Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. January 6, 1901. [Winter Quail Hunting at Clarks]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 36(98): 18.

Forest, Field and Stream.

Nothing revives happy memories of the past more than a visit, after long years of absence, to the beloved scenes of the days that are gone. It also affords an effective horological appreciation of the old Latin axiom of "tempus fugits" and unwelcomely forces upon one the realization that one is growing older. Last Saturday and Sunday I spent, together with Wilber Fawcett, out at the legendary little city of Clarks, on my last quail shoot of the century, guests of the redoubtable Sam Richmond, one of the state's best known and most popular sportsmen. We stopped of course, at the West Hotel, a hunter's hostelrie endeared to all of Omaha's old-time followers of the gun, and an attractive haven of refreshment and rest for most of the ambitious young hunters of the day. This house was presided over for many long years by Uncle George West, a wholesouled good fellow, who was known and liked by more sportsmen than any other one individual in Nebraska. Old Uncle George, he died two years ago, and his death was lamented sincerely from one end of the state to the other, by the old timers who had oft and again congregated around the cheerful blaze in his little office, and smoked and drank and cracked their jokes and told their stories of the glories of the day down the fretful Platte with the geese and the ducks, or in the fields with the chicken and the quail.

Years ago Clarks was the rendezvous of more well-known sportsmen than any other place in the state, and in the dim old days I have mingled there with such heroes of the guild as the late lamented General George Crook, Indian fighter, sportsman, ornithologists, naturalist and gentleman; Judge B.E.B. Kennedy, "Yank" Hathaway, Dr. George Miller, John Collins, Judge Dundy, Henry Homan, John Petty, Dr. Galbraith, Captain Ray, Dr. Richardson, Dr. Little, Frank Parmalee, John Hardin, H.A. Penrose, Jack Knowles, Captain and Billy Townsend, Myron Larned, Skip Dundy, George Small, Eddie George, George Tzschuck, Jim Den, Cliff Cole, Tom Foley, George Scribner, Charlie Rogers, Fred Blake, Irvine Gardner and scores and scores of others whose names just now I have not at my pencil's end. Such days of sport, such scenes of exhilaration and beauty, such camaraderie, will they ever dawn again save as the images of mournful phantasmagoria.

The old hotel is now presided over by J.J. Clark, and well he maintains the prestige of the old times—the same courteous attention, the same table and cozy bed chambers. To go there now is to but resurrect the dead past.

When Wilbur and I reached there at noon, Saturday, we found Sam absent—down the Platte with Joe Goldsmith and Wentzel Franta of this city—but as the afternoon was wondrously sunny and bland, we determined to put it in after a fashion—for you can do nothing at Clark's without Sam—and so we had Fred West, a son of his father's, hitch up and whirl us out to the nearest quail cover. It was 4 o'clock when we reached the nearest likely spot, a field of ragged cornstalks, skirting a long wind-break of trees, interspersed with a fairly good growth of underbrush.

We first beat up the grove. Wilbur in the timber and I in the edge of the cornfield, and we had not advanced 100 yards before "Tom," our pointer, was down to business. His nervous criss-crossing, his distended nostrils, wide open eyes and vigorously wagging tail, was sign enough, we knew the birds were there, but we did not find them—that is in the timber. In the dry sand between the rows of bedraggled cornstalks I discovered numerous signs of both chicken and quail, but we reached the northern extremity of the woods without jumping a bird. A cottontail scurried away from his form beneath a pile of sheltering weeds, but I did not shoot for fear of disturbing Tom, and a red-tail hawk winnowed his graceful shape against the cerulean dome far above, but that was all—the only sign of life we encountered aside from the ever recurring mobs of old-fashioned snow birds which were continually sweeping low over the barren field. These I felt, presaged a change in the weather, but everything was fair, so smiling and genial it seemed impossible that the gods had in store a change of humor. Alas! for the lack of human prescience—the next morning the first blizzard of the winter was tearing and slashing and mourning over the whole region.

"There are birds here, I'll bet on that from the way Tom acts," remarked Wilber as we stopped at the end of the timber, "and I say lets work back down the cornfield."

And we did.

Fifty yards advance and the old pointer stiffened out like an image in white and stone, with his dilating nostrils pointing straight at a tousled heap of corn stalks, where the farmer boy had been husking, and we knew the birds were there. In feverish expectation we moved up until right behind the dog, but he would not move, and I stepped ahead to flush, and in an instant there was a thunderous whirring, and a cloud of rosewood burst into the golden sunshine before us. We got in both barrels, each, but only two birds stopped in their mad career for the woods in response to the sharp commands of our good Peter's shells. But that was glory enough, and pocketing the dead, we went on in quest of the living. We had not covered half the distance to the edge of the field, when seven chicken rose a hundred yards ahead, and on quickly chopping pinions went hurtling down the wind and round the lower end of the grove, off across the grassy meadow, and over into the ocean of cornstalks beyond.

Of course, we were chagrined at this ill-luck, but more so as a lingering bird, probably an inexperience young hen, jumped from the yellow baldric not forty yards away, and as she sped away through the topaz meshes of the rapidly falling Phoebus, Wilber and I looked at each other, said some things not heard at church sociables, then as visions of roasted December grouse vanished from our bemuddled think reservoirs, we slipped in some shells, and continued on toward the timber, now growing gray in the waning light. Old Tom made game at the first fringe of drooping sumachs, and walking forward Wilber made a neat kill after the whizzing bird had curled back well into the woods. Old Tom lifted up his head and gazed back approvingly, then trotted gingerly on, again coming to a stand in a little pile of brush. I had a good shot and made a miserable miss, only to see Wilber cut down another bird, started by the crack of my hammerless. But I made amends a moment later by as corking a double as you ever saw. One bird shot off to the right and I downed him, another diagonally to the left and I got him, and I was content with the afternoon's work. The sun was now dipping, in a world of color, behind the western horizon. The air was growing keen and uncomfortable and feeling certain of a great day on the morrow, Wilber and I concluded to go home. So after a few moments more drilling along the edge of the wood, and the bagging of another bird, we strode out onto the shaded prairie and beckoned Fred to come along with the wagon. And then came the ride back home amidst the glories of that rare December night. There was no sound from the late autumnal night watchers, but the wheezing whine of a coyote came from the distant slope. The eastern sky was darkening into purple, but a thousand varied hues lingered in the west, and along the distant gray, coming down the frozen valley of the Platte, we traced a long line of black dots which we knew were geese. The next morning the whole earth was at war with the elements. The wind shrieked in diabolical rage and the snow came like the pellets from a gun. We looked out, then lit our pipes and drew up around the stove.