This name is from two Greek words which signify “arrangement” and “skin,” so that the ancient Greeks, no doubt, regarded taxidermy as the original skin-game of that period. Taxidermy did not flourish in America prior to the year 1828. At that time an Englishman named Scudder established a museum and general repository for upholstered beasts.
Since then the art has advanced quite rapidly. To properly taxiderm, requires a fine taste and a close study of the subject itself in life, akin to the requirements necessary in order to succeed as a sculptor. I have seen taxidermed animals that would not fool anybody. I recall, at this time especially, a mountain lion, stuffed after death by a party who had not made this matter a subject of close study. The lion was represented in a crouching attitude, with open jaws and red gums. As time passed on and year succeeded year, this lion continued to crouch. His tail became less rampant and drooped like a hired man on a hot day. His gums became less fiery red and his reddish skin hung over his bones in a loose and distraught manner, like an old buffalo robe thrown over the knees of a vinegary old maid. Spiders spun their webs across his dull, white fangs. Mice made their nests in his abdominal cavity. His glass eye became hopelessly strabismussed, and the moths left him bald-headed on the stomach. He was a sad commentary on the extremely transitory nature of all things terrestrial and the hollowness of the stuffed beast.
I had a stuffed bird for a long time, which showed the cunning of the stuffer to a great degree. It afforded me a great deal of unalloyed pleasure, because I liked to get old hunters to look at it and tell me what kind of a bird it was. They did not generally agree. A bitter and acrimonious fight grew out of a discussion in relation to this bird. A man from Vinegar Hill named Lyons and a party called Soiled Murphy (since deceased), were in my office one morning–Mr. Lyons as a witness, and Mr. Murphy in his great specialty as a drunk and disorderly. We had just disposed of the case, and had just stepped down from the bench, intending to take off the judicial ermine and put some more coal in the stove, when the attention of Soiled Murphy was attracted to the bird. He allowed that it was a common “hell-diver with an abnormal head,” while Lyons claimed that it was a kingfisher.
The bird had a duck’s body, the head of a common eagle and the feet of a sage hen. These parts had been adjusted with great care and the tail loaded with lead somehow, so that the powerful head would not tip the bird up behind. With this rara avis, to use a foreign term, I loved to amuse and instruct old hunters, who had been hunting all their lives for a free drink, and hear them tell how they had killed hundred of these birds over on the Poudre in an early day, or over near Elk Mountain when the country was new.
So Lyons claimed that he had killed millions of these fowls, and Soiled Murphy, who was known as the tomato can and beer-remnant savant of that country, said that before the Union Pacific Railroad got into that section, these birds swarmed around Hutton’s lakes and lived on horned toads.
The feeling got more and more partisan till Mr. Lyons made a pass at Soiled Murphy with a large red cuspidor that had been presented to me by Valentine Baker, a dealer in abandoned furniture and mines. Mr. Murphy then welted Lyons over the head with the judicial scales. He then adroitly caught a lump of bituminous coal with his countenance and fell to the floor with a low cry of pain.
I called in an outside party as a witness, and in the afternoon both men were convicted of assault and battery. Soiled Murphy asked for a change of venue on the ground that I was prejudiced. I told him that I did not allow anything whatever to prejudice me, and went on with the case.
This great taxidermic masterpiece led to other assaults afterward, all of which proved remunerative in a small way. My successor claimed that the bird was a part of the perquisites of the office, and so I had to turn it over with the docket.
I also had a stuffed weasel from Cummins City that attracted a great deal of attention, both in this country and in Europe. It looked some like a weasel and some like an equestrian sausage with hair on it.