In 1825, British Captain Frederick William Beechey was appointed to command the sloop H.M.S. Blossom, which was intended to find the Northwest Passage. On November 6, 1826, he entered SF Bay and dropped anchor, where he recorded that “the wetlands were alive with geese, ducks, shorebirds, wading birds . . .” Eleven years later, another English vessel entered SF Bay, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers entered Suisun Bay, the northeastern extension of the SF Bay.His party sailed across San Pablo Bay, through Carquinez Strait into Suisun Bay. It was recorded while anchored, that “the sailors encountered a variety of large ducks and the smaller teal, while snipe and assorted shorebirds were lumped together as ‘curlews.’ The geese liked to spend the day in the meadows, returning at twilight in such immense clacking flocks as to darken the sky to their roosts in the marshes. He remarked October 26, 1837 about Carquinez Strait: “Ducks and geese were noticed in great numbers.” Wildlife was abundant all along the Sacramento River upstream beyond Suisun Bay. Abounding in the wetlands were “very beautiful ducks, owls, hawks, and other birds.” On one occasion, “Dr. Sinclair killed 48 geese and eight ducks.”Before the Gold Rush started in 1848, California was thus described: “Andy Burnett reached California in the Autumn of 1832 . . . Andy had never seen so many waterfowl; had never imagined there could be so many, anywhere. They covered the surface of the small lakes so thickly that . . . . Andy could discern but a gleam of water here and there. On a sudden impulse he extended the long rifle and fired it into the air. A blank instant of silence followed . . . broken a half second later by the sound of a mighty waterfall as the birds took wing. It seemed as if the dark earth were lifting to expose the hidden silver of the lake. The air was full of hurtling ducks. The very sky was darkened. And another great roar, and a third, like successive rolls of thunder, rolled across the Andy’s astonishment; and then a smooth high silence made up of the thin whistling of thousands upon thousands of wings.”

One year later, in George C. Yount’s Chronicles, Burnett recorded: “In 1833, Benicia was visited and has been thus described. It was nothing more than a wide and extended lawn, exuberant in wild oats . . . from San Pablo Bay to Sutter’s Fort … The wild geese, and every species of waterfowl darkened the surface of every bay and inlet. Upon the land, in flocks of millions, they wandered in quest of insects, and cropping the wild oats which grew there in richest abundance . . . When disturbed, they arose to fly, the sound of their wings was like that of distant thunder . . . It was literally a land of plenty, and such a climate as no other land can boast of . . .”

In 1842, John Bidwell stated that the Sacramento, Napa and Sonoma tule marshes were the “haunts of incalculable thousands of wild geese, ducks, brants, [sandhill] cranes, pelicans, etc., etc.”

In 1846, at Yerba Buena (original name of a settlement that eventually became San Francisco), William Heath Davis reported in “A Sportsman’s Paradise”: “I also devoted much time to shooting ducks. They were plentiful and fat and of many varieties: mallard, canvasback, widgeon and teal. My favorite spot for shooting was the top of a hill overlooking the village of Yerba Buena. The ducks would appear in flocks, darkening the air, and so great was their number that it required no skill to kill them on the wing.”

There were few fowlers then and what few there were were market hunters, shooting on the old marshes, sloughs, rivers and wild oat fields of California with their muzzleloaders. The waters of the bays and the sloughs of the marshlands reflected the glimmering wings of millions of ducks, geese and shorebirds, and with very little trouble or expense one could go afield or astream and within a radius of fifty miles of San Francisco and in a few hours, return with a market load of waterfowl.

This was all brought about by the California Gold Rush, which started in 1848 and was off and running the following year. Between 1848 and 1850, California became a U.S. territory, underwent explosive growth with the Gold Rush, and was granted statehood. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the San Francisco region, which led to dramatic social and demographic changes, with large-scale emigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom. Such was the case for James White, a 21-year-old farmer from Quincy, Massachusetts, who, in 1849, sailed from Boston around Cape Horn to San Francisco and its nearby gold diggings. That November he went out to a pond nearby and saw a great number of ducks, geese and swans and remarked that “it was a great place for gunning.”

With the increasing population, the population had to be fed and there were no better means than to be fed on game, which was in abundance, especially waterfowl. So as the cities increased in population, the market hunters became more numerous, and game was easily found in the markets in the early 1850s: bear, venison, rabbits, squirrels, quail, pigeons, snipe, curlews and plovers, as well as geese and ducks “of every variety and in the greatest profusion” were canvasback, widgeons, pintails, mallards, and teal.

During this time in the 1850s, the Suisun marshes, swamps, and overflowed lands in Sonoma County were mostly tidal and consisted of islands connected by a network of tidal sloughs. Much of the marshlands were flooded daily and seasonally by high tides and high stream flows during the later winter and spring. These sloughs, ponds, and marshlands were the home of market shooter for the markets in San Francisco and, to some extent, Sacramento. In later years, it became attractive to sportsmen who would pay a market hunter to act as a guide, and still later these sportsmen organized duck clubs. The Suisun Marsh was known to the market shooters as the most famous duck and snipe shooting territory in the state.

As early as 1853, Dr. A. L. Heermann referred to the great flocks of geese in the Suisun Marsh, where “as far as the eye could reach, the sky was filled with flock after flock.”

In 1864, the “game law” allowed hunters to load up after September 15th. Ducks had begun to be seen in the tules and snipe were spied around the sloughs of Solano County. As the season progressed, wild geese made their appearance. The tules had become a busy place with hunters bagging game from morning to night.

In the early 1860s through the 1870, one had to go no further for excellent duck shooting than from a blind on the shores of the lower San Francisco Bay. One writer remarked, “In the early sixties, the whole region was still full of game, but the pot-hunters had nearly deserted it, and had gone to the Solano, San Joaquin and Sacramento regions, where the wildfowl were so abundant that the farmers poisoned hundreds of thousands of them.”

In addition, in truth, the whole Suisun marsh was at one time held by market hunters. Among the earlier ones were Frank Horan, Bill Hayward, George Smith, Bill Richards, Jim Judd, Bill Montgomery, Walter Welch, Seth Beckwith and Jim Payne, the latter two by far a few of the earliest.

