Friends of William F. Russell, Jr., M.D.
William F. Russell, Jr. M.D. and Falconer
— by Jack Stoddart
(Text modied from article published in American
Falconry Vol. 54. Mr. Stoddart’s entire tribute may be
found in Dr. Russell’s le in the Archives of Falconry.)
William Fletcher Russell Jr. was born January 24,
1915 in Nashville, Tennessee to William Fletcher
Russell Sr. and Clotilde des Jardins. He spent his
early childhood living in several locations in the
states and in other parts of the world. He spent
his teens attending Horace Mann School for Boys,
a private boy’s school in New York City. He spent
his freshman year at Dartmouth College in New
Hampshire, two years at the University of Arizona
in Tucson and he obtained his B.A. Ed at the
University of Denver in 1938. He obtained an M.A.
Ed from Columbia University in 1940 and earned
his M.D. there in 1945. After serving as a doctor in
the army with a year in Yokohama Japan, Russell
moved back to Denver in 1947. He researched tu-
berculosis at National Jewish Hospital until 1962,
when he became the Medical Director of Jefferson
County. He obtained a M.S. from C.U. in 1951 and
frequently taught at the University of Colorado’s
medical school.
Dr. William Russell was the rst falconer I con-
tacted. Prior to meeting Russell, the only people
I knew who had hawks were Charles Meiklejohn
and Todd Hitchings. We were freshman attending
the same junior high school in Littleton, Colorado.
At that point, we knew how to trap mice and
Kestrels. We ew our little falcons to the st and
tried to stoop them to the lure. During our sopho-
more year, our biology teacher Mrs. Rupel (who
had worked with Russell when she was a lab
technician at National Jewish Hospital) called and
asked if he would coach us.
Soon after I started calling Dr. Russell, he came
to my parent’s home to get a look at the kid who
wanted answers to all of the questions a beginning
falconer asks. He arrived in a yellow school bus,
which his family used as their car when they went
to the mountains. (The Russells had 11 children,
7 girls and 4 boys.) He brought with him a 16 mm
projector to show the color falconry movie footage
he had lmed in the early 1950’s. The best foot-
age was Pete Asborno and Larry Zuk hawking a
small pond with an intermewed peregrine falcon.
Another showed trapping Prairie Falcons with
dho-gazza net system using a live Great Horned
Owl to lure the falcons through the nets.
Falconers of Russell’s and Pete Asborno’s gener-
ation believed haggards were better hunters than
passage hawks. They told stories about Asborno’s
haggard prairie tiercel. This famous tiercel took
mallard ducks and cock pheasants.
Russell was a great teacher. Although I can weave
dho-gazza nets, I know I could not describe how
it is done, off of the top of my head, to anyone on
the telephone. He could.
Young falconers living on the Front Range of
Colorado during 1959-60 had a difcult time nd-
ing falconry books in the libraries. There were no
falconry books in the book stores. Prior to meet-
ing Russell, the only reference I found in libraries
was the Encyclopedia Britannica, which pictured
Captain Charles William R. Knight and his eagles.
Russell told me that he had gone hawking with
Captain Knight in England. Russell made it clear
that he would not be in a position to hawk again
for a long time, until his children were grown.
Within about six months of meeting Dr. Russell,
we met Pete Asborno and we called him as well.
Russell and Asborno readily acknowledge they
were friends and had shared many experiences in
the eld together. Russell told me he had written
the rst falconry book in the U.S. and 250 copies
were printed.
The Russells moved to the mountains in Conifer,
Colorado in June of 1962. NAFA was formed over
Thanksgiving weekend, at Hal & Katie Webster’s
home, in 1961. Russell did not participate and I
don’t think he ever joined NAFA. At that time in his
life, his research was coming to a close. He au-
thored and coauthored at least seven publications
from his research for the treatment of tuberculo-
sis. During that period he took on a new project.
Several times a year, he would be own to the
Sioux and Navaho reservations. The small plane
would land on a dirt road close to his patients.
Doctor Russell would treat his Native American tu-
berculosis patients in their homes with the Chemo
drugs he had helped to perfect.
