Edgar Monsanto Queeny
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Well before conservation and habitat refuge were part of a national discussion, Edgar Monsanto Queeny provided the vision and necessary capital to help ensure ducks and other waterfowl were in abundant supply on the Grand Prairie, introducing advancements that continue to be refined today.
As Carl Hunter, prominent Arkansas conservationist, wildlife writer and longtime manager of Wingmead, Queeny’s Arkansas hunting estate once said, “Mr. Queeny said, ‘Do what you want about the farming. Just make sure the hunting is good.’
“He wouldn’t walk off the porch to shoot the biggest deer in the woods. Ducks and quail – that was it.”
Edgar Monsanto Queeny was just 30 when he took over leadership of Monsanto from his father, leading the company through the 1929 stock market crisis and expanding it into a global presence. He built Monsanto into the third-largest chemical company in the country and fifth-largest worldwide by the time he retired in 1960 as one of the ten richest men on the planet.
But if it weren’t for ducks, Queeny would have had little in common with the openly warm Arkansans whose state he visited very duck season. A man of few words, he and his wife Ethel kept largely to themselves when they were here, staying in rented trailers the first few times out. Legend holds two things about Ethel; first, that she could handle a shotgun almost as well as her husband and second, in putting her foot down over the accommodations, she moved her husband to build a better “hunting shack.” He delivered Wingmead.
In that era, duck hunting was a muddy, primitive affair for most people and while some duck lodges transcended mere drafty shacks, few were as opulent as Queeny’s private retreat.
The 8,000-SF main house had nine bedrooms, nine bathrooms and a separate dining room. Built in 1939, the gleaming white estate’s other amenities included separate buildings for an office, a writing cabin, the manager’s house, a stable, a kennel, a garage and storage facilities, all situated on 14,000 acres. It’s a safe bet Wingmead’s requirement of formal dress for dinner was a first for an Arkansas duck lodge.
Queeny’s list of hunting companions and guests was the annual talk of the area and included well-known figures such as Walt Disney, outdoor writer Nash Buckingham, waterfowl artist Richard Bishop and a high-powered array of fellow industrialists.
Having such a roster of guests meant he’d spare no expense or experiment to keep Wingmead stocked with waterfowl. Queeny’s pedigree and standoffishness never allowed him to be anything but an outsider to the locals, but his advancements in habitat development would lay the foundation for the kinds of conservation efforts responsible for Arkansas’ thriving duck hunting industry today.
Taking a cue from some of the earliest man-made reservoirs in the area, Queeny built three green-tree reservoirs on the property – Wingmead, Greenwood and Paddlefoot – in what may have been the first green-tree reservoirs on the Grand Prairie. They were undoubtedly the first where wooded areas were temporarily flooded to attract ducks, simulating nature’s shallow overflows that had attracted the birds for generations. He preferred hunting flooded timber over fields and on his reservoirs he allowed no outboard motors. Wooden boats and canoes had to be paddled or pushed through his shallow lakes.
His fortune ensured that whatever he wanted for Wingmead Queeny got, but it is also true that a sizeable chunk of his fortune was funneled into philanthropy, with conservation groups near the top of his list. From the $25 fines he levied against any guest who shot a hen to the millions he spent on developing new habitats, Queeny was a valued contributor and trustee of Ducks Unlimited for years.
Queeny is also credited with establishing Canadian geese at Wingmead at a time when the birds had ceased to migrate to the Grand Prairie in large numbers. His experimentation and knowledge eventually resulted in a flock of migrating Canadian geese that numbered in the thousands. He also invested in building up a population of 30 quail coveys on the property.
He helped use wildlife and the outdoors to capture the imagination of millions, authoring several books about hunts and safaris including 1947’s Prairie Wings, what is considered a classic study of wildfowl in flight. A noted nature documentarian, he produced a film version of Prairie Wings that was viewed in DU chapters all over the country, and was doubly effective as a membership recruitment tool and as promotion of Arkansas’ duck hunting.
Queeny continued his conservation work until his death in 1968 and Wingmead remained under family ownership until 1976 when it was announced that the property would be sold by sealed bids. Locals delighted in rumors that Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash would buy the famous estate and while they didn’t prove to be true, it was one more blush of glamour for the elegant grand estate of the gilded age.
Still under private ownership today, Wingmead continues to welcome hunting guests, these days as a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.