The Lautenschlager Place

No hunting sign (2)When Walt and I, we went out hunting
We saw a sign that said “No Trespassing,”
But the other side, it didn’t say nothing;
That side was meant for him and me.
           – a ditty to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s song
                        This Land Is Your Land

The Lautenschlager Place

Walter G. Schacht was my foremost mentor, a paternalistic and benevolent advisor whose counsel I sought on every major decision in my life for some 20 years. For much of my young adult life he was my greatest source of practical information and exerted the greatest influence on my career, avocations, ethics, self-image, and my attempts to understand this confusing and convoluted world in which we live.

He was also something of a rascal.

In my memory vault there are dozens of stories about adventures with Walt, most of them suitable for publication, now that the statute of limitations for legal action has long passed. Those tales would fill a good-sized book or two, but they would have to be touted as pure fiction. Nobody would believe most of them.

Thirty-two years my senior, Walt and his wife, Lorraine, were surrogate grandparents for our children during the six years we lived in Nebraska. They took us on family camp outs, fishing trips, visits to historic sites, backyard hotdog roasts, and secret forays to the ice cream shop for afternoon treats that mom did not have to know about. Our kids loved those exciting times of exploration and new experiences under Walt’s free and easy supervision almost as much as he did.

Walt was also my hunting guide, tutor, and guru. He took me hunting, showed me how it was done, and taught me both by word and example what the game was all about. He was a great educator, and my life as a hunter is immeasurably richer and more rewarding because of the time and knowledge he shared with me over the course of many autumn days.

In the 1960s and 70s, the northeast Nebraska counties of Antelope, Holt and Knox were something of a hunter’s paradise, teeming with game that thrived in habitat created by the land restoration practices that followed the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Ten-row shelter belts lined the north and west sides of most quarter-sections of farmland, wide waterways overgrown with grass and weeds protected the low areas of cropland, field corners were plum thickets, fence lines were wide and grassy, and the draws and ridges were rough and brushy.

A decade later that paradise was lost, destroyed by the advent of center-pivot irrigation, consolidation of many small fields into a few huge fields, tiling of wetlands and low areas, overgrazing of pastures and draws by cattle during years of draught, and the bulldozing and burning of all those magnificent shelter belts. Today, it is sad to look across some parts of that country and recall its lost beauty and serenity, but it is good to remember how fortunate we were to be part of it during that bygone era.

The stories of the hunting adventures with Walt back in those days would, as I have said, fill a couple good-sized books. Maybe someday I will start to compile them in an organized way, but today the “Legend of the Lautenschlager Place” is most on my mind. We hunted the Lautenschlager Place in three different counties, at least a dozen different townships, and it never failed to produce great hunts for small game. Frequently it also introduced us to new friends, or at least new acquaintances.

Born in Orchard, Nebraska, and having lived most of his life in Antelope County, Walt knew everyone, virtually every family old and new, that farmed in the three-county area. It helped that he was a community leader and figurehead for three decades: county abstractor, real estate broker and appraiser; city clerk, veteran’s service officer, head of the park and recreation board, school board, and public library board; leader of the local Boy Scouts troop, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion clubs, Rotary Club, and the county Democratic Party.

Walt was a bold-type entry in Who’s Who in Nebraska, and there were few people in the state who did not know him by name, if not by sight. He was also immediately recognizable because of his pronounced limp, caused by a war wound that limited his walking afield to a couple hundred yards at most between lengthy rest breaks.

A decorated World War II U.S. Army veteran, Walt had been severely wounded in the battle for Metz, France, in October 1944, and for the rest of his life he walked with that limp. But he never let his injury hinder his love for hunting, fishing and all other outdoor recreation. His only major concession to the handicap was to ask permission to shoot from a motor vehicle, a variance to state hunting regulations which the governor himself granted in a personal letter.

Walt was a prominent citizen, with a capital P, so he was recognized everywhere we went, and I do not remember that we were ever refused permission to hunt on any farm. Not that we asked permission all that often.

You see, Walt liked to drive the “minimum maintenance” back roads of these decidedly rural counties and scout for pheasants, quail, rabbits, and squirrels before we disembarked from his old green Ford pickup and went in pursuit of game. His tactics were simple and effective. He would see a flock of pheasants or covey of quail out feeding, drop me off at one end of a nearby shelter belt, slough, or draw, and then he would drive around the section to the other end where he would “post” and shoot birds or rabbits that fled ahead of me and my springer spaniels as we made our way through the cover.

