Sandy Griswold. February 26, 1911. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 46(22): 10-E. Also: 3/12, 46(24): 1-S.
Out on the Sprawling Platte in the Fabled Olden Days
Something in the air, in the first days that indicate the approach of spring, never fails to waken the memory of the hunting days that are gone, among the best of which were the days spent with the geese out on the legendary old Platte, before the ice had gone out, in the late winter of long ago.
While there is still much royal sport for the gunner in Nebraska yet today, in any and all seasons, there is none to be compared with that we oldsters used to enjoy out on the old river twenty years ago.
Time was when this sprawling old stream was one of the most famous resorts for these birds, both spring and fall, of any in all the known world, and it is a haunt still numerously visited by them, in these seasons, as has been well attested by the fine shooting they have afforded at various points along this sprawling water way during the past week.
Many really good bags, principally Canadas-for it is yet too early for either the speckled fronts, white or Hutchins geese to come in-have been made at Silver Creek, Clark's, Chapman, Gothenburg, Cozad, Willow and Brady Islands, and the shooting should remain fairly good for several weeks to come.
The rapid settling of the country, however, with its attendant enormous increase of hunters, has done much to reduce the flocks that come in here nowadays, and instead of countless thousands, they are only to be seen in scattered bunches, some days more, some days less, but never in that avalanche of gray and black and white, such as literally overwhelmed the region regularly, season in and season out, twenty or twenty-five years ago.
Avalanche of Ducks.
I will venture to say that on the first trip I ever made on this wondrous old river, twenty-four years ago March 9 next, together with the late John Hardin and Billy Townsend, out at Clark's I saw more wild geese at a single glance of the eye than visit this same region today in a whole season, and, including at that, the entire stretch from Brady Island to Rogers.
At that time Charlie Hoyt, gone from the country these many years, was the big noise in the goose killing line who rendezvoused at this classic old village, with Bill Douglas, then a stripling, Sam Brindle, Dr. Richardson, Attorney Jack Martin and Dr. Little trailing along a close second. Sam Richmond was then in knickerbockers, a mere urchin, who with his famous old Zulu had just began to nose along after the big hunting parties, like a muskrat sniffing for tender roots and crawfish and snails, along the river's sedgy selvedge in the dawn and the twilight of those golden days.
Immense Day's Harvest.
The first day, with Hoyt in command, and Sam as an all round helper, we shot from the bars in the vicinity of Crook's Island, below the town, and, of course, had grand luck, Hardin Sam and I killing thirty-one big, black fellows, and Townsend and Hoyt over fifty, including twenty-eight white geese. At that, our bag was the best of the two, for our birds were all Canadas, with the exception of two. We were in the right line of flight for these birds, while the white geese would not decoy to us at all.
Reaching the point where we were to wade out to the blinds just at daybreak, we could not refrain from tarrying quite a spell and enjoying the romantic outlook-much wilder and much rarer in that day long ago, than it is today.
The Platte whose fetters of ice had just been loosened, rushed and crowded and sung and rippled as it bore frantically on its way, as if under a spell of enchantment, with the south breezes, still full of javelins, playing over its choked and frothy surface, and the cold topaz sunshine kissing the ragged masses of floating ice and frost bedizened bars, into riant smiles.
Truly, the Platte river, in those dim old days, in a spring following a winter of a plenitude of snow and rain, presents a thrilling picture, flowing, as it does, with a stupendous impetuosity, onward and downward through a tangle of wild country of sterile field and barren hill, long lines of scraggy white-barked cottonwood trees and low willows, beautiful in the extreme, and yet so wild and fascinating, in its suggestive environments and misty details, so impressive, in its resistless sweep of grandeur.
Far to the eastward, that memorable March morning, I saw the outlines of the barren uplands, while crowded in below the mazes and thickets, with their lacustral fringe, stood the scraggy cottonwoods, the reddening willows and fuzzy maples, spectral and naked, but flashing opalescent prisms in the soft light radiating up from the horizon; to the west a chain of innumerable tow-heads and rounded, squatty islands, dark and gloomy in the shadows, but which Hoyt and Sam assured us afforded the most perfect blinds for the circumvention of the swift-flying and wary goose.
