NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
April 23, 1998
Plains Folk: Fox Money
Tom Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University
©1998 Plains Folk
It may seem today like a grisly subject, but up and down the plains, den hunting for coyotes was a source of much-needed cash to rural folk of previous generations. One of my favorite family photographs shows my Grandpa Dunekeck chomping a cigar and showing off a batch of coyote pups he had taken in Barton County, Kan. And one of my favorite literary scenes is the one after the hard winter in the middle of "Wolf Willow," by Wallace Stegner, when the Saskatchewan ranching couple decides to stick it out on the ranch, after digging out a litter of coyotes.
The point of the enterprise, of course, was the bounties offered by the respective states and provinces. Ernie Zahn, of Velva, N.D., has been telling me about the importance of coyote hunting in the finances of his large German-Russian family when he was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s.
"The state department of agriculture was paying a bounty on coyotes, and we would do a lot of den hunting," he explains. "We knew where every den of coyotes was; these coyotes have a territory.
"In fact, one Sunday we were eating dinner and a brother and I were talking about going out to find a den of coyotes. I said, `you know that hole over on that east hill, right below that rock on the hill? Right there is where the den of coyotes is this year.' We drove over to that pasture, drove up to that hole, and there was the den of coyotes.
"These coyote dens would have anywhere from five to fifteen pups per den. The department of agriculture was paying three dollars bounty on pups, five dollars on adults. So if we could find a den with ten or twelve pups, this was a pretty big check for us." Especially considering that a farmhand in those days might receive fifteen dollars a month and found, country school teachers thirty a month, likely in scrip.
"One spring," Ernie recalls, "we had 127 pups we turned in for bounty."
Just after Ernie got married, he and his wife bought a 200-acre farm for taxes, making a deal with the county to pay the taxes in installments. About the same time he and his brothers went to South Dakota and bought a pair of greyhounds for hunting fox and coyote. "I never did tell my wife how much we paid for them greyhounds," Ernie confesses. "We paid $125 for the pair."
A few days later they saddled horses, took the dogs out, and pretty soon jumped a fox, which the hounds easily ran down. Then another fox, which the hounds also dispatched. Then a third fox, and this time the dogs ran a little, then gave up the pursuit. "They were just wore out, because we had ridden about ten miles trailing the dogs," Ernie explains.
So the boys cut a shaft from a local grove, attached it to a little two-wheel trailer, and prepared to hitch two horses to it. Onto the trailer they mounted a high box. "We filled the lower half of this box with straw, and then we put the hounds in. We would transport them from one place to another, and they would be resting and sleeping."
This worked well. The horses even got into the hunting spirit, perking up and lunging in pursuit when a fox would bolt from cover. That alerted the hounds to hop out and do their work.
"That winter," Ernie recalls with satisfaction, "we caught enough fox that I paid up the tax contract to the county in full. We had this 200-acre farm all our own."
Source: Tom Isern (701) 231-8339
Editor: Barry Brissman (701) 231-7866