Once game was sighted, the excitement level demanded immediate action, so unless a farm house was quite close we dispensed with the “ask permission” phase and got right to the hunt. I would step out of the truck, open the dogs’ travel boxes, and load my gun. Walt would tell me, “If anyone asks, tell them you’re with Walt Schacht and we have permission to hunt here. It’s the Lautenschlager Place.” And off he would go with a roaring engine and a spray of sand from the pickup’s rear wheels.

It never occurred to me that the Lautenschlagers owned one helluva lot of land in sections here and there over a three-county area, or that I had never actually met any of the obviously numerous but never seen members of the Lautenschlager family. I assumed they were shirttail relations of Walt’s and let it go at that.

One November afternoon, about halfway along a thick and promising shelter belt of overly mature cottonwood and red cedar trees, my hunt was interrupted by a cantering rancher on a 16-hand chestnut horse with flowing black mane and frothy mouth. They must have come galloping at full speed from the cattle drive in progress on the next section to the south, more than a mile away. He reined up five yards from me, leaned toward me with a face both red and angry, and shouted, “I’d like to know where the hell you got your permission to hunt here!”

Flustered but not really intimidated, I explained that, yes, I did have permission to hunt here on the Lautenschlager Place, and I was with Walt Schacht, who was parked a half mile west at the end of the shelter belt. The “permission from the Lautenschlagers” claim did not soften the rancher’s irate facial expression one bit, but the mention of the name “Walt Schacht” brought him up short and caused him to sit up in the saddle.

“You’re hunting with Walt Schacht?” he asked.

“Yes,” I repeated. “He’s at the west end.”

“I’ll check this out,” the rancher said, and off he trotted.

When I reached the end of the shelter belt, Walt and the rancher were sitting on the tailgate of Walt’s pickup sharing a beer and talking about the shamefully low price a man had to take for top grade feeder calves at the O’Neill Livestock Auction. As I opened my gun and walked up to the truck, Walt said, “Jerry, I was completely lost. This isn’t the Lautenschlager Place, this is the Murphy Ranch.” And he summarily introduced me to Larry Murphy.

“Did this used to be the Lautenschlager Ranch?” I asked as I shook hands with Larry.

“No.” said Larry, “It’s been Murphy family land since we took it from the Indians.”

Turns out there was not, nor had there ever been, a Lautenschlager Place anywhere in Emmet Township. Or in all of Holt County, for that matter. There had been a Lautenschlager Place in Antelope County, about 35 miles away, but the Lautenschlagers had cashed in their chips and left for Dakota sometime in the 1950s, so the exact location of the Lautenschlager Place was open to considerable speculation.

Quite a surprise to me, since I had hunted it at least a dozen times, here and there, now and again. Usually with great success. I mentioned this to Walt on our drive home.

“Jerry,” he explained, “hunting is a lot like religion. If you follow all the regulations and do everything according the rules all the time, you are going to miss out on a lot of the fun.” I’m not sure I ascribe to that philosophy as far as hunting ethic is concerned, but whenever I hunted with Walt it seemed to work.

Before the cold and snow of January closed the back roads and ended our safaris for the year, I had composed a musical ditty I sang to Walt as we prepared to hunt another “Lautenschlager Place.” To the tune of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, I belted out:

When Walt and I, we went out hunting
We saw a sign that said “No Trespassing,”
But the other side, it didn’t say nothing;
That side was meant for him and me.

Walt was not amused.

________________________________________________________

More stories about hunting, bird dogs, bird guns, and life in the North Country are published in my two collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot and Old Coots Never Forget, and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com.

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About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer; indifferent wing shot. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Novelist and short story writer. Freeholder: 50-acre farm with 130-year-old log house. Husband, father, grandfather. Retired teacher, coach, mentor. Vicious editor. Blogger.
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4 Responses to The Lautenschlager Place

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Lovely tribute to a fine man. Regards Thom.

  2. Jessie says:

    If those stories ever do make it into a lengthy book or two sign me up! 🙂

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