Kansanans culling jackrabbits during a Dust Bowl rabbit drive.

The Wild Jackrabbit Hunts of the Dust Bowl Leave a comment

IT WAS THE DRIEST yr on file when 21-year-old Paul Gatschet noticed the commercial within the native paper.

Volunteers needed, introduced the Hays Day by day Information. Farmers close to La Crosse, Kansas, had a jackrabbit drawback they usually wanted assist corralling the crop-destroying critters. So one afternoon, Gatschet and his youthful brother, George, drove south from Hays to affix the remainder of the volunteers. Neither Gatschet had participated in a rabbit drive earlier than, however they had been prepared if it saved native farmers from dropping their crops.

This specific drive was slated to comb 4 sections of rolling prairie. Organizers loaded almost 80 volunteers—all boys and males at the present time—into automobiles and farm vans, then dropped them off once more alongside the perimeter. By the point everybody was in place, the hunters had shaped a spindly sq., all sides stretching 2 miles lengthy throughout the countryside. Then they began strolling.

One of many many exceptional issues about this rabbit drive was exactly how unremarkable it was in that period. Throughout the top of the Mud Bowl—someday between 1934 and 1936—the Kansas Emergency Reduction Committee reported greater than 98,000 males, ladies, and youngsters took half in 269 drives throughout 13 counties in western Kansas. Greater than 2 million jackrabbits had been killed or captured throughout 1,974 sections, with a median of 923 rabbits killed per drive. They had been, by all accounts, slaughters.

A 1935 jackrabbit drive in Stevens County, Kansas. “Be aware massive crowd of individuals in background,” reads the handwritten caption on the again of the unique {photograph}. | Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

The chaos and brutality of the drives bore little resemblance to what any trendy hunter would name rabbit searching. Nonetheless, the cooperation required to drag off the most important organized sport drives in North America’s written reminiscence is astounding. Western rabbit drives stay a captivating, if largely forgotten, chapter within the historical past of small-game searching. They’re additionally only one manner Individuals coped with what was arguably the worst ecological catastrophe in our nation’s historical past.

Though a whole bunch of hundreds of Kansans took half within the drives, Gatschet is certainly one of few contributors nonetheless alive right now. Now 88, Gatschet figures that drive occurred, by his finest recollection, in 1956—a full 20 years after the Mud Bowl. However the extreme drought situations of the Nineteen Fifties had replicated the failing crops and overwhelming jackrabbit numbers of the Thirties. Other than the clothes the boys wore to the rabbit drives that yr—denims cuffed above the ankles, white T-shirts, the occasional black leather-based jacket—it performed out simply as a whole bunch of drives had throughout western Kansas over the earlier 50 years.

“I’m not too happy with it,” says Gatschet. “However that is what occurred.”

Kansas Rabbit Drives Throughout the Mud Bowl

Paul Gatschet was born in October 1934, smack in the midst of the Nice Despair and simply in time to climate the worst of the Mud Bowl. Wall Avenue had crashed on Black Tuesday precisely 5 years earlier than to ship the worldwide financial system spiraling. The Black Sunday mud storm, named for its suffocating, sun-blotting situations, would howl throughout the Excessive Plains at 60 mph by the point Gatschet was six months previous. Drought was the brand new actuality. Plows from Nebraska to Texas had floor the area’s fertile topsoil into oblivion. Native grasses had all however vanished, together with their deep roots that held the prairie in place. Wind blew away no matter was left.

1930s dust storm
A whole bunch of jackrabbits flee from a line of drivers, swallowed by an approaching mud storm. This picture was taken in close to Oakley, Kansas, in 1935. | Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Gatschet remembers these years as largely dry and scorching. Swarms of hungry grasshoppers and blowing mud descended on his hometown of Hays and surrounding Ellis County. Many kids developed mud pneumonia—a persistent and typically deadly situation—from inhaling all these tiny silt particles.

“My mom instructed me she lined my crib with a moist sheet to maintain me alive,” says Gatschet, who grew up in a three-bedroom home on eleventh Avenue. “Actual tremendous mud would are available in via the partitions. As a child I didn’t know something about that, however as I obtained older, I keep in mind we had mud storms. It obtained fairly thick, and naturally that wasn’t good on your lungs.”

Like most rural boys of his era, Gatschet spent his childhood searching together with his father. There have been no deer within the area but, however Kansans may hunt geese and geese. And rabbits. Numerous rabbits.

