Favorite

The Observer Nov. 10 

Eugene Buchanan of Bryant has a bone to pick with The Observer’s recent musings blaming “men with guns” for the passenger pigeon’s demise. “Let me try to re-educate The Observer on a few points,” he asked.

We’re not sure whether or not we are educable, but we acknowledge Mr. Buchanan’s two points: That the passenger pigeons required large forests in which to live, and we all know what happened to our forests in the 19th and 20th centuries; and that in Arkansas, men with guns saved the Cache River woods, where it’s thought the ivory-billed woodpecker is trying to avoid the pigeon’s fate.

Indeed, if Stuttgart dentist and hunter Rex Hancock hadn’t gotten fired up, the beautiful tupelo-cypress bottomlands where our woodpecker is thought to be hiding would have been turned by the Corps of Engineers into a straight, treeless ditch. Add Johnny B. Moore of Clarendon, too, to the list of men who, even though they liked to kill a duck, halted the destruction of the woods. Mr. Buchanan is right.

But we must add that the birds’ fate was sealed before the virgin forests of the Eastern United States met their own extinction.

So for Mr. Buchanan, and all those other people who were irked by the “men with guns” reference, The Observer quotes the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History on the subject:

“The notable decrease of passenger pigeons started when professional hunters began netting and shooting the birds to sell in the city markets. Although the birds always had been used as food to some extent, even by the Indians, the real slaughter began in the 1800s.

… Because the birds were communal in habit, they were easily netted by using baited traps and decoys. The birds were shot at the nesting sites, young squabs were knocked out of nests with long sticks, and pots of burning sulphur were placed under the roosting trees so the fumes would daze the birds and they would fall to the ground. Hundreds of thousands of passenger pigeons were killed for private consumption and for sale on the market, where they often sold for as little as fifty cents a dozen. By 1850 the destruction of the pigeons was in full force. ... One of the last large nestings of passenger pigeons occurred at Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. Here 50,000 birds per day were killed and this rate continued for nearly five months. When the adult birds that survived this massacre attempted second nestings at new sites, they were soon located by the professional hunters and killed before they had a chance to raise any young … By the early 1890s the passenger pigeon had almost completely disappeared. … The passenger pigeon’s technique of survival had been based on mass tactics. There had been safety in its large flocks which often numbered hundreds of thousands of birds … This colonial way of life became very dangerous when man became a predator on the flocks. … The interests of civilization, with its forest clearing and farming, were diametrically opposed to the interests of the birds which needed the huge forests to survive. … The converting of forests to farmland would have eventually doomed the passenger pigeon.”

And from Wikipedia: “It is estimated that there were as many as five billion passenger pigeons in the United States. … It was literally eaten into extinction by humans. … The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. She was frozen into a block of ice to be sent to the Smithsonian Institution to be skinned and mounted. She may be seen there today.”

In case you’re not feeling sad enough, here are some verses from late folk crooner John Herald’s “Martha (Last of the Passenger Pigeons)”:

Oh the birds went down

they fell and they faded to the dozens

Til in a Cincinnati Zoo was the last one

Yes all that remained was the last

with a name of Martha

Very proud, very sad, but very wise

Oh as the lines filed by there were few who cared

or could be bothered

how could anyone have treated you harder

and it was all for a dollar or more

Oh on and on til dreams come true

you know a piece of us all goes with you

Oh and surrounded there by some of whom wept around her

in a corner of the cage they found her

she went as soft as she came so shy til the last song

oh the passenger pigeon was gone …






Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Trump launches attack on 'SOBs' of the NFL

    Donald Trump led a rally for Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange Friday night and the resulting news coverage (if not in our local newspaper) is giving great attention for his rant against the NFL, including but not limited to players who have made political statements by taking a knee during the National Anthem.
    • Sep 23, 2017
  • Driver killed in crash with Maumelle officer

    Maumelle police report the death early this morning of a motorist who crashed head-on with a Maumelle police officer. The officer and two passengers in the other vehicle were injured.
    • Sep 23, 2017
  • Walmart lawyer picked for U.S. attorney in western Arkansas

    Donald Trump has nominated Duane "Dak" Kees,  director of global ethics and compliance at Walmart Stores, to be U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas. It has been filled on an interim basis by a career lawyer in the office.
    • Sep 22, 2017
  • More »

More by Arkansas Times Staff

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016
  • Yawp

    The Observer has been in a funk lately for a number of reasons: revulsions and slights, both foreign and domestic. We get that way most years as the winter drags on, once the tinsel and colored lights of Christmas drop into the rearview, soon after we come off the New Year's Day hangover.
    • Mar 24, 2016

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Latest in The Observer

  • Taking one for the team

    The Observer got to the doctor's office the other day. We hate going to the doctor. Loathe is a better word. In the form of a sentence, it would be: "The Observer hates going to the doctor with the same white hot intensity that Trump voters would hate being forced to read the seminal grammar primer, 'The Elements of Style,' by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." Yes, it's that bad.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • The lake house

    The Observer got to the lake over the weekend, courtesy of some friends who rented a place on the water.
    • Sep 14, 2017
  • 13

    The Observer, an office-bound hermit until we were cast back into the hustle of an open newsroom earlier this year, had forgotten how much we'd missed the camaraderie of being forced into joining conversations with your colleagues.
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation