Drought and Buzzards
It was July of 1955. Williamson County was suffering from the worst drought in history - Everything looked like a desert. The North and South San Rivers had dried up, except for deep holes and they were beginning to smell like sewers. The farmers and ranchers were getting assistance from the Government. Hay was being hauled in from as far away as Minnesota. The President had declared it a disaster county.
I was working at this time for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and held the title of Associate Agent. My job was to try to help individual farm families with their management problems. The Program I was hired for was named "Farm and Home Development". Roy Huckabee was the regular County Agent. We both shared the same secretary, who was Janet Finney and later became Janet Steltzer. We were on the third floor of the Court House in Georgetown, Texas.
Besides my regular job, I was often left to answer questions from any one needing information about problems in general. This particular day, Roy was out checking cotton fields for insects or some other matters concerning agriculture, when a call came in from Mr. Franz Roth.
Mr. Roth was a baker in Georgetown and as a hobby kept some brood sows on a tract of land he had bought out on Hwy 29 west of town. His problem was that buzzards had started eating his baby pigs, and asked if we had a blueprint for building a trap for these buzzards. I asked Janet if we had any such thing on file, and she came up with such a device from the files. Mr. Roth then came by and picked up the blue print and began at once putting the trap together.
Buzzards ordinarily do not bother live animals, but these were special times and there was just not enough carrion laying around for them. The skies were black from the critters, and they were hungry.
Like I said, raising hogs was a hobby with Mr. Franz Roth, hut this gave him a chance to use his left over products from the bakery. He would breed his sows and raise the pig-lets up to feeder size and then pass them on to farmers who fed their home grown grain to them until they reached market weight. This way they were able to market their grain through hogs instead of having to sell it on a depressed market.
To get back to the story, Mr. Roth finished building his buzzard trap and then baited it with a dead pig. The first day he caught over one hundred birds. He was so happy with his success that he called me to tell me about it. After talking awhile, I asked him if he minded my taking some pictures and maybe get a story for my weekly column, which was put in the Williamson County Sun and the Taylor Press. He had no objection, so I headed out with my new Signet Kodak that took Color slides. I could then show them to others who might have the same problem, also I would have something to show off to the Dist. Agent, who was R.G. Burwell in Stephenville, Texas. He could then send the story and slides to his boss in College Station and If they were impressed, I might just get a raise in pay. County Agents did not make much money back then, especially after deducting retirement money for three Retirement Systems. After all these deductions, I was not getting much over $400 per month.
Well, I got some good shots of the trap with a large flock of buzzards and then another picture after it was empty. One bird was left in the trap in stead of baiting it with another dead pig. I then concocted a good story and it looked good in my news paper column entitled "Rambling With Ramsel".
It must have looked good to Mr. Frances X. Tolbert, the agriculture editor for the Dallas Morning News, because he called me for permission to run it in his paper. I thought, WOW! this is going to really give my program a boost. I might even get a raise in pay, or, better yet get me a District Agent Job.
Instead, I got a call from Mr. Roth. He was very upset because he had not been able to sleep for the phone calls he got. The bird lovers were up in arms and so was the Audubon Society. He did not expound on all the threatening things they said, but I could tell he was perturbed.
The next day, he tore the trap down and tried to hide all the evidence. He was sure the Sheriff was coming out to arrest him. I was glad I had gotten his permission to do the story, or he would have been really mad at me.
The damage was done, but Mr. Roth had no more trouble with the buzzards. Evidentially, what he had done was put the birds back in balance with nature. Over three hundred buzzards had bit the dust.
I suppose the survivors of the massacre were glad to get all the food available and not have to share with their dumb brothers and sisters.
I really do not hate buzzards. They may look ugly on the ground, but in the air they are most graceful and can soar like an eagle.
I am sort of like the man who said he wanted to come back reincarnated as a buzzard. They have no friends-or enemies. They can go where ever they choose without any regulations or restrictions, and usually have plenty of food to eat.
I did not lose my job but also did not get a raise in pay either. I also learned that a County Agent cannot please every body. The most important knowledge I acquired was that a common man can solve his own problems without interference from the Government or Govt. Agencies if he goes about it right, and doesn't let many folks know about it.
Source: Williamson County, Texas