Thursday, February 23, 2023

$43. Learning about neighbors.


The Ring-necked Pheasant is a noble bird. In 1881 at Port Townsend, OR, birds were imported from China, by Owen N. Denny, and releases were made that year and subsequent years in the Willamette Valley and along the Columbia River. Laws were passed to prohibit harvesting them until they sustained a huntable population, and by 1892, in Oregon, the first “Opener” reportedly bagged 50,000 birds. Black-Necked pheasant, from England, were introduced as far back at the late 1700’s, in the eastern states, but were not successful. Interestingly, it’s said the Iowa population originated in 1900 from an escape of several thousand birds from a game farm. Today, South Dakota is arguably the epicenter of pheasant hunting, with millions of the birds, or at least they have a better PR department.

For many years, I would travel to North Dakota to hunt pheasant. A lack of posted signs, hunters, and plenty of squawking roosters always made the trip fun. Over the years, I made friends with numerous farmers, particularly Leroy and Barb. One cool, early November day, I was chatting with Barb, before heading out to walk the tree rows and ditches on their property. She mentioned the neighbor’s property that we could hunt that day, as well. Thankful, we departed for some new hunting land.

We were within sight of Barb and Leroy’s house as we walked along a marshy creek into the tree lines around the neighbor’s abandoned house. The birds were there, and it was a fun time watching the dogs, Ruby, Cap, and Bo, as they worked the tall grass and cut wheat. After an hour or so, we stopped for a drink and a sandwich. I called the dogs in, and we sat on the side of the road enjoying the day.

“Hey, what are you guys doing?” yelled a man walking down the two track. Never a good opening to a conversation, I knew it was time to sort out a misunderstanding. But, first I had to find out what the problem was. “We’re hunting pheasant with our dogs. I hope our shooting hasn’t disturbed you!” I said. (I glanced at the next farmhouse a half mile away.) “Well, you are on private land. My land. You are trespassing! I lease this land to hunters, and here you are shooting my birds! Who said you could hunt here? I should call the Sheriff!” he yelled. Since this was pre-GPS, my policy was to grab my map, start with the truth and stick to it. “Well, sir, I thought this was part of the Johnson property, and I have permission to hunt it. But, if I made a mistake and got turned around, I apologize, and I’ll head out of here right away! I’m from Georgia and sometimes these wide-open spaces can get me turned around. Could you show me on the map I have here where we are and where your lines are, so I don’t have this issue again?” I said. “What about the birds you killed?” he said. I noticed the volume decreased somewhat. “Well, if you show me I’m on your land, you can have them, or I’ll pay you for them. They would be your birds,” I suggested. “I get $50/per day to hunt on my land” he said. I noticed my suggestion of him showing me my location on a map never came up again. “How about I pay you for these birds, then, and we will leave the area?” I said. I reached into my pocket and pulled out $43.

Ruby and Cap on Leroy's Farm

“This is all I have on me, $43. Will that be enough?” He allowed as that would be OK, so I thanked him for his consideration, called the dogs, and turned around to leave.

Just then, a human tornado rocketed past me headed for the neighbor. “What in God’s name are you doing, Earl? This ain’t your land, and you know it! This man has permission to be here, from me, and here you are taking his money!” said Leroy’s voice, while steadily advancing towards his neighbor. Being the forgotten man in this conversation, I listened closely and kept my mouth shut. “By George, you give that money back, or I will whip your ass right here! You’re a sorry neighbor, and I feed your cows all winter, so they don’t starve to death. I’m ready to give you what you need right here!” Leroy growled. Earl pulled the $43 from his pocket, stepped around Leroy, by a large margin, and quick-trotted over to me holding the money in his outstretched hand. “Here’s your money” he said. His eyes opened wide when I said, “No, that’s for the birds I shot you said were yours. I won’t take it back.” Earl went white as a sheet. Leroy yelled, “You’d better hand it to him right now, Earl! I’ve had it with you!” Leroy is not a large man, but right then he looked 7’ tall and imposing. He was becoming more enraged all the time.

I figured out, at this point, that Earl was sort of an opportunist. I wasn’t on his land, but he saw a way to take a few bucks off the flatlander. Normally, it would work, but he didn’t reckon with Leroy. And my refusal to take the money back had him in a real pickle. I also realized that I wasn’t the issue. This confrontation went back many frustrating years between neighbors.

Finally, I said, “Earl, I’ll take the money back. Leroy, I’m sorry I came between neighbors. I won’t hunt here again. I’ll take my dogs and leave.” Earl couldn’t get the money in my hand fast enough. His relief was obvious as he turned and (almost) ran away.

It was then I learned about the years the neighboring farms took care of Earl’s livestock all winter to keep them alive, and other things, as well. The situation reinforced a lesson about ensuring I was on the right land. (I was.) I learned that no matter where you are, someone is watching you. I learned no matter how far apart the houses, neighbors know each other’s business. And, I learned about how large a short North Dakota farmer can get when he’s full of righteous indignation and keeps on coming.

God Bless the American farmer.