Going east of San Francisco, one could kill all the ducks and geese one wanted at the Napa and Sonoma marshes on the north part of San Pablo Bay, an eastern extension of the San Francisco Bay. At the Napa and Sonoma marshes, flock after flock containing thousands of ducks and gaggles of geese by the hundreds were to be seen on all sides, winging their ways to the main fields in the vicinity. From the mud flats and marshlands bordering the bay shore came the quack of ducks, the honk of geese and cranes, the call of the willet and curlew, the whistle of plover, snipe and shore birds, and the cackle of rail by the thousands upon thousands, while in the grain fields could be seen the flash and heard the report of every kind of shooting iron.

A typical market hunters equipment consisted of a small sloop for use sleeping and cooking meals and for transportation to and from the bays and rivers, a tule splitter and 14-foot scull boat for use on the ditches, rivers and bays for hunting ducks and geese, one 12 gauge for shooting cripples, one 10 gauge for the actual shooting, and one 4-gauge shotgun being reserved for a “big shot” at a large flock of ducks. Before the clubs came, from a tule splitter, an average of 200 ducks was routine. Some big shots were made with a 4 gauge, such as 89 with one barrel and 120 with the discharge of both barrels. “One method for using the gun was to position it over a baited pond using sandbags, camouflaging oneself away from the gun and firing the gun using a lanyard when the ducks were in position.”

In the late 1870s, a good tule splitter cost from $8-$12 and a round bottom cedar scull boat, with iron center board, could be purchased for $5 per foot. A 25-pound keg of Hazard’s F.F.G. black powder ran from $10 to $12.50; shot, from $1.85 to $2 per 25-pound sack and the cost of wads and primers was in proportion. In the ponds and sloughs the shooting was done from the tule splitter, while hunting on the bays, flock shooting was done from a scull boat.

Market hunters put their waterfowl in sacks and shipped it to the San Francisco markets via river steamers or by their own private sloop or yacht. At the market, waterfowl were sorted and the various species placed in piles and then hung in pairs and bunches on hooks of the game stalls. Early each morning, great numbers of peddlers, retail game dealers, restaurants and hotel keepers gathered and bought the waterfowl.

As more and more took to market hunting, and the areas nearest San Francisco began to experience a reduction in the number of ducks killed, market hunters ventured out into the Suisun Marsh and the Delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers emptied into it. Ancestrally, the Delta was one of the most significant waterfowl concentration areas in California. And, finally, market hunting spread north into the Sacramento River area and south into the San Joaquin River area. In these early days, Stockton on the San Joaquin River shipped more ducks to San Francisco than any other place. It was an unexploited gunners’ paradise, that long ribbon of territory extending from the Suisun Bay south to Kern River.

Charles Hallock remarked in his The Sportsman’s Gazetteer and General Guide, 1877:

The favorite grounds of sportsmen are the great valleys of the San Joaquin and Sacramento. The State can produce no better ducking-grounds than the San Joaquin Valley, and geese are nowhere more abundant. Snipe and the smaller aquatic fowl are also plentiful. The Sacramento, almost equally accessible, is unsurpassed. . . . There are plenty of ducks about Suisun Bay, Solano County, but most of them are on the inshore lakes, and difficult to get at.

According to the old timers, the Suisun Marsh had no equal, certainly no superior, as the haunt of waterfowl, in any other portion of the U.S. North of Suisun Bay, stretching inland for many miles, was a low flat country of salty marsh threaded by tortuously winding sloughs in which the tide water fell and rose and overflowed into numerous ponds, which were fresh in the wintertime. The Suisun marsh, a most famous duck-hunting ground and the winter home of countless thousands of wildfowl, were later dotted here and there with the clubhouses of many gun clubs, beginning in 1879.

In the 18 sixties and seventies, the masses of ducks and geese, which collected every fall in the Suisun marsh, and the nearby tule islands of Montezuma, Sherman, Bouldin, Brannan, Union and dozens more, along with the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, presented sights of waterfowl never forgotten by those who lived during that time. All were within one to two and a half hours’ travel from San Francisco.

Take this for an example. The winter of 1873 was an extremely wet one for Solano County. By February, the amount of rain that had fallen since the first of January was 10.40 inches. This was good weather for hunters. The Sausalito Herald reported that Jim Washington, a hunter from Suisun, had bagged 66 ducks in two days.

The Suisun Marsh, located in Solano County, was situated between the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Pablo Bay in the San Francisco Bay Estuary and extended from a point southerly a couple of miles above the town of Benicia, in Carquinez straits, thence in a northern and eastern direction to the Montezuma hills for a distance of over 20 miles, and varying in width from two and a half to five miles. Historic maps show that the western marsh featured numerous ponded water bodies scattered across the marsh plain among channels, a feature common to tidal marshes around San Francisco and San Pablo bays. These ponds primarily appeared west of Suisun Slough between Wells and Cordelia sloughs. Because of the railroad when it came in, waterfowling activity was greatest on the west side of the Suisun Marsh. However, other factors also accounted for less hunting on the east side of the marsh: less ponds, therefore, less waterfowl, and club formation on that side took longer to materialize; the west side was closer to the urban centers of the Bay Area, therefore, more market and sport hunting on the west side.

The Suisun marshes were mostly tidal and consisted of islands connected by a network of tidal sloughs. Much of the marshlands were flooded daily and seasonally by high tides and high stream flows during the later winter and spring. These sloughs, ponds and marshlands were the home of the market shooter for the game market in San Francisco, and in later years it became attractive to sportsmen who would form duck club. It was known to the market shooters as the most famous duck and snipe shooting territory in the state.

In the early years, two of the first well-known and most successful market hunters on the Suisun Marsh were Jim Payne, who started market hunting in 1852, and his partner Seth Beckwith, who started market hunting in 1861. Just after the Civil War ended, they were shipping by the swift little steamer Paul Pry from their headquarters on the Suisun Slough to their commission men in San Francisco from eight to ten sacks (average of 5 to 6 dozen ducks to a sack) every two or three days, many being the canvasback duck.

It was in 1861 that Payne and Beckwith saw their first breechloader, a new 12-gauge Williams & Powell, which was brought to the Suisun marsh by a sportsman who visited the two market hunters every year for some 20 years, beginning in 1861, hunting on what was known locally as the “Chamberlain Tract,” considered the best tract for duck hunting in the country. It was the first gun of its kind that an eminent firm of gunmakers in London had sent to the Pacific Coast. Payne and Beckwith shot Westley Richards 13 bore muzzleloaders.

During a week of hunting in October 1866, the sportsman remarked that on the first day of hunting, Beckwith, Payne and he sculled very swiftly through the sloughs with a long, flexible sculling oar, underneath the stern, moving back and forth, absolutely noiseless through the water, while the oar’s advance took them to different ponds in separate boats. Once at the pond where they would shoot, they got into a smaller flat bottomed tule splitter and headed to two different ponds where, at each, they set out some 40 decoys in each pond. Ducks were everywhere, and at times they came so quickly that Payne and the sportsman were shooting so fast that they could scarcely hold their muzzleloaders in their hands, the barrels becoming so hot, killing 90 of different varieties in a few hours.

For the next three days, the weather got hotter and hotter and hunting fell off. On the fourth day, a cold front moved through during the afternoon as they rested on the sloop, waiting for the afternoon shoot to start. Dark clouds and gusty winds arrived and soon overhead were thousands of ducks having left the rough waters of the bays and coming into the ponds for shelter and food. Seth and Jim said they would wait for the morning to shoot and they hoped the gale force wind would keep up, which it did from the west all night long. The sportsman would shoot with Beckwith at the “Judd Stand,” one of the shooting stands on the “Strings of Ponds, while Jim would shoot at a pond nearer the sloop at “Smith’s Stand,” one of best ponds of what was known as the “Payne Ponds.”

The next morning, Beckwith and the sportsman poled and pushed for an hour and a half to reach Judd Stand, and as they did so in the darkness, they were stirring up thousands of ducks, but they did not fire a shot. As Beckwith poled along, he told the sportsman that he would have to do it all, as he was not going to shoot, for he wanted to see how many ducks the sportsman could kill, that he would load and hand his two muzzleloaders to the sportsman when the sportsman’s two muzzleloaders got too hot to handle comfortably. When they arrived at the pond, the roar of wings and the rising of innumerable ducks and geese even astonished Beckwith. They could hardly set out the decoys for ducks pouring into the pond. Shooing incessantly, the sportsman managed to shoot 38 straight. At 2:00 p.m., they picked up 190 ducks of all varieties and five “grey geese,” the latter he did not care to shoot but shot accidently while shooting at ducks. They “left quite a number of crippled and wounded birds which they could not find in the dense masses of tules surrounding the pond.” Payne, at the Smith’s Stand, had killed 140, for a total of 335. It took until 11:00 p.m. that night to clean and hang up in pairs for shipment in the morning to San Francisco.

To the epicurean, canvasbacks from the Suisun Marsh were preferred over those from other areas of California, as noted by the above sportsman. The just referred to sportsman remarked in 1882, “I could easily fill a moderate-sized volume with the scenes I have witnessed on these marshes; the countless thousands of all descriptions of wild fowl I have seen, and the bags I have made in the past twenty odd years. . . .  Among the varieties of ducks to be found here in great numbers is the far-famed and well-known canvasback; and here they attain the perfection of condition by feeding upon the wild celery, whether correctly named I cannot determine. All the various kinds of ducks also feed upon this succulent root, and hence, the quality for richness of flavor of the Suisun duck is well known and appreciated by those who are able to distinguish between these and ducks coming from other portions of the state.”

By and by, the hunting on Chamberlain Tract, mentioned earlier, became so famous and so many people came there to hunt with Beckwith and Payne that they built and fitted up an ark, in this case a yacht named Wavy. And for money consideration, they gave sportsmen the privilege of shooting there. They furnished accommodations, grub, boats, decoys and acted as guides.

It was in 1868 that Jim Payne leased 5,000 acres on the western side of the Suisun Marsh from Oscar Lafayette Chamberlain, who had a deed from the state showing the land was sold to him under the “tide and land act” sometime in 1861. Chamberlain was a stockholder in the Central Pacific Railroad Company and part owner with Alvinza Hayward of the famous Eureka gold mine, where both accumulated a large fortune.

Other than a small piece (326 acres) leased to brothers W. and L. Pierce for pasturing purposes, the two market hunters had the entire 5,000 acres, extending from Bridgeport on the north, to Cordelia Slough at its outlet on the south, and from Suisun Creek proper on the east, to the String Ponds on the west. It was the first leasing of land for duck shooting in the state. Under the act, the U.S. government granted to the state in 1861 all the lands which were covered and uncovered by the ebb and flow of the tide, and which were bare at low tide, whereupon the state sold the 5,000 acres of the Suisun Marsh to Chamberlain.

Chamberlain died in San Francisco July 24, 1870 with a sizable estate, including the 5,326 acres. The will’s executors were two of his brothers, Harlem and Alonzo). Oscar had three children all born at Sutter Creek, Amador County, California: Emily, Frederick Oscar (b. 1/21/1865), and Mary (b. 1868).

The place soon became so famous with so many sportsmen coming to hunt with Beckwith and Payne that a railroad was under consideration, beginning in 1876, to accommodate the hunters, while Payne and Beckwith were given the moniker of “Fathers of the Suisun Marsh.”

1878 was a banner year for ducks and geese. The Santa Barbara Daily Press, February 12, reported that “Wild ducks are doing a great deal of damage to crops in the upper end of Sonoma County. Duck hunting is now splendid sport around Suisun as where white geese, who had in vast numbers taken possession of Grand Island up north in the Sacramento River area, and were feeding upon the volunteer growth of barley and then flying to the Suisun marsh.” The farmers were using scarecrows to keep the waterfowl off the fields as they were being “eaten out of house and home.”

In 1878, the Southern Pacific Railroad began construction on the Suisun marsh, beginning at Fairfield, and was finished the following year ending at the town of Benicia, which fronted on the Suisun Bay and offered a quicker and easier access to the western part of the Suisun Marsh while connecting the Montezuma, Goodyear and Cordelia Sloughs. Its track traversed 14 miles of the marsh. The Chamberlain estate offered to sell to the railroad company the entire Chamberlain Tract for 75 cents per acre, which they declined.

Once completed in 1879, the Hard Land Club organized in the Suisun marsh. It was the first duck-hunting club established in California. The waters of the Cordelia Slough fed its five ponds. In the summer of 1880, the club split into two groups after one group decided the rent on the leased land was too much. A few of the Hard Land Club members stayed put with Dr. Charles Toland taking over the Hard Land Club’s lease April 1881 and renaming the club the Canvasback Club. This club was then taken over by another group and became officially known as the Ibis Gun Club in 1882. The other band of six members of the club, in 1881, shared hunting grounds on Payne’s and Beckwith’s leased land known for its “String of Ponds,” on what would become the Cordelia Shooting Club.

In 1878, the youngest heir in the Chamberlain estate became of age. Thereafter, the heirs planned to subdivide the 5,000 acres and rent different portions to clubs. However, the California Advertiser, for their August 16, 1879 issue, reported that Payne and Beckwith had renewed their Chamberlain lease with Chamberlain’s widow for the 5,000 acres, and it was they who began subleasing part of their 5,000 acre lease.

They posted the land immediately “warning all trespassers against shooting and that they intended to enforce their rights.” They continued to entertain sportsmen on their preserve for pay. In 1876, Hal McAllister shot with Payne and Beckwith. In November of 1879, John K. Orr, with both Payne and Beckwith, shot 139 ducks in about three hours.

Payne and Beckwith weren’t the only market hunters in 1879. Walter Welch recorded how he and his partner made the trip in 1879, equipped with six vessels, a forty-two-foot “scow sloop,” two tule splitters (narrow, double-bowed boats ideally suited to pole through flooded tule grasses), two scull boats, and a small, fast sailboat to take the ducks back to San Francisco. In addition, they carried 300 decoys, a 90-day supply of food and an arsenal of guns and ammunition. On an average day, Welch and his partner shot 100 to 200 ducks each, with the season lasting from September through November.

In 1882, the Cordelia Shooting Club was organized with ten members, leasing 4,800 acres on the east side of the marsh with 15 ponds from Payne and Beckwith. The San Francisco Chronicle recorded April 1, 1882 under the headlines “Organization of Another New Duck Club”: “A number of San Francisco sportsmen recently formed a new organization, to be known as the Cordelia Duck Shooting Club . . . The ponds are located in the Suisun marshes in proximity to Teal station, and are known as the ‘String of Ponds,’ . . . It is proposed to hire the yacht Lolita next season and Captain Chittenden will sail her.”

The club’s property, subleased from Payne and Beckwith, was west of Teal Station. The Frank Horan Slough traversed the club’s tule land, while the Cordelia Slough, both deep enough for yachts, was the west boundary of the club. Their first clubhouse was the yacht Lolita, owned by Captain Charles Chittenden, better known as “Cap,” who also became their caretaker and “game warden.” The Lolita was moored at Teal Station, where Payne kept his sloop, the Wave. During the season, they housed over the Lolita from stem to stern with redwood, thus transforming the fast little craft into a perfect clubhouse, which “many felt look more like Noah’s ark.”

The club’s ponds were known locally as the “String Ponds,” which were baited twice a week during the season. On one of the ponds, in December 1883, five members shot 195 ducks, 3 Canada geese and one swan in one morning. That same year in February, two members shot 100 ducks, which included 12 canvasbacks.

A Cordelia Club member remarked in the Recreation magazine, March 1899, “I have shot ducks on the Suisun marsh, 40 miles from San Francisco, a tract of about 5,000 acres, since 1875, and every year of the 23 with hardly an intermission. In 1875 market hunters were then getting pretty thick on the marsh and the game commenced to disappear. In 1882, four clubs had been formed, taking the lease of the entire Chamberlain tract and the game and grounds were carefully protected, birds have increased.”

In 1881, the Teal Shooting Club (aka the Tule Club), presided over by G. Frank Smith of San Francisco, worked out a deal with Payne and Beckwith whereby they could organize a duck club on part of their 5,000-acre lease. So, Payne and Beckwith leased a parcel to the club for $2,000, which was good for 4 years. They also sold to the club their ark, duck boats, and decoys.

The club set up shop where the railroad crossed Cordelia Creek and the Frank Horan Slough. Here the railroad established a flag stop called “Teal,” and here Payne and the club kept Wavy, their tule splitters and scull boats. They had what was known as the famous “Payne ponds,” which were Payne’s and Beckwith’s best shooting places for the market. They were considered some of the best ponds because they were shallow and consisted of fresh water, and not salty. That was until the club dug a ditch from the railroad tract to the ponds, which during a great deal of salt water founds its way into them during the winter, while in the summer they became fresh again which caused a “good stock of feed to be assured” for the shooting season.

Payne, the manage of the Teal Shooting Club’s preserve of 4,000 acres, was paid $100 a month. The club also had two other employees to clean guns, take care of boats, row the members out to the blinds and do chores generally. They also had a Chinese cook named “James” and a Japanese steward.

In a jocular mood, one day at the clubhouse, when asked about some of his legendary kills, Payne hesitantly said, “I killed 196 geese in the early days with two barrels. With two barrels, I killed 700 snipes.”

A log was kept for the first time for the 1882-1883 duck season for the Teal Club. A total of 4,444 ducks was killed: 1,131 pintails, 1,031 teal, 827 canvasbacks, 512 snow geese, 511 widgeons, 192 spoonbills, 95 bluebills, 92 mallards, 26 gadwalls and 1 curlew. Mallards were selling in the San Francisco markets, at that time, for $2.50 per dozen; teal, $1; sprigtail, $1.25; widgeon, $1; canvasback, $3.25.

The biggest authenticated bag of the season for 1883-1884 was that of one member, who brought in 142 birds from a single day’s work, while hunting that morning with four others. It was a day of heavy winds on the bays which kept the ducks off the bay and in the marshes, so the members’ bag consisted of 72 canvasbacks, 52 sprigs, 6 gadwalls, 8 teal and 4 bluebills. In total, the five hunters brought to the clubhouse 402 ducks. The result of the season’s shoot by the club was 4,089 ducks during the 1883-84 season. During February 1884, for one day, four members killed 500 ducks.

On July 22, 1885, the club signed a nine-year lease with Payne. When the lease was signed, Payne left his employment and went to the Petaluma marshes, where he resumed market hunting and was never heard from again and, from that point forward, he used the Wave as a shooting and housing ark.

The Teal Club obtained two additional arks, one 36 x 16 and the other a scow sloop, 36 x 14. The club hired carpenters to build extra rooms onto their arks, plus construct sheds and a “chicken house.” In 1886, the club dug a bed for its arks, which would be their clubhouse, and hauled them up high and dry. Carpenters worked for some time installing extra rooms in the arks. These improvements were done in order to keep up with the Tule Belle Club.

That same year, the Teal and Cordelia Clubs began fighting between themselves over a “certain pond” in the Suisun Marsh, but they were able to avert “an impending resort to arms.”

It was in 1882 that the Teal Club closed Teal station to all outsiders which did not set well with the sportsmen of the area and poaching soon became a problem, starting in 1883 when the poachers stole the club’s decoys and boats. The conflicts got much worse from 1893-1896. Between those years, the legality and propriety of private club leases were challenged, and poachers and clubs fought it out in the marsh and courts. Once the conflicts between duck clubs with hunting leases and local poachers and San Francisco sportsmen were finally resolved, new clubs formed to accommodate more hunters in the marsh.

During February 1884, four members killed 500 ducks. That same year, the club had a telephone installed. In 1887, two members, Edwin Goodall and Mr. Gerber of Sacramento shot 235 ducks from the same blind at the Teal Club in a forenoon. Goodall, on another day, shot 205 birds and on a different day and year, Goodall shot 166 ducks, while on the same day two other members brought in 160 and 103. Other big bags were recorded by five members who shot 402 ducks that were retrieved and many that weren’t.

The Teal Club’s territory was about 3,000 acres and had in all six shooting ponds, all within easy access, which averaged from one to five feet in depth. The main sloughs wound in and out like rivers through the tule-covered marsh, and from these streams, ditches were dug to the ponds. At the slough, the hunter was transferred from the scull boats, with decoys and guns, into tule splitters, which were sculled through the ditch, through the pond to his blind, which was either floating or located on a favorite point. The biggest record at teal was 240 birds in one day for one gun; and there were many running from 120 to 170 made between sunrise and sunset, which by club rules was the stated shooting time.

In 1882, the Ibis Club organized and took over the land of the Canvasback Club, which was originally the Hard Land Club. The waters of Cordelia Slough served to feed their five ponds, which were excellent for duck shooting. The Tule-Belle Club was across the Cordelia Slough, south and east of the Ibis Club. The Ibis Club had deep water ponds, three to four feet deep, whereas, the Tulle Belle had shallow ponds, one to two feet deep. Therefore, the Ibis Club shot more canvasbacks.

These deep ponds were formed when “geese which were in great numbers ate out the tules so effectively that ponds, often of considerable extent, were formed and sago pondweed thrived.

James Moffit in 1938 gave details on species-specific waterfowl feeding activities that created and then deepened the ponds. He said that originally the Lesser Snow Geese made the ponds on this marsh by tearing up clumps of plants to secure its bulbs for food from the sago pondweed. . . . Then, the Whistling Swans, working in the areas opened by the geese, deepened the ponds to three feet or more by tilting up the blubs, like surface-feeding ducks do and did, and reaching down with their long necks. Plant growth, of which sago pondweed is by far the most important one locally, became established when ponds with proper conditions of salinity and requisite depth (18 inches or more) were created. Sago pondweed, an excellent food plant, attracted also surface-feeding ducks, notably pintail, until the ponds were deepened so that the growth was no longer within reach of the surface-feeders. The ponds then became attractive to diving ducks, of which the canvasback was the only common one in the region. Canvasbacks in their feeding operations, further deepen the ponds.”

It was reported in the Breeder and Sportsman’s issue of January 1885 that “the gentlemen who shoot over the Hard Land ponds recently killed so many canvasbacks in one day that it took two boats to carry the birds.” Remember here that the Hard Land ponds were now leased by the Ibis Club.

In 1885, the Tule Belle Shooting Club moved its headquarters to the Suisun Marsh. It was not a part of the Chamberlain Tract. Several San Francisco sportsmen in 1885 negotiated for and took over the Jabez and Agnes Thickbroom Ranch west of the drawbridge railroad stop, later renamed the Cygnus, and formed the Tule Belle Club. In all, it consisted of 1,500 acres, all fenced. The property was originally owned by Andrew Goodyear, who obtained it by land grant in 1879; the land was just to the south of the Chamberlain tract. He, in turn, rented and later sold some of his land to the Thickbrooms, who later leased 400 acres in 1885 to Tulle Belle ten members. The number of members varied in different years; in 1886-1887, there were a dozen members and during later seasons members numbered from four to ten. There were nine shooting ponds scattered about.

The Tulle Belle Club, before locating on the Thickbroom ranch, was situated in and named informally for the town of Belmont near San Mateo. At this time, the Belmont Club had a yacht named the Tulle Belle. It was considered the luxurious yacht that sailed the San Francisco Bay and the adjoining bays. It was sometimes used for duck hunting. In the early 1870s, a “hunting ark” or “houseboat” was built for hunting purposes. It was moored at Belmont on the western side of South Bay of the SF Bay.

However, due to residue from the Sierra mines, which began silting up their wetlands, the owners moved their hunting ark and equipment to the Suisun Marsh on the Thickbroom Ranch in February 1885 by towing up the SF Bay and through San Pablo and Suisun Bay to Sherman Island, where she was left to serve as a hunter’s rendezvous for the winter. She was the first of her kind. Here the club was renamed for the ark, the Tule Belle, which functioned as a clubhouse and headquarters. The main organizer of this club was Commodore R.L. Ogden. In 1886, Thickbroom fell on difficult times, so Andrew Goodyear had to take the property back, which he sold to one of the club members in May 1886. That member later sold the property to Charles Josselyn in 1889, acting for the Tule Belle Club.

Before the club leased the ranch and organized the club, Thickbroom and his hired men used to beat tin pans in an effort to save some of his crop from damage from ducks He also told of three men who brought in 380 sprigs and teal after one morning of shooting from 6 to 11:30 a.m. on his farm.

A study of the club’s kill record, together with those made at Sherman Island, showed that the club did wisely in moving. Sherman Island was located in the Delta where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers met, must east of Suisun Bay.

About 1880, immediately after the levees about Sherman Island broke, that island afforded shooting as good, perhaps, as any ground in the state. Several morning shoots resulted in bags of over 200 birds each. L.B. Cooper shot 213 widgeons in one forenoon. Crittenden Robinson brought in 208 birds one day, and other like bags were so often made as to convince one that at the time mentioned Sherman Island was as good as any shooting ground in California. But for several years, the shooting had not been up to par. The feed on the island had been scant and poor, owing to the killing influence of the river mud deposited from the ever-inflowing flood of mining silt brought down by the Sacramento River. Their ponds were still beautiful and convenient, but the waterfowl deserted them.

The Tule Belle Club had ten members and was considered the wealthiest in the state. Their clubhouse was located west of the railroad tract near the drawbridge which was later named the Cygnus. At this time in the 1880s, there were four clubs on the west side of the Suisun Marsh: Teal Club, Cordelia Club, Ibis Club, and the Tule Belle, which essentially the four taking up the entire west side, the first three being part of the Chamberlain Tract.

The total kill of 20,844 ducks on the Tule Belle Club between 1885 and 1901 and 36,126 ducks at the Ibis Club between 1882 and 1907, added to the kill of the Cordelia Shooting Club of 64,872 ducks killed between 1883 and 1904 totaled 121,842 ducks killed on these marshes. A tabulation of the kill of all three clubs gives the following:

  • Total ducks killed:
  • Sprig 36,021, 29.56 percent of total killed;
  • Widgeon 23,762, 19.5 percent;
  • Teal 21,925, 18.0 percent;
  • Canvasback, 18,568, 15.24 percent;
  • Mallard 4,915, 4 percent;
  • Other ducks, 16,651, 13.6 percent.

However, for the season of 1885-1886, spoonbills took the lead, with a total of 505; teal were next on the list, numbering 427; widgeon, 372; sprig, 257; canvasbacks, 164; curlew, 147; mallards, 106; butterballs, 89; English snipe, 75, gadwall, 37; redheads, 7.

The Tule Belle was, perhaps, the first club to have a Chesapeake Retriever. The San Francisco Call reported September 29, 1897: “Herman Oelrichs has brought to this city a duck dog known as a Chesapeake Bay retriever. This acquisition to canine society arrived yesterday from Baltimore and is kenneled at Bridges’ stables on Post street in SF. The dog will have a chance to display his qualities as a retriever in shooting at the Tule Belle Club next Friday.”

Starting in 1882, the Teal Club began baiting their ponds with wheat, which was scattered about on the surface where it sunk in the shoal water. Just before the season started, a yacht brought the boats, decoys, etc., along with a ton and a half of wheat. The other clubs soon started baiting their ponds.

Clubhouses on the Suisun Marsh were floating “Arks,” or floating houses, which were admirably appointed and, excepting in size of the rooms, quite as comfortable as the quarters afforded by the city’s club men’s houses. Indeed, ark living was the most popular choice of living on the Suisun Marsh.

The Suisun marsh were practically all pre-emptied by various gun clubs, whose clubhouses and shooting boxes dotted the vicinity. So active were these clubs that the railroad had side stations at most of them, many of these stations being named after birds, such as Teal, Mallard, Jacksnipe, and so on. Many of the duck ponds were baited, but nevertheless a great number were not. The baited ponds, however, had the best of it. When shooting was good, ducks could be found almost anywhere from the upper Sacramento Valley all the way down to the lower stretches of San Francisco Bay and its estuaries.

The duck country of the Sacramento Valley was composed of the Yolo, Sutter, Glenn, Colusa and Butte, with the latter being probably the best duck hunting in the country nowadays. In the San Joaquin Valley in the Southern part of the Central Valley, there were Los Banos, West Side, Gustine, Newman and other duck shooting centers.

It was only a matter to time before more clubs organized. The Suisun Gun Club, organized in 1897, had 17 members in 1902, four of whom were from San Francisco. The others were local sports. The Pringle Gun Club, locally owned, was organized in 1900, after a disgruntled group of members broke off from the Suisun Gun Club. After only one hunting season, the club, with its famous Pringle Ponds, lost their lease to a group of seven San Francisco sports. The Republican newspaper reported: “These ponds have been under the control of Suisun sportsmen . . . for the last forty years and this deal closes all available hunting grounds to local hunters.”

The Field and Tule Club was situated in the northern part of the Suisun Marsh, about three-quarters of a mile from Cordelia, and nearly 50 miles from San Francisco. Their ark was well equipped, and when the water was low it was approachable by a road. At other times, the members employed small boats. It was organized about 1900 or 1901. Their ten-year lease covered 750 acres of the great Suisun marsh, and their president at its inception was A.M. Shield.

On the old Goodyear’s tule marshland, in 1901, two Tule Belle Shooting Club’s members were Joe Harvey and Hermann Oelrichs, the latter’s father was a member of the Marshy Point Ducking Club on Chesapeake Bay in the 1850s. In 1902, the club was sold to Oelrichs, who was married to multi-millionaire Theresa Fair, sister of Charles Fair. It was the first club to buy their leased grounds and as mentioned it was not part of the Chamberlain tract.  Oelrichs was also a member of the Teal Club and was a multi-millionaire. After purchasing the Tule Belle Club in1902, it became Oelrichs’ private preserve. He went about building a “palatial clubhouse at Cygnus Station and it was given the moniker “Cygnus Ranch.” In 1905, Oelrichs and three guest shot 200 ducks before 9:00 a.m.

After Oelrichs died in 1906, the club was sold to Edward Harriman in 1907, the Southern Pacific Railroad president, for $40,000. While the title was being perfected and Mrs. Oelrichs was contesting her husband’s will, Harriman died in 1909 and his estate asked to be freed from the purchase, which it was. So Oelrichs’ 1,085-acre Cygnus Ranch (the old Tule Belle Club) private preserve passed to Oelrichs’ 15-year-old son, valued at $50,000, along with some guns. Afterwards, many prospective buyers attempted to purchase the property, but all offers were rejected until it was sold July 1910 to four sportsmen for $34,000. Between the death of Hermann Oelrichs and the time when it was sold in 1910, the marshes of the Cygnus Ranch degenerated into a market hunting domain. Among those who had the privilege of shooting over the splendid ponds on that tract were individuals who shot for the market. The worst feature of it all was that night shooting was incessant on its marshes. This would all end when four sportsmen bought the land and rejuvenated the Tule Belle Club.