Black-tailed jackrabbits (which are literally hares, not rabbits) can develop as much as 2 ft lengthy and attain speeds of as much as 40 mph. Outsized hind legs launch them throughout desert sage and grassy prairie, and their large ears launch warmth to chill their our bodies. Jackrabbits are prey animals, with often-bulging amber eyes that may scan almost 360 levels for predators. They’ve a knack for fast substitute. Females can produce a number of litters annually, with as much as eight younger in every.

Jackrabbits are primarily desert dwellers, so it’s not significantly stunning that their numbers swelled when drought settled over the prairie. The critters ransacked already struggling crops like wheat and sugar beets and stripped bark from treasured shelterbelt bushes. It was frequent to see jacks within the daytime and straightforward sufficient to shoot them with pistols as they fed within the fields.

“When it was scorching and dry, we noticed lots of rabbits,” Gatschet says. “When the coyote inhabitants obtained low, the rabbit inhabitants appeared to go up too.”

truck with dead jackrabbits
Jackrabbit carcasses hanging from a wagon. Black-tailed jackrabbits can attain as much as 2 ft in size. | Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Gatschet’s father was a schoolteacher and his mom was a great prepare dinner with 5 kids to feed, so their boys introduced residence no matter they may throughout and after the Despair. Gatschet remembers these jackrabbits—fried, baked, stewed—tasted fairly good. 

By the point the Gatschet brothers noticed the newspaper advert in 1956, Paul was in faculty learning English. Drought worse than the Mud Bowl had returned to the prairie. That meant rabbits had, too.

Just like the jackrabbit drives earlier than it, organizers didn’t permit weapons. They had been a lot too dangerous with so many individuals and so many rabbits working round. As an alternative, volunteers carried golf equipment, leading to a mob’s stockpile of sticks, baseball bats, and splintered 2x4s, some even wrapped in barbed wire. The Gatschets hadn’t introduced something like that, so somebody handed Paul the spoke of an previous hickory wagon wheel. The wooden felt heavy in his fingers.

The drivers started strolling towards the middle of the 4 sections, the place an enclosure of rooster wire had been erected. Their plan was to funnel the rabbits into the pen and dispatch them there.

At first it felt to Gatschet like they had been corralling cattle. They began kicking up jacks, which leapt and hopped forward of them. Coordinators saved an eye fixed on the drivers, nudging or checking their tempo to make sure the pests didn’t squirt again via the strains. When the boys closed on the ultimate sq. mile, the pushed jackrabbits started to converge. Nevertheless it wasn’t till the rabbits noticed their very own variety working towards them that chaos broke out.

“You would inform the rabbits had been confused. Because the group obtained smaller and smaller, it obtained to the place there have been simply stable rabbits within the center—about 50 yards sq.. From time to time you’d see a rabbit simply go—like, Oh, he’s taking off. And he would go, as a result of we didn’t have any weapons.”

One close by rabbit made a run for it, and Gatschet reacted out of intuition.

“I threw my hickory spoke at him.… It was substantial, and dagnabbit if I didn’t hit the rabbit within the head and roll him.”

rabbit drive
A rabbit drive in Grey County, Kansas, circa Thirties. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Among the many boiling jackrabbits had been two or three coyotes that had gotten swept up within the drive. Because the coyotes made their very own bids for freedom, they burst via the human wall solely to be met by a knot of coyote hunters. These males hadn’t been allowed to hold weapons both. As an alternative, they’d introduced their canine.

“The greyhounds obtained beat up fairly properly,” says Gatschet, recalling a coyote that ripped one canine’s slender jaw. “It obtained fairly gory. However normally these hunters had one or two Russian wolfhounds with them, and the wolfhounds would are available in for the kill. It was a twin hunt.”

By now the sq. of drivers had pushed the rabbits into the chicken-wire entice. Most Mud Bowl corrals had been octagonal, constructed 54 ft throughout and anchored by sturdy posts. As the dimensions of the rabbit drives tapered into the Nineteen Fifties, so did the corrals.

