Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Frank H. Shoemaker. Unpublished manuscript. Shoemaker Collection, University of Nebraska, Love Library Archives.

Rainy Day Hike to Child's Point

  • Shoemaker, Omaha, Nebraska-September 16, 1900
  • My Dear People,

This has been a chilly, windy day, and I have stayed at home, though I had planned to take a trip over to Lake Manawa with Mr. Ryner, having never been there, and thinking it likely that I might see some water birds. I have put in the greater part of the time up to now writing letters; I think you will be pleased to know that among them was one to Paul, telling him about our bat, birds and ground squirrel. I have not heard from him or of him since the last letter I sent home--which I never answered until today.

I think I have enough paper ahead of me to tell you something now of the rainy Sunday which I have before mentioned in my letters home. My field notes show that on July 15th of the present year one of each of the following, viz.,A.J. Van Sant, Elizabeth Van Sant, Edgar R. Scott and Frank H. Shoemaker left home at eight o'clock in the morning and returned at 10:30 at night. It is unusual for us to spend fourteen and one-half hours in the woods on any one consecutive day, and for that reason and others I chance to remember some of the things which occurred.

It was a very pretty morning. We took the usual course; the Farnam line, then the South Omaha line, the Albright line, all for five cents apiece. From Albright we went directly over the hills toward the river. Reaching the railroad which skirts the river we concluded to take the shore instead of following the track, as we might see some new birds along the edge of the river. In this we were successful; what we wanted most was to give Mr. Scott a good bird day, as his enthusiasm had developed only a short time before, and we were anxious that it should not be dampened. (Dampened! Haw. Haw!--twice at least. Just refer to the "dampened" later) He got a tip-top look at the yellow-breasted chat and the western yellowthroat, two of our most beautiful and also most elusive birds, and any bird student will tell you that that is a good day's work for a beginner.

We found two little red bats--babies, who had just started independent careers. We took them with us in a little time box we generally carry for just such emergencies. Their subsequent career is not a happy story, but I will cover it in a few words. They lived for about a week; being so young we fed them almost altogether on milk, and it transpired shortly after their death that the milk which the accursed dairyman provide the people of Omaha is filled with a mixture called "preservaline" which contains a certain percentage of formaldehyde. A chemical which practically embalms one's stomach. We owe the death of one bats to this--these and three others; and there little doubt that many of this summer's "cholera infantum" victims are chargeable to this and nothing else. All three of us were used up for several days, at tone time, from its effects. The police judge before whom the offenders were tried declared that there was nothing in the charges, and to prove his assertion he drank freely of milk provided. He was sick abed for a week, but was to stubborn to change his mind. I do not say that it was not a coincidence; but if it was, it was a dandy.

To get back to the subject. We followed the river for a couple of miles and finally landed at the foot of one of our favorite ravines, about ten miles from home. There we stopped and hod our lunch--an elaborate thing, which led to the exclusion of our camera outfit, happily.

About two o'clock Mr. Van Sant concluded to return to the city, which proved to be another piece of good fortune. He frequently goes out with us, but often returns several hours ahead of us. So he took the bats and started for town, while the rest of us started on the exploration of the valley. It is a pretty place; I shall send you a picture taken at one point in it.

exhibit B,C,D,

In its normal state the bottom of the ravine is overgrown with weeds, bur a flock of about 600 sheep had been pastured there during the summer and the ravine was as clear of vegetation as though a cyclone had cut the grass. It is narrow and dark; the trees meet overhead and keep it in constant shadow, except where the sunshine breaks through in little flecks. On this particular afternoon the wind was perfectly still; the sun was still high and the sky cloudless. It was a beautifully innocent looking sort of a day; but don't you believe it for a minute. It was cooking up one of the biggest rains we have had for months and months.

Mr. Scott was perfectly happy over this ravine; it was one of the prettiest things he had seen for many a day. We wandered along very slowly, stopping to look at a deserted nest of the Acadian flycatcher, climbing up to a red-eye's nest (i.e. I), examining the nest from which two little hummers made their debut this season, and taking a look at a juvenile ovenbird. It was really a delightful journey; the valley is about a mile long, and is known to few people. At the end of the ravine I went alone up the road to look for a nest of the hummingbird which had been described to me; it had two babies in it, and i wanted Scott and Elizabeth to see them. I went for a mile and a half, and then had to give it up; my directions were insufficient. So I returned and was somewhat surprised not to find my party. I kept along the road toward Coffin Spring(our destination), thinking to overtake them, but after going about a mile and finding no tracks (even of Elizabeth's shoes, which of necessity must leave very plain and easily identified tracks), I concluded that I had gotten ahead of the procession. At that moment a single-horse wagon with about six men and boys aboard hove in sight. I inquired if they had met my crowd, giving sufficient description, and the pleaded not guilty; so I invited myself to rife back with them for about a mile, which I did in the face of one of the coldest receptions I ever had given an original proposition. I found the runaways right where I had left them; they had gone on a chase after an indigo bunting and I had missed them.

