LOWER SCIOTO VALLEY

THE PIGEONS OF PIKETON

Geoffrey Sea recounts another historical event at this house: the famous “Sargents Pigeon”, and what it was like to see the huge, sky-darkening clouds of these birds in pre-modern times, as they gathered and migrated along these huge Teays-age river valleys.

The very last passenger pigeon seen in the wild was seen by a young boy half a mile south of this house. He didn’t know it was a passenger pigeon, they’d become very rare by the 1890s. He went and got a shotgun and shot the bird. It turns out that was the last passenger pigeon ever sighted. He brought the bird to this house and Blanche Barnes, the woman of the household at the time, was also a taxidermist.

The bird was stuffed, and was then displayed in the Barnes Home for many years, and eventually donated to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. Passenger pigeons were very important to the ecology of Ancient North America, and were numerous beyond imagination.

Flocks were counted up to two billion birds in a single flock flying together. There’s no other bird that congregates in those kind of numbers. It’s almost unimaginable – the pre-eminent natural phenomenon of this region. They would blot out the sun; it was like experiencing an eclipse. It would have been one of those great markers of the seasons when the birds returned and left.

Sea has a theory that there were connections among these sky-darkening throngs of pigeons, traditional Native American beliefs, and the building of the geometric earthworks:

I believe that the big geometric earthworks were essentially built as a guide path for the pigeons. I have found a reference by Francis Parkman quoting one of the Jesuit missionaries in the early seventeenth century, saying that the Hurons and affiliated tribes including the Ojibway, and also the Shawnee, believe that when we die we resurrect as passenger pigeons. They anticipated that they would have to travel to a place in the sky, and in order to get there would need guide paths. So they built these giant earthworks as symbols to guide them on that path.

Stuffed passenger pigeons still on display in their original case in the Barnes Home.

Lower Scioto Valley

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