“The little sq. obtained smaller and smaller, and the rabbits contained in the fence began leaping however they couldn’t make it over. And what shocked me was—I simply thought it was like cavemen. A number of the guys began to holler, ‘We’ll get you SOBs!’ And a name went up among the many males. All of them simply rushed the rabbits, clubbing them left and proper,” says Gatschet. “The rabbits may inform it was the top.”

rabbit cull
Forward of drives, organizers would assemble corrals of rooster wire and durable posts. They had been usually octagonal in form and stretched 50-plus ft large. As soon as cornered, drivers would dispatch rabbits. {Photograph} circa 1934–1936. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Rabbit Drives within the West

It’s arduous to pinpoint the start of jackrabbit drives in American historical past, however one factor is evident: hunters had been driving rabbits lengthy earlier than Europeans arrived.

Many early media stories credit score the Paiute-Shoshone with growing the jackrabbit drives. That is true sufficient based mostly on archaeological proof and firsthand accounts of recent Paiute drives in Nevada, however the Paiute-Shoshone corralled rabbits for subsistence.

“The previous rabbit drive was and nonetheless is a favourite means of manufacturing meals for these desert folks,” Harry W. Gilmore wrote in American Anthropologist in 1953. “…Every individual tak[es] his station about 50 ft from these subsequent to him. This line circles round towards a lake or river, thus forming a semicircle. By closing in progressively, the semicircle turns into smaller and smaller, and the animals are unable to flee. Lastly they’re trapped between a stable line of individuals and a physique of water and are simple prey for arrows and extraordinary sticks.”

One of many first mentions of controlling native jackrabbits as vermin appeared in Michigan’s South Haven Messenger in 1846. The newspaper column, “Slaughter of Jack Rabbits: The Western States Are Alarmed In regards to the Pests,” defined that whereas Colorado and California’s rabbit drives “have a sure factor of sport and basic frolic, [the drives] are however a really severe enterprise.”

That specific account is rife with concern: the farmers feared devastation of their crops; the agricultural secretary feared the West would grow to be the following Australia. (Although Australia additionally organized its personal rabbit drives, these farmers had a real pest drawback on their fingers. Rabbits are an launched species to the continent.) Different accounts made it clear that rabbit drives had been festivals that rallied residents round a great trigger.

“The most important drives are extensively marketed and the railroads run particular excursions to the scene of battle,” reads a 1901 Kansas Metropolis Gazette article concerning the California drives. “All the pieces assumes vacation apparel. Popcorn stands, barbecues, pink lemonade, circus balloons … and gamblers curiosity the good crowds of 10,000 to twenty,000 folks which assemble to see the enjoyable. …The rabbits cry shrilly like a child in ache when being killed. The fur flies in an obscuring cloud. Generally the younger rabbit fingers hit each other within the pleasure and dirt of the slaughter and the drive leads to a free struggle to the extraordinary amusement of spectators.”

dust storm
{A photograph} exhibiting a line of individuals and automobiles close to Tyrone, Kansas, bracing for an approaching mud storm in 1935. Although there aren’t any rabbits current, historians suspect this {photograph} was taken throughout a drive. The boy on the left is carrying what seems to be a pair of golf equipment. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Kansans started placing on their very own drives within the mid and late 1800s, however the revelry didn’t drain away till drought and dirt arrived with the Nice Despair. By 1935 there have been an estimated 8 million jackrabbits in 30 western Kansas counties. Clubbing the pests appeared essentially the most sensible resolution. In spite of everything, nobody may afford ammunition to shoot the rabbits as soon as corralled. Jackrabbits additionally offered a supply of meals and, at first, earnings. Some counties paid bounties between 1 and 4 cents per rabbit whereas they may afford it. (Hodgeman County, simply southwest of Hays, stopped paying out after 44,000 pairs of ears had been turned in.)

As crops continued to fail, livestock died, and cash dried up, Kansans—who bore among the harshest Mud Bowl situations—grew extra determined. Usually self-reliant farmers had been dropping all the things. Many bought off land to pay mounting money owed. They couldn’t feed their households. Their kids had been falling sick and even dying. Within the Thirties, it felt just like the world was ending. For some, it had. 

old train, wagon with dead rabbits
Getting ready to load useless rabbits on a horse-drawn skid right into a Santa Fe fridge automobile in Liberal, Kansas. The rabbits had been shipped east, the place they had been bought for 10 cents a bit. This {photograph}, taken someday from 1917 to 1920, illustrates mass-jackrabbit drives had been underway earlier than the Mud Bowl. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

That helplessness explains, partly, the violent mob mentality that so shocked Paul Gatschet 20 years later. As writer Timothy Egan explains it in his guide The Worst Laborious Time, residents who had been attempting to outlive throughout the Mud Bowl “vowed to make a final stand” towards the newest risk to their livelihoods: jackrabbits. “If nature is out of whack, then we’ll struggle with all the things we obtained.” The drives had strayed past mandatory evil into managed chaos. Rabbit drives had been virtually like state-sanctioned riots, the place after church service on Sundays, “a mob of individuals with golf equipment herded rabbits right into a corral and smashed their skulls.”

