Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

Museum notes: Waterfowl exhibit builds appreciation of wetlands

Sarah Lim

Developing the Waterfowl Heritage of Merced County exhibit has been a special treat not only for hunters but also for hunting illiterates like me who didn't know the difference between a duck blind and a blind duck. Working on this exhibit, I have come to have a greater appreciation of the natural beauty of our wetlands and waterfowl as well as a greater understanding that hunting was not recreation but rather an economic necessity for the early hunters.

This wonderful and educational exhibit is the result of the hard work of the Waterfowl Exhibit Committee headed by Charlie Galatro. Galatro has successfully brought experts from different areas and created an exhibit that tells stories from the perspectives of hunters, historians, artists, preservationists, environmentalists, and collectors. Here, I will highlight some of these fascinating stories and histories.

No one is better able to tell the hunting stories of the West Side better than Los Banos historian Charles Sawyer. Editing several books including "Our Sport," Sawyer worked closely with Galatro in developing the early history of hunting. Beginning with the Yokuts Indians as the first duck hunters in the valley and the presence of Captain Joseph Walker in the Los Banos area in 1834, the exhibit continues with the tales of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the interesting which includes Judge L. A. Sischo's famous one single shot record that brought down 191 geese in 1917.

Equally interesting is the display that features many old duck clubs in Merced County and their hunting cabins. Under the title "From San Francisco to Merced County: 100 Years and 100 Miles later," retired teacher Ron Davenport explains how the earthquake shacks used by San Francisco residents after the Great Quake of 1906 ended up in Merced County as hunting cabins. In another display, Davenport presents the history of the environmental calamity of toxic drain water from irrigated farmland to the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.

In solving the many crises that wildlife face in the valley, one person has done whatever he can to make a difference. It is Steve Simmons, a retired Merced High School teacher. Simmons has placed 275 nest boxes on eight different ranches in Merced County. These boxes have produced 68,000 wood ducklings in the last 35 years. When he was not busy checking or banding the ducks and birds, Simmons visited local schools and educated the students about wood ducks.

The rich tradition of waterfowling in Merced County is further enhanced with displays of literature, artwork, recipes, and photographs including the works of well-known local photographer Gary Zahm and artist Richard Kirkman. This exhibit is partly funded by generous donations from the California Waterfowl Association and Ducks Unlimited, Inc. It will run through January 31, 2009.

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