Stretching out for more than a full mile, immediately before us, through a perfect network of jostling and grinding ice, scum and snow and foam-laden floes, the savage Platte, fierce and menacing, yet a flashing expanse of crystal waters, tore noisily its relentless way. It was with much trepidation I viewed the prospect of braving those slashing currents and ice-humped bars for one of the the brushy havens we were supposed to reach before the flight began.
To old Charlie and the venturesome Sam, it was but an idle jest, and with the lust of the hunt upon us, with the blood pumping hard for action within our veins, we soon partook of a kindred spirit and the deed was done.
A Wonderful Old River.
But the Platte, it was and is still, for that matter, a wonderful river, especially in spring time like the one we recall-a seeming interminable stretch of watery wilderness, the whole country for miles in all directions appearing to be so engulfed and swallowed up by its gaping shores as to make it an impossible job to pick out the river itself from its scores of imitating channels and currents. The main sluiceway, or torrent would be more apropos, if there is such a thing, at such a time, even by an old habitant of the river, or to one thoroughly familiar with the topography and configuration of the landscape, cannot be, at all times, correctly defined from amidst the countless counter currents of the many rivers in a distraught race for the mastery, with their myriads of divides, cul de sacs, swirling bayous, all in contention, but making up the turbulent whole. However, it is seldom, if ever, in this locality, much over a man's head, although from one to one and a quarter mile wide, but there are long, tortuous channels, deeper than others, treacherous washouts, holes and beds of quicksand, which make it extremely hazardous, even for the most adventurous and skilled hunter to enter; yet in high mackintoshes and waders, they boldly penetrate to the most dangerously situated bar, and cross and re-cross, here, there and everywhere, without either fear or disaster, and yet many an unwary and inexperienced spring time wild fowler has met death in its powerful, merciless and perfidious depths. These fatalities, however, in almost every case, have occurred in the spring breakup, when the river is at its highest, the floating ice most dangerous, and the beds of quicksand most frequently formed. The hunter, however, deft at mastering this unstable stream, cannot be too cautious in his maneuvers on the old river in the boisterous freshets of the early spring, and the youngster who is now, for the first time, contemplating a trip, this warning is sounded with redoubled emphasis.
From the time when a solitary wagon trail crossed the state-the old Oregon trail, and long prior to that, too, the Platte river has been noted as one of the most wonderful roosting and resting places of the wild geese, during their spring and autumn migrations, known in the whole country, if not the whole world, and, as noted previously, is still a region much favored and much visited by these greatest of all our game birds.
In the mornings the geese leave the bars or, that is, they used to, but there has been a great change in their habits since the time of which I write, and fly off to their feeding grounds, returning for ablution and recuperation shortly before the noon hour, and then up and off again about the middle of the afternoon for their vesperian banquet, and back in the shadows of eventide for more rest and greater safety, on the barren bars through the cold and cheerless hours of the night.
On the hunt in question, our first morning was a glorious one, haven for the uncouth March we had that year. While the atmosphere was uncomfortably keen, everything was as fresh and radiant as on a morning in May.
The pink tints of coming day had barely made themselves manifest in the somber east, before we had stowed away a substantial breakfast at that fabled old hostelry, the West House, and in a couple of old ramshackle express wagons were jolting along on our way down the east road along the tracks for our shooting grounds.
An hour's drive brought us to a point among the pestiferous willows and recalcitrant buck brush on the river at a point off which we were to enter the stream and do our shooting.
The distant bluffs were now warming into purple, while the tallest tops of scraggy cottonwoods were glinting in gold, and on the elevations the first genial rays of the sun were kindling the grass and scarlet tendriled willow trees into yellow animation, picking out the weedy crannies and water-worn gulches, and promising soon to spread over all a broad illumination.
A hardy robin piped, perched on a nearby willow, his joyous welcome as blithesome as if tilting amid the green foliage of the southern home he had so lately left, and a wandering breeze, with much promise in its caresses, fluttered along the gorged shores, and soon we were electrified by many long lines of geese which the rumble of our wagons over the frozen clods had set awing, and which were seen cleaving their way from distant bars to more distant feeding fields.