It began to get somewhat cloudy, and the atmosphere took on a sort of feeling which reminds one of other occasions. We never pay any attention to these things in Nebraska; they are merely bluffs.

We kept on toward the Coffin Spring. Before we had gone very far it began to sprinkle lightly, and we noticed heavy clouds in the southwest, but as these storms always pass around we kept on with merely a casual mention of the facts which we all had noticed.

By the time we had gone two hundred yards farther it was raining a little. We had with us an umbrella and a sort of an umbrella. I had the sort of an umbrella. I was ahead acting as pilot, and the other people called to me to put up my umbrella; that it was raining. I turned with my winning smile and told them that I knew it, and that I didn't have to do otherwise than as I darned pleased, or words conveying that meaning; that I liked to get a little wet once in a while. I was honest in this; I had taken off my hat to get the full benefit of the rain, which was coming down at a reasonable rate--not very heavily, for the storm you understand, was passing around. It seemed, however, that the edge of it was to strike not far away, for the rain increased somewhat. I still walked with my hat off, and quite enjoyed myself in the calm manner in which I ignored the sort of an umbrella, which I carried under my arm. The rain soaked into me pretty generally, and hung in great drops from the tips of my ears; the people behind had a lot of fun commenting upon my diamonds, and in fact my whole appearance. By this time it was raining. The road was composed of two parts rut and one part hump, with a sprinkling of holes and stumps. We had occasion before long to notice that the way was very slippery; in fact, it was a difficult matter to walk. I think it was about at this point that we began to consider the matter of shelter. The only thing which had offered since the rain had commenced was a spreading tree which a tangle of grapevines had turned into a tower, but this we had passed, for it has been my observation at least that leaves as a shelter are a snare and a delusion. It is very comfortable until the surface of the leaves become thoroughly wet, and then the things turn tip down and unanimously converge on the deluded shelter-seeker and drown him. If he moves to another point below the tree they change their direction so as to reach him. I have had a grapevine under these circumstances follow me ten rods in the course of five minutes, in order that it might leak on me. If there is a two-inch rainfall generally, it rains a foot under the trees, if anyone is there to keep dry.

We dragged along until we were within two hundred yards of the Coffin Spring and four and one-half miles from anywhere. At this point we caught sight of a wee log cabin, fitted into a little ravine, about a hundred yards from the road, and in spite of the rain (it was now raining) we stopped for a moment to admire the artistic touch it gave to the region.

.....[see exhibit H].....

We could not see it clearly through the sheets of water, and the first intimation we had that we also were being admired was when a voice, barely audible above the noise of the storm, called "Come in out of the wet!" Being in a receptive mood at the time, we done so with celery.

A poor old couple, nearer seventy than sixty, were the inmates of this picturesque but miserable cabin. They did what they could to make us comfortable, and we were soon seated and looking out upon the storm, with a damp but comparatively agreeable satisfaction.

The cabin was made of rough logs, cut from the woodland which surrounded it. The inside was chiefly covered with strips and sheets of tin--lard pails and tin cans flattened out and tacked on. The roof was provided with larger pieces, but most of them badly damaged by rust. The front of the roof was raised about two feet higher than the back, and the space between it and the upper course of logs was open, as was also the corresponding space across the whole front. The floor was of rough boards, which had plainly done service in other structures. There was no door. The scanty furniture consisted of a bed, a table, a small stand, a tiny cook stove, and three or four chairs.

By way of explanation and apology, our host told us of a disagreement he had had with his landlord on another and better farm in the region, and the necessity of leaving. Having no place to go, he had built this shanty; it wasn't done yet, for he was partially paralyzed and could not work much. He had "crops" and garden stuff growing on the hillsides and in adjoining ravines--indicating the location of his various growing things. Everything was "doing fine;" he had no reason to complain; but of course if he could work more thing would be in better shape. I am not a specialist on dialect (thank heaven), but i must attempt to give one of his narratives. He was speaking of his poor health, and told of having neuralgia in his face for a long time, but it finally went to his stomach. "I'm a good deal bothered with indigestion," he said. "It seems as ef nothin' much agrees with me sometimes. I don't hev nothin' t' do with docterin', but I've read a lot and hev learnt a lot about it; I'm perty well posted. I was havin' perty bad pains along back a while, and didn't know jest what t' do, but all 't once I had an exper'ence of an idea fer a minute, and I jest thought: Ef I'd take a little salt, an' a little sody, an' a little vinegar, and stir 'em together in a little water--they'd kind o' come up like, y' know; boil up a little--ef I'd do that an' take it, it 'd do me good; an' I done it; an', sir, it helped me in a minute; yes, sir, in a minute, it done me good; an' I've bin doin' it right along sence. The pain was all gone in a minute. I hev a good head on me; a good head."

