Romance of Omaha, Chapter XXVI
From the beginning if fossil remains and prehistoric legends may be relied upon, Nebraska has been a hunter's paradise. Some few million years ago this region was inhabited by the Ichthyosaurus, a playful little lizard 30 feet long; the Rhinocerotoidea, that weighed a few tons or more, and other mammals of size.
It may be that these early monsters hunted prehistoric man more often than he chased them, but the hunting was good, no matter who the hunters. As these mammals disappeared other animals took their places, and man became better able to cope with his brute companions.
When the Spanish adventurers came nearly 400 years ago they found good hunting. They killed bison and deer and game birds. They found the Indians were living largely on the product of the hunt.
That condition obtained until the white men began to settle in this section of the country. The early explorers, trappers and fur traders found the best of hunting.
No Grocery Problem
The pioneer could step into his front or back yard and kill a nice game dinner almost any time he cared to make exertion. Sometimes, of course, the pioneer was the hunted, the Indians rather objecting to the invasion of their hunting grounds. But the white men kept coming and the wild game as well as the Indians began to disappear.
Unfortunately, the early settlers had no idea of conserving game. They killed not only for food, but wantonly. There was no Izaak Walton league or other deterrent force in those days.
The plains teemed with wild life. Bison, elk, deer, antelope, quail, prairie chicken, wild turkeys, wild geese, wild ducks, were plentiful. If more exciting hunting was desired the wolf hunter supplied it.
As time went on and the settlers increased in number the wild life of the prairie grew scarcer. All too late the people awakened to what was happening.
Big Game Gone
Efforts to conserve the wild life of the state were too long delayed to save the bison, deer, wild turkey or quail. They virtually were killed off. The prairie chicken and ducks, however, remain and Nebraska still calls to the hunters of the nation during the open season on those two game birds.
Fishing is good in the streams, lakes and rivers of the state, especially in the north and west. Propagation plans of the state fish and game bureau have saved fish from extermination. Nebraska has been and is a state of hunters and fishermen. Omaha is a city of sportsmen. More than 100,000 men and boys, to say nothing of a large number of women, take their guns or fishing rods every year and hie away to the fields and streams.
The Izaak Walton league, an active, aggressive organization for the conservation of wild life and the great outdoors has upward of 40,000 members, all hunters and fishermen. Restrictive laws now in effect bid fair to keep Nebraska a country of good hunting indefinitely. Pheasants imported into the state a few years have multiplied so rapidly that an open season is declared on them each fall in certain counties. Rabbit hunting is a regular pastime, especially in western Nebraska where thousands of jack rabbits and bunnies are killed each year.
Golf is Popular
Love of the outdoors and of fishing and hunting seems to have been inherited by the people of Nebraska, but they do not confine their love of sports to the two by any means.
Next to the road and gun in point of popularity comes the golf club. Nebraska has more than 150 golf courses and more than 25,000 persons in the state play golf more or less regularly.
From the standpoint of popularity as a spectacle, football of course takes the lead. The great stadiums at Nebraska and Creighton universities offer an opportunity to see splendid teams in action.
As many as 40,000 persons have seen a Nebraska game at one time. Every town has a football team of some kind. Not less than 500,000 persons see one or more football games in the course of a year in Nebraska.
Baseball holds its own as a popular sport, although of recent years professional and league baseball has not been well supported. Amateur or semi-professional baseball has taken its place. It is not unusual to see 5,000 persons watching an amateur game on a municipal diamond in Omaha on a Sunday afternoon.
Other sports such as tennis, basket ball, boxing and even wrestling have their devotees.
Memories of Ring
Years ago Omaha was a great wrestling town. Huge crowds watched Gotch, Farmer Burns, Stecher, Earl Caddock and others "wiggle and wuggle" on the mat. Of late years wrestling has given way to boxing and big crowds have seen some good men fight.
In former years Omaha was a fight town of some prominence and several near-championship battles were held here. They were the days of real battles. On one occasion in 1891 Tommy White and Jack Daly fought 100 rounds to a draw in South Omaha.
In recent years horse racing has become a great sport in Omaha. The building of the splendid Ak-Sar-Ben race track and the holding of annual June race meets has made the gallopers popular. Thousands of persons come to Omaha yearly to see the races.
Years ago harness races were popular and the "man about town" rejoiced in the possession of speedy trotters and pacers. They would turn out in the evening or on Sunday afternoons and have highway brushes with owners of rival horses. The young man with the fastest horse and noblest rig won the prettiest girl, just as the young man with the fastest, classiest motor car takes her today.
Omaha has been a good sport town, generally speaking, since the earliest days. Up to a comparatively few years ago Nebraska university played its strongest rivals on Omaha gridirons. An old-time football game in Omaha with young men and girls driving out in tally-ho coaches with prancing horses and flying ribbons was a far more picturesque sight than is to be seen today even though the crowds were smaller and football somewhat cruder and more violent.
Polo is the latest game to come to Omaha. Swimming, skating, horseback riding and curling also have their followers. Since the many pools and beach and private pools have been built Omaha has been learning to swim, but the feat of swimming the Missouri river, once so popular, does not seem to attract many in these later and perhaps less venturesome days.
All these varied sports may come and go, but hunting and fishing, the twin pastimes of the great outdoors, remain today as in the days of the pioneer the most popular of all recreations, not only in Omaha but throughout the great state of Nebraska.
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