounding honk. Now they begin to rise perceptibly to clear the open water in front of the blind. We are on out feet like a flash! I give the old gander acting as pilot my first full in the side, but with a frightened ah-honk be begins to climb, then he gets my second barrel, when he lets go, and drops from amidst his startled mates. A heavy splash on the water has already told me that Jack has killed his bird, and a second later mine too is floundering in the translucent waters. We are boisterously elated over this bit of luck, and apprehensive of losing our birds we hurriedly push out from the blind. We were not a moment too soon. The old gander has righted himself, and with gray body half submerged is leaving a trail of white and frothy bubbles behind him, as he strikes out for the rice.
"bang! bang! bang! and still he continues on. He has reached the selvedge of yellow cane, another second and he will be gone.
"Boom!" all four barrels speak in concert. The old Canada, with a spasmodic squawk, rolls gracefully over on his back, with legs kicking up like a circus performer, and one bloody wing vainly beating the crimsoned water.
It was a longer chase than we had thought, but so long as we had got our birds we were more than satisfied.
It required fully an hour for us to get once more nicely ensconced in our hide, and by that time the morning flight was about over. Still all through the day straggling birds afforded ample sport. During an unusually long quiet spell, Morrison and young Newberry had quite an interesting talk. Jack wanted to know all about the country, and Newberry was equally as desirous of telling him.
"Kiyotes!" said he, in response to an inquiry; "yes, thar's plenty o' 'm, hereaways, and you couldn't make this trip in the evening without seein' one or more of the onery pests sneakin' 'long the hills yander. And thar's big wolves, too, furder down 'long the Niorara, whar they make the rancher's life a weary one. Thar's a sort of a big, whittish gray that's as ferocious as all outdoors, and he's a death on horses!"
"You don't mean to say that they will kill a horse, do you, Newberry?" asked Morrison, with some increduility in his tones.
"Jes 'zactly what I mean," continued the young man. "They'll git down on thar bellies and crawl onto a horse afore he thinks o' danger, and when close enough they'll give a run an' a jump an' hamstring him so quick he won't know what's hurt 'em. The rest is easy work. He can't run and in a jiffy they have him down an' then thar's a sorry mess for you."
"Did you ever kill one!" Jack persisted.
"Oh, yes, an' the las' one not more'n a year ago. I was hayin' down on the 'Brara, and thinkin' as how I might fetch a goose bum. I took my Winchester 'long. Wel, to cut a long story short, 'long 'bout 4 o'clock I heerd ole Sibley's houn' mouthin' down on the branch, an' I grabbed my gun and run down that way. How old Maje did yelp-see that mink thar; that he goes lickety split 'long that log; I'd a shot 'im if I'd a gun, Mr. Morrison, no difference if he was in the reeds-an' jes as I rech the openin' and drawed up, fur I knowed sumpn' was comin; what should jump out o' the shumakes but an an unmassyful big white wolf. I fired, but only wonded him, and he kem fur me-I say, Jack, I'd jes' as leaf wet my lips with that licker gin's not-whem! that's stuff, as these sandhillers never dreamed of -and he kem on, openen' his green yese as farse as a milsy capin durin' the railroad riots-why I was at east liberty when they stopped the express-"
"But the wolf, Newberry, the wolf!" impatiently interupted Jack.
"Wal, he kept a comin' an' a comin,' and war jes' about to jump, in fac' he did jump, and while he war in the ar' I fired nother shall right into his eye, an' he tumbled as dead as-wel, I wont say hell, kase that'd be swarin'-but as dead as-wel, I dunno-wa-al dead as the devil, enny way. That was shootin', that was, and I kin show you jes' whar I stood when I dun it, to this day. Cracky, look at that feeshhawk! He jes; riz from that pint over thar. How clus he flies."
And as Newberry spoke the bird flew by, so close we caught the flash of his wild eye-ball. On he darted until he reached an old scraggy willow, on whose rotten limbs he throned himself, standing high and proud on his yellow-pillared feet.
We continued our shoot until the sun was well over the meridian, when we pushed out of our reedy retreat and started up the channel for the house, where we found a sumptuous repast awaiting us. This over, we went out and mingled with the Indians, who yet loitered near, and with whom we spent a full hour, talking to old Picket Pie, ogling the pretty squaws and papooses, examining the tepees, and otherwise interesting ourselves.
About 4 o'clock found us in our blind again, and the experience of the morning was gone through with again. In the dark of evening we again pulled for home. And what a joyous ride that was, drifting down the shadowy channel, with a boat full of ducks, in the lovely November eventide. On we glided, the measured exertions of the muscular pusher sending us through opening vistas, whose changing shores continually offered new scenes. Large masses of light and shade, cast by the darkening bluffs in the soft light, lay along the water. Exquisite little master pieces gleamed out as we floated along, while th laugh of the loon and the hoot of the owl were sounds that belonged to the place and scene. Here a mossy muskrat castle; there a tiny, oozy dingle, a colonnade of canes; an arbor of matted reeds; a bank hung pool, like a peeping eye, where the gamey pickerel loved to disport; a half-whelmed trunk, with water sparkling round; an islet of rif-raff, or stretch of marsh where the cane stalks cut the breezes into plaintive sounds, and where the splatterdock curled their spotted dishes among the rushes and fuzzy cat-a'-nine-tails. Sometimes a playful breeze stooped to the surface, brushing it into darkening ripples, than fanned our brows with its delicate wings and melted away.
Such was our pleasures, each day repeated, for a week, and there must be something wrong with the men, who could not, from their teachings, form newer and loftier ambitions and emerge a better and nobler being. Here the true sportsmen, at least, could live; in this fresh, free wilderness, this tangled realm of content, where honor is not measured on merit, where genius os not a jest, goodness not a scaming and devotion not a sham. Here where the light of day is undarkened by wrong, where solitude is the parent of pure meditation and the solitude is eloquent of God. Here would I abide, listening to the marsh's calls to self-communing, and all these teachings that guide the insight, soften the heart and purify while they expand the soul.