Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

Museum Notes: Market Hunter Levi Smith

Merced County Courthouse Museum is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibit entitled: "Waterfowl Heritage of Merced County" on Sept. 25. In addition to the history of duck hunting and wetland preservation, the exhibit will also explore the many colorful stories of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the interesting. Among these tales is the story of Market Hunter Levi Smith as told by Westside pioneer Bill Knight:

"It was probably hunter Levi Smith that first started hunting with a steer -- steer hunting. Levi Smith lived this side of the river -- the west side of the San Joaquin River. He lived beyond Santa Rita. Later this Mr. Smith developed a faster way of getting ducks. He went to netting them.

"In those days farmers used to stack the grain and then thresh it. After the threshing was over these stack bottoms would have lots of grain left in them. In the winter the ducks and geese in order to get at this grain would crowd around these old stack bottoms in such great numbers that they would nearly smother one another.

"Smith hit on a method of netting them. He would fasten two poles in the ground close up to an old stack bottom. Then he would bend the two poles clear down to the ground. Over the poles he would lay a net loosely or an old fish seine maybe 30 feet long. One side of the net he would fasten securely to the bottom of the poles. Along the top of the net he would attach two weights of about two or three pounds each. He had a long rope that he could pull to release the poles. Their up-springing would cast the net right over the mass of feeding ducks like a blanket.

"Away from the stack bottom at the very tip end of the poles he would dig a hole in the ground in which to hide himself. He would cover himself up with straw in this hole and wait. When the geese and ducks had settled down around the old stack bottom and were feeding away greedily in the moonlight, he would pull the rope. Up would spring the poles. These in turn would cast the net right over the birds. They would be completely covered before they had any chance to fly. In their efforts to escape they would stick their heads up through the net. Levi Smith would rush up and start wringing their necks wholesale. They were mostly Mallards. He would twist their necks and get a wagonload. Sometimes he would get 500 at a crack."

Sarah Lim is director of Merced County Courthouse Museum. She may be contacted at 723-2401 or