While he was talking two little kittens came from under the stove and laboriously climbed to the woman's lap; they had been sick, she said, and she handled them very carefully and with seeming affection. She was small of stature and very slight, and had a dear, kind face, with years of privation and trouble too plainly stamped upon it. It went straight to my heart to think of her hard life.

The rain continued furiously, and we had occasionally to change our positions slightly to avoid the increasing leaks in the roof. All the house-flies in that part of the woods had found their way to the cabin, and stood singly and in groups all over the floor, too cold and rheumatic to buzz. These were eagerly sought by two or three chickens which familiarly patrolled the room. A little toad hopped out from an obscure corner to get its share. It was a pet, they said, belonging to their little girl, who was away from home just then. We were greatly entertained watching its foraging maneuvers.

Suddenly the sun popped out in typical Nebraska style, throwing a beautiful light upon the dripping trees and turning the falling drops to threads of silver. We waited a few moments longer to see whether it was really true, and then started again for the spring; for in spite of the gallons of water we had absorbed we were thirsty. The sun noticed this indiscretion and promptly disappeared behind a damp cloud (of which more later), and we did not see it until the next day.

Elizabeth went ahead of Mr. Scott and myself, and when we caught up with her we attempted by preconcerted arrangement to pass without recognizing her, on account of her disreputable appearance; but she would not have it that way, and we were forced to associate with her for the rest of the day and pretty well into the evening. The spring had received some barrels of surface water, but we were too thirsty to think about that; even then it was pretty good eating compared with the river water.

To help out Elizabeth's appearance, which could not be damaged perceptibly by any common means, I made her put on my coat, which I had not worn and had contrived to keep fairly dry under the sort of an umbrella. She kicked about it, of course, but we were rapidly getting chilly and it was the only common sense thing to do; also she done it. Then Scott and I were mean enough to cut her again, but she headed us off and we had to content ourselves with laughing at her and saying things. We then held a council, for we were not yet out of the woods, whether you please to regard this literally or figuratively. We were about five miles from Albright, the nearest point for transportation to America, and we could not get out of our minds the way the sun looked when it dived into that aerial pond. All at once Scott had an experience of an idea for a minute. Quod he: "Why can't we get the old man to take us to Albright in his wagon? It would save us a long, muddy walk, and would be a charitable act into the bargain; and then it would be a great lark." (I neglected mention of a light wagon in good condition and a white horse in bad condition which were conjoined and collectively attached to a tree near the cabin.) Elizabeth was not overly enthusiastic in the matter, but we had only to look at her once to have a poor opinion of any impressions she might have on any subject, so the matter was settled. She came over to our side in a minute, and we agreed that Scott had a good head.

Thus it happened that we rode to Albright, via Wichita, Kansas-- but I am ahead of the narrative.

We started up the road which we had traversed an hour or so before, Elizabeth on the throne with the driver and Scott and I on a plank just behind. Now a word about the horse. I am willing to admit at this late date that for a time I had my doubts as to the correctness of the classification, but I am now fairly convinced that it was a horse. It frequently happens among scientific men that an organism comes under their notice which seems to possess points of difference from any known creature. In such cases it either furnishes the basis for a new species, or is regarded as referable to that bearing the closest resemblance. The former is the more scientific method, but owing to lack of time to give proper investigation I must have recourse to the latter, though in the present instance it is a long shot.

We sped along through the wilderness at a rate which made the trees seem to move, following the alleged road which under ordinary circumstances would land us on the Fort Crook boulevard. However, when we reached the first steep hill it transpired that we would have to go around instead of over it, as the horse was not shod. So our driver headed the outfit into the woods and we followed a blind road, for some little distance. Yes, farther than that; for it was an hour before we saw anything we recognized, and then it was Bellevue--two miles south of the point from which we had started to go north.

We had an endless lot and variety of fun during this little journey around the fifty-foot hill. Inasmuch as we had started in a rather damp condition, we did not mind at all now when we drove under a tree and shook a barrel of water from it. This happened every two minutes, and the novelty was beginning to wear off when we suddenly struck an up grade. It was not very steep, nor was it long; but our charger got part way up and then slipped around at such a rate that I jumped out and carried the wagon up the hill by the hind wheels. We soon lost track of the drenchings from the trees in the greater entertainment of watching for grades, and were rewarded by three or four nice ones to every quarter mile we traversed. When one of these would appear, Scott and I would jump out and each carry half the wagon.

It was also entertaining to observe the old man in his manipulation of the horse. "Yes, I call him 'Doctor'; real name's John, but I generally call him 'Doctor'. Geetup, Doctor" It struck me as worthy of note that the animal's "real" name was John, that he was ordinarily called Doctor, and that he was a living picture of what Jolly would have been if fed on pieux for a month.

Of course we soon discovered that we had all the time there was left in stock, so we took it as easily as possible between lifts. We hunted birds' nests and kept eyes and ears open for birds, stopping a dozen times to observe, or to pretend to observe while we gave "The Doctor" a chance to breathe. We struck might pass for a fairly level tract in the neighborhood of Bellevue, and stood the remaining four miles of the drive very well.

"Geetup, Doctor; I aint seen ye so nully sence I had ye. Geetup Doctor; ef ye don't do better I won't call ye Doctor. I'll jest call ye John. No, I anint ever raced him any, not on the track; but he's purty good. I hev bin offered good figgers fer the Doctor, but I ain't ever sold him. Geetup, Doctor."

By the time we got around the hill and started toward Omaha it was almost dark, for the damp cloud was about to get in its work. There was little worthy of note after we struck the main road. We were rather too chilly to enjoy life. Early in the game we had contrived to get the old man's cane, which he was altogether too wiling to apply to the long-suffering Doctor as a stimulant. This caused the driver no little worry. He asked Mr. Scott to return the article (for it was he who had planned and accomplished the scheme), but Mr. Scott was "using" it. The old man then tried to use the ends of the reins, but this had little effect on the hardened Doctor. Shortly before we entered the main road we were led to believe that our driver or the Doctor, or both, had gone suddenly and violently insane, but after driving about among the trees for a moment the outfit stopped and the old man proceeded with evident satisfaction to cut a switch. This he used with great industry, but it was a poor substitute for the club, and the Doctor had a reasonably decent time.

About a mile out of Albright we took an inventory, just for our amusement, to see of what we consisted. Items: Hoss(?), before mentioned and sufficiently described; bad order. Wagon, good enough at heart, but appearance slightly marred by a rim of clay nine inches in diameter about each wheel. Driver, not modern. Woman on front seat with man's coat on; a conservative rating would read "doubtful." Man on plank in back of wagon, apparently wet, and to say the least, a very common looker. Another man on same plank; no coat; plenty of mud all over shirt; hole in back of shirt through which a full-grown cat could have been dropped. - - About this time a buggy hove abreast, and a head was stuck out long enough to verify what had seemingly been a suspicion. It was apparently satisfactory, for the man who owned and accompanied the head, after a sweeping and amused glance which took in more points than would be necessary, remarked, "Why, hello, Scott! Aren't you lost?" Then he pulled in his head and went on, and Mr. Scott is still wondering who he was. He had had only a very brief look at the face, and the nearest he could come to the facts in the case was to say that he believed the man was a politician, but he was not sure of this.

The rest of the story is very brief. We reached Albright just ahead of the rain, which was of the old-fashioned kind. It was so heavy that the streetcars stopped running, and it was apparently the program to shiver and if possible live until they started up--a time so doubtful as to lend little encouragement to the effort. Elizabeth had shed my coat when we reached this metropolis, and now she was beginning to feel the full effect of the cold. We were desperately uncomfortable and it was rapidly becoming a rather serious matter, when one of our bird-crank friends appeared on the scene and took us to his home, not twenty yards away. Here we spent a comfortable and profitable hour and a half waiting for the cars to start up, passing the time talking bird and looking at our benefactor's collection. In the course of time the juice was turned on the trolley system, and we had the pleasure of rolling to Omaha, reaching home about eleven o'clock and finding that the lightning had struck our light pole, burned out the transformer, shattered an insulator, burned out two fuses in the house and made things generally interesting about the premises, as noted in my letter to you about that date.

I have neglected to mention that our driver and the Doctor went to South Omaha during a lull in the storm, where they put up until morning instead of attempting the return in the storm and dark. Some people might not think it worth $2.50, which was the size of our voluntary contribution, but I know three people who would not take that much apiece for the ideas they experienced.

  • Goodnight.
  • Saturday, October 13, 1900.

[see exhibit I]