thanks to Lester B. Colby and anyone else who may have done what he did, thousands
of pronghorn antelope are still home on the range in the Panhandle.
Colby, who in 1912 wrote an article on the Panhandle
for a long-defunct monthly called The Texas Magazine, probably was an OK fellow.
Even so, he did something – and openly wrote about it in his five-page story --
that likely would land him in jail today, not to mention netting him a big fine.
His offense involved using unfair and arguably cruel means to hunt pronghorns.
If he reflected at all on his actions, he must have believed that the species
would always exist in vast numbers. That or he simply didn’t care.
cocky young magazine writer certainly did not stand alone as the only early-day
Texan to take the state’s wildlife for granted, particularly antelope.
before Colby wrote his Panhandle
piece, an Army officer lately returned to Washington, D.C. from duty in Texas
wrote a “Professor C. Stemms” in Austin
saying that his friends at the Smithsonian Institution had been disappointed that
he had not brought them “some specimens of the natural history of Texas,
something of the bug, reptile, fish, etc. species.”
If the good professor
would send some critters to assist “their efforts in the advancement of science”
the military man continued, Smithsonian scientists “will send you copies of all
the scientific papers published by their institution and give you credit in their
papers for all information and specimens…”
The Smithsonian had a particularl
interest in obtaining a stuffed antelope for its collection since there was “not
one to be seen in any of the museums in the United States.”
to a couple of their Texas acquaintances, the officer
continued, “Can you not get Polly or King to kill one and have it sent to me?”
Whether Stemms followed through is not known, but Texas
had no shortage of antelope in those days, even if the nation’s museums did. Numbering
in the scores of thousands, antelope roamed two-thirds of Texas,
as common as deer.
1907, when Colby took a 500-mile automobile tour of the Panhandle
before it had any paved roads, Texas’ antelope herd
had been reduced by overhunting and pushed farther west. Still, the fast-running,
tan and white ungulates could be found in the Panhandle
Near Tahoka, using his car as a horse, Colby and a local
cowboy went antelope hunting.
“It is hard to imagine a sport more exciting
than running down an antelope with an automobile,” he wrote.
Part of the
thrill came from the terrain. Even though flat and open, as Colby put it, there
were “some bumps” on the high plains. “Badgers and prairie dogs dig holes,” he
wrote, “and now and then there [are] the remains of an old buffalo wallow.”
back to the chase...
“For the first two or three miles the animal will
distance the average car,” Colby reported. (Indeed, antelope ran run as fast as
70 miles an hour.) “At the end of 10 miles the antelope, no matter how good a
runner…is no longer a bobbing spot against the horizon. Gradually the machine
overcomes the fleeing flesh.”
After a pursuit that Colby estimated at
30 miles, the antelope began to lag. Finally, he wrote, “a cowboy in the car lassoed
him as neatly as he could have caught a steer from a pony’s back.”
did not explain in his story what happened next, but the long-ago magazine article
includes two photographs of him posing next to his spoke-wheeled runabout holding
a dead buck by its horns and white tail.
A decade later, the Hansford
Headlight informed readers in its part of the Panhandle that a new state law intended
to protect pronghorns from extinction had gone on the books. Effective June 10,
1917, the hunting of antelope was prohibited in Texas
for the next quarter century, but the prohibition on hunting already dated to
1903. That meant Colby’s hunt in 1907 was illegal, though the state had only a
few game wardens back then.
The measure worked. On a permit basis depending
on herd size, pronghorn hunted resumed in 1944 and has continued since then. But
you still can’t chase and lasso them from a car.
March 3, 2011
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