Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
SLAUGHTER OF THE PRAIRIE GAME

WHEN THE WHITE MAN first arrived on the Plains, game was so plentiful the region was a hunter's paradise. As late as 1854 along the Missouri River, which had been a route of ever-increasing travel for fifty years, early settlers described the amount of game as immense. Acres of wild geese rose from sandbars to form soldier-like lines in the sky. Storks, cranes, geese, swans, ducks, and all other kinds of water-fowl abounded in the greatest quantities. The prairies swarmed with prairie-chickens and quails.1

In certain regions, particularly where there were considerable brush and timber, wild turkeys were so numerous that their gobbling was continuous, and great sections of the timber along small creeks served as gigantic turkey-roosts. All these species became scarce with the coming of the white man, but the greatest sufferer was the passenger pigeon, which eventually was slaughtered to extinction. This bird inhabited the region between the Mississippi and the Missouri. Early settlers in Iowa spoke of the migrations of passenger pigeons as so heavy that the continued flight literally darkened the sky. Early travelers along the Missouri River stated that when they alighted on the ground they covered whole acres, and if upon trees, the limbs often broke beneath their weight. If they were suddenly alarmed while feeding in the midst of a forest, according to one observer, the noise they made in taking to the air was like the roar of a cataract or the sound of thunder. A

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1
Prairie-chickens and quails actually increased in numbers with the coming of the farmer with cultivated grain which furnished a greater supply of winter food, but declined again when the country became thickly populated.

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