In 1900, Frederick “Freddie” Chamberlain, one of the three grown children of the Chamberlain estate, leased for five years all of the Chamberlain Tract to the Ibis Club. However, the leases with the Cordelia and Teal Clubs were to continue until their leases expired in 1907. Many proposals to buy it in fractions had been rejected by the estate. The three heirs refused to sell it except as a whole, proposing in case it was not speedily disposed of, to drain and reclaim the entire tract for agricultural purposes, which had been attempted over in the next county of Sonoma.

During this time, other clubs were established on the marsh. The Beetville Shooting Club near Cordelia in 1901, clubs Armijo, Montezuma, King, and Oakland in 1903, the Bevedere (later renamed the Volante) and Cotati in 1904, and the Harvey, Big Four, Red Head, and Badgers in 1905. By 1908, there was the Marsh Club and Morrow Gun Club, and, in 1909, a Clover Leaf Club near Cordelia.

In 1902, Frank Maskey, Edward Dinkelspiel (editor of the Solano Republican and a well-known real estate man), Joe Harvey (gambler, turfman, ardent sportsman, a real estate speculator and “political boss”), Frank Maskey, (employee of Harvey), and Charles L. Fair formed a syndicate. They were prepared, if they could acquire all or nearly all of the Suisun Marsh lands, to thoroughly reclaim them. The options to buy were conditional upon their acceptance by enough owners, and at any price not too unreasonable. Enough options were not obtained so this whole venture failed.

However, that changed in 1905, when a newspaper reported that “the game interest of our State has a very large pecuniary, as well as recreative value, was demonstrated by the recent purchase, at a very considerable figure, of a large tract of Suisun marsh land by a syndicate of prominent sportsmen. This tract of land — some 5,324 acres — comprised some of the finest ducking marshes in the world and was leased to shooting clubs and individual sportsmen in small subdivisions, the leases in all cases being short-lived and uncertain. Many proposals to buy it in fractions had been rejected by the three heirs of the Oscar and Mary Chamberlain, with their only son Freddie overseeing the Chamberlain tract, and he had the administrator of the estate to refuse to sell it in parcels, while proposing in case it was not speedily disposed of, to drain and reclaim the entire tract for agricultural use. This land, when so reclaimed, would be phenomenally rich — almost as good in that respect as it is for ducks in its present state — and for a time sportsmen were in despair at the thought of this unwelcome prospect. They were unable to buy portions of the tract, and the figure asked for the whole was prohibitive to all save the very wealthy.”    End of quote.

Another newspaper reported in 1905, “the most important real estate transaction that has been made in Solano County in many years has been closed by Edward Dinkelspiel, editor of the Solano Republican, and a well-known real estate man, representing a syndicate of influential men. The purchasers include Dinkelspiel of Suisun, Charley Fair, Frank Maskey and Joseph Harvey of San Francisco. The tract of marsh land purchased consists of about 5000 acres and the price paid is reported to have been about $120,000. The purchase comprises the famous Chamberlain tract, recognized as the finest duck shooting land in the State. For some time, the reclamation of marsh lands in Solano County has attracted considerable attention, and the successful experiments made on a small scale will unquestionably form the precursor to an extensive scheme of reclamation. The acquisition, therefore, of the Chamberlain tract will mean much for Solano County. The land on the other side of the railroad track and running for several miles along the Suisun slough is unexcelled marsh land and has been pronounced by experienced men to be capable of producing crops of various kinds, if reclaimed and put under cultivation. It is without doubt the finest asparagus land and if devoted to this industry will yield the owners about $150 per acre, clear of expense. “

As just stated, in 1905, the Chamberlain tract in the Suisun Marsh was sold for $120,000 to the four just mentioned, except for the Teal and Cordelia Clubs which had two years left on their lease. The Chamberlain tract  was then divided among the four, with the four selling different parcels to different clubs who had been leasing it, or to individual sportsmen.

The four owners kept some good-sized tracts and some of the best parcels for themselves. Instead of reclaiming the land for farming purposes, the four owners knew they could make more money by leasing or selling parcels of the land to individual sportsmen or to duck hunting clubs, many of whom had been leasing. In the end, the syndicate made a profit of $75,000.

It so happened that two of the four owners did not get a chance to fire a shot. Charley Fair was killed July 7, 1907 in an automobile accident, along with his wife in France. Joe Harvey died of pneumonia in September of the same year. Harvey was a former member of the Tule Belle Club. Before he died, Harvey selected the Ibis Club as one of his properties. He died of pneumonia August 9, 1907 after spending one week looking over his hunting preserves which he had selected.

After his death, Mrs. Harvey managed her husband’s hunting properties, who leased the Ibis Club’s acres to Judge W.F. Henshaw. In 1907, John Seymour also leased some of Fair’s and Harvey’s duck hunting property. Harvey was also a member of the Tule Belle Club. Maskey reserved a choice piece for himself, some 350 acres, that portion taking in the Haywards and Sunrise Ponds.

Fair and Harvey had hunted the Suisun Marsh for years, using Fair’s steam yacht, the Lucero, as their headquarters. It was said that Fair “was a great duck hunter and delighted in shotgun work.” When Harvey received word of Charles’ and Caroline’s deaths, he, at that time, was directing the completion of work being done on Fair’s extensive duck land and clubhouse on Fair’s $20,000 duck farm. Here, in 1899, Fair was using live decoys secured from a market hunter at Los Banos. Harvey then took over Fair’s hunting preserve in the Suisun Marsh, which would in 1907 become the Seymour Gun Club.

When their lease ran out in 1907, the Teal Shooting Club was the first to buy about 1500 acres of the Chamberlain tract. The last piece of the Chamberlain tract, 251 acres, was sold in 1909 to the Seymour Gun Club for $35 an acre. This was part of what Joseph Harvey and Charley Fair jointly owned prior to their death. John Seymour and nine others first leased the 251 acres and then bought the land and formed the Seymour Club, a stretch of marsh north of the Cordelia Club.

After Harvey’s death, several small clubs were leased or sold from the syndicate’s holdings, notably the Green Lodge at Cygnus Station, leased by William “Bill” W. Richards with its “Basin Ponds,” a series of ponds nearly a mile in extent. Green Lodge was later sold by Dinkelspiel and his partners. It adjoined Tule Belle on the west side of the railroad tract. Richards whimsically called his club “The Limit,” because everyone got their limit of ducks. Other pieces of the Chamberlain Tract, 1,300 acres of first-class waterfowling grounds, which were located half-way between Cygnus and Teal Stations on the east side of the railroad track, were deeded to the Roos Allegre Club which consisted of 225 acres. It opened in 1907 south of Teal railroad station after leasing the land from the Teal Club in 1906 and buying the land in 1907 from Maskey, Harvey and Dinkelspiel. Their property, under lease by the Teal Club until 1907, encompassed the famous Whittier Ponds.

Other pieces sold were the Jacksnipe Gun Club in 1907, two miles north of Teal Station; the Ibis Club, the Fair and Harvey Club at the mouth of the Cordelia Slough, which Captain John Seymour leased in 1907 and bought in 1910, the Sprig Teal Club located north of the horseshoe-shaped land of Green Lodge but on the east side of and adjacent to the railroad track, while the DeNova Club was located north of the Green Lodge, adjacent to the railroad track.

After the Cordelia Shooting Club’s hunting lease expired in 1907, the club, between the Cordelia and Frank Horan Sloughs, came under the ownership of the syndicate, headed by Frank Maskey. Maskey then sold it to Wickham Havens in 1908, while keeping part of the old Cordelia Club’s land, which included the Sunrise ponds. Havens then sold the old Cordelia Club grounds to Louis Titus in 1910 who leased it to some of their old members and it became the Cordelia Gun Club. The six members of the old Cordelia Club turned around and signed a lease on the Freeborn and John Cook tracks after the Cook Club’s lease had expired in 1907. This tract was located west of the Cordelia Slough and across from the Cordelia Club’s hunting grounds, which were on the east side of the Slough. They called their club the Freeborn Gun Club.

The Teal Club bought their land from the syndicate in 1907 when their lease expired. This marshland contained the old Payne Ponds which were then labeled the Cordelia Ponds and the north and south Hayward Ponds.

Maskey kept some of the Teal marshland on the north, including the Sunrise Ponds, and formed the Sunrise Club in 1909, which included some additional land about the Chadbourne Slough, some 280 acres in all.

The Teal Club still has its original clubhouse at Teal Station on 509 acres. The mainstay of the Teal clubhouse is one of Jim Payne’s original arks.

The Ibis Club remains on its original (about) 217 acres, west of Cygnus Station.

Unfortunately, some of the Suisun Marsh was reclaimed for farmland.

From 1879 to 1930, with the arrival of railroads and levee constructions, which restrained tidal water flow, much of the Suisun Marsh was converted to agriculture. The Sacramento Union, March 19, 1912, headlines read: “Vast Tracts of Suisun Tule Marsh Added to Acreage of Productive Soil This Year. Patrick Calhoun, and others also, had six large gasoline tractors turning over tule land for production of hay, wheat and barley.”

However, once converted to farmland, its success was relatively short lived because of land subsiding and increasing soil salinity, at least partially a result of upstream water diversions to irrigate farms in the Central Valley, which made agriculture unprofitable. Due to subsidence and levee failures, only around 5,000 acres out of 60,000 acres of reclaimed marshes proved to be a successful agricultural venture. Agricultural operations not being successful, much of this same land, in 1921 was being sold to be used only as shooting grounds. Whereas agricultural land sold at $150 per acre, some of this same land was then selling for $80 per acre for use as waterfowl shooting grounds. At least 7,000 acres of land in 1921, formerly used for agriculture, were flooded and made attractive to ducks. 1921 saw about 10,000 acres more treated the same way.

Flooding such lands made very attractive feeding ground to ducks because of weed seeds. Pintails, particularly, were attracted to the shallow water afforded in these areas. Because of these operations, some changes occurred in the kind and number of waterfowl. Whereas, the original marshes were attractive to canvasbacks, mallards, widgeon and teal, the flooded fields largely attracted pintails. Eventually, with the decline of agriculture in the 1930s, nearly all reclaimed marshlands were purchased by the State of California Department of Fish and Game to be managed as waterfowl areas. Beginning in 1927, the state of California purchased 1,711 acres of the Suisun Marsh as state wildlife management areas, which it established in 1932 on the middle section of Joyce Island. This refuge had annually saved more ducks in the shooting season than all other conservation measures combined. Other state areas were purchased to ease crop predation by waterfowl in the Central Valley.

Today, approximately 230 miles of levees in the Suisun Marsh protect approximately 55,000 acres of managed wetlands, which represent 10 percent of California’s remaining natural wetlands and serves as the resting and feeding ground for thousands of birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway. In addition, there are 6,300 acres of unmanaged tidal wetlands, 30,000 acres of bays and sloughs, and 27,000 acres of upland grasslands. Most diked wetlands are managed for waterfowling, while acreage devoted to grazing and agriculture is very small. The state manages about 15,000 acres of tidal wetlands, diked wetlands and upland grasslands.

Fortunately, for the Suisun Marsh, more than 80 percent of its original 74,000 acres exist today. A combination of factors, especially the efforts of duck hunting clubs, played a role in the continued existence of this local treasure. Today, the Suisun Marsh represents the largest contiguous brackish water marsh on the west coast of North America and is a critical part of the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta estuary ecosystem.

The Cordelia Club, with its 640 acres, can lay claim to being the oldest continuous name and the Teal club as having the oldest clubhouse still in use.

The “100 Years Old Clubs”—besides the Ibis, Cordelia Shooting Club, Teal, and the Tule Belle—are Joice Island (1902), Duck & R (1902) as the Stewart Club, Montezuma (1903), Volante (1904), Family (1905), Green Lodge (1906), Jacksnipe (1906), Roos (1907), Ryer Island (1907), and Sunrise (1907).

More than 158 private duck clubs operate in the marsh today. Without hunting clubs, there would most likely not be a Suisun Marsh.

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