by Mike Cox
matter the significance of their contribution to society, sometimes
worthy people are overlooked by later generations.
Oscar Charles Guessaz is a perfect example. No Texas park, wildlife
management area, fish hatchery, vessel, conservation group or school
honors his uncommon, hard-to-pronounce surname, but anyone who enjoys
hunting and fishing in the Lone Star state owes Guessaz an appreciative
tip of their camouflaged gimme cap.
Born in St. Louis in 1855, this son of a Swiss immigrant came to Texas
in the mid-1880s. A job printer by trade, in 1889 he began publishing
a newspaper in the Alamo
City called the Daily Times along with a weekly edition.
Whether he cultivated a love for the outdoors in his native Missouri
or developed it when he came to Texas
is open to speculation, but he liked competitive shooting, deer, dove
and ducking hunting and bird dogs.
In addition to his newspaper ventures, at some point he began putting
out Texas Field, a monthly magazine for sportsmen. With partner
Tony A. Ferlet, in early 1902 he purchased another outdoor magazine
called Southwestern Sportsman and merged the two publications
as Texas Field and Sportsman.
Like any businessman, Guessaz published his products to make money.
And the way a publisher makes money is by selling advertising.
The October 1902 issue of Texas Field and Sportsman contains a full-page
ad from the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, better known back
then as the SAP.
“For Hunting and Fishing,” the ad proclaimed, “the ‘SAP’ territory
cannot be excelled.” In fact, the ad continued, “Aransas Pass and
Corpus Christi Bays Are Known the World Over.”
The ad goes on to tout a $30,000 hunting and fishing club on St. Joseph’s
Island and the plentitude of tarpon in the area. To support that claim,
the railroad’s ad listed numbers of Silver Kings brought in by rod
and reel at Aransas Pass from 1896 (364) to 1901 (816.)
While Guessaz obviously had no problem accepting money for such an
ad, the pervasive, ahead-of-its-time message of his magazine was the
importance of wildlife conservation.
the same issue that boasted of the number of tarpon killed for fun
each year, Guessaz let fly with a double-barreled blast of prose under
the simple heading of “Apathy.”
For years, he wrote, “the question of protecting the game and fish
of Texas has been a prominent one with men who hunt and fish.”
While sportsmen often decried the market hunter, the game hog, the
killing of doe, year-‘round dove hunting, and the seining and dynamiting
of fish, few ever did anything about it but complain, he charged.
“Laws are generally as good as the people who make them deserve,”
he continued, “and the sportsmen of Texas can no more expect that
laws for their benefit will be passed without some effort on their
part than any one else. If the sportsman expects the legislature to
pass laws for the protection of game and fish, he must be in attendance
on the legislature in person.”
Guessaz went on to write that sportsmen needed to tell their lawmakers
“why does should not be killed; why the number of deer to be killed
should be limited, and explain why…the open season should not begin
until October 1st, and should extend to the 15th of January.”
He urged the Texas sportsman to “get a move on” to “organize, put
up his money, and…appoint himself a committee of one to see that nothing
is overlooked, which is necessary for the betterment of existing conditions.”
Guessaz practiced what he preached. His efforts in large measure led
to the passage of an expanded game and fish law in 1903. But since
that law had only a five-year life, he continued to push (successfully)
for a permanent law. He also believed that all hunters should be required
to have a license, with revenue from the licensing program earmarked
exclusively to protect game and assure its propagation.
Texas Field and Sportsman also editorialized about the importance
of hunter safety. “Notwithstanding all that has been written and published
about shooting accidents,” Guessaz wrote, “they continue to occur,
and in most instances from gross carelessness.”
addition to his bully pulpit as a magazine editor, he variously served
as secretary of the Texas Game Protective Association, chairman of
the Texas State Sportsman’s Association game protection committee
and executive director of the Texas Game and Fish Protective Association.
When not protecting the interests of Texas outdoorsmen, he helped
protect his county, seeing service with the Texas National Guard in
Cuba during the Spanish-American
War in 1898-99 and as a colonel in the 141st Infantry during World
Guessaz ceased publication of his magazine in 1915, the end of his
hunt coming a decade later on Jan. 16, 1925. He is buried in the San
Antonio National Cemetery, a forgotten champion of hunting and fishing
in his adopted state.
© Mike Cox
June 19, 2008 column
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