Preparing for the Attack.
Being new to the scene, we clogged the operations of Hoyt and Sam, and lost the cream of the morning flight-the matutinal departure from the river roosts-but as we didn't know the difference, what did it matter?
Hardin, Sam and myself went together and Hoyt and Townsend and while the latter drove on down through the willows to a point a mile below us, we began to make active preparations for the return of the birds from the fields, which Sam said would be along about 11 o'clock or a little later.
Each one cut a bundle of brush, and with this burden, added to that of our guns, shell-cases and decoys, made our laborious way to the bar the youthful Samuel had selected for us. It was with much real fear and uncertainty, that I, al least, stemmed those powerful ice filled currents, but we were game, and in time, despite all apprehension, despite treacherous shoals and quicksands and bumping ice, reached our destination.
Sam, tender in years as he was, was a man of deeds, and it required him but an incredible short space of time, with what bungling assistance we were enabled to render him to have our blind up and in ship-shape, and with the decoys all strung out, or methodically bunched, to the windward, we were soon ready and more than eager for business.
But it was a long and tedious wait, over three hours, before our over strained and rapidly relaxing vigil was rewarded with anything more startling than the noisy passage of a crow, or the whir of flocking snow birds, when suddenly that blood-curdling-almost-monosyllable-
"Mark!" came from the adolescent youth who was showing up old hunters how to hunt geese.
Down we went, like turtles off a log, behind our shield of buck brush and peering, even timorously through the interstices of our hide, we saw a bunch of eleven big, black geese,-Canadas-with a huge old patriarch in the lead, coming our way!
They were approaching from the northwest, and apparently meant to decoy in perfect shape. I was on the west, the side nearest the coming birds, and when I tell you that it was all I could do to hold myself from jumping up and rushing out to meet them, I am not telling you even an inkling of the sensations I underwent.
On, on they came, with never a waver, but many an auh unk! in response to the pure goose Sam was talking at them, until-it seemed an age-I saw them all set their broad gray sails and come sliding noisily down the aerial way, directly, it seemed, upon us.
"Careful! Sandy, take the big one!" cautioned Sam, and that was our only cue.
The next moment they were just right and as one man we were on our feet.
Crack! crack! crack! crack! and crack and crack again, went our guns.
Pilot is First to Fall.
Sam got a bird with each barrel, but Hardin only got his second one down, and the old pilot, as I singled into him, looked as big to me as the mystic Roc in the Arabian Nights, but I was there. I poked my first load full into his broad, ashen breast, and then as he wheeled, with an outburst of dismayed honka-honk-honks, and began to climb toward the unflecked blue above, I steadied myself, and down he came, whirling heels over head until he hit the water with a loud splash, in reply to my second barrel.
He was as dead as a stone, and so was Hardin's but Sam's second bird had only been badly winged tipped. He had fallen on the bar, but before Sam could get in a shell and settle him, he flopped out into the foaming river, and if Sam chased him a yard, he chased him two miles. But he got him.
In those days Sam was as much at home in the seething river as a wall-eyed pike, and a wounded goose had about as much chance of getting away from him as a snowflake would have in preserving its wondrous texture in the hottest corner of the devil's own domain.
Four geese out of the first flock, well, that wasn't half bad, and after the flurry of excitement that succeeded the killing had subsided, we settled ourselves for some more.
We did not have long to wait. There were geese in those days and they were flying that morning. Sam again saw the birds first. There were more than in the first bunch and they were coming straight into us, just as if we were pulling them in with a string. This time Sam admonished us to wait a bit longer and we did not rise until they were dropping their crimson feet to light upon the sands of the bar. Then we let them have it. Again four birds fell to our combined reports, but a fifth, hard shot swerved from the flock, after it had welded together succeeding the fusillade, and flying and sagging straight across the river in the direction of the point from which we had entered, it went off over the low line of timber on the shore, and fell in afield beyond, a half mile away.
