Thursday, October 29, 2009

Duck hunting at Bolsa Chica

I recently stumbled across this image in U.S. Geological Survey's online photo library. It shows the Bolsa Chica Gun Club in Huntington Beach, just after the big earthquake of 1933. (Note the huge crack long the road.) Until yesterday, I didn't know the USGS even had a historic photo collection like this, but man do they have some cool stuff!
While we're on the subject of the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, here's an odd excerpt from J. A. Graves' 1928 book, My Seventy Years in California,...
“The Bolsa Chica, a very aristocratic duck club, which bought a large body of land in the Bolsa Chica Rancho, near the present town of Huntington Beach, always had most excellent shooting until quite recently. The Westminster Club was near there. I was one of the organizers of the latter, and shot there many years. The Blue Wing [Club] adjoined the Westminster. I was at the Westminster one day, heard a shot on the Blue Wing, followed by a yell from various members, and looking up, saw the sky raining ducks. Mr. J. E. Fishburn, for many years president of the Merchants National Bank, wanted one duck to complete his limit. He picked out a big sprig [a.k.a. a pintail duck] and fired at it. A flock of sprig were circling in, ready to light. They came in range of his gun, as he fired, and he killed, with one shot, fourteen sprig. This seems like a hard story to ask any sane person to believe, but Mr. Fishburn is alive, and he and several members of his club will verify it.”
And what makes for a more charming anecdote than rich Angelenos slaughtering waterfowl? In fact, there were something like 13 gun clubs (a.k.a "duck clubs") in the Bolsa Chica area alone, to say nothing of all those near Irvine or in the marshes between Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa. Most members were rich businessmen from Los Angeles.
Graves also gives an account of an standard outing to a gun club, circa 1911. He's awfully wordy, so I will paraphrase:
After work on Friday, he would take the Pacific Electric or hitch a ride in a friend's "machine" down to Bolsa Chica. Taking an automobile let him avoid a dark, two-mile ride from the P.E. stop to the Club in a mule-pulled wagon. On the other hand, it meant sharing the unpaved roads with innumerable slow wagons hauling sugar beets to the Alamitos sugar factory.
Once at the Club, he met with other members who would be shooting the next day. They had a hearty dinner together and selected blinds for the following morning. After dinner, members spent the evening chatting, reading, playing card games and relaxing before going to sleep.
The keeper awakened each of them with a rap on their doors at 5:00 a.m. They put on their hunting gear, ate breakfast, and headed out into the darkness toward their blinds. Thirty minutes before sunrise, a bell rang, letting everyone know they could begin blazing away. Initially, they might see no game, but would hear a few guns popping in the distance -- sometimes at neighboring clubs.
At this point that Graves regales us with a depiction of the slaughter and maiming of innumerable waterfowl -- All against the backdrop of the great outdoors and a glorious sunrise.
By noon, most of our mighty Nimrods had bagged their limit. Having once again defended democracy against a potential duck incursion, they retired to Bourbon and cold showers at the Club. This was followed by a "good hot lunch" before making the drive back to Los Angeles.


Doug said...

What a life this guys had. Wow.
Several years ago we did a job at the gun club site. Documented several of the hunting blinds and the pumping system which supplied fresh water into the marsh. The wooden hunting blind features were littered with old brass shot gun shells and broken "Perrier" style mineral water bottles. It was a real treat to see these features. That salts in the ground had aided in preserving many of wooden blinds and flume system which supplied fresh water.
In the early 1930s our family, which supplied the Alpha Beta grocery store chain with beef, leased some of this area to graze cattle.
Chris,I will see if I can locate some of our project related photos for you.

How it has all chained.

Chris Jepsen said...

You are an endless font of interesting information, Doug. I wish I could have tagged along on most of these projects you talk about. Fascinating stuff!

I used to explore the Bolsa Chica mesa myself as a kid. Of course, I was just walking around -- checking out the bunkers, gun emplacements, odd Gun Club remnants, and bits of ruined farm equipment.

BTW, you once showed me a photo of Jim Sleeper at a dig in Olive. Someone recently brought me an article in which John Elliott mentions that particular project and Jim's visit. What Phil says is true: Local history is a small pond.

Doug said...

Chris, In reference to your last comment, there was an article in the OC Register, Saturday May 11, 1996. See the front page of the paper and pages 1&2 in the Metro section. If you would like, I can send you the article.
The Yorba family printed a book, which has photos and a brief write up of the excavation. I have a number of photos of the excavation work and some artifacts.
Unfortunately Elliot never prepared a final report for the phase III site mitigation. The client and county never pushed for it. I believe the artifacts are at Elliot's in Three Rivers, Ca. and at S. Van Wormer's lab in San Diego County. This site was very important and should not have fallen through the bureaucratic cracks.
I do have a copy of the early phase one report. It is a good document.

Kent M. Mueller said...

Was just doing some research on The Bolsa Chica Gun Club and came across your website. My Grandfather was a member of the club and I have a bound book of photographs of the gun club. Would like to post them. Is there a way to upload them to your site?

Kent M. Mueller

Meredith Tsunehara said...

I would like to see pictures of the inside. I have a tobacco table that may have been inside. Family history places it there...and if it was I would like to donate it to the historic society