The embers and coals seemed to pulsate, as heat was transferred from my hearth to my study. The setting could not have been more perfect, as the cold front approached. A distant roll of thunder is quite unusual for January, but sporadically, the rumble resembled that of cannon fire from days long ago. The subtle, amber light that illuminated my den added a calming ambience to my place of contemplation where I spend so much time during winter. Walls, tabletops, and bookshelves, served as vaults for past memories and provided a vast resource for knowledge. For some reason, on this evening, I was drawn to a corner of my den that holds some of my favorite literary pieces. I just stood there for a few moments allowing time for one to capture my attention. This would take a while.
There was the collection from my college days, “Principles of Insect Morphology” by Snodgrass and “The Insects” by Chapman. The novels, “Go Down, Moses” and “Intruder in the Dust,” by Faulkner, briefly caught my attention, but tonight I was feeling a little more “outdoorsy.” Gently, I touched each book as I moved down the line. Jack O’Connor held part of the pine shelving with those iconic writings like “Sheep and Sheep Hunting,” “Game in The Desert Revisited.” and his last book, “Confessions of a Gun Editor.” There was Russell, Leopold, Tompkins, and Kelly. Each held their special place within my array. I knew in an instant though what would hold my attention for the remainder of my fire, when I picked up “De Shootinest Gent’Man,” by Nash Buckingham.
Theophilus Nash Buckingham, American author and conservationist, was born May 3, 1880 in Memphis. Considered as one of the most widely renowned outdoor writers of his time, he remains a favorite to many present-day readers of the genre. Though an avid hunter of a variety of game, Mr. Nash, possessed a special fondness for waterfowl and quail. His reputation was far outreaching as an avid shotgunner and wing shot. As an ambassador for the preservation of the American outdoor tradition, he spoke quite often and eloquently of the importance of game conservation and was a staunch advocate of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. How fitting a few stories about this man would be so that we might better know him.
Each “gunning” season, Mr. Buck and company would board the “Limb Dodger,” a massive steam engine on the Illinois Central Railroad. This historic locomotive would carry early waterfowlers to points south of Memphis to the most prestigious duck hunting clubs in the Mississippi flyway. One of the drop off points was Dundee. Here hunters would gather, then scatter like quail to blinds up and down the Mississippi River. Both geese and ducks were targeted, and the shooting was described as the best of the best. Massive flights of Canada geese were described by these early hunters and though they no longer frequent this stretch of the river as before, flights of ducks and light geese can still be witnessed in large numbers. The vastness of the river still impresses today’s shooters and leaves a lasting impression of its capabilities and power. The gurgle and history of this body of water still excites the savviest of waterfowlers.
Mr. Buckingham’s wing shooting skills, as described by Captain Paul Curtis, gun editor of Field and Stream Magazine, has left a lasting impression upon me. I quote, “I watched him rake mallards out of the high air above the tallest timber with a skill no other man has shown me in a lifetime of wandering for sport.” What a treat it would have been to not only witness his shooting prowess, but to meet the man behind the gun.
I have always said, a duck call and gun, are only as good as the man behind it. In Mr. Nash’s case, his gun deserves to be recognized just as he does. Bo Whoop, as we will refer to the name of Nash’s favorite shotgun, was a fabled Burt Becker HE Grade 12-guage Super Fox, double-barrel. That’s a mouth full, isn’t it? Paired with his keen eyesight, three inch copper-plated number 4s, and “Bo Whoop,” he reigned supremacy in the flooded timber for decades. There was a mystery behind this famous shotgun’s disappearance along a muddy Arkansas road in 1948. For nearly 60 years this iconic duck gun remained lost. In 2006, “Bo Whoop” somehow resurfaced and was purchased at an auction by Hal B. Howard for $201,250. That’s quite the price to fetch for a weathered duck gun. There is more to the story though.
Mr. Howard’s father was a personal, friend and hunting companion of Buckingham’s. Many of the stories in the author’s books featured the pair hunting ducks and geese, and flushing bobwhites along the Mississippi. Because of the rich history and friendship between the two men, Howard donated Bo Whoop to Ducks Unlimited where it is proudly displayed in the national headquarters in Memphis. It now resides next to Bo Whoop II, Mr. Nash’s replacement gun after the original was lost.
After a morning of chasing mallards in the delta, Buckingham could be found at The Blue and White Restaurant just off Highway 61 in Tunica. Quite often, Dr. William “Chubby” Andrews, a member of Beaver Dam who befriended him in his later years, and other duck hunting companions, would share lunch before scouting for the next morning’s hunt. This iconic restaurant is still open, and I frequent it several times a year. I believe there are photos of these fowling gentlemen in the establishment today. I wish I could have had the good fortune of meeting him and listen to his many stories.
In his youth, Beaver Dam Duck Club and the Waponocca Duck Club, were the two most famous areas hunted by Buckingham. His father was a member of both, and I can only imagine the number of birds that frequented and overwintered in this mecca of a waterfowl sanctuary. Even his description is probably pale in comparison to how good it really was back in the day. “Little did I ken then that in the next three decades I would gun 90 percentum of the continents worthwhile wildfowling areas, but to this day, for its size, I have never seen waterfowl life as it used to be at Wapanocca.”- Nash Buckingham, Hallowed Years. I remember mallards “blacking” out the sky in Delta National Forest back in the 80s. I can only imagine what he witnessed. On second thought, I really can’t image what it must have been like, I’m certain you would have to have been there.
We lost Mr. Nash March 10, 1971. His remains were returned to where his outdoor adventures began, that being Memphis. He now rests inside the gates of Elmwood Cemetery which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Elmwood holds the key to historical Memphis and the northern tip of the Mississippi Delta, from mass graves from yellow fever, to noted Civil War leaders, to famous musicians.
Though “De Shootinest Gent’man & Other Tales” may be his most famous literary work, other books that may be of interest to you include, but are not limited to, “Hallowed Years,” “Ole Miss,” “Tattered Coat,” and “Mr. Buck, The Autobiography of Nash Buckingham.” Some of these can still be found in print and in my opinion, would be a nice addition to shelves in your den as they are mine. As your fire glows and cinders pop, think about the history of what lies within our delta and what these sportsmen must have witnessed not so long ago. Take a trip to The Blue and White Restaurant and have lunch where these noted gentlemen sat. Think about the old scatterguns, the whistle of wings overhead, and the aroma of spent hulls. Who knows, you may even have the opportunity to be part of what “once” was, somewhere down the road. I hope we all do.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.