Gopher Tail Sales
By Linda C Butler
Told by Charlie Vance
I winter fished the winter of 1931 up the Hudson Bay Railway line at Mile 185. We caught and cleaned fish, then froze and packed them for shipment to Winnipeg to be sold. It was the Depression and sales were poor. There was no refrigeration as we have today, and in Winnipeg, most of the fish thawed and spoiled and were dumped. We consequently didn’t get paid for our labor.
In the early spring a friend and I decided to go muskrat trapping. It cost us about $100 to buy traps and the gear for trapping. The price of fur was at an all time low, and muskrats were only selling for 25 cents a skin. We had to sell 400 muskrats to cover our initial investment before we paid for food, and after the spring trapping season we were as broke as we were before we started.
Now it was spring and I needed a job. I decided to return to Saskatchewan as I had worked there in the summer of 1929 and I was hopeful that I could find employment. I stayed in a hotel in a rural community south of Rosetown while I looked for work, however the prospect seemed hopeless. I was broke with no idea what I was going to do.
I went out for a walk early in the morning along the railway tracks and met a fellow who told me that the local municipality was paying 2 cents for each gopher tail. Gophers were a pest to the farming community because their burrows damage agriculture crops; also the holes put livestock and horses at risk of injury if they accidentally step into a hole. The gopher reduction program was initiated by the municipality to decrease the population of these pests.
That afternoon, with great enthusiasm, I set to work catching gophers and I caught ten of them. I took them to the municipal office but they would only pay $1.00 for fifty gopher tails and would not buy odd lots, so I had to catch some more gophers before I could cash them in. Over the next couple days I caught enough to make the 50 lot and made a dollar. Gradually, as the sun warmed the prairies, gophers came out of their burrows and finally I started making enough money to pay my hotel room and meals. I never was so low on funds that I was forced to eat gopher stew, but there were lots of men who did.
I started a business enterprise killing gophers and I bought a .22 rifle for $4.00 and a few boxes of shells at 20 cents a box. I also bought ten gopher traps. I kept busy running from one trap to the other, and since I was a good shot, I usually got a gopher with each shot.
An old farmer, Ben Pearson, who lived six miles out of town watched my activity with interest. He told me that he had lots of gophers on his farm, and if I would do my trapping at his place, he would give me free room and board, which would be in addition to the money that the municipality paid. I agreed and moved my operation to his farm where I continued to be successful. Ben then hired me for a few days doing farm work driving his four-up, which consisted of a team of four horses ahead of four horses. Ben did the cooking and we got along well.
At the end of May, Ben no longer needed me for farm work, so I went back to catching gophers. At that time the young gophers were starting to come out of the burrows and if I was patient, I could catch the mother with her litter, which often consisted of 5 or 6 gophers. All the tails were worth two cents each, so I was making money. I caught hundreds of gophers that spring with my highest day being 600 gophers, a $12.00 day, a fantastic sum in the Depression.
Before the end of June that year, the municipality had paid out all the money available to rid the local farms of gophers and their program ceased. That ended my gopher trapping days and I had to find other employment.
© Linda C Butler 2013