On learning Thursday morning that two suspects were in custody in connection with the suburban D.C. sniper killings, Chatterbox breathed a huge sigh of relief. But as his anxiety dissipated, his mind drifted to Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose’s enigmatic message to the sniper in Wednesday night’s press conference:
You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You asked us to say, “we have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.” We understand that hearing us say this is important to you.
Today’s police interrogation of the suspects will address many far more important matters before it gets down to the question, “What’s with the duck and the noose?” As an uninformed bystander, though, Chatterbox finds himself with little more to do at the moment than puzzle over this odd request, fulfilled just hours before two people who may turn out to be the snipers were indeed caught like ducks in a noose.
The first question is: Who would ever put a duck in a noose? More typically, ducks are hunted with a large gun. It’s odd that this simple fact would elude a sniper. There is, though, according to the International String Figure Association, a traditional Eskimo string figure (click here to see how to make it) of a man throwing a duck noose. A United Press International story observes that a fable called “The Rabbit, the Otter, and Duck Hunting” tells the story of a rabbit who lassos a duck, only to see the duck escape and to end up trapped in a tree trunk. Presumably, the sniper thinks of the hapless rabbit as a Moose. The UPI story says the story’s origins are not clear, but the Internet sites where it can be found consistently state that it’s of Cherokee origin. (See, for example, this, this, and this.) This site, though, notes that Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove includes an outlaw character named Blue Duck, who appears to be based on a real Cherokee outlaw named Blue Duck, who apparently was tried for murder and sentenced to hang. Duck posed for a photograph with the “bandit queen” Belle Starr, who may have been his lover, and apparently this may have helped him escape the noose, though why authorities would consider his association with an outlaw groupie to be a mitigating factor is not explained. He went to jail instead. (Incidentally, Chatterbox is disappointed to learn that in real life, Belle Starr was quite homely.)
There’s also, apparently, a Daffy Duck cartoon called “Good Noose,” though that’s probably a blind alley.
Chatterbox should probably emphasize that he can’t really vouch for any of the above information, which was all gleaned from Internet sites with which he’s unfamiliar. (He hasn’t even read Lonesome Dove.) Readers who know anything about these fables or anything else that may explain the phrase “a duck in a noose” are invited to send e-mail to Chatterbox@slate.com. Chatterbox will file a follow-up if he’s able to make more sense of this.
[Mea culpa, 12:08 p.m.: The sentence above, “More typically, ducks are hunted with a large gun,” originally read, “More typically, ducks are hunted with a rifle.” Chatterbox altered the language after receiving a flood of e-mails pointing out that ducks are hunted with shotguns, not rifles, and that shotguns are not a subspecies of rifles.]
Click here for part two.