Kansans funneled their desperation, frustration, and fears into the singular job of killing the critters they felt had been threatening what little livelihood remained to them. It was the farmers versus the rabbits, and it was clear who needed to win.

Even when the jackrabbit drives turned much less of a pageant and extra of a struggle, the Kansas Emergency Reduction Committee made certain to have fun them with extensively distributed newsreel footage.

“Extermination of the rabbits has been a price to the counties in lots of respects,” says the unnamed narrator of a 1936 movie touting the company’s accomplishments in 1943. “Whereas it might appear from this that every one the jackrabbits on the earth had congregated within the western a part of the state of Kansas, there are quite a few neighboring states wherein rabbits of any variety are a shortage.”

Stay jackrabbits had been loaded into vans and pushed to different states, whereas some useless rabbits had been butchered and eaten. Many Kansans feared catching rabbit fever, nevertheless, and most had been floor into fertilizer and feed for chickens and hogs. 

It’s unattainable to precisely estimate what number of drives had been organized nationally (hundreds) and what number of jackrabbits had been killed (hundreds of thousands). The final extensively publicized jackrabbit drives had been organized in 1981 in Mud Lake, Idaho. Whereas locals had been extra involved with defending their crops than their public picture, they made headlines as nationwide media picked up footage of the drives.

“About 800 males, ladies and youngsters, armed with ax handles, baseball bats, tire instruments and golf golf equipment, stretched throughout a mile of the desolate prairie close to Mud Lake and rounded up jackrabbits which they declare have performed an estimated $5 million in crop injury…” learn one extensively syndicated Related Press article. “Lots of the jackrabbits had been crushed to dying throughout the drive and others captured in a pen had their necks damaged and their heads decapitated.”

rabbit drive
A lady sporting a gown and heels pokes jackrabbits after a drive, checking to verify none are left alive and struggling. The again of the picture is signed, “Compliments of Lee Larrabee, Liberal, Kansas.” Larrabee was the chair commissioner of Kansas Fish and Recreation, the earlier title of Kansas Wildlife and Parks Division. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Animal rights teams, together with the Idaho Humane Society and the Fund for Animals, sued the drive organizers on grounds of animal cruelty. The Idaho Supreme Courtroom finally sided with the farmers.

Then, in 1983, the area’s jackrabbit inhabitants crashed. 

Jackrabbits in Fashionable Kansas and the West

If jackrabbits acquired extreme ire within the early 1900s, the alternative is true right now.

“Sadly rabbits don’t get a lot consideration in our state, or most states,” says Jeff Prendergast, the small sport specialist with the Kansas Division of Wildlife and Parks. “I’m from Missouri and that’s what I grew up searching—rabbits. However out right here quail and pheasants are king. Rabbit hunters are virtually handled like second-rate residents or hillbillies. That’s simply my impression. Nevertheless it undoubtedly looks as if there’s extra of a gentleman standing to the chicken hunters.”

Prendergast holds simply certainly one of two small-game positions inside the complete KDWP company, and the assets at his disposal are restricted on the subject of jackrabbits. KDWP focuses on demand from chicken hunters and doesn’t usually hear from rabbit hunters. Once they do, it’s normally about cottontails. The farther west you drive via Kansas, the extra doubtless you’re to identify a jackrabbit. By the point jackrabbits started showing in written accounts of the Western frontier, settlers had already disturbed the pure panorama a lot that it’s arduous to say what “regular” appeared like. There’s lots biologists don’t learn about jackrabbit populations then or now.

“They cycle,” Prendergast says. “They appear to do properly in dry situations, like throughout the Mud Bowl occasions, every time they’d these sort of [population] explosions. If you concentrate on jackrabbits as an entire, you may have completely different species—however you get lots of jackrabbits within the arid Southwest—Arizona, New Mexico. So it is smart that they will persist in these dry environments and people dry years.”

rabbits dead in pen
A rabbit drive on Wilson Peter’s farm close to Goodland, Kansas, someday between 1934 and 1936. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

It’s arduous to gauge simply how properly jackrabbits are doing in Kansas right now, and Prendergast couldn’t present an estimate on a complete statewide inhabitants. He does know, based mostly on the state’s annual rural mail service survey and excluding these pure inhabitants cycles, that their numbers have been comparatively steady for the reason that Seventies.

Within the northern Nice Basin, a black-tailed jackrabbit’s inhabitants cycle lasts between 7 and 11 years. “Jackrabbits are identified for his or her dramatic inhabitants fluctuations,” stories the USFWS, and their highs “could also be twice and even a whole bunch of occasions better than throughout inhabitants lows.”

Nonetheless, it’s been years since black-tailed jackrabbit plagues made headlines. Which is puzzling: We all know jackrabbits overran the nation from Kansas to California throughout historic drought. And we all know the West is at present experiencing record-breaking drought. So why aren’t we beating again rabbits with sticks anymore?

Researchers aren’t certain. Completely different research level to completely different culprits, and the reply in all probability lies in a mix of illness, parasites, rising predator populations, and altering habitat as edge cowl diminishes. It’s additionally potential that the absence of black-tailed jackrabbit spikes displays an general species decline. Possibly there simply aren’t sufficient critters to succeed in noticeable ranges anymore.

And whereas each white-tailed and black-tailed jackrabbits had been current in Kansas when settlers arrived, white-tailed jackrabbits—traditionally extra current within the north of the state—have been extirpated from the state.

“Once they discuss jackrabbit drives the place they’d encompass a pair sections and push a whole bunch of rabbits collectively, you’re not going to do this now,” says Prendergast. “We’re undoubtedly not on the ranges we’ve seen traditionally. We’re not at ranges that we might contemplate regarding, however I don’t know what to say a wholesome [level is].”

Jackrabbits are a species of least concern in Kansas, with a liberal bag restrict of 10 jacks per day and a year-round season. Although few hunters goal jacks, harvest numbers assist shed some gentle on jackrabbit numbers. Final season, an estimated 1,625 hunters in Kansas killed about 3,575 jackrabbits. Most of these had been doubtless opportunistic photographs taken by pheasant hunters. In 2006 to 2007 (the earliest yr for which knowledge was out there), some 3,640 hunters killed about 57,900 jackrabbits. This distinction is much less a mirrored image of declining rabbit numbers than an instance of a spike of their inhabitants cycle.

rabbit cull
Jackrabbits inside a western Kansas corral between 1934 and 1936. The contributors and onlookers put on largely sober expressions, although a couple of are smiling. | kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historic Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply

“Now you don’t see many jackrabbits within the daytime,” says Gatschet, who nonetheless lives together with his spouse in Hays. “We used to see lots of them within the daytime after we had been youthful. However I perceive from a few of my buddies who hunt that they nonetheless have some north of Hays, however you need to know which area to go to get them.”

Within the 10 years Prendergast has labored as KDWP’s small-game specialist, he can’t recall a single criticism about jackrabbits. 

“We don’t actually see the densities of jackrabbits we as soon as did,” says Prendergast. “So it could be that we’re not noticing the small injury that a couple of jackrabbits trigger over what was the perceived injury. Even within the Mud Bowl, the jackrabbits had been one thing of a scapegoat. [People] wanted one thing in charge for the crops failing and consuming what little was on the market. Realistically the jackrabbits in all probability had been consuming the brushy, weedy stuff that wasn’t actually impacting the farmers. The crops had been failing anyway.”

AS HIS FELLOW Kansans clubbed the trapped jackrabbits to dying, Paul Gatschet largely simply watched, his hickory spoke hanging by his facet as volunteers shouted and swatted and swore.

“To listen to the rabbits, that ‘eh eh eh,’”—Gatschet imitates the panicked bleat of a rabbit in misery “it was a dramatic factor. We went on the market considering we had been going to assist the farmers. However I left with the sensation they had been simply God’s creatures. They had been simply rabbits. They needed to eat. So what do you eat? There’s wheat, so assist your self to the farmer’s wheat. And so they did. I didn’t be ok with it, and I by no means went on one other drive.”

Learn extra OL+ tales.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *