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Collecting on the Prairie:
Early Oologists in North Dakota

Collecting Near Stump Lake

Map of Stump Lake area
Map of the Stump Lake area. Wamduska House served as a hotel for hunters, although it was originally built in erroneous anticipation of a Great Northern branchline.       Map by Brian Austin
For several reasons Shaw and Eastgate largely restricted their collecting together to the immediate vicinity of Stump Lake in Nelson County, North Dakota. Eastgate married in 1893, and "as money was not as plentiful as hard work, my wife said to wait until spring and she would go with me on a collecting trip."7 Their intent was to spend the summer at Stump Lake, camping in an old log house that they made the base of their operations. Arriving at Stump Lake in early April they spent the next two and a half months collecting eggs and bird skins. In mid-June Eastgate suffered an accident, which terminated the collecting trip, and he settled at the south end of Stump Lake. There he took up farming, which he pursued at that location until 1916. Shaw's work in Grand Forks, largely as a government employee, first as a deputy clerk of court and later as a clerk in the county treasurer's office, would not have allowed him the flexibility to pursue his hobby as assiduously as Eastgate. Shaw could, however, easily travel between Grand Forks and Lakota by train and then by wagon to Eastgate's farm at Stump Lake for collecting trips of only a few days duration.

In 1893 Stump Lake was well known, and well used, by waterfowl hunters far and wide. Its popularity as a hunting ground is attested to by the fact that the Wamduska House — a 42-room three-story, brick hotel — located on the lake's east shore was largely supported by hunters, some from as far afield as New York City.8

In the spring, Stump Lake became a breeding ground for numerous species of ducks, geese, cormorants, gulls, terns, grebes, and other waterfowl and shorebirds. As late as 1912 it was the only known breeding ground in the United States of the white-winged scoter, a fact that is reflected in the price Shaw could demand for eggs of this species compared to those of others he collected from the Stump Lake area.9 Stump Lake's importance as a breeding ground for migratory waterfowl was recognized by the federal government in 1905. Five islands with a total land area of approximately twenty-eight acres in the western end of the lake were designated a national bird reservation through executive order by President Theodore Roosevelt.10 It was the third such reservation established in the United States. Eastgate was appointed the first warden of the reservation, a position he relinquished in 1916, a year after becoming North Dakota's Deputy Game and Fish Commissioner.

Glacial boulder and small pond near Stump Lake
Beyond the glacial boulder and small pond lies Stump Lake as it appeared to Louis Bishop and H.A. Eastgate in 1905. Bishop characterized the boulder as a "buffalo rubbing stone."
Cormorant nesting ground
A Stump Lake nesting ground for cormorants, probably on one of the islands in the west end of the lake that became part of the national bird reservation in 1905.

Nest of lesser scaup eggs
Nest and eggs of lesser scaup, taken at Stump Lake by Louis B. Bishop in 1901, when Bishop was both collecting and photographing his finds. With increasing opposition to egg collecting, photographs such as this became an alternative, and obviously less destructive, form of documentation.
During his collecting trips with Eastgate, Shaw sought eggs for purposes of selling and trading with other oologists, but he was actively engaged in building his own collection as well. His extensive data books reveal that his collecting spanned several purposes. On June 16, 1893, for instance, Shaw's data book shows that twenty-nine sets of eggs containing a total of eighty-five common tern's eggs were collected at Stump Lake. Sixteen of those sets were gathered to fill orders from other collectors; eleven sets were earmarked for a "private collection" — presumably Shaw's for future use in making sales or trades with other collectors.11 On May 15, 1897, again at Stump Lake, they collected seven sets of double crested cormorant eggs, three of which were gathered to fill orders and four of which were identified for a "Private Collection" — again presumably Shaw's.

Careful preparation of the eggs was essential for a valuable collection.12 An important element was the accurate recording of information considered scientifically important. This information included the collector's name, date eggs were collected, location, weather conditions, basis for positive identification (entries such as "female killed" is a common entry), number of eggs collected (it was considered unscientific not to take all of the eggs in a nest; also, some collectors wanted the nest in addition to the eggs), a description of the nesting materials, name of the individual for whom the items were being collected (if other than the collector), and the common and scientific names of the bird whose eggs were being collected. Data also included numbers by which the eggs could be identified. This sometimes included a field number; invariably the eggs were identified by a standardized nomenclature, such as the American Ornithologist's Union number assigned to a particular species, and by a unique set number. Each egg was correspondingly marked so that every set of eggs could be readily referenced to its proper data slip and the information included thereon.

Data slip showing data on eggs collected
Data slips, which carried detailed data on eggs collected, could become elaborate. This slip represented a set of eggs that Shaw acquired in trade.

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