A Quack in Time

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

A small block of walnut, with a walnut stopper and a thin reed of brass or silver. That's what a fine old duck call is. It is also a link to people from the past, to past attitudes and activities.

I looked at a duck call in my hand as I sat in Barry McFarland's office in Hornersville. McFarland is a contemporary duck call carver, a collector of fine calls and an expert on their history. McFarland said the style of duck call invented by J. T. Beckhart was not the most effective in the world. It is a good woods call in the hands of a good caller, but when you hold one of the old calls you feel the link to the past.

West of the Mississippi in 1811-12, there were few English-speaking people, so the great New Madrid earthquake's creation of Big Lake isn't very well known. It is a sunkland area along Little River, north of where Little River flows into the St. Francois River in Arkansas.

Nothing you would call a road today crossed this region then. Although it was but 30 miles or so west of the Mississippi, settlement came out of Arkansas, up the St. Francois and up the fork called Little River. The settlement at what would be called Hornersville began about 1840.

Large paddle wheelers plied the St. Francois as far as Marked Tree, Arkansas, where the river's channels divided - another legacy of the great quakes. And smaller steamers came on up. Hornersville today is a town of 600 or so, but at the turn of the century, it had several thousand people.

It was as far north as the steamers could navigate reliably, and at that time was as far south as railroads had penetrated. The economy was cotton and timber and wildlife. Hornersville was a major hub.

Beckhart, his wife and daughter came west from Pennsylvania to St. Louis and settled at Osceola, Ark., near the Mississippi River, before the beginning of this century. In time, they moved inland, eventually settling on a houseboat on Little River, downstream of Hornersville at a place called Buckspoint.

Beckhart made his living as a commercial hunter and fisherman and by building boats. In time, he became a guide to people he called "sports," who came by train from St. Louis and Chicago. They could get as far as Hornersville, then would be taken by boat to the hunting camp,

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