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Americans Were Once Encouraged To Exchange Gopher Scalps For Money In An Early Effort To Control Problematic Gopher Populations

December 27th, 2018

Pocket gophers, or simply gophers, as they are usually called, are widespread pests in the United States. Gophers belong to the Geomyidae family and there exists 35 documented species in North and South America. Gophers are major pests to agricultural crops, home gardens, particular landscapes, and forest regeneration efforts. Gophers also burrow beneath homes and buildings in some cases, and in rare cases, the rodents can stumble into people’s homes. The tendency for gophers to cause serious physical damage to underground plastic water pipes and underground electrical and communication cables is, perhaps, the most alarming sort of damage that gophers are known for inflicting. Gophers also weaken dykes and dams by burrowing into the structures, which has resulted in costly and devastating disasters in the past. These days, however, gopher pest activity is not as widespread as it once was in the US, and this may be due to some of the draconian measures that early Americans employed to control gopher populations in much of the country, especially the midwest.

During America’s earliest decades, gophers wreaked havoc and destruction all across the midwest. Considering that reliable pesticides had not yet been developed during the 1800s, the citizens of America were given incentive to not only kill gophers, but to remove their scalps and tails so that they could be exchanged for money. Although this tactic seems harsh by today’s standards, it should be noted that professional pest controllers were virtually non-existent before the 1950s. Before this time, the responsibility for controlling problematic animal pests fell onto gun-owning Americans.

During the year of 1866 in Benton County, Iowa a government-run bounty program awarded ten cents to each resident who turned over either a gopher scalp or tail to authorities. Each scalp or tail collected awarded the hunter ten cents, and the nearby states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota also enacted this particular method of gopher control. Eventually, so many scalps and tails were brought forward that the government could no longer afford to pay out the bounties. Because of this drain on state treasuries, this bounty system was discontinued during the late 1800s.

Would you have been willing to provide gopher scalps and/or tails in order to take part in the lucrative bounty system that existed in America during the 1800s?

 

 

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