Winter at Wingmead

My grandfather from Des Arc, who died during the hot summer of 1980 at age 96, was once the Prairie County judge. Having served in several county offices — and having owned both a funeral home and a hardware store — there was a time when he knew everyone in the county.

One of the county’s most prominent part-time residents during the previous century was Edgar Monsanto Queeny, who was born in September 1897. When he was 4 years old, his father — John Francis Queeny — founded the Monsanto Chemical Co.

Edgar Queeny served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and then earned a chemistry degree from Cornell University in 1919. He married Ethel Schneider after graduation and began working for Monsanto in St. Louis. He became a vice president of the company in 1924 and Monsanto’s president in 1928.

In a previous post, I wrote about Wingmead, the duck hunting retreat and farm Queeny established in the southern part of the county. My grandfather told me of being invited to dinner with Queeny at Wingmead.

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program picks up the Queeny story in the extensive narrative it prepared when successfully nominating Wingmead for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places: “Although his father was concerned that Queeny was ‘going to ruin Monsanto’ because he ‘wants to change everything,’ the opposite was the case. By the time Queeny retired from Monsanto in 1960, it had become the third-largest chemical company in the United States and the fifth largest in the world. It had 44 plants in the United States that manufactured chemicals, plastics, petroleum products and man-made fibers.

“After Queeny retired from Monsanto, he spent much of his time involved in civic projects in the St. Louis area. Queeny served as a director for the United Fund of St. Louis, chairman of the board of trustees of Barnes Hospital, where he and his wife also donated funds for the construction of the Queeny Tower, and as a member of the St. Louis Symphony Society. Queeny died in St. Louis on July 7, 1968.

“Queeny’s success at Monsanto allowed him to indulge in duck hunting beginning in the 1930s. Queeny would drive a trailer down to Arkansas where he would join up with Tippy LaCotts to duck hunt on Mill Bayou near DeWitt. It was also through LaCotts that Queeny was introduced to Jess Wilson, one of the state’s best duck callers and hunting guides.”

Queeny later wrote about Wilson in his book “Prairie Wings”: “I met Jess for the first time about 10 years ago when he was guiding near DeWitt on Elmer LaCott’s Mill Bayou flats. The moment he stepped out of his tent to greet me, and before he had spoken a word, I knew I would like him, for there are silent voices between men also. A man’s face is a chart of his soul. One look at Jess’ face and I decided instantly that we would get along well together. I have shot with him ever since.”

“Prairie Wings” was published in 1946.

The plans for Wingmead in Prairie County were drawn in 1937 by a St. Louis architect, Frederick Wallace Dunn. A Yale graduate, Dunn was a well-known figure in St. Louis who had his own firm and taught architectural design at Washington University. The main home was built in 1939.

The National Register nomination narrative notes: “The Queenys came to Wingmead in October and stayed through March, which encompassed the height of duck hunting season. Guests to the estate, which included outdoor writer Nash Buckingham and Walt Disney, were always weekend guests and the routine never changed.

“The routine, as described in the ‘Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac,’ was ‘arrive on Friday in time for cocktails and a formal dinner; hunt ducks Saturday and Sunday mornings, with a quail hunt possibly on Saturday afternoon; depart Sunday.’

“When Queeny was having Wingmead designed, he incorporated knowledge of duck flight into the design. In fact, Queeny hired aeronautical engineers and biologists to study the duck flyways. Their findings helped Queeny employ sound conservation methods at Wingmead, methods that were later used along the entire Delta flyway.”

East Arkansas proved the perfect spot for what many people considered the nation’s premier club for hunting ducks. Keith Sutton writes in his book “Arkansas Wildlife”: “In the 1700s, a French explorer complained that ducks were so thick on the Arkansas River he could not stir the water with his paddle. Two hundred years later, market hunters were taking as many as 25,000 ducks a day from Big Lake in Mississippi County for meat markets in St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans and Chicago.”

Rice drying in the fields in shocks provided food for ducks, as did the acorns in the river bottoms.

“In addition, in 1925 when rice farmer Arthur Tindall conceived of impounding water in fields to lessen the need for irrigation, it caused the ducks to flock in,” the nomination narrative notes. “It led, in 1933, to Frank Freudenberg building artificial lakes specifically for duck hunting. Others trace the beginning of big-time duck hunting to the building, in 1923 on Jacob’s Lake, of a rough-hewn camp with mess hall, bunkhouse and ‘outdoor facilities.’ The owner charged $5 a day for lodging and shooting rights.”

In 1942, Queeny added a levee to his property to form a 4,000-acre reservoir known as Peckerwood Lake.

“The lake’s name came from the thousands of woodpeckers that tapped on the acres of standing dead timber created when the lake was impounded,” the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program writes in the nomination narrative. “Although Queeny used Peckerwood Lake for irrigation on Wingmead’s farmland, it also provided a great rest area for ducks and other waterfowl. Also, because of the location of Peckerwood Lake in the Mississippi flyway, there were plenty of ducks to hunt.

“As Queeny wrote, ‘Whoever is unfamiliar with this region may consider words picturing prolonged swarms of ducks to be extravagant language. However, Fish & Wildlife Service officials counted 135,000 ducks on one flat of 300 acres; 500,000 on another of 640 acres; and more than 1 million on a third of 1,600 acres.’

“In addition to Peckerwood Lake, Queeny built three green-tree reservoirs (forested bottomland that is shallowly flooded in the fall and winter) on the property — Wingmead, Greenwood and Paddlefoot — but he did not allow outboard motors on the reservoirs, only wooden boats and canoes that were paddled or pushed through the shallow lakes. Carl Hunter, who became manager at Wingmead, believed that Wingmead was the first green-tree reservoir on the Grand Prairie, and it was at least one of the first in which wooded areas were temporarily flooded to attract ducks.

“The thought and care that Queeny put into the siting and construction of Wingmead and Peckerwood Lake with respect to the Mississippi flyway illustrates the interest that Queeny had in nature and conservation. Queeny had a lifelong passion for nature, and he was a recognized authority on wildlife.”

In “Prairie Wings,” Queeny wrote: “The great Mississippi flyway is shaped like a funnel. Along the Grand Prairie it narrows into the tube. Officials of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimate that 40 to 50 percent of all North America’s wildfowl use the Mississippi flyway and pass through this tube. Most of this great number pour out of its mouth upon the Mississippi Delta and spread over the marshes of the Gulf Coast. The remainder winter in Arkansas.”

Carl Hunter left the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission to work for Queeny in 1957. He returned to the commission following Queeny’s death. In addition to managing the farm for ducks, he also worked to increase the population of geese and quail at Wingmead.

“Hunter built up a population of 30 quail coveys at Wingmead,” the nomination narrative notes. “Queeny was always willing to invest money to try something new, whether it involved geese, quail or crops. Interestingly, Hunter’s programs with geese and quail at Wingmead were not the first bird-related conservation program undertaken in the Roe/DeValls Bluff area. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission started a three-year quail habitat demonstration project on 960 acres near Roe during the Depression in the 1930s.”

Unfortunately, hunting wild quail is almost a thing of the past in Arkansas. But the ducks and geese continue to flock to east Arkansas this time of year, and Wingmead, now owned by the Lyon family, continues to welcome guests.

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