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A large web-footed bird, like the goose, but handsomer, and more graceful having also a longer neck and beak, and being generally larger and stronger, It is usually of a white color when mature. The common whistling swan of America is Cygnus Americanus. The trumpeter-swan of the Western States is C. buccinator. — Webster, 1882

Easy Money. Early last week F.C. Bradley and C.E. Ely each shot a fine Nubian Crane — commonly called white swans in this section — and might have easily bagged another, but thought one apiece was a large sufficiency. On bringing them home D.R. Wilson suggested they ship them to Milwaukee, saying he had once sold one there. They did so, and last Monday received a draft for fifteen dollars for them. They are mounted, trimmed with gold and made into piano lamps, and readily sell in Boston for from $75 to $100 each. The fifteen dollars will keep the gentlemen in ammunition during the goose season. – De Smet News and Leader, 1891

In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Charles Ingalls shoots a swan at Silver Lake in 1879, and the downy-covered skin is used to make a hood, cuffs, and collar for Grace’s Christmas coat. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, however, the swan’s skin is salted and sent to Uncle Tom in Minnesota, to be used as a coat for his baby daughter, Helen.

Several bits of known history raise questions about the story. Tom Quiner married Lillian Hill in December 1879, and their daughter Helen was born in March 1881. Perhaps a skin was sent to them as a wedding present? The April 5, 1880, Kingsbury County News reported that “C.P. Ingalls shot a large white swan on Silver Lake one day last week. It measured six feet eight inches from tip to tip.” Perhaps the recorded shooting wasn’t the first swan bagged by Charles Ingalls, and perhaps it was later sent to Uncle Tom? There is no reason to suspect that the only swan at Silver Lake was killed by Charles Ingalls, or that through his hunting career, he only shot one of them.

The swan may have been a tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus), a migratory bird that still travels through South Dakota in October and November. They may be hunted today with proper permit, from October 4 through December 21. See South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks for information. The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is found in South Dakota, but had been hunted almost to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries. They nest in April through July, feeding on aquatic plants. Charles Ingalls seems sorry to have shot the swan in the published story, suggesting to the reader that he killed what he knew to be one of a breeding pair. Swans were not too common in the early settlement of Kingsbury County. Early homesteader and Ingalls neighbor, Delos Perry, wrote of seeing millions of geese, ducks, pelicans, and occasionally a swan. The 1891 story quoted above shows that they were still being hunted a decade later.



To clean or wash swans-down. Make a strong lather of the best white soap and lukewarm water; hot water will shrink the skin of the swans-down. Work and squeeze the swans-down through the suds, but do not rub it. Then do the same through a second lukewarm suds, and persist till you see that the article looks clean and white. Afterward rinse it through two waters (the first lukewarm the second cold), squeezing it carefully. Then shake it out and dry it in the sun or by the fire, holding it in your hands and shaking it all the time, to prevent it looking matted or in tufts. When but little soiled, you may clean swans-down in the following manner, without washing it;– Powder some plaster of Paris as finely as possible, sift it through a fine sieve, and then heat it over the fire. When the powder is quite warm, but not burning hot, lay the swans-down in a large, clean metal pan (heated also), and sift the powder over it through a sieve, turning the swans-down about, and seeing that the powder is dispersed well through it. Repeat the process till the swans-down looks very white, then take it out, and shake off the loose powder. — Peterson’s Magazine (Philadelphia, December 1857), 441.


swan (SSL 12; THGY 20; PG)
     salting the skin (PG)
     swan’s-down / skin (SSL 12, 19, 21; PG), see also Thomas Quiner
     swan’s-down coat (PG)
     swan’s-down hood (SSL 19, 21)