By Brent Birch, contributing editor
The popularity and reputation of duck hunting in Arkansas exploded with the implementation of over 300 miles of rail in the early 1900s. Waves of waterfowlers descended on the Grand Prairie region of Arkansas via train from Little Rock, Memphis, St. Louis and the like to witness world class mallard duck hunting for themselves. Many of these visitors were titans of industry who had the means to not only travel here but also the ability to hire the best of the best guides.
In those days, very few hunting lodges existed and the Riceland Hotel in Stuttgart was the central gathering point for hunters to meet guides before venturing out for the morning hunt. Billionaire Edgar Monsanto Queeny, head of Monsanto, was a regular on the Grand Prairie during duck season. (Queeny, center, is pictured above.) As his affinity for all that Arkansas had to offer a sportsman grew, Queeny set his sights on developing his own personal hunting lodge and the habitat to provide world class mallard duck hunting.
Queeny, a 2016 inductee into the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame, worked with fellow hall of famer J. Roger Crowe to identify a remarkable piece of property along Lagrue Bayou north of Stuttgart. Crowe played a significant role in assembling the properties Queeny acquired as well as the Greenbriar Hunting Club aka The Old Winchester Club to the west that was started by John Olin, CEO of Olin Corporation, which owned Winchester at the time.
In 1937, Queeny established “Wingmead” near the town of Devalls Bluff in Prairie County Arkansas. Wingmead is a word of Scottish origin that means “meadow of wings” and appropriately fits the property. Along with the deluxe lodge he built, the property provided phenomenal habitat of every sort for ducks. And it still does to this day. Although tuxedos are no longer required at dinner, Wingmead remains one of the most prestigious hunting clubs in the state and remains an exceptionally popular winter home for migrating mallards. Although a new, modern lodge has been built on the very north end of the property, Wingmead is still in the hands of the Lyon family of Little Rock.
The following is an excerpt from The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground detailing the evolution of Wingmead and the special place it holds in Arkansas’s storied duck hunting history.
Edgar Queeny Brought Elegance, Innovation to Grand Prairie
Throughout its history, duck hunting was considered in many circles a gentlemanly game. Thus did it attract the well-heeled from across the United States, bluebloods who were not interested in a down-home experience. Many of these annual interlopers had sophisticated tastes, honed by lifelong wealth and the opportunities and privileges that came with it.
St. Louis industrialist Edgar Monsanto Queeny was one such individual. The billionaire, with wife Ethel in tow, at first traveled to Arkansas in a trailer, meeting up with local Elmer “Tippy” LaCotts to duck hunt on Mill Bayou near DeWitt.
Before long, Ethel put her foot down and insisted on better accommodations for their hunting trips. For Edgar, who at one time was one of the ten richest men in the nation, price was no object. He relished privacy as well as elegant surroundings, and that’s exactly what he created in the 11,000-acre Wingmead estate, surrounding cropland and attendant reservoirs, and the 3,500-acre Peckerwood Lake.
Gleaming white in the autumn sun, Wingmead included an 8,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom, nine-bathroom mansion with a separate dining room. Guests, who included everyone from famed wildlife artist Richard Bishop to animator Walt Disney, writer Nash Buckingham, and a retinue of business titans, were expected to dress formally for dinner.
Such affectations might have seemed a bit eccentric to the permanent citizenry of the Grand Prairie, but underneath the glamorous exterior beat the heart of a naturalist who had the means to indulge his adventures. During his life, Queeny would go on an African safari for the American Museum of Natural History where he documented native wildlife. His collaboration with Bishop on the seminal work Prairie Wings is considered the preeminent book on waterfowl flight. He later bankrolled the book’s adaptation into a nature film by the same name. Shot on the Grand Prairie in full color and slow motion, it was used as an effective recruitment tool for Ducks Unlimited chapters from one end of the country to the other.
Like a lot of rich and powerful men of the gilded age, Queeny was used to getting what he wanted by going over, around, or through impediments. Wingmead was no different. Forming Arkansas Irrigation Co., he won favor for the proposal of Peckerwood Lake. Gaining his irrigation company the power of eminent domain, he wielded that authority to force farmers near the hamlet of Slovak to sell their land. Queeny’s personality and high intellect deprived him of a common touch, and his reclusive habits did nothing to smooth over lingering hard feelings about the deal.
That maneuver notwithstanding, Queeny’s work at Wingmead advanced duck management practices substantially. Verne Tindall’s irrigation reservoir caught his attention, and in addition to the standing dead timber in Peckerwood Lake he also constructed three greentree reservoirs on his property, possibly the first ever constructed. Hunting was allowed on these three reservoirs, but Peckerwood Lake he reserved as a rest area for ducks. These practices are commonplace on the Grand Prairie today.
Queeny’s lair continued to capture the public’s imagination after his death from heart failure in 1968. Eight years later, following Ethel’s death, Barnes Hospital in St. Louis found itself the owner of the prized duck club. The organization announced Wingmead would be sold by sealed bid January 8, 1976. Leading up to the sale, tantalizing rumors surfaced about expressions of interest by Anheuser-Busch, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley in the storied property. But in the end it would go to Frank Lyon, Sr. and Frank Lyon, Jr., Little Rock soda-pop magnates, in a rather anticlimactic fashion. Their bid, like many others, was delayed in the mail and didn’t arrive by the appointed time, but the businessmen had the foresight to send an employee in person with another copy of what proved to be the winning offer.
About the Author
Brent Birch is a contributing editor to the Tom Beckbe Field Journal. A lifelong waterfowler who cut his teeth duck hunting in the White River Bottoms at Crocketts Bluff as well as rice fields and reservoirs across Lonoke, Prairie, and Arkansas counties, Birch is the publisher of The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground, which details the legacy of Arkansas’s rich waterfowling history. He is also co-creator and editor of Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine and co-founder of the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame located in Stuttgart, Arkansas.