There was little time for conversation or idle jest for an hour after that, the birds were pouring into the river by the thousands, and enough of them came our way to keep our guns warm, I can warrant you.
It was nearly noon and there was a cessation in the flight, and we were just getting ready to go into shore for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of woods broiled goose, when Sam discovered a flock of canvasback circling over the water a half mile below us. These were the first ducks we had seen, with the exception of the early stream of pintails that went over high in the air, and Sam said:
"Maybe you'd rather have canvasback for your dinner," and motioning us down, he got out his caller and after a few hoarse squawks, we saw that he had attracted their attention for they went up into the air a trifle higher, then came hustling up our way.
They quickly got their eyes on the geese decoys, and came swiftly on, but shied past just when we thought they were sure coming in. They made a circle of a mile or more, and then came bearing down our way again like a whirlwind. We saw that they were exceedingly suspicious, however, and agreed to take a long chance.
Sure enough, when within possibly sixty yards of the outer line of decoys, they suddenly dished, with that peculiar sibilant swish the startled canvasback always makes, and began to go up skyward at about the rate of a mile a second, so we thought, and seeing that it was our only show, we all leaped erect and let them have six barrels.
We didn't get a feather!
An hour later when we reached the willows, Sam made a bee line off through the woods to the field where his wounded goose had tumbled, and in twenty minutes he was back and he brought the goose with him.
A fire started, and the aroma of good, rich, M__ mingling with the savory smell of goose on the coals filled with the sunlit air, and, well, what is the use of saying anything further? If the spirit moves me, I'll give you the story of the afternoon's shoot in next Sunday's World-Herald.
Sandy's Thrilling First Hunt on the Platte in Fierce March Blasts
Again recalling, according to promise, my first goose shoot out on the old Platte, nearly a quarter of a century ago.
I will say the first day out, Sam Richmond and myself became uncommonly fond of each other, probably because we were both so inordinately fond of outdoor life, so that evening, while we were all seated around the old cannon stove in the West hotel, our plans were formulated for the next day, and as good luck would have it, we agreed that Hoyt, Townsend and Hardin should compose one party and return to the blind, from which Charlie and Billy had made their big bag that day, and Sam and I another. With this understanding, which was reached at a rather late hour, so engrossed had we been exchanging the experiences of the day, we all took a moderate little whack at the Yellowstone decanter, and tired, yet eager as ever, sought the hay, consisting, in this instance, in those mile-deep feather beds of Mother West's.
Sam, who in those times could get along with forty winks in forty days, I use to think, got me up and into my warm shooting togs at a horribly early hour, and after a hurriedly prepared breakfast, we were on our way to the river.
It was not a typical goose day, by any means, and Sam told me at the outset that we would not accomplish much, but that we would have a good time by ourselves, anyway. While it was uncomfortably chilly, it was clear and calm, and Sam said it was going to be too right and sunshiny for success in a shooting way, and that if the birds refused to move, we would put in the day enjoying ourselves as best we could.
Predictions Prove Accurate.
And true enough, after the sun had risen well into the morning sky, it became suspiciously sultry, and after the geese had left the bars, which they did earlier than usual, it grew distressingly quite, even the pintails keeping themselves scarce. Of course, we saw a good many birds during the morning hours, and even killed what would be called a grand bag today. Most of them went over high in the air, and Sam and I were so much interested in each other, and in our reconnoitering about all the adjacent towheads, that we didn't care much whether we got any more or not. Indescribable is the happiness of the sportsman who is mated with the right companion on a shooting trip. In such a union the rules of mathematics go for naught, for while twice one is two, and two guns may bag twice as much game as one, it is not the game that cuts the most important figure in detail, for the satisfaction two friends of similar tastes, views and inclinations, can get out of a day in the woods and on the waters is tenfold, yes, ten times tenfold what one can derive from it alone, no matter how fast the shooting may come. With two souls with but a single thought the bulk of the happiness of all such days consists in the companionships they create, foster and cement. Take away from a hunt this element of intercourse and often there will be mighty little left. Some of the happiest, firmest and most lasting friendships of a lifetime have been formed on the ducking grounds, on the snipe bogs, on the stream and in the woods. Such is the friendship Sam Richmond and I have gloried in ever since that first stormy March day out on the Platte at Clark's, twenty four years ago. Sam is a man to like and to love. There is something distinctively charming in the directness, the simplicity, and I may well add, the crystalline moral beauty of the life of a man like Sam Richmond. With all his frivolities-almost all of them of the past-his companionship carries with it a real moral force. Of charming personality, like all men great in any phase in the tangled skein we call life, he is free from ostentation, free from egotism, in make-up today as much of a happy boy as he was in the days of which I write. He, too, is always interesting as only a man of research, sure of his ground in ever minute particular, can be, and many is the golden hour I have passed with him.
