Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
Jackrabbits were Pests/Pioneers held huge drives
By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 4 February 1962
The most useless and destructive wild animal of the Tri-City area in the early days was the wild jackrabbit whose flesh was diseased. The animal’s skins were infested with grubs and their fur with fleas. They occasionally had rabies. They bred and multiplied so rapidly that they remained a continual pest where any crop was attempted. Their sharp chisel-shaped teeth could peel the bark from a newly planted fruit or shade tree in a fraction of the time it took the pioneer to plant it. The coyotes seldom killed or at them for food. The badgers and prairie dogs left them alone.
They were vegetarians. Each grown jackrabbit ate or destroyed enough vegetation in every 24 hour period to support a grown sheep for the same time. The pioneers tried to fence them out of their orchards and vegetable gardens with hand split cedar picket fences. There was no galvanized woven-wire fencing in those days. The jack rabbit would jump over the picket fences, or when the snow was on the ground, walk over the fences. They continued their assault against anything the pioneers tried to raise.
The pioneers occasionally declared open war fare against them. Rabbit drives were instituted. A large corral would be made rabbit tight and rabbit tight, wing fences were constructed leading to it. The pioneers on foot and on horseback formed a line of march about three miles upstream from the corral and marched down stream converging on the corral. They beat the bushes with sticks and made noises by hitting on tin cans, ringing cow bells, and yelling to frighten the rabbits. When they reached the corral, the gates were closed, trapping thousands of rabbits. The rabbits were slained with clubs. Each pioneer sought his revenge and worked with a will and no quarter was given.
The local renegade Indians had the time of their lives. They disdained clubs and dispatched many with their bows and arrows. They saved quite a few of the healthiest and fattest for food. The most joyous of the rabbit drivers were the teen-age boys of the community whose duty it was to keep all fruit trees continually painted with rabbit proof paint, which the boys had to prepare and apply as needed. Every boy knew the ingredients and the proportionate amounts used, the source of material, supply and method of manufacturing and application. The main base or vehicle was slacked lime emulsified with blood supplemented by an aromatic product from the swine yard thinned to the proper consistency with warm water, and applied with care and caution with a swab. Quite a bit of finesse was needed in wielding this swab to see that all the paint was placed on the tree and none on the clothes, hands, or face of the applicant.
When all the trapped rabbits were killed, a large deep trench was dug and the bodies of the dead rabbits thrown into it, and the trench then filled with dry sagebrush and set on fire. When the fire had consumed everything, the trench was back filled.
Pioneers busied themselves the remainder of the afternoon in washing and cleaning up in preparation for the big, early evening barbeque, prior to the big dance which would mark the closing of the days festivities.
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