Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hunters and Trappers in the Loup Valley

Excerpt from: One Hundred Years on the South Loup: A History of the Arnold Community from 1883 - 1983. Compiled by Nora Hall Mills


It is not known just when the first hunters and trappers came into the Arnold area, but buffalo hunters found trappers on the South Loup in 1859, and it is known others were here by the late seventies. By the middle eighties, deer, elk and prairie chicken hunting had become a big business. The Custer County Republican reported six elk and forty deer being hauled to the railroad in the month of November, 1883.

A market hunter in the early 1900's in Nebraska
Prairie chickens were taken for the eastern markets, shipped in barrels, salted. Chicken hunters were instructed to draw the birds, stuff them with salt and buffalo grass and hang them on the north side of the soddy until they had a load to haul to the railroad.

Fifty homesteaders over in Logan County signed a petition in 1900 to keep professional hunters from killing their prairie chickens and warned anyone seen with a gun and dog to beware, but even so, the wild chickens had all but disappeared by the late 1920’s, replaced by the prairie grouse and the ringnecked pheasant. Landowners south of Arnold stocked their land with the colorful pheasants and attempted to protect them from poachers.

It was 1931 before Logan County had its first week-long season on pheasants; under a “script system” farmers could receive fifty cents for each bird shot on their land.

The last buffalo reported seen in western Custer County was on the big table east of Arnold in 1879, and was said to have disappeared in the darkness. Buffalo horns were still being picked up in the hills north of town in the ‘20s and a large skull was unearthed in 1979 when a hole was dug for a light pole at the new softball diamond built that year. This find was very near where R.E. Allen’s sod house had been put up in 1880.

Elk antlers at a homesteader's soddy photographed by Solomon Butcher
The elk herds disappeared soon after the homesteaders came – only the antlers remained; Solomon Butcher’s pictures of early Custer County sod houses show piles of these antlers on many roofs. The deer, too, soon vanished, and not until after 1928, when the Halsey National Forest stocked twenty sections with deer, were any seen near Arnold; it was ’33 when Tom Faherty saw a buck and two does in his pasture northeast of town.

Antelope disappeared as the country settled up and were seldom seen again until 1961, when the Nebraska Game Commission released sixty of the animals on the Lyle Geiser ranch northeast of Arnold. Later that year, sixty wild turkeys were added to the game population, released in the same vicinity.

The last mention of a golden eagle appeared in a 1911 paper, when Alvah Hurst shot one on Dr. Robinson’s farm a few miles up the river from Arnold. The bird was described as a fine specimen, when a wing span of six feet four inches. Hurst gave it to the doctor, who had it mounted.

Wildcats were not uncommon in the early days. One of the largest was killed on the east table in 1902 by John Wheling, said to have weighed thirty-six pounds and stand as high as a wolf. Judge Sullivan, of Broken Bow, bought that animal, had it mounted and displayed it in his office.

Left alone, coyotes controlled their own population and did not become a problem until after eradication measures were taken. Wolf (or coyote) hunts organized in the early 1900s netted few, if any, but good prices for pelts encouraged hunters, and a party with ninety-five dogs camped in Mills Valley in 1912, but had little success.

Results of an early coyote hunt
A Custer County Chief item in 1920 read: “T.J. Rhoades and Otis Pickett, both from Arnold, were in Broken Bow with twenty wolf hides, the result of a month-long hunt. All were taken with dogs in Arnold and Hayes township. They own five dogs of the Greyhound and English Wolfhound breeds.”

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