Fun and Revenue in Skunks for Hartland boy trappers

Nov 30, 1920

(This may be more than you want to know. C.Y.M.)

The boys are trapping these days. Hartland has a live group of youngsters who wake with their alarm clocks, crawl out of bed at an early hour, put on their”skunkin’clo-es”, take a club and a flashlight and set out in the dim and frosty morning before daylight to visit their traps.

Cicil Durphy is, by virtue of his knowledge and experience, a sort of leader and director of the enterprise, and his partner on his route is Urban Jackson, Glenn Bates and Leo Howe  and Glenn Bates, Roger Flanagan and Phillip Royce “go it alone” in different directions. Billy Crane and his younger brother Aubrey find it pretty hard to tramp, and they get pretty sleepy but they never give up. Robert and Carroll Durphy go together, and Carroll is very observant of the interesting things of nature and often brings home a pretty leaf or a feather. Eldon Barbour is another big boy who is very energetic and has a great many skins to his credit. Lee Hood and Robert Stillson are also in the gang.

Prince, the “houn’ dawg” always goes along to help, but he has learned to keep a safe distance away while this black and white kitty is still alive. Then he runs ahead to bring the news of the catch.

The boys are trapping for skunk and muskrat principally, though they hope to get a mink. The traps number anywhere from five to forty and are set in likely places on the hillside pastures, along the brooks,, or on the borders of the woodlands.

In some places they construct a “cubby” for the skunk trap. This consists of three or four stones laid on three sides of a square with a flat stone over the top and the bait is placed inside. The trap is set just outside the entrance, imbedded in the earth so as to bring the “pan” on a level with the ground.

The bait which proves the most enticing to Mr. Mephitis is a choice bit of carrion or an aged egg, and before setting the traps the boys go to the butcher and get whatever unsalable prizes they can secure.

There are several grades of skunk pelts called by the boys “full -stripe”, “half- stripe”, “quarter-stripe” and “star”, those having the least white, or only the white star on the back of the head, being the most valuable.

The muskrats are caught near the brooks and ponds, or in a swamp, and sometimes the boys find the trap has been dragged in the water, but that does not injure the fur.

Day after day the boys make their rounds, for the game laws require that the traps be visited at least once in 24 hours and so they tramp for 2 hours and come in hungry to breakfast, usually with nothing to show for their patience. Sometimes they bring in a claw or a toe, showing that some poor creature was lucky enough to get away with his life.

But sometimes sonny comes home grinning and calls the family to the door to look at his prize, a short, thick muskrat with a flat, hairless tail, or else a malodorous animal with a handsome black coat and 2 more or less pronounced white stripes along his back. Sonny doesn’t want any breakfast now, he is too excited. Furthermore, his animal must be skinned at once.

“Gee, don’t it make a feller feel fine when he gets a skunk!” he says as he hurries to the barn.

Mother smiles and says” It depends on your point of view”

“Skin your own skunks “is an old saying, but it is about the most adequate one we know to express minding your own business. Certainly no one cares to interfere.

But Sonny knows how to do the work, and he begins by cutting around the animals ankles and slitting the inner sides of the hind legs. Then he pulls off the skin turning it wrong side out over the head.

His stretcher board is carefully whittled, widest in the center and narrow at one end. Then he puts the skin over the board, fur side in, stretching it more lengthwise than sidewise, and inserts a wedge of wood under the back to raise and stretch it still tighter.

Where to put the pelts while they are drying is a question, for rats will eat them if they can get at them, so sonny hangs them in the ice house.

When Sonny brings in the “skunk suet”, Mother has to try out the fat by putting it into a pan in the oven. Then she pours it into little Vaseline jars, and it rivals the perfumes of Araby. It is a fine ointment for lameness or a “cold on the lungs.”

Fur-bearing animals seem to be rather scarce this season, perhaps not because they are fewer, but because there are more boys to every animal. But when the time comes to sell the furs the boys will get a good price for them and will have enough to pay them for the long hours for waiting and watching.

And even when they do not bring in anything they come home whistling, for they enjoy the walks in the fresh air.

“Mother,” says Carroll, “you ought to get up and see the sunrise. It’s awful pretty.”

By Miss Florence Sturtevant

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