Hops, skips and slithers

Published 8:05 am Saturday, September 10, 2016

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

    In these turbulent days when much of the news is awash with controversy that rages beyond ugly, my commentary remains blissfully gentle. Cover up my name, and some readers might think Miss Manners writes it.

Still, some folks may race to Wikipedia to verify my assertion that no other county in Texas–or maybe even the nation–can match Nolan County in “round-ups.” For almost six decades, they’ve annually rounded-up tens of thousands of rattlesnakes, attracting crowds of up to 30,000 people at the nation’s largest such event.

Not as well known, however–except for a few folks with teeth longer than their beards–is that a century earlier, Nolan Countians rounded up jackrabbits. There’s no mention in the records whether any visitors attended, but locals found the drives eradicating jackrabbits to be necessary.

Too bad nothing was made of the 1915 round-up of jackrabbits (from the genus Lepus, and not to be confused, I suppose, with cottontails from the genus “Hoppus”). Anyways, they did a great job of eradicating the “jacks”. (Men must have been chauvinistic even then; there’s nary a mention of any “jillrabbits”.)

Whatever, “jacks” and “cottontails” were around in great numbers, these creatures who busied themselves foraging farmers’ crops. Early settlers killed off the rabbits’ natural predators–coyotes, wolves, cougars, foxes and wildcats–animals that endangered chickens, pets and livestock.

Thus, the rabbit population multiplied and multiplied and…

How about that? Timbers are shivered by the probability that round-ups of both rattlesnakes and jackrabbits may have occurred on the same farms, or no more than mere hops, skips and slithers–as well as a century, of course–apart.

According to Dr. Edwin Duncan, curator of the Roscoe Historical Museum, each round-up eliminated hundreds of jackrabbits, so many in 1915 that Mayor S. D. Knox sprang into action. He wrote a letter to Fort Worth Mayor R. F. Milam, offering the latter some 500 rabbits for the poor.

The Roscoe official said the rabbits would be good to eat for a month or so, and, “parboiled and baked…are good and wholesome.” The intent of both mayors was to provide meat for folks who needed it, and all Fort Worth had to do on its end of the deal was cover the railroad freight charge.

Mayor Milam accepted Roscoe’s offer, setting up a “rabbit bureau” in the corridor of City Hall, so each unemployed person requesting a rabbit could get one.

It might have been better if churches, civic clubs or other entities had administered the program.

But, who would have guessed that even then, newspaper reporters, photographers and a newsreel guy would be blamed for fouling up (“rabbiting” up?) the process? The mayor, happily handing out rabbits to the crowd, noticed some of the “takers” were neither hungry nor unemployed.

“It’s a sad commentary on things in general,” the mayor whimpered. He estimated there were more “silk-socked” men in the crowd than there were needy.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram carried multiple accounts of the “gift,” as well as the abusers. As one might guess, there were several “rabbit trail” pieces to write, including news that the shipment would be delayed by several days.

The reason? There was a mumps epidemic in Nolan County, thus pushing back the round-up by a week. (Though my account misses the century mark for this event by one year, it seems justifiable to re-visit the story, so I am.)

I think “Miss Manners” would approve of the “manner” in which words were chosen to describe this long-ago event. I didn’t mention firearms even once. And gory details were passed over.

Left for another day, also, are several recipes calling for rabbits as primary ingredients for Sunday dinner back in the day.

Neither did I mention whether the City of Fort Worth ever paid the freight bill, ‘cause I don’t know. For readers who really want to know, I can put you in touch with Dr. Duncan, or you can check with the railroad.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.