What has become of the Wild Pigeon

By Walter B. Brooks


Passenger Pigeon Shoot,

What has become of them? All whose memory can carry them to the years "befo de wah" will probably recall most vividly the immense flights of wild pigeons that darkened the skies, day after day, as they passed to winter quarters further South and whose seemingly endless flock and incomputable numbers aroused the wonder of everyone. It did seem as if their extinction, or even diminution, would be the work of centuries and would equal in difficulty the famed labors of Hercules. But what has become of them?

I have penetrated the ranges of the Rocky Mountains at all seasons and they are not there. They pass no more over the wide plains of Colorado and Kansas, if they ever did they are not seen now, over the rich grain fields and prairies of Missouri, Illinois. Indiana, or Ohio. They swarm and roost on none of the slopes of the Alleghany or Blue Ridge Mountains, as of yore. We hear no more about them from North, South. East or West and it seems as if they had entirely disappeared, from the earth.

I recall distinctly the great "finish line" that filled the fields around Louisville, Kentucky, in the fall of 1859, and which met with such reckless courage and advance of the great army of wild pigeons, that swarmed down from the North. For days there was the constant sound of battle a ceaseless roar of guns, sad precursor as it now seems of a more disastrous invasion, and a bloodier war. We slew our thousands and tens of thousands, but their numbers seemed undiminished, and the invasion unchecked.

In 1863 I visited a pigeon roost in central Kentucky, and it was a sight never to be forgotten. It extended over many acres of forest and millions seemed to have gathered there. There was a constant cracking and breaking of the too heavily laden branches. Thousands of birds were fluttering in the air and on the ground, with a noise as of a tornado. Men and boys were threshing them down with sticks; and these with, the flash of torch and lantern, and the roar of guns, made up a scene and sound seldom equaled. Our party carried home two large sacks full of dead birds on our horses, and many others did the same. The last great flight I ever saw or heard of was in 1873, on the western slope of the Alleghany Mountains in West Virginia, on the headwaters of Gauley river and in that section known as the ''Yew Pine'' Mountains. Our hunting club was taking its fall outing in that region, and one Sunday afternoon while ail were gathered in camp, we heard the sound as of a mighty rushing wind, and looking up we saw above us the vanguard of a great army of wild pigeons. The flight continued for some two hours, flock after flock passing over, many extending beyond the sight east and west and seeming to be a mile or more in width. Morning and evening for several days they passed over our camp, going to and returning from their feeding grounds. We killed and salted down nearly a barrelful, which we brought home to Charleston, West Virginia, and distributed among our friends. It was the last chance for "pigeon pie" they ever enjoyed.

In 1876-7 while riding horseback among the hills about four miles above Charleston, and about one and a half miles back from the Kanawha River, I saw a small flock that I estimated at about forty. They were the last I have ever seen or heard of.

Again, I ask, what has become of them? Have they passed into history with the great auk, dodo, and mammoth, or have they preceded the buffalo to "the happy hunting grounds" of the red man? Can any one of our naturalists tell us?

Taking together their seemingly exhaustless numbers, and their sudden and total disappearance, this becomes an interesting historical question, and one that is especially apropos to West Virginia, through whose mountains and valleys they once swarmed more thickly than anywhere else probably, and on whose mountain slopes the last great flight was seen.

Books and Articles

Source: The West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly, Charleston, West Virginia, Volume 1, January, 1901.

 

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