Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

April, 8, 1917. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 52(28): 11-W.

Lake Creek's "Haunted Hole" and How Discovered by the Old Merganzers

By Sandy Griswold.

Appreciating at last that interest and excitement among sportsmen over the spring migration of the wild fowl, is rapidly yielding sway to the call of the rod and reel, we cannot resist, as a final story for the season on the sport as it was in the good days of old, and for my subject I have chosen the discovery of "The Hole," a famous feeding and resting nook in the middle of the Lake Creek marshes, in South Dakota-a favorite resort of mine as long as twenty-eight years ago. Without a doubt the morning flight of the wild fowl on these beloved old lowlands in the elysian past of which I speak, when the old Merganzer club made its first raid upon that unequaled region, was one, if not the most, exhilarating spectacle I ever witnessed.

One beautiful morning, only a day or two after we had gotten settled in camp, we were all-Charlie, Tom, Scrib and myself-out in front of the tent watching this wondrous movement as we mapped out our plans for the day. On mornings like the one of which I speak, the flight up there generally increased with every new beam of light, after the first pearl at daybreak, that struggled through the hazy but clearing atmosphere.

Every bird in the marsh seemed bent upon limbering up his wings and the warp and woof of weaving lines and moving dots increased upon the occasion in question until the rosy sky was a seemingly hanging network of flying hosts. Not only the birds of the marsh became visible, but myriads of water fowl traveling from the north swept by without slacking a feather. Black, in the yellow light, the green heads and necks of the countless mallards were outstretched for a hundred-mile jaunt clear down and across the foaming Niobrara, and on to the sparkling rice-bound lakes of Deuel county, before they would dream of halting. From every point they seemed to stream, and instead of pouncing down from the sky, as in the evening flight, they took their aerial diversions with less uproar and in more leisure time. Over the glistening cattails, far out in the oozy labyrinth, they poured in dark masses, long, ragged strings or crescent lines, at indolent speed, but single ducks, teal and bluebill, darted hither and thither, like diurnal meteors, in the rising breeze.

Yes, it is the discovery of the "Hole," of which I spoke in last Sunday's paper, that I am now going to tell you about. But this can be done in better rhythm by relating what led to its discovery, and that is what I am endeavoring to do.

"You see where those birds are going?" I remarked to Charlie, and pointed to a dark mass of mallards pouring off to the northwest, until it seemed they had reached a point close under a distant yellow line of the sandhills, when scores of them would falter, then settle down, among the brown tops of the reeds, as if there were some especial attraction there, and we would see them no more.

"You do? Well, that is where I am going to do my shooting today. I have been watching the birds coming in from the north veer 'round and go on, until actually, I believe there has been 10,000 of them settle down there. What do you say, let's take a couple of sacks of decoys and go over there, all of us, on an exploring trip. I tell you, I believe that's some sort of a great feeding ground. Eh, Tom, what do you say? Doesn't it strike you all right?" and I turned an inquiring glance upon Foley.

"You bet it does," he promptly responded, "an' you can't start any too quick for me. Good, there comes Alfred now, and sure enough, a two-horse team and big farm wagon, with a single occupant, hove into view out of the long draw back of the camp, and came rumbling up to where we were standing.

Alfred was an Indian youth, the youngest of the Reshaws, whom we had hired to furnish teams and wood and attend to the general work about the camp, and a fine fellow he was-a good duck hunter and a good duck shot, a rarity, indeed, among the redskins.

"You're just the man we want," was Metz' greeting, as Alfred pulled up in front of the kitchen tent and crawled down out of the wagon. "Get back to your seat and drive down to the outlet and get the boat, we are going on a little exploring expedition off there in the marsh," and Charlie pointed in the direction of the Hole.

"Good! Plenty duck there!" the Indian youth ejaculated as he climbed back into the wagon, clucked to his horses, turned round and started down toward the outlet for the boat.

"Bring the decoys, too," I called as he rattled away.

It was nearly noon when we reached the tussocky northwest shores of the marsh that day-Metz, Foley, Scribner, Alfred and myself-when the Indian pulled up the team and indicated that we should assist him in unloading the boat and decoys.

This was quickly accomplished, and we soon had the boat, with the decoys and shell cases inside, resting in the shallow water among the reeds. Then the horses were unhooked and haltered to the wagon wheels, and with a jigger of Yellowstone placed where it would do the most good, we were ready for any excitement the fates might have in store for us.

"What's the program, Alfred?" I asked, as I stepped over the gunwales into the boat, joining my comrades.

"Must get way out in marsh-hole out there-open water-good for decoys-hard work. Dere-ice out dare in weeds-have to carry boat mos' way-pull up boots-water deep-get dere soon can-den you shoot-I scare up duck."

So far so good, and after a general hitching up of waders we were shortly struggling heroically through a matted barrier of tough tule, flags and rice. We had only proceeded about fifty yards when the way became so laborious that we were compelled to get out of the boat and half carry and half drag it along toward the point where the Indian said the magic hole lay.

