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Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania, J.C. French, 1919
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Passenger Pigeon by J. C. French - Table of Contents
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Submitted by & ReTyped for Tri-Counties by Marion Scherer,
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From The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania
By John C. French


Retrospective Lore and Legend-Characteristics,
Habitat and Description

 Among native birds of North America, the Passenger Pigeon was, in several characteristics most wonderful, the living, pulsing, throbbing, and picturesque illustration of the abundance of food, prepared by bountiful Nature, in all her supreme ecstasy of redundant production of life and energy, that the native tribes and our early pioneers ever knew, or imagined as essential to their Happy Hunting Grounds and other blest abodes beyond the veil of physical environment, where the longings of baffled minds should vanquish the fears of sinister evils and realize harmony in the triumphant existence, and the rapture of attaining the ideals of unalloyed peace.
 The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes Migratorius) was known, east of the Rocky mountains from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay, wherever food was abundant, and not covered by snow; for pigeons could not endure snow, although the cold affected them little when the air was dry.  They have been reported around the shores of Hudson Bay in November, and in southern Pennsylvania, as late as the first of February, when the ground was bare and the food was plentiful.  Migrators seem to have been in quest of more inviting feeding grounds where food for the young could be obtained from the forests around a nesting city, within a radius of about fifty miles.
 The Passenger Pigeon was a voracious feeder.  His favorite food was beech-mast, picked up in the early spring seasons, when beginning to germinate and absorb nitrogen and carbon from the air.  But the bird fed upon numerous grains, nuts and fruits, such as buckwheat, hempseed, maize, acorns, chestnuts, holly berries, cherries, blackberries and huckleberries.  While in the south, much rice made the birds fat and less active, but their extraordinary power of flight remained, for they have been killed in Pennsylvania, with crops full of rice that must have been gathered by them hundreds of miles away in the Carolinas, or in the Mississippi Valley, beyond Memphis Tenn.  They could have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in about three days, flying from island to island.
 In color the Passenger Pigeon was attractive and distinguished, especially in the male birds.  The head, part of the neck and the chin a slate-blue; the lower part and sides of the neck deep slate, “shot” with gold, green and purplish-crimson, changing with every movement of the bird, or in the rays of sunlight as they intensify or become obscured by passing clouds.  The throat, breast and sides are reddish-hazel, the back and upper tail coverts dark slaty-blue, slightly powdered with black on the shoulders.  The primary and secondary quill-feathers are black, the primary being tipped with dirty-white.  The lower part of breast a pale purplish-red, and the abdomen white.  The long, pointed tail had the two central feathers deep black, the rest white, taking a bluish tint near their bases, and marked with one black spot and another of rusty-red on the inner webs.
 The beak was black, eye a fiery-orange and a naked space around the eye was purplish-red.  The female was smaller, with oaken-brown breast and ashen neck and a slaty space around the eyes.  An adult male was about 16 inches long, while a female scarcely attained 14 inches, although she was as swift and tireless in flight as he was.  In nest building the female did the building and her mate fetched materials – a few twigs rudely woven into a platform, so loosely that eggs and young can be seen from below and begun and finished in one day.  They are neither artists nor craftsmen; for many nests fall to the ground in the winds and eggs and squabs are lost.  The ground was covered with the ruins of many homes, under the nesting trees of their colonies and animals gorged upon the young birds nightly.
 The Indians told quaint legends of the pigeons when they returned, awaking an honest adoration in their hearts:  The Spirits of men came upon the earth seeking incarnation, among the birds and animals with an appeal, “Ho, Elder Brother, the children have no bodies.”  But they were unheeded, until the pigeon came and answered:  “Your children shall have bodies; my bones shall be their bones, my flesh their flesh, my blood their blood, and they shall see with my eyes.  My feathers shall cover their heads and their legs shall be bare, as my legs are bare.”  It was believed that if the hair were lost, the souls could never reach the Happy Hunting Ground.

The Forest of Northern Pennsylvania
(From the Altoona Tribune)
 Following is an extract from the introduction to articles on great hemlock forests of western Pennsylvania, in “History of the Lumber Industry in the United States, from the pen of John C. French:
 “When that romantic enthusiast, Ole Bull, with 105 followers, founded the ill-starred Norwegian colony, in the summer of 1852, on the waters of Kettle Creek, a tributary of the west branch of the Susquehanna, in the southeastern part of Potter County, and devoted so much of his time and energy to building his castle among the  pines and hemlocks on the bank of Bull Run, an almost unbroken forest stretched away to the westward for a distance of more than 150 miles.  It was chiefly mature hemlock timber and included several counties, embracing upward of 5,000,000 acres; but there were strips of pine fringing the streams, and ridges of hardwood timber which had succeeded the original growth of evergreens, wherever forest fires or tornadoes had destroyed it or where it had succumbed to the insect blight."

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Published On Tri-Counties Site On 7/23/2001
By Joyce M. Tice