Remember Passenger Pigeons? Probably not. The last one died in 1914, a casualty of mass deforestation and overhunting. An estimated three to five billion lived in North America when Europeans arrived, but their numbers plummeted over the next three centuries. Perpetuation of this oncenumerous bird apparently wasn't a matter of high priority.
This attitude wasn't unique with Passenger Pigeons. Earlier this week, I came across four small account books in the Museum's collections that suggest similar views toward waterfowl in the San Joaquin Valley during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The author was Edward Alders (18771928), a son of Charles Milton Alders, the owner of Central Hotel, in Farmington, California. From an early age, Edward was a market huntermuch of the time in Merced Countyshooting geese and ducks for sale in San Francisco. The proceeds eventually helped him purchase land of his own near Farmington.
At the end of one account book, Alders summarized his kills for four seasons at the beginning of the twentieth century. His total for 19011902 was 7,728, and for 19021903 5,218. The following season, the figure declined to 3,784, only to rise again to 6,627 during the years 19041905. Altogether, he claimed 23,367 kills all four seasons.
Alders didn't lack targets. According to his summary, the largest number of ducks he shot with one gun in a single shot during this period was 89, and with two 119. The corresponding numbers for geese were 65 and 90, respectively.
Our knowledge of Alders will always be limited. However, it certainly looks as though he valued personal gain over waterfowl conservation. I can't help wondering whether the possibility of eventual extinctionpartly through his actions and those of likeminded huntersever entered his mind. But, of course, I'll never know.
Times have obviously changed. So have laws and organizationslike Ducks Unlimitedto prevent the extinction of waterfowl. These four little account books may raise unanswerable questions about their author, but they go far in explaining why those safeguards have come into existence.