It took ten years before I had a chance to read a
copy of Russell’s book, “Falconry, A Handbook for
Hunters”. When Barry Watson obtained a copy of
Russell’s three chapter unpublished manuscript,
I owned a copy of his book to compare with his
manuscript. From the manuscript titled, “Action
Anecdotes, Tales of Hunting with Hawks,and in-
ternational passenger lists, we learned even more
about this man’s introduction to falconry and his
adventures in the sport as a young adult.
Russell met Captain Charles W. R. Knight in 1931
and assisted him during his lectures in New York
City. Knight was a naturalist, falconer, wildlife pho-
tographer, lm maker and author who traveled the
lecture circuit in the states and in England. Captain
Knight played a major role in developing an inter-
est in falconry in the U. S. His rst lecture tour in
the new world was in 1928 and his last was in
At age seventeen, in the summer of 1932, Russell
traveled to Europe with his family. Early on the
morning of August 6
, he arrived at Park Point,
Captain Knight’s home. He found Knight’s eagle,
Mr. Ramshaw, a red-tailed hawk named Susan,
three immature peregrine falcons, one immature
peregrine tiercel, two eyass goshawks and a tame
great blue heron across the road from Knight’s
home in a fenced weathering area. There Russell
met Hugh Knight, Captain Knight’s brother, Hugh’s
son Norman B. Knight and nephew Phillip Glasier.
The Knight clan weathered, trained and exercised
their young peregrines to the lure. There soon af-
ter his arrival young Russell saw his rst trained
peregrine stooped to the lure by the Captain.
Norman, Phillip, the Captain and Russell took
three falcons out to the country to enter one on a
bagged Rook and provide slips at crows for other
two. That evening, the Captain took Phillip and
Russell to the Croydon Airport to pickup a ship-
ment of hacked Finnish peregrines. For the cost
of shipping, Captain Knight gave Russell his pick
of the two fresh hacked Finnish tiercel peregrines
that were the property of the BFC. Russell had an
exciting busy rst day on his visit.
On August 10
, young Bill, traveled by train to the
annual meet of the BFC, on the Wiltshire Downs
with his new peregrine hooded on his st and a
block perch strapped to his suitcase. During the
next ten days, he participated in entering and
hawking crows with eyass peregrines. The hawk-
ing party consisted of Hugh Knight, Phillip Glasier,
Norman B. Knight, Sir Phillip Manson-Bahr and
his brother Hugh, Jack G. Mavrogordato, J. Harry
Savory, George Edward Lodge (age 60 at the time)
and several ladies of the Knight family. There were
other falconers present as well, but by the time
Russell started writing his memoirs, he had for-
gotten some of their names. Although there were
young goshawks for rabbits, Merlins for larks,
and Sparrowhawks for small passerines, young
Russell’s goal was to participate in crow hawking
Dr. Russell’s inscription in a copy for his good
friend Doc Stabler
Bill Russell with Goshawk. 1971
with the young peregrines. Some of the young fal-
cons were hacked and some were hard-pinned on
their blocks. Because the young peregrines were
taken from Lundy Island, Scotland, Ireland and as
far way as Finland, the falcons were a couple of
weeks apart in age. While the hacked peregrines
that just arrived from Finland were still in training,
the falcons from Ireland and Lundy Island had
been own to the lure, entered on crows and were
hunting crows.
By 1932, the British had abandoned their horse-
drawn enclosed hawk vans. The Knight hawk-
ing party hawked from the Captain’s small Austin
roadster with a rumble seat. Three falcons rode
hooded and tethered to the back of the rumble
The following is a quote from Russell’s unnished
“In the meantime, the Captain and Phillip
were actively hunting crows with their three
falcons. During the time that Big Bill (Knight’s
nick name for Russell) was with them, the
Captain and Phillip caught almost three
crows with each falcon each day, but not
all of these ghts were good enough to re-
member. This meant that they were nding
at least nine fairly good chances at crows
each day----- no mean achievement.”
These three lonely chapters of Russell’s wonder-
ful manuscript, written in the third person, like
his book, were gathered from his early diaries.
Possibly, Russell was working on it at the time
of his death. This three chapter manuscript can
be read in the Archives of Falconry at the World
Center for Birds of Prey, Boise, Idaho.
Russell ew a hacked female “Duck Hawk” in
1939 and probably lost the bird in Colorado. He
stated he trapped a passage prairie tiercel one
week after he lost the hacked peregrine. Since
so few Peregrines were taken out of the wild in
Colorado, it is likely he acquired the bird east of
the Mississippi River where he had many experi-
ences nding peregrine eyries in New York and in
New Hampshire. Russell stated, to his knowledge,
this was the rst peregrine hacked and own in
the U.S.
Russell is most remembered for writing the rst
new world falconry book while he was hospitalized
for severe asthma when he was living in Denver,
Colorado. His book Falconry, a Hand Book for
Hunters, published in 1940, was a wonderful re-
source then and it is still a good general falconry
book today. Russell had wonderful experiences to
draw upon and he was a student of the sport.
Chapter VIII, entitled Crow Hawking, based on
his experiences hawking crows on the Wiltshire
Downs in 1932, is a valuable resource to anyone
interested. In his discussion of Merlins, he stated
there were no starlings in the western U.S. and
when the starling population expanded to the
western states, they would be the perfect quarry
for Merlins.
In late fall of 1940, while he was attending Columbia,
he and Knight decided to take a crow-hawking trip
to Florida over the holidays. They reclaimed two
passage peregrines that were housed and weath-
ered on the roof of Russell’s apartment building.
Russell, wrote the rst article, in the rst American
Falconers’ Club Journal, which was published in
1941. The article, “Misery in Florida,” is a con-
densed overview of a crow hawking trip Knight
and Russell took to Florida with those two per-
egrines. “Misery,” was the name of the passage
peregrine on loan from Luff Meredith. Misery suc-
cessfully caught two crows in three days of crow
hawking on their trip. It is likely these were the rst
crows intentionally caught by a trained falcon in
the North America. A more detailed report of their
efforts to reclaim the falcons and the rst hawking
trip in the U.S. comes from a forty-nine page re-
port Russell sent his friend William D. Sargent en-
titled Odeechobee Crows, Caught With A Hunting
Falcon authored by Capt. C.W.R. Knight & Wm. F.
Russell Jr.
John E. Russell reported that he accompanied his
father when he gave a lecture on C.U. campus
in April 1971. Doctor Russell had an intermewed
passage goshawk named “Anksa” (he trapped in
his yard in Conifer) and an intermewed passage
prairie falcon named “Desba” at the time of his
death due to a heart attack on April 27, 1972.
— by John E. Russell
In October of 1969, an immature Goshawk
started taking our pigeons in Conifer. There
was a very heavy early winter snow and
Dad decided to trap her. I think we began
with the little pigeon harness that did not
work. Finally we caught her in an automatic
stationary trap my father had just nished
making. Dad almost always used Native
American names for his birds. He named
this one “Anksa”. We released Anksa in at
our home in Conifer after dad passed away.
The hawk had never had lived as an adult
in the wild. She ew off and returned ev-
ery year. When we saw her we’d thaw out
a frozen kosher chicken head and put it on
our porch rail. She’d sweep in fast and take
it. She came back every summer for many
years! For a couple of those years she
showed up with a male, and nested not far
from our house. After the pair hatched out a
chick or two, the family of Goshawks all took
food from our porch railing. In the proceed-
ing years they killed all of our pigeons when
they were ying free out of the pigeon loft.
While we have no way to evaluate how many fal-
coners Russell directly coached, it is clear that he
made considerable contributions to the sport of
falconry and to the treatment of the most fatal hu-
man disease of his generation.
Bill Russell. Early 1930s
Bill Russell with Prairie Falcon. Late 1940s
Bill Russell with Eagle. Late 1950s.
Photo by Pat Coffey-Wilshire in an article
by Glenn Siemiller, “A Hawk in the Hand”,
in Rocky Mountain Life, March 1948