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Firearm safety courses were missing in 1909

Published November 28. 2009 09:00AM


For many rural families a century ago, hunting was seen as a necessity since it put food on the table.

Hunting trips to the lightly-populated northern areas of the state were popular then as they are now. A group of Schuylkill County hunters had a very successful trip to Tioga and Lycoming counties in November 1909, just in time to stock up for Thanksgiving. The biggest deer (225 pounds) was bagged by Samuel Bailey of Frackville, while Fred J. Carroll of Tamaqua was the small-game champion on the hunt, bagging 30 squirrels and 25 raccoons.

Tamaqua hunters in the party, in addition to Carroll, included Alfred Moyer, William L. Lutz, Harry Shuman, John and Curtain Eltringham, Israel Reichelderfer, Henry Moyer, Joseph Springer and David Stahler. "Governor" Frank Heister of Lansford was also part of the hunt.

With the 1909 hunting season came an usually high number of tragic accidents. In Lansford, a stray bullet entered a home on High Street, seriously wounding Mrs. Psysche McLaughlin. State police ruled the shooting accidental.

Just days before Thanksgiving, the William Kern household in Gilberton was rocked by tragedy. Arthur Kern, 16, and his friend William Auman Jr., 17, decided to do some hunting.

Minutes after leaving the Kern home, Auman rushed back, banged on the back door and told Mr. Kern that he accidentally shot his son.

"I couldn't help it," the boy said.

William Kern rushed to a hillside in back of the home to find his son's lifeless body stretched on the ground. Kern's 4-year-old son, George, was lying next to his brother, crying.

The fatal shot struck Arthur in the chest.

Another shooting in Rush Township in early November devastated another family. Bartholomew Jacobs was hunting rabbits with two of his brothers when one of the guns discharged, the shotgun pellets hitting Bartholomew in the leg and thigh. It was four hours before the boy, weak from loss of blood and in shock, was finally taken to the Hazleton hospital. He was, however, expected to survive.

Another young shooting casualty that month was 9-year-old Mike Barton from Primrose. The boy was sitting with several friends, including one older boy who had a .32 calibre revolver. The older boy playfully pointed the gun at Barton, ordering him to "put up his hands."

The revolver fired, the bullet entering Barton's abdomen and passing through the bowels. He was taken to Pottsville Hospital in critical condition.

One of the more bizarre hunting stories that fall occurred in New Jersey. Emil Mathis was hunting deer when he was attacked by a wounded buck. In an article titled "Deer and Hunter In death Struggle," The Tamaqua Courier reported that Mathis first saw the buck standing in a brook and wounded it with his first shot. He followed it into a thicket and fired a second shot. The wounded buck then reached an open field and laid down.

Thinking the deer was dying, Mathis ran up to it but left his rifle behind. As he approached, the animal rose up and charged at him. Mathis turned to run but the enraged deer caught him on its horns and tossed him back into the thicket.

"Snorting and with its head lowered, the deer plunged after the man," the Courier stated. "After he had been tossed about on its sharp horns he barely escaped being trampled by its knifelike hoofs."

He grabbed his gun but didn't have time to load so he grabbed it by the barrel and swung at the deer's head, stunning it. He then used his large hunting knife to dispatch the animal.

A similar life-and-death struggle with a deer was reported in Saranac Lake, N.Y., a few weeks later. It involved Stephen Chalmera, a well-known author and magazine writer. The marathon struggle was reported under the headline: "Hunter Kills Animal After Being Locked in Horns Half an hour."

After dropping the deer with a shot, Chalmera also made the mistake of leaving his gun behind as he walked up to it. The deer suddenly rose to its feet and charged. The newspaper report stated that Chalmera and the deer were locked in an exhausting "life-and-death-struggle" in the twilight for half an hour.

The fight ended when Chalmera was able to grasp his shotgun, which had a broken stock from striking the deer's head, and fire a fatal round into the animal.

The hunting season was also a time for young vandals to make their mark. In mid-November several "young miscreants" fired at a gas storage tank at the rear of the Y.M.C.A. Park in Tamaqua.

"The young fellows, unaware of the seriousness of their act, stood in the park and with a 22 calibre rifle, tried to puncture the tank with bullets," the Courier stated.

Thankfully, for the town and for the young vandals who were in enough trouble by taking their pot shots, the small calibre bullets did not cause a catastrophic event.

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