A Cyclopedia of the Platte.
Among them were all of those of this one day on the Platte, and as young as he was then, we discussed together the habits of all the birds and of all the animals that lived and visited along that wondrous old stream, and what Sam did not know about them would not much interest even the most learned of our scientific naturalists. A hunt with Sam has in it a culture of its own which is unique and far-reaching-broad and deep in all that he does know, loving everything in nature, and he is one of the most interesting men with whom I have ever hunted.
Late that afternoon, as the sun was slowly dropping toward the western rim of the cottonwoods, great flocks of Canadas came up out of the distant pastures and stubble fields and bore down upon the gleaming Platte, until, with querulous cackling, they settled along its thousand bars. We had crossed over on the south below Crook's Island, and for an hour before dark we witnessed one of the most thrilling sights ever fashioned for sportsman's eyes. Coming in, every few minutes or so, high above us in the thinly nebulous sky, were thousands and thousands of these magnificent birds. They took good care, of course, to keep out of our reach, as we lolled carelessly on the darkening shore, but kept pouring in, clanging out their wild signals, and by turns showing triangles, od dusky brown and snowy white, as they veered round, far up or down the river, or rose higher in their majestic voyage as they passed over, unheeding Sam's most seductive calls, but moving out over the broad river and settling serenely on its long, glistening bars. Flock followed flock, until scores became hundreds, and hundreds thousands, in that never-to-be-forgotten convocation on the flowing, ice-clogged river on that glorious March evening so long ago.
Conditions Different Then.
But, as I remarked before, those were the days when game shooting was goose shooting, and the Platte was the Platte, the days of which such venerable old sportsmen as Judge B.E.B. Kennedy, and George A. Hoagland love to descant, love to swing round and go back to by memory's charming route.
When Sam and I got in that night we found old Charlie, Townsend and hardin already there, and we soon learned that they had made quite a bag, and it piqued Sam, too, not a little, but as we had had such a glorious day of it, this chagrin soon disappeared. They not only brought in as many birds almost as on the previous day, but in their bag was a big, beautiful whooping crane, a cock in the most superb of white plumage. It was the first specimen of the kind I had ever seen, save in the air, and you can well imagine how it interested me. Townsend killed him, and it was with rapt attention we listened to his recountal of the exploit.
He said they saw the birds, some fifteen or twenty of them, coming, when they were more than a mile away, saw the sun glinting and radiating from their snowy plumage, and he and Hardin, although both had seen many of the birds, and killed them, too, at first thought they were white geese, and then swans, but their flight wasn't just right, and they were speculating on their identity, when suddenly old Hoyt ejaculated:
Luring the White Crane.
They were now getting thrillingly near and Charlie began to call, through his hands placed funnel-shaped at his mouth, that long drawn, far-reaching tremolo, which alone the whooping crane sounds.
The great birds caught the signal instantly, and while they did not respond, they swung in closer over the middle of the river, from along the north shore, which they had been following, and in a moment a single bird, a grand, big fellow, as they could see, was lured from the passing flock. At first he turned half round, as if reluctantly detaching himself from his companions, but after two or three short, sonorous hoo-roo-oooos, he again swung toward the middle of the river, and setting his broad sails, slid and veered, in a circuitous descent, toward their decoys, along the barren bar, sometimes calling back solicitously to his late voyageurs, as if in reproach at their obstinacy, or questioning the soundness of his own discretion, but coming on down toward the waiting hunters, until abruptly Billy jumped to his feet, has famous old ten-bore Parker cracked-we all shot with ten-bores for ducks in those days-and the big bird, with folded wings and dangling neck, came down in great gyrations, to the sands of the bar, where, after a spasmodic kick or two, it lay still in death.
Billy's shot had been a true one. The whole load of 4s lodged in its side, just under the base of the right wing.
We had a splendid time that evening in the office of the old hotel, for we were all feeling in an extremely brotherly humor, and the hours sped by as we discussed, over our pipes, and the Yellowstone, the wonderous flight we had seen, and what it probably meant for us on the morrow.
Just as we were indulging in our good night sorties, old Uncle George came in from out on the board walk in front of the hotel, where he had been taking his usual nocturnal meteorological observations, and threw a wet blanket on our enthusiasm be declaring:
A Dire Prophecy.
"We are going to have a hellofa storm before morning, and more cold, and you'll have hard work shooting on the river tomorrow."
But agreeing on the same division of our party from the next day, Hoyt, Townsend and Hardin, and Sam and I, we retired to our allotted rooms. And true enough, long about 2 in the morning, the old frame hostelry was bombarded by a terrific storm of sleet, and echoing from every cranny and every corner, came to the weird shrieking and moaning of a wild northwester as it ripped and tore and roared transversely across and over the little ducking hamlet of Clark's.
Every one confessed to having been awakened by its fury, and when our party reassembled at the breakfast table there was little thought of going to the river, so furious was the wind and so heavy the falling snow, which was blown in great drifts over every path and into every opening. And more than this, is was evident that the river had frozen solid.
After dinner, however, the snow fell less heavily, and the wind seemed to veer a little to the south.
Sam and I had put in the whole morning, and the rest of the party, too, for that matter, loading shells, just after we had resumed our labors after dinner, suddenly Sam looked up and said:
"Are you game?"
I knew intuitively what he was going to propose, and I quickly replied:
You bet I am."
"Well, we'll get ready. We'll be on the river in an hour, and I shouldn't wonder but what we would have one of the shoots of our lives.
A Wild Adventure.
It was really a hazardous venture. But what did we care? If the game wasn't worth some effort to get it, then it wasn't worth anything. And then, too, we were both younger than we are today; there was no slowing up, as yet, of the pulsations of heart of blood, and we agreed that some of the happiest hunts we had ever had fairly bulged with discomfort and hardship.
In vain Townsend and Hardin endeavored to dissuade us. We were quickly ready, and in the Colonel's old single horse delivery wagon, bundled up like Esquimos, we started for the river, which we reached after a laborious journey, tied up in a wind-blow, and started for the dim and distant towhead with a sack of decoys over our shoulders, and gun and shell case in hand.
Under the protection of the timbered shores there was a partial calm, and the only inconvenience we experienced were the deep drifts that barred our way out onto the river. The ice, as Sam said it would be, was stout enough to have borne a four-horse team, but once out on the level, the going was not so bad, and we rapidly drew near the towhead, aided by the wind, which at times blew so fiercely that we had to brace our backs against it to keep from being blown sprawling on the ice.
Big Flock Sails Over.
When about 200 yards from the towhead a big flock of Canadas and speckled fronts arose from the off side of the island and with a raucous honking and cackling, were soon lost sight of in the thick scud to the leeward.
On nearing the towhead, we saw a single Canada goose sitting on the ice, over the low willows on the other side. We saw him lift up his black head and Sam said he was going to jump, and told me to shoot. It was over seventy-five yards if it was a foot, but I hit him. He flew and fluttered down the wind, alighting at every twenty-five yards or so, and dropping my decoys, I took after him, and chased him, until I dared go no further out on the trackless and storm-swept river for fear of some sudden and unforseen disaster.
Getting back to the towhead, I realized that it was rapidly getting colder. It was all I could do to regain the little sheltered tuft in the teeth of the wind. But as I had declared, I was game, and we soon had our blind arranged, and our decoys lined up to the windward, when we snuggled down behind this barrier and waited. I was facing the southwest, and Sam to the east, and for further comfort I leaned back against the stout willows and surrendered myself to listening to the moaning of the wild winds and watching the sun lowering through the gray ocean above and toward the rime of the far-away hills. It was still snowing thinly, but with much relief, I noticed that the storm was abating, and that the geese were in motion. We watched the approach of the first flock, a tremendous one, as they came on majestically, despite the changing wind currents, with that mighty wing-beat, which seems so slow when you see a flock coming from afar, but which is really so swift and effective; watched them till they came n close, but out of gun shot, passed over us, and then went on down the river and out of sight.
A Rush of Guests.
Again we were aroused by a sounding unk! auh-unk! unk! of a goose close at hand, and as we whirled alertly, a large flock swept down to the leeward, and gracefully sweeping round, came back toward us, heavily against the lessening gale. It was hardly necessary for Sam to call, but he did softly once or twice, a quavering welcome, and with a confused by contented gabbling, with which a settled flock always greets newcomers, the bunch came in.
The old white cravatted pilot passed so close to my head that, it seemed, I could have knocked him down with my gun barrel, and more than a score of ebony heads, white breasts, broad wuffing wings and dusky feet, passed over us to the upper end of our line of decoys, and there alighted. Six or seven birds only settled out to one side, where we had an unobstructed view of them, and the heads and necks of five of them were in perfect alignment. We could not turn to fire at the main flock without being seen by this detachment, so we drew on down on the five, and at the crack of our guns they tumbled over like puppets on a stage of Marionettes-the entire five!
With loud, affrighted clamor, the balance of the great flock rose up into the storm, and Sam gave them his second barrel, and I was fairly electrified to see two more drop those big gray sails and hit the ice with a dull ker-plunk.
Shooting Under Difficulties.
And then, for another three quarters of an hour, it was nothing but geese, and while we scored heavily, the wind and mist and flying scud was much against us, and we really shot like tenderfeet, as Sam put it. But you can imagine the scene probably more vividly than I could describe it, and I will come to a close by saying that at the end of the interval above mentioned, darkness was creeping up from the east, and the weather being yet unsettled and frightfully frigid, Sam said we had better not wait any longer, that there was such a thing as even he getting lost on the Platte. While warmed with excitement, I was nothing loth, and tying our geese by the necks with a rope Sam hid in one of the decoy sacks, we hauled the decoys in, and piled them round he blind, and started for the shore.
The wind was still strong and the cold more intense, while the burden of dragging that long line of geese over the humpy ice and snow soon has us puffing like walruses.
But we pressed on resolutely for the shore, which became, by this time, only a darker line in the darkness, and the sleet, which showed that Sam had been none to premature in departing from the towhead, pelted us like canister.
Many times we heard the call of geese close at hand, but we heeded them not, as we saw them go by in shadow, swifter than the wind, between us and a rift in the flying scud, and then like sheeted ghosts, vanish into the night.
Rod by rod, yard by yard, we worked our way to the windward, sometimes stoping to catch our breath, and sometimes turning our backs to the heavier squalls until they passed by, but at last we reached the shore, and in the shelter of the thick timber, we dropped to the snow and took a good rest. How we made the last quarter of a mile it would be hard to say, for more than once I felt like falling to the ice in exhaustion, my throat and mouth were parched and dry, and my lungs seemed cramped by hauling on that terrible line of dead Canadas, but with Sam, I staggered on, and at last, shivering and freezing, we were safe.
We found West's od Rozinants and the wagon-the latter full of sleet and snow-in the blow-out where we had left them, and two hours later, benumbed to the bone and half dead, we were stripping and being stripped, by sympathetic hands around that old cannon stove in Uncle George's hospitable barroom-as all hotel offices were styled in those days.
And as I sit here in my cozy room, writing these lines this gray march day, I can still hear the wild clangor of the rising flock, and while there is an exquisite charm in recalling our trying experience, I never want to go through it again. Oh, yes, the recollection of that stormy afternoon and its hardships and danger is today really inspiring, and frozen snow wreath, and icy Platte, and black skies, a halo, yet never again could I be induced to take such a chance.