From the 1860’s to the early 1880’s in the spring,
Passenger Pigeon flocks darkened the skies as they came north into Michigan nesting.
They arrived in such enormous numbers that they broke the branches of trees. People didn’t even have to be a good shot to shoot your fill of them, just shoot in their general direction.
Maria Dougherty and her many children were able to move into the Church and Mission School Manse in 1858. But there was no rest for the poor woman. Not only did she have to help out the teachers of the mission with the cleaning of the school, but also the laundry, the cooking and baking, but she also sewed all the clothing for the 29 children in the school. Out of the goodness of her heart every week she also went to the Indian girls homes to teach the girls how to quilt and cook and also how to clean. And then she had her own brood of children to care for at home which eventually numbered 9.
Social Center of the Region
Being the good soul that she was, and a good cook as well, no one went away from her house hungry. The Manse eventually became the social center of not only the Mission community, but of the whole Traverse region. On many a winters evening the Dougherty’s table was groaning with Pigeon Pie swimming in its golden gravy, and Maria’s famous tea biscuits. And guests no other than friendly Father Mrak (yes, that spelling is correct!) of Peshawbestown, and Rev. George N. Smith of Northport enjoyed it together “with no thought of a difference in creed or faith and had a genuine old-fashioned good time” according to Ruth Craker. Sometimes people just dropped in, and of course stayed for dinner.
Pigeon Pie Main Course
Spring was an especially hard time as they had used up their stores from the summer before. The lake was still frozen and no boats were able to reach them. From the 1860’s to the early 1880’s in the spring, just when food supplies were running low, Passenger Pigeon flocks literally darkened the skies.They came north into Michigan nesting in such enormous numbers that they broke the branches of trees. They didn’t even have to be a good shot to shoot your fill of them, just shoot in their general direction. Great nets were hung in the trees and fastened to bent saplings. They could be triggered to swoop out over grain baited areas and drop upon the feeding Pigeons. The birds not needed for Pigeon Pie were a cash crop for those who were low in funds. They were kept alive in crates and shipped to Chicago by boat after the ice melted. There they were used as targets by gun clubs, or served up in restaurants and hotels for “game dinners”.
Eventually this resulted in complete extinction of the passenger pigeon. The last record of a wild passenger pigeon was made in 1899. Likely they disappeared from Leelanau before that, however, as lumbering began to decrease our forests and their natural food supply.
But do not blame Maria! She was doing the best she could with what she had. She had hungry people to feed.