Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Bee Tale

The Sunday Herald
Sunday, March 28, 1897 Syracuse, New York

Strange Battle         
Recalled by "Forty-niner"
of Cortland

And Told in His Own Words

Incident Brought to Mind by
Farmer Webster's Bees.

Remarkable Conflict Between California
Honeybees and Yellow Jackets, Near
Vinegar Pond, Where Pickled
Cucumbers Grew.

Portland, March 27 - "I am astonished that there are so many educated people that never knew that honey bees would mate with lightning bugs until they read of a case of the kind that occurred in Trexton in last Sundays Hearald." said an old California Forty-niner to a reporter for the Herald today."
     "It was common practice among bees and lightening bugs in California when I was there." said he. "Off in the region where pickled cucumbers grew upon the vines and upon which we fatted and pickled pork on the hoof, as I told you a few weeks ago, and where the giant California trees grew, it was no uncommon thing for prospectors for gold to discover in the hollow of some of these gigantic trees immense swarms of bees that worked a night force who were provided with illuminating wings. In fact, it was necessary for such an economy among bees in that region in order to fill the hollows of these gigantic trees.  

    "I remember of finding a bee tree one day, the hollow of which was so large that you could easily have placed the Cortland Nominal school building within it, were it of a more oval shape.  This hollow was filled with thousands of tons of the most delicious honey you ever tasted. There was a large stream of honey that flowed from a crack in this tree to a depression in the ground about an eight of a mile distant, forming a lake of pure honey that was several rods across.  This lake was surrounded by hundreds of California bears that fattened on this honey. They would toil about Honey lake, as we called it, through the day, only leaving it long enough to visit Vinegar pond, a mile distant, to quench their inordinate thirst created by continually lapping honey from this lake. We were constantly supplied with the juiciest and most delicately flavored bear steaks from the bears we would shoot while on there way from Honey lake to Vinegar pond.  These bears were very docile, as they were never hungry, and it was a common thing for members of our prospecting party to mingle with the bears at the lake side. They never offered to resent any intrusion from us; they were in fact less savage than so many fattening hogs.

     "This particular variety of California bee is much larger than our bees. They average about the size of sparrows. The queen is as large as a robin. Not far from this particular bee tree was located an immense nest of yellow jackets, about the size of humming birds. This nest was suspended between two of the largest of the giant trees and was three or four times the size of the dome of the Capital at Washington, D.C. It was these yellow jackets that had created the crack in the bee tree, through which the honey flowed that created Honey lake. The yellow jackets drilled the crack with their stingers and thrived upon the honey that ran out until the bees organized a night attack on the yellow jackets nest.

Aerial Attack by Night.

     "While in camp one night telling stories over our supper of broiled bear steak and delicious honey, with natural grown pickled cucumbers and pickled pigs feet fresh from the pen, we were startled by a terrific roaring that resembled the sound of a distant waterfall.  We strengthened the fastenings of our tent and got inside, expecting a terrible storm to burst upon momentarily.  After several minutes of suspense we ventured outside, and beheld in the distance the strangest sight imaginable.  The night force of bees were all out and flying in regular line of battle, some fifty lines deep, I should judge.  The constant flashes from their illuminated wings lighted the surrounding country for a half mile. You could see to read as plainly as under an electric light.  The roaring sound created by their wings was what we had believed to be the warning of a great storm. We followed the direction the bees were taking and some came near the immense nest of yellow jackets suspended between the trees. The bees surrounded the yellow jacket citadel by the million and soon covered the entire outside until the dome like shape of the yellow jacket nest glowed with the constant flashing of the wings of the bees, making it resemble an immense ball of fire.  The yellow jackets inside the nest were at the mercy of the bees, who tore large holes in the nest and stung  to death the yellow jackets as fast as  they were reached, and who were evidently bewildered by the flashing lights from the illuminated wings of the bees.  The roaring sound created by the bees was augmented by that of the doomed yellow jackets."

     "The fight lasted approximately three hours and the next morning the ground was covered eight or ten feet deep with the dead bodies of the yellow jackets and bees for rods. The great dome like nest of the yellow jackets looked as though a cyclone had struck it. The bees had simply annihilated the yellow jackets, however, and had lost thousands of their own number as well."
     "The second day after the battle the stench that arose from the scene of conflict was so great that we were obliged to move our camp two miles away. I have never cared for honey since that time."


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