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OPINION | REX NELSON: Winter at Wingmead

by Rex Nelson | January 30, 2021 at 8:04 a.m.

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 hardware store -- there was a time when he knew everyone in the county.

One of the county's most prominent part-time residents had been Edgar Monsanto Queeny, who was born in September 1897. When Queeny was 4, his father -- John Francis Queeny -- founded 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 vice president of the company in 1924 and Monsanto's president in 1928.

It was Queeny who founded Arkansas' most prestigious duck-hunting retreat, Wingmead. As another Arkansas duck season comes to a close this weekend, it's fitting that I conclude a series of columns about well-known hunting clubs by writing about the most famous of them all.

Plans for the main house at Wingmead, in the far southern part of Prairie County, were drawn in 1937 by St. Louis architect Frederick Wallace Dunn. A Yale graduate, Dunn had his own firm and taught architectural design at Washington University. Construction concluded in 1939.

When Wingmead was nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program's narrative stated: "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 in July 1968. Beginning in the 1930s, he would pull a trailer to Arkansas each winter and join Tippy LaCotts to duck hunt on Mill Bayou near DeWitt. It was through LaCotts that Queeny was introduced to Jess Wilson, who was considered the state's best hunting guide.

In his 1946 book "Prairie Wings," Queeny wrote: "I met Jess for the first time about 10 years ago when he was guiding near DeWitt on Elmer LaCotts' 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."

The National Register nomination notes: "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 flyway."

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 nomination narrative says. "Although Queeny used Peckerwood Lake for irrigation of 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."

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 640 acres; and more than a million on a third of 1,600 acres."

In addition to Peckerwood Lake, Queeny built three green-tree reservoirs, which are flooded forests. The shallow reservoirs were named Wingmead, Greenwood and Paddlefoot. Only wooden boats and canoes are allowed. Outboard motors were banned. Carl Hunter, who became Wingmead's manager, believed these were the first green-tree reservoirs on the Grand Prairie.

Hunter left the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to work for Queeny in 1957. He returned to the commission following Queeny's death. Hunter 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 and Fish Commission started a three-year quail habitat demonstration project on 960 acres near Roe during the Great Depression in the 1930s."

Unfortunately, hunting wild quail is almost a thing of the past in Arkansas. But ducks and geese continue to flock to east Arkansas this time each year, and hunters still descend on the Grand Prairie from across the country.

--–––––v–––––--

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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