Copyright
Albert Lord Belden.

The fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea online

. (page 31 of 34)
Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 31 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


roosts, where it is really hunting a den and not a hen.
Six or ten, or more, skunks spend the winter in company
in the same den, thus keeping each other warm, and oc-
casionally suffocating the colony. On very pleasant
days the skunk leaves its den and briefly roams abroad,
not to obtain food, it knows better, but to get a refresh-
ing drink — and possibly to calculate the date.

NATURAL HUNTERS, TRAPPERS AND
FISHERS

Men have been hunters and trappers, of necessity
and for gain, ever since the flood. Earliest hunters used
stones and clubs, bows and arrows, pits and deadfalls,
with varying degrees of success ; today they are provided
with matchless guns and rifles, and a variety of ingenius
traps, and the capture of several million animals annually
makes it evident that chance has been largely superseded
by work, toil greatly surpassing in struggle and suffering
anything experienced by the ancients ; work which rarely
receives "a just recompense of reward," as the major
portion of the wealth added to the world's treasure gar-
nered from the trail and trap accrues to masterful cap-
ital rather than to sacrificial labor.

Some-when and somewhere the deserving hunter
and trapper will come into his own.

All of the fur-bearers that are hunted and trapped
for their fur, particularly those that are carnivorous, are
born hunters, trappers and fishers; some of them are
savage and cruel, and a few, noticeably the felines, tor-
ture their victims previous to killing and devouring them.
Many of the cornivora are exceedingly swift, cunning.



NATURE NOTES 539

skillful, patient and persistent both in hunting and fish-
ing.

The Polar bear is a remarkably patient hunter ; it will
wait for hours at a blow hole for a seal to rise to breathe,
and when it appears kill it almost instantly with a single
blow of its mighty paw.

The wolf and lynx will run many miles without ap-
parent weariness in pursuit of their prey.

The fox, weasel, wolverine, and all members of the
cat tribe are cunning, persistent and successful hunters.

The dog, mongoose, ferret and chetah are trained
by man to hunt for him; they need to be tamed more
definitely than trained for the purpose, as they are nat-
ural hunters.

The otter, seal, pekan, or fisher, raccoon and mink
are expert fishers, some of them being wholly dependent
for food upon their skill in catching trout, salmon, and
smaller fry.

The Polar bear is both hunter and trapper, his mas-
sive paw being the trap, for much of his game comes to
him and merely has to be caught.

In instances the wolf, operating in pairs, both hunts
and traps, one wolf "lying in wait" while the other
drives the quarry to it to be caught.

Among feathered creatures, the eagle and all hawks
are specially noted for their efficiency as hunters and
fishers. The flycatcher hunting its game on the under
side of leaves of fruit trees, the robin stealthily stalking
earth worms at dawn or twilight, the wren alertly
searching the retreats of caterpillars and grubs, the
night-hawk capturing insects in the air, and the wood-
pecker unerringly locating fat grubs half an inch or



640 NATURE NOTES

more beneath the bark of great trees, are all extremely
interesting hunters worthy of patient observation and
study. Hawks, herons, cranes, the pelican and king-
fisher are fishers of the first class, and they catch more
finny beauties than all human devotees of the rod, ex-
cept, possibly, the small boy who cuts his "pole" in the
swamp near the brook in which he casts his line. The
pelican, being an exceptionally successful and industri-
ous fisher, and being provided with a natural creel, is
trained to exercise its piscatory skill for the benefit
of its human owner, the cute Chinee.

Ducks are good fishers ; some of them live so nearly
exclusively on fish, that the fishy taste and odor makes
their flesh undesirable for human food.

The anteater, a hairy creature, makes a high score
as a trapper, using as a trap its long, rough tongue which
it thrusts into an anthill and permits it to remain "set"
until it is covered with ants and then withdrawing it
devours the catch.

The spider is the most ingenious, laborious and effi-
cient of all natural trappers ; and the only one that shows
great constructive ability in making its own trap, sets it
in manifest knowledge of the habits and haunts of the
game to be caught, and constructs at the rear of the trap
a "blind" in which to lie concealed and ready to instantly
pounce upon and perfectly secure every creature enter-
ing it. The web of the spider, designed by the spinner to
serve solely as a trap, is a marvel in beauty, design and
workmanship, composed wholly of exceeding delicate
threads or filaments, spun in a series of constantly en-
larging circles, beginning at a center and continuing
outward to a periphery of ten, twenty or more inches in



NATURE NOTES 541

diameter, the circles being crossed and united by innum-
erable, slightly spaced, radii of the same flimsy threads ;
the web is sustained, and kept in effective position, by
cables of the same material attached to branches, grass,
posts or other convenient objects suited to the purpose ;
this seemingly fragile trap is really remarkably strong,
and is perfectly adapted to the needs of the trapper, the
capture of the food required to sustain its if e ; a creature
too large and strong to be held by the trap occasionally
blimders into and breaks through it, but the spider, which
is constantly on guard, though hidden from view,
promptly repairs the damage, and in a few moments the
trap is again in working order.

The trap of the spider, attached to proper supports,
is set perpendicular to catch flies and other insects in
their usual horizontal flights ; and is also set horizontal,
near the ground to capture unwarry insects which, as
the heat of the day increases, drop down out of the air in
quest of cool hiding places. Great numbers of these spi-
der traps are set quite closely together in the grass and
weeds growing along the sides of country roads where
flies and insects abound and which, being frequently dis-
turbed by passing vehicles and pedestrians, flit back and
forth from the roadway to the grass at either side of it ;
many of them instead of alighting on the sward enter the
traps, from which there is no escape. Though hundreds
of these devices are set only a few feet or inches apart,
we may pass them many times, even walk over and upon
them, without noticing them, but on a foggy morning the
mist-laden threads are clearly visible, interesting and
impressive; and we realize, probably for the first time,
that the spider spinning its cunningly wrought web sets



542 NATURE NOTES

a trap which not alone supplies its own daily needs but
concurrently renders an immeasurably important ser-
vise to man in effecting the destruction of millions of
inimical insects which, if not thus prevented from multi-
plying, would render human life practically unendur-
able.

"The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in
king's palaces." Proverbs 30 128.

She "taketh hold with her hands" not only in the
palace of the king, but in the hut of the peasant, serving
well and wonderfully all the people.

WEATHER PROPHETS

Careful observers, particularly farmers, experi-
enced hunters and professional trappers who are most
concerned, confidently assert that certain animals are
unerringly weather-wise, and that they never fail to
note and prepare for climatic changes some time in ad-
vance of their occurrence; these human lovers of nature,
who spend most of their wakeful hours outdoors have
learned to read many of the signs as readily as scholars
read books, and they always place the utmost confidence
in their interpretations of them.

Some of the animals announce approaching storms,
rain or snow according to the season, others predict
clearing conditions, but the greater number exercise
their prophetic powers in foretelling changes in tempera-
ture, and generally write their "signs" considerably
antecedent to the event.

If the raccoon elects to feed upon ripened corn
early in the fall, to the neglect of its usual food, a severe
winter may be expected, and is usually realized. Fair



NATURE NOTES 543

weather may be "looked for" when a cat licks its fur
downward, from head to tail, the direction in which it
naturally lies. If the cat licks its fur in the other direc-
tion, it is considered a sure sign of a coming storm — re-
gardless of signs, an unpleasantness of some kind nearly
always follows when the "fur is rubbed the wrong
way."

The tree-toad sings loudest just in advance of a
shower ; most animals note the approach of rain in sum-
mer, not because of their prophetic knowledge, but
owing to a very pronounced change in atmospheric pres-
sure.

The squirrel indicates the character of the coming
winter by the quantity of nuts and acorns it carries to its
den in a tree, or conceals in many places in the ground ;
if the greater supply of food is stored in the tree, severe
cold and much snow may be expected ; on the contrary,
if the nuts are hidden "here, there and everywhere" in
the ground, the winter will be mild with a light snowfall.

The muskrat is a fairly correct weather prophet;
when it builds its house unusually high trappers and
other observers wisely prepare for a winter of more than
ordinary severity, with a succession of heavy snow
storms, and are rarely agreeably disappointed. This
building habit of the muskrat also promises exception-
ally high freshets in the following spring, and there is no
record to show that the muskrat ever regretted the extra
labor expended in adding a story or two to its winter
dwelling.

When the woodchuck digs an unusually deep bur-
row, as shown by the great amount of earth heaped
about the entrance, and carries into the burrow a mass



644 NATURE NOTES

of leaves, grasses and other warm bedding, plenty of ice
and snow may be expected to characterize the ensuing
winter.

The beaver gathers its winter supply of food prior
to the beginning of severe frosts, but never very far in
advance of that period, and by watching the prescient
animal observers of long experience readily determine
whether the winter will open early or late; when the
beaver builds a very thick dam, a cold winter is certain
to be experienced in that particular section.

The skunk sheds its fur earlier in the spring than
any other animal, and when it begins to do so, there will
be no more "hard freezing," though there may be many
chilly days and nights before the ground will be warm
enough to safely plant corn.

Settled spring weather will surely prevail after the
bear issues from the den in which it has slept during the
winter; the bear is never in a hurry to wake up, as it
somehow knows that the food it needs after a winter's
fast cannot begin to grow while the ground is frozen.

The woodchuck, or ground hog, according to com-
mon belief, awakens from its long winter sleep on the
second day of February and walks out of its burrow to
"see what the weather is"; if the sun shines, and the
woodchuck consequently "sees its shadow," winter
weather will continue for "six weeks" ; if it is a cloudy
morning, the woodchuck knows that the winter is ended
and it need not return to its burrow — this sign fails
north of Florida. We may accept the predictions of all
the weather-wise animals except the woodchuck, which
is incapable of telling a falsehood, but cannot help being
the subject of prevaricators. If the woodchuck ever



NATURE NOTES 545

comes out of its den on February two, it surely, shadow
or no shadow, goes back again in a hurry, for however
well it might endure the icy blasts of subsequent days, it
would starve to death while awaiting the coming of gra-
cious April showers. The claim that the ground hog
emerges from its burrow to study the "signs," is an in-
fallible sign that the sleepy animal is not weather-wise,
and if it were, like all prophets, would be "without honor
in its own country," and deservedly so for occasionally
prophesying the end of winter, without plainly stating
which end.

MOLE

The ground mole, which spends its allotted days of
unknown number under ground, is one of the most re-
markable fur-bearers known to man ; though not longer
or broader than a man's hand, it is wonderfully alert,
and its senses, particularly hearing and smelling, are
perfect; its fore paws are short, flat, disproportionately
large, and are provided with strong, sharp nails, and
constitute a pair of shovels not exceeded in rapidity of
operation by the modern trench digger. One sense,
sight, is deficient; the creature, however, has small
black, bead-like eyes, sunken beneath the fur, and which
are movable outward and inward at will, and serve all
its needs ; the faculty of drawing the eyes down beneath
the fur is nature's kindly provision for their protection
while the mole is engaged in plowing its tunnels with its
shovel-like fore feet which project at right angles from
the body; the eyes are doubtless of little service to the
animal in its travels, chief dependence being placed upon
the sharp, hairless snout, which is the organ of both
scent and touch.



546 NATURE NOTES

OPOSSUM LORE

If the opossum ever "plays dead" to escape an all-
devouring foe, the enemy thus sought to be avoided is
the snake, which is the only creature that unmistakably
prefers to eat live food. "The serpent is more subtle
than any beast of the field," but temporarily meets its
match when the opossum sees it first — if the solemnly
reported trick of the opossum is not a fervid fable. If
the opossum instead of "making believe