It was a prodigious task, wading through the mud and water within an inch of the tops of our boots, breaking the ice across the frequent exposed openings, and pulling and tugging and pushing the cumbersome boat through the acres of stubborn wire grass and tangled tules, but we got there at last, fully three-quarters of a mile from shore, where we struck a little open lake which presented a thrilling sight, and no mistake.

"Hark!" admonished Alfred, as we halted in the mucky water back of a huge muskrat house for a moment's rest and breathing spell. "Hear ducks" Plenty, plenty-kill heap today. Dat Spirit Hole-young squaw drown there long ago. But you get fixed, I go scare up duck," and the tawny youth showed his white teeth in a grin that gave token of the rare sport he was anticipating.

Low utterings and cacklings, varied now and then by the shrill squawk of some restless old mallard hen, came to our ears from all directions, but especially from in our front, it seemed, and of course, we were all impatient and excited. "Still now!" came from the Indian as we again lifted the boat and resumed our difficult way on toward the Hole.

"Still-some way yet-we see some things-ducks!"

In another quarter of an hour at a signal from the young Sioux, we again stopped, this time behind a veritable wall of squaw cane, on the very rim of the Hole for which we had been so arduously working.

The confused cackle, gobble and gutterings of the swarms of feeding, sleeping and preening wild fowl hidden by the dun wall in front of us was something for a sportsman to hear, worth ten times the labor we had undergone.

Were you ever there, you grizzled old duck hunter, in a similar situation-did you ever listen to the medley that issues from yellow, black and blue bills, of a million wild fowl at their noonday meal?

The broad rays of the October sun slanted upon the scene, and we all remained as silent as statues for many moments listening to the feathered hosts talking with each other. The Indian suddenly lent forward with the single monosyllable:


As he parted the cane, so that we could, wild-eyed of course, look out upon our unsuspecting neighbors, we beheld the sight of our lives.

The shallow water for the distance of a third of a mile or more from the edge of our sedgy concealment was absolutely studded with ducks and geese and water fowl of other species. A large majority of them with their heads tucked under their wings, were quietly floating in the serenity of their midday slumbers, while others were still engaged in stuffing their crops, and were, after the manner of their kind, chatting socially in dense flocks.

A glance told us all this, and then our attention was attracted by the Sioux to the mucky shores running away from each side of the little reed embowered lake until again merging into the deeper morass. Here lines of ducks and geese, on both hands, were arranged unmethodically along; some imitating those on the water, had just begun to bestir themselves, while some few others, standing upon one leg, were formed in rows and schools, their plumage loosely ruffled as they basked in the balmy sun which at this hour shone in fullest splendor over the rare scene. We did not dream of opening fire upon the unsuspicious fowl, in fact we had fairly forgotten that we held guns in our hands, so enthralled were we by the picture spread before us.

Grayclad yellowlegs, in perfect harmony, waded with their more sombre companions, the green-shanked mudhens, so near that their every movement could be distinctly discerned. They were quietly and contentedly feeding. Little bevies of that lovely, but fast disappearing bird, the phalarope, and speckled sandpiper, gentle and unwary creatures, were scattered here and there and everywhere. The whole of these irregular groups of lesser birds would suddenly take flight, and after performing a few graceful evolutions in the air, over the open water, alternately displaying their white breasts and lavender backs, would drop down to trot and fret about in the populous ooze again. Now and then, too, a little bunch of ducks would jump up, take a circuit around over the sunlit reeds, and then again alight, indifferently upon the quaggy shore or rippling surface of the Hole.

A final attempt upon the part of Scribner to increase his range of vision, was followed by an outburst of a chorus of querulous honks, auh-unks! auh-unks! in our immediate rear. We quickly splashed down among the flags, but to no avail!

Once discovered by a Canada goose every living creature in the neighborhood is going to learn that something is the matter, and sure enough it was the case in this instance.

First to come along was an old Arctic pilot with a wiff, wiff, wiff of his heavy ashen wings, throbbing in our startled ears, and then another and another and another, until nine or a dozen frightened birds had beaten their way up into the air above us, without leaving a single mite of down to float back upon the yellow and brown marsh.

But even in spite of our intense vexation it was impossible not to admire those ponderous and royal birds as they soared over our heads at a safe distance, while, with their outstretched and raucous throats, they industriously warned the assembled multitude below of their peril.

With an impetuous determination we were all up as a single man and there was a mad thrusting of breechloaders out through the reedy barrier in front of us.

Then there was one mighty cry of mingled alarm and consternation, succeeded by a deafening roar of a million pinions in frenzied motion, as with common purpose that stupendous gathering of wild fowl precipitately arose in flight from the surface and boggy shores of the water!

And this is how we found the fabled Hole up on the great Lake creek marshes. That is all-what need to recount the remaining events of the day clear up to the time when the golden gloaming shed its softness over the lonely scene, and delicate pencilings formed fairly paintings, flecked with the topaz, crimson and amethyst of the zenith, on the still surface of that cane-rimmed pool, and then trembled away, in tender hints, into the quiet evening of a never-to-be-forgotten October day.