From The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania
By John C. French
“THE PIONEERS” (Abridged)
“See Cousin Bess! See, Duke, the pigeon roosts of the South have broken up! They are growing more thick every instant. Here is a flock that the eye cannot see the end of. There is food enough to make beds for the whole country. Xerxes, Mr. Edward, was a Grecian king, who – no, he was a Turk, or a Persian, who wanted to conquer Greece, just the same as these rascals will over run our wheat fields, when they come back in the fall. Away! Away! Bess, I long to pepper them.”
“If the heavens were alive with pigeons, the whole village seemed equally in motion, with men, women and children. Every species of fire-arms, from the French ducking-gun with a barrel near six feet in length, to the common horseman’s pistol, was to be seen in the hands of the men and boys; while bows and arrows, some made of the simple stick of walnut sapling, and others in the rude imitation of the ancient cross bows, were carried by many of the latter.”
“The houses and signs of life apparent in the village, drove the alarmed birds from the direct line of their flight, toward the mountains, along the sides and near the bases of which they were glancing in dense masses, equally wonderful by the rapidity of their motion, and their incredible numbers.”
“Among the sportsmen was the tall, gaunt form of Leather-Stocking walking over the field, with his rifle hanging on his arm, his dogs at his heels; the latter now scenting the dead or wounded birds, that were beginning to tumble from the flocks, and then crouching under the legs of their master, as if they participated in his feelings at this wasteful and un-sportsmanlike execution.”
“The reports of the fire-arms became rapid, whole volleys rising from the plain, as flocks of more than ordinary numbers darted over the opening, shadowing the field like a cloud – arrows and missiles of every kind were in the midst of the flocks; and so numerous were the birds, and so low did they take their flight, that even long poles, in the hands of those on the sides of the mountain, were used to strike them to the earth.”
“During all this time Mr. Jones, who disdained the humble and ordinary means of destructions used by his companions, was busily occupied, aided by Benjamin, in making arrangements for an assault of more than ordinarily fatal character. There had been found at Templeton, at its settlement, a small swivel, which would carry a ball of a pound weight. It was thought to have been deserted by a war party of whites, in one of their inroads into the Indian settlements. It was somewhat the worse for the service it had performed, it is true, there being but a trifle difference in size, between the touch-hole and the muzzle. Still, the grand conceptions of Richard had suggested the importance of such an instruments in hurling death at his nimble enemies. The swivel was dragged by a horse into a part of the open space that the Sheriff thought most eligible for planting a battery of the kind, and Mr. Pump proceeded to load it.”
“This comes of settling a country!” he said. “Here have I known the pigeons to fly for forty long years, and, till you made your clearings, there was nobody to scare or to hurt them. I loved to see them in the woods, for they were company to a body, hurting nothing; being, as it was, as harmless as a garter snake. But now it gives me sore thoughts when I hear the frighty things whizzing through the air, for I know its only a motion to bring out all the brats of the village. Well! The Lord won’t see the waste of his creatures for nothing, and right will be done to the pigeons, as well as others by and by.”
:Thou sayest well, Judge, to your clearings. Ain’t the woods His work as well as the pigeons? Use, but don’t waste. Wasn’t the woods made for the beasts and birds to harbor in? And when man wanted their flesh, their skins, or their feathers, there’s the place to seek them. But I’ll go to the hut with my own game, for I wouldn’t touch one of the harmless things that cover the ground here, looking up with their eyes to me, as if they only wanted togues to say their thoughts.”
“With this sentiment in his mouth, Leather Stocking threw his rifle over his arm, and followed by his dogs stepped across the caring with great caution, taking care not to tread on one of the wounded birds in his path. He soon entered the bushes on the margin of the lake, and was hid from view.
“Whatever impression the morality of Natty made on the Judge, it was utterly lost on Richard. He availed himself of the gathering of sportsmen, to lay a plan for one fell swoop of destruction. The musket men were drawn up in battle array, in a line extending on each side of his artillery, with orders to await the signal of firing from himself.”
“Some millions of pigeons were supposed to have already passed, that morning, over the valley of Templeton, but nothing like the flock that was now approaching had been seen before. It extended from mountain to mountain in one solid blue mass, and the eye looked in vain over the southern hills, to find its termination. The front of this living column was distinctly marked by a line but very slightly indented, so regular and even was the flight. Even Marmaduke forgot the morality of Leather Stocking as it approached, and, in common with the rest, brought his musket to a poise.
“Fire!” cried the Sheriff, clapping a coal to the priming of the cannon. As half of Benjamin’s charge escaped through the touch hole, the whole volley of the musketry preceded the report of the swivel. On receiving this united discharge of small-arms, the front of the flock darted upwards, while at the same instant myriads of those in the rear rushed with amazing rapidity into their places, so that when the column of white smoke gushed from the mouth of the cannon, an accumulated mass of objects was gliding over its point of direction. The roar of the gun echoed along the mountains, and died away to the north, like distant thunder, while the whole flock of alarmed birds seemed, fro a moment, thrown into one disorderly and agitated mass. (Then they collected the dead birds and everybody joined in the feasting.)