The Belled Buzzer Flies Again, If Only In Memory

Tuesday, June 8, 2021
On an early summer day in 1975 at the old Doniphan Retirement Home, the legend sprang to life again of the buzzard that flew out of Doniphan in March 1923 wearing a brass bell. (Pictured at right in the May 29, 1975, edition of the P-N) Andy Lockhart and 98-year-old Walter Stewart (holding the bell) recalled the spring day 52 years earlier when a belled buzzard was caught in the Towles Community. The full-grown buzzard was captured in a steel trap by Uriah ‘Rye’ Burgess Lockhart (Andy’s father) who was employed at the McClaren river farm about three miles south of town. Farmers that spring had been forced to set traps for hawks, owls and foxes that were killing more chickens in the barnyard than farmers were raising. Traps were baited with dead chickens and stapled on top and to the sides of posts placed in fields around the farm. According to Lockhart, his father collected 50 cents bounty on each varmint head he cut off and presented in person at the office of The Prospect-News. Although not yet old enough for school, Lockhart remembered the details of the day the belled buzzard was trapped. One morning before his father had run his traps, Paul and Lowell McClaren came by the house to report there was something in one of them that looked like a turkey and had something around its neck. “Dad brought the live buzzard up to the house, and the something around its neck turned out to be a bell,” Andy Lockhart said. The bell was about three inches long and 2-1/2 inches wide and was suspended from a leather strap that was estimated by the local cobbler to be about 10 years old and well worn. The bell was corroded. The elder Lockhart decided he would place a similar bell around the bird’s neck and turn him loose again when its trap wounds had healed. News spread and a Prospect-News reporter contacted Lockhart and asked him to bring the bird into town. Several people gathered for a little ceremony at the Ponder Mercantile Store on Washington Street. Store owner John Ponder provided a new bell and collar with Lockhart’s name and address on the bell. The buzzard flew only a short distance and lighted upon a high line wire. An 18-year-old fellow climbed the pole and the buzzard flew away, headed north. The bird was sighted on Current River and later on in the Jordan Township near the Carter County line, still headed north, according to the P-N’s follow-up stories. Later, the P-N reported of belled buzzard sightings in Poplar Bluff as early as 1912 and another even earlier in 1908. Finally, in a P-N account dated June 14, 1923, a man named Henry Fields of Doans, Indiana, reported catching a buzzard in a nest on a hollow log and attaching a bell to it. The bird was reported seen in Indiana until 1920. Walter Stewart’s memories of the buzzard and other happenings were still vivid despite his 98 years. He remember the spring when predators plagued his farm. “We counted the chickens at daylight when we turned them out and counted them again when they roosted at night,” he said. Stewart cleared 76 acres of his 160 acre dairy farm adjoining the McClaren place. He and his wife, Lizzie, who died in 1973 at age 92, both were good shots and together collected bounty on a good number of pests invading their barn lot.
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