E12 THE TINDALL BROTHERS, RESERVOIRS, AND DUCKS
PODCAST: https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episode/e1v7vbj or search on google “HISTORIC DUCK HUNTING STORIES PODCAST”
How did Arkansas become one of the wonders of America—three simple words: RICE, RESERVOIRS, and DUCKS.
On August 25, 1896, two men began a 1,000-mile wagon ride on a hunting expedition from Arkansas to the rice fields of Louisiana where they spent some time at the farms of the Abbot brothers and W. W. Duson. One of those men became convinced that the Grand Prairie of Arkansas could also produce golden grain rice and he knew that he could grow rice on the prairies by irrigation. That man was W. H. Fuller.
He returned with a small sack of rice seed, and with some knowledge of rice cultivation he planted three acres of rice on his Grand Prairie farm in 1897. His first crop failed because he was unfamiliar with appropriate irrigation techniques. He did not give up then, but went to Crowley, Louisiana, to learn about rice growing. Engaging himself in rice cultivation, he stayed there for four years. He learned how to grow rice, put down wells, and operate farm machinery. In the fall of 1903, he returned to Arkansas and struck a bargain to raise a crop of rice on 70 acres of land and produce not less than 35 bushels per acre.
In 1903, Ernest Sampson and Jerome Tindall of Stuttgart observed that when water was supplied at the proper seasons, the soil of the Grand Prairie yielded abundantly, so they organized the Pioneer Irrigation Company. Their makeshift 50-foot well was the first attempt at rice irrigation in the state on four acres. They attached a gasoline engine to a centrifugal pump; however, their effort failed, only getting a “trickle of water,” thus dating the failure of the first rice growing experiment.
Meanwhile, Fuller bought rice seed and machinery in Louisiana. In 1904, he planted 70 acres of rice and produced 5,225 bushels of rough rice. As he yielded almost 75 bushels per acre from the appointed acres, he claimed the bonus of $1000.
In 1904, a University of Arkansas Experiment Station trial yielded 65 bushels of rough rice per acre from 160-acre plot of virgin prairie, demonstrating to the entire satisfaction of all that this section of Arkansas would be a rice country surpassed by no other rice district in the U.S.
Encouraged by the success of Fuller and the Experimental Station, in 1905 other local farmers followed in Fuller’s footsteps, and for years afterwards there was a steady stream of immigration from the northern part of the country to the Grand Prairie.
In 1906, Jerome Tindall, mentioned earlier and the brother of Art and Verne, brought in the first successful irrigation well and was followed closely by J. W. Beckler, who had bought and put into operation a specially constructed outfit for the digging of irrigation wells.
In 1907, the first rice mill was built in Stuttgart part of the Stuttgart Rice Milling Company. Also, in 1907, Art Tindall was in the business of contracting with farmers to put in drainage ditches to drain their rice lands. In 1910, Tindall put in a six-mile ditch, which would drain 5,049 acres, including his 2,000 acres. That same year, for irrigation of his rice planted on part of his 2,000 acres, he had two large power plants located at the White River near Crockett’s Bluff, which would pump by steam-engine relift 12,000 gallons of water per minute from the river and was thus capable of irrigating 2,500 acres of rice by way of this drainage ditch during the rice season.
Art was an extensive rice grower and businessman of the Grand Prairie section. A native of Rock Island, Illinois, he came to Stuttgart in 1903. His endeavors included newspaper publishing, banking, owning and operating a telephone exchange, and rice farming. He acquired Stuttgart’s first newspaper, the Chronicle, in 1906, and operated it until 1907, when he sold it. Later, he established the Stuttgart Republican and acquired part interest in the Tri-Weekly Boosted. In 1911, Art was part of a rice-growing cooperative in Stuttgart.
Around Crockett’s Bluff, he also did waterfowl hunting, joining his friends in the White River floodplain not far from what was soon to become one of the major waterfowling areas in the country, the White River NWR.
In 1920, Art sold his 2,000-acre farm near Crockett’s Bluff to the Prange brothers—sons of Henry Prange. The purchase of Art’s farm, which was known as the “Sunset Farms” and adjoined the Prange’s holdings, made the Prange Brothers Company of Crocketts Bluff the owner of the largest rice farm in the state in 1920, owning 6,000 acres of which 5,000 could be put in rice. Afterwards, Art bought 1,800 acres of land six miles southeast of Stuttgart in 1922 bordering Elm Prong Mill Bayou, with two others and with the intention of farming rice. The three bought it from E.C. Thompson in the later part of 1921 and he owned ½ interest in the property. He ended up owning the whole 1,800 acres.
With continued growth each year, rice became a big crop in the Grand Prairie region around Stuttgart. It became apparent around 1916, as a result partly of the great quantities of water needed in rice cultivation, that the underground water level was being lowered from well irrigation. Over the years, it had gone from 65 feet to 110, meaning that the sinking of wells was more and more expensive. If water was not obtainable in large volume, there would be no rice.
As Elm Prong Mill Bayou sometimes went dry in the summertime and wanting to increase their rice planting acreage and productivity, the two brothers conceived the idea in 1925 of establishing a storage reservoir to maintain the moist-soil conditions needed to grow rice. A 20-foot ditch was dug around the tract and the dirt was thrown up on the outside to form a retaining wall. A 10,000 gallon-a-minute Bessemer crude oil pumping unit was installed to pump water from the reservoir to ditches that would irrigate their 800 acres of rice. The reservoir also flooded 450 acres of pine oak bottoms on their 1,800 acres, thus becoming the first-ever greentree reservoir, at least for a number of years. The reservoir was fed only by surface runoff and rainfall, the rainfall from September to May being sufficient to furnish one-half of the water needed. If wells had been used for irrigation instead of using water pumped from their reservoir, it would have taken five wells.
With no thought of attracting ducks, here was the germ of an idea that made the Stuttgart region a hunter’s paradise. The idea came to fruition very quickly when in the winter of 1926 they were astonished at the number of wintering ducks congregating on the 450 acres of flooded timber after spending the night in the nearby rice fields.
Their initial plan was to make the reservoir a refuge with no hunting, to make sure that the sportsmen always had good shooting at nearby lakes and watering places. However, they soon found that it was impossible to keep the poachers from poaching, with one poacher saying, “The ducks concentrated on the prairies around Stuttgart, and it looked like millions and millions.” Verne Tindall told the Stuttgart Daily Leader, “It was quite a sight to see. Eight to 10 acres of the reservoir would be a mass of ducks.” The reservoir was later expanded to 750 acres and more ducks came.
They decided they might as well lease the reservoir for duck hunting, hoping it would keep the poachers away, so Wallace Claypool, of Memphis, and Roger Crowe and Roy McCollum, of Stuttgart, leased the reservoir for the duck seasons of 1927 and 1928.
What was it like in these first few days of the reservoir. Well, we can get a glimpse from a visit paid in January 1928 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s editor, O.K. Bovard, and some of his staff for duck hunting and filming. In his thank you letter to Art, he wrote, “The hunt will remain in our memories forever as ‘the battle of Tindell’s woods.’ Doubtless, you have been inundated with attempts to describe the scene which your ducks present, and I shall not add to these any feeble effort on my own. We tried to tell each other the night of the hunt what we had seen and how we felt, but no one would admit that the report of any of us was at all adequate or would approximate their own observation. I hope someday comes that will permit me to compensate you as much as you did for me when you gave me a view of what no duck hunter has ever seen excelled.”
In 1929, by mutual agreement, the three members decided not to renew their lease due to the poaching problem and the fact that they could only hunt two days in each week, so they left and formed their own club, the Stuttgart Hunting Club.
1929 was the start of the Great Depression so Art and Verne decided to commercialize it; therefore, in 1929, they started charging hunters $10 for a morning hunt, when the limit was 15 and a resident hunting license costs $1.10, while Arkansas was receiving the moniker “The Hunter’s Paradise.” The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote October 31 about the prospect of the opening week of the 1929 season, which included the following regarding Tindall’s Reservoir that it had become so much in demand that it was booked months in advance. The newspaper also reported that farmers whose rice crops were still in shocks were being eaten out of house and home by marauding ducks and were using all means to keep them out such as seeking permission from the federal government that would allow them to hire hunters before the season opened to shoot ducks day and night and to kill as many as they could, which was granted for the 1929 season.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote November 29, 1931 about a duck hunt that Pittsburg Pirates’ pitcher Heine Meine arranged at Tindall’s Reservoir:
Heine Meine, as baseball fans know, is a Pittsburg Pirate pitcher, with the Mother Goose name, who makes life miserable for National League batters during the summer months and who makes life hazardous for ducks, geese and quail during the hunting season. Meine has splendid connections at Stuttgart, the capital of the Arkansas duck country. B. C. Glover, constable, was waiting at the Riceland Hotel when Meine’s gunners arrived, and in a few minutes Chief of Police McCaslin and Judge Rittman called to pay their respects. The Judge is 64 years old, but one of the best shots in Stuttgart. And how he can call those ducks! Glover had made arrangements in advance for the expedition and the next morning after non-resident licenses had been obtained at $15 a copy, the hunting party, including Meine, Gus Boenecke, Joe Schmidt, Bill Hartmann, Glover, and the writer, set out for Tindall’s Lake. Six years ago, Art and Verne Tindall. rice farmers. selected a 450-acre tract of timber land on their 1800-acre farm, as the site for an irrigation reservoir. The Tindall brothers built the reservoir without any thought of ducks, their sole objective being the irrigation of the 800 acres of rice. But soon after the fall rains began to make a swamp out of the tract, ducks by the hundreds of thousands stopped in their flight south and ever since then the swamp has been a resting and watering place for the migratory birds. “When I saw what the ducks were doing.” Art Tindall told the writer, “I thought I would make the place a refuge. My plan was to prohibit hunting in the swamp and I figured that such a refuge would make it certain that sportsmen always would have good shooting at nearby lakes and watering places. However, I found it was impossible to keep the hunters out. I had watchmen on all sides, but it would have taken the National Guard to protect the place properly and so I decided to commercialize the swamp as a hunting place. So numerous were the ducks that day that the gunners picked their birds. It costs $10 a day to shoot at Tindall’s Lake and in past seasons hunters were not permitted to enter the swamp until 8 in the morning. However, the Tindalls, who are independently wealthy, insist on restricting the number of hunters in the swamp each day. Nonresident hunting licenses cost $15 and with the license you get three tags which permit you to make three shipments of 15 ducks each, though not more than two shipments in any one week. If you want some good shooting, you ought to make it fast to Stuttgart.
As soon as one group of hunters got their limits, another group was ushered in to shoot. One hunter wrote of a hunt there in 1931, reporting:
Just then a green-head mallard soared over one of the shooters and his gun barked. It was like the signal for the opening of a war. Up went the ducks in great swarms, wings roaring and in two minutes the sky was dark with the birds. It was a duck hunter’s dream, a duck hunter’s symphony with wings whirring and guns barking. Birds within range, birds higher up and higher up, big mallard drakes that looked like geese so close were they, and other birds so far up in the sky they looked like insects. The first shot was fired at 12:15 and at 1:30, most of the shooters had their limits or had used up all their ammunition.
With the Great Depression deepening and persisting all, commercial duck shooting on Tindall’s Reservoir came to an end after the 1933-1934 duck season. It probably could have gone on longer, except that George Wilcox three lakes that set right off the White River, some 12 miles from Tindall’s Reservoir, began attracting their birds due to the ducks being baited with corn and the effects of the Great Depression didn’t help.
Tindall’s reservoir did not remain a greentree reservoir because the two brothers did not drain the water off, so the trees died over five to six years then becoming what was called a “deadtree reservoir.”
One of the biggest examples of a deadtree reservoir today is Peckerwood Lake just north of Stuttgart. The 3,500-acre reservoir was built by St. Louis millionaire, industrialist Edgar Monsanto Queeny, owner of Monsanto Chemical Co., as part of the 11,000-acre Wingmead estate, which he purchased in 1937. Verne Tindall’s irrigation reservoir caught his attention, and in addition to the standing dead timber in Peckerwood Lake he also constructed three greentree reservoirs on his property.
By 1937, there were 24 enclosed reservoirs encompassing 5,964 acres and a minimum irrigation capacity of 7,300 acres of rice. These shallow reservoirs were filled with rainwater, as Tindall’s was, from surface runoff or by pumping water into them from adjacent bayous during the winter and spring. These reservoirs increased the numbers of migrating ducks migrating southward in the fall and early winter. Thus, many of these reservoirs offered an additional source of revenue to the farmers, that being leasing the land for duck hunting. This double benefit caused many Grand Prairie farmers and hunters to build many reservoirs in forested drainages in subsequent years.
Most local hunters made it a point to find out in advance when Frank Freudenberg, Art and Verne Tindall, and George Wilcox, the former two being big reservoir owners, were going to shoot, and on days when they did the local hunters went to their favorite spots nearby knowing they would be successful.
Twenty or more reservoirs were built between 1933 and 1945, mostly during the height of the duck depression (1929-1935, the Dust Bowl Years). While the rest of the country suffered with a shortage of ducks during this time, the Grand Prairie enjoyed some of the best duck shooting to be had, mainly due to the reservoirs and the ever increasing acres of rice being farmed.
Frank Freudenberg, just mentioned, in 1933, solved the problem of greentree reservoirs becoming deadtree reservoirs by developing a system which allowed a farmer to remove water from irrigated timber to farmland crops and then move the water back again in the fall for the duck season. His reservoir would become one of the most acclaimed hunting areas on the Grand Prairie and led to green-tree reservoirs being constructed primarily for duck hunting. As others had, he used his reservoir and farm for irrigating his crops and duck hunting.
In 1950, there were about 200 reservoirs and 50 were greentree reservoirs. It was also an excellent duck season as a mid-November cold front sent waterfowl to Arkansas in waves, this during the time of dry weather. Nevertheless. the water situation in the Grand Prairie and reservoir section around Stuttgart was not affected as there was plenty of water there with enough to hold the ducks. But rain was needed in the pin oak regions, the swamp lands, and river bottoms around the White River. It was not uncommon around Stuttgart for flooded timbered tracts of 100-200 acres to hold 25,000 to 50,000 mallards. Sometimes, 250,000 ducks would be temporarily concentrated on a few hundred acres. When both the developed areas and the overflow bottoms were watered-up by man and nature, this type of habitat could and would at time winter the bulk of the mallards in the Mississippi Flyway.
Greentree reservoirs did not have to be large to be effective. 200 acres served its purpose for small hunting parties. However, those with 1,500 acres or larger impoundments could safely support a greater number of hunters.
In 1964, many of the 160-odd duck clubs, which controlled more than 53,000 acres—primarily forested lowlands—in the Grand Prairie-Bayou Meto district near Stuttgart, depended on greentree reservoirs, because natural overflows generally occurred late in the waterfowl season and, therefore, would not flood the forest lands. These two districts were a strategic location for greentree development, for it was in the mallard-rich Mississippi Flyway, and they had extensive hardwood bottoms, an abundance of oaks, and good terrain.
By the 1970s, 100 reservoirs comprised about 25,000 acres. There were also approximately 150 duck clubs, which controlled more than 60,000 acres. About two dozen of these clubs were commercial. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission public shooting areas covered about 75,000 acres.
Rice culture, along with water storage and green tree reservoirs, altered the wintering habits of a large segment of the Mississippi Flyway population. Instead of being dependent upon the natural flooding of bottomlands as they formerly were for food and rest, most of the birds fed in rice fields and found both food and rest in greentree reservoirs. They returned to the bottoms only during periods when high water covered new and particularly attractive feeding grounds. In general, mallards flourished in any locality that had a large enough acreage of rice and where plenty of daytime loafing areas free of disturbance were available.
Once the tall-grass prairies were replaced and developed for a commercially important grass known as rice, the Grand Prairie came to be a perpetual feeding ground. Along with ideal habitat and position on the migratory Mississippi Flyway for the nation’s wintering mallards, the Grand Prairie became nationally famous with waterfowlers. As rice spread throughout the state’s lowlands, Arkansas became the largest waterfowl refuge on the continent.
In July 1936, Art was found dead in a farmhouse about seven miles northwest of Hope, Arkansas. His 27-year-old, second wife was at Malvern visiting friends at the time. He had no children. He owned the first car in Arkansas County. It was a new 1903 Oldsmobile roadster, cost $600.
After his death, Verne obtained an AGFC’s license to operate a hunting and fishing place or club. In 1941, the cost of the license was $50, which allowed him to charge a membership fee or a fee for the privilege to hunt or fish on his property for one year.
Verne Tindall, Dr. Harold Glenn, and Thad McCollum, co-founded the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart in 1936, with Verne being an instrumental organizer of the event. He remained active with the World’s Championship on into the 1950s, when he was “special chairman” of the entertainment committee inviting such guest as Arkansas U.S. Senators Fulbright and Wilber Mills, and President Dwight Eisenhower. Verne was inducted into the Arkansas Waterfowlers Hall of Fame in 2021.
Verne died in 1972. Having been born in 1894, he was 19 years younger than his brother. At his death, his son Robert, who farmed with his father beginning in the 1940s, took over ownership and management of Sunset Farms. In his younger days, Verme served in World War I as an electrician and afterwards attended Stanford University, where he got an electrical engineering degree, graduating in 1921. Afterwards, he returned to Stuttgart and farmed rice with his brother.
Robert had one daughter, Kay, and Kay has a daughter and a son. With the death of Kay’s father in 2001, his wife and Kay became sole owners and both were actively involved with the farm’s operations until Kay’s mother died in 2003. Kay has managed and farmed it ever since.
Two old blinds still exist on the two reservoirs, which in the past they leased to individuals or a duck club, while Verne hunted with his friends and family on another part of the reservoir until his death. Then Kay and her father Robert continued to hunt there.
Today, Kay’s son, Mitchell and her daughter Meg are involved along with their mother in the management and operation of the farm. After 95 years of duck hunting at Tindall’s Reservoir, for the hunting season of 2022, there was no hunting on the property as Kay and her children are attempting to rejuvenate the reservoir and make it more attractive to ducks. However, they are not sure what they will do for 2023.
In closing, as long as there are swamp angels in Arkansas willing to wander the marshes, swamps, rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and rice fields at sunrise toting their long fowling pieces and accompanied by their trusted retriever, then Arkansas will remain the “Duck Capital of the World” and a “Hunter’s Paradise.” But would that be so if the Tindall brothers had never built that first reservoir?