When the settlers first arrived in Dakota Territory they found an abundance of wildlife which would supplement their diets and it played a significant part in their ability to survive those first years. Dakota Territory lay in the Central Flyway for thousands of geese who made their way from the southern coast of Louisiana to the tundra to nest. Once shot at, the geese proved to be just as wary of territorial hunters as they are of hunters today and bringing home a decent meal could be difficult. Decoys have long been used to attract flocks of geese within range of the hunter’s shotgun, but on this date in 1889 two hunters in the Devils Lake Region revealed their plans to construct a new device to fool the geese.
Noting that geese often land among the cattle to feed, Bert Requa and John Cook planned to sew themselves into the hide of a Texas steer. In this manner they hoped to be able to approach the flock while they were feeding. John would occupy the front and Bert would bring up the rear, so to speak. Their gun, a breech loader, would extend out the tail however they weren’t quite sure what effect a straight-tailed steer would have on the geese. Traversing the ground could prove to be a little difficult as John would have the eyes of the steer’s head for portals but Bert would be walking backwards. Bert was also concerned about the cowbirds landing on the barrel of the gun, which was concealed in the horizontal tail, as they could obstruct his aim but the two were confident that their plan would work. So convinced were they of their success that they were practicing bellowing like a cow to heighten the effect.
One can hope that Bert and John met with some success for all their efforts when the geese began their spring migration but we can only imagine what happened the first time Bert touched off the shotgun within the close confines of the steer hide. The deafening roar of the shotgun, the dense cloud from the black powder smoke ejecting from every hole in the hide and the shrieks of the traumatized cowbirds along with the smoking end of the tail, would have made quite a scene when added to the chaos of the rising mass of screaming, confused geese. Being innovative helped win the West but perhaps some ideas were more successful than others.
By Jim Davis
Mandan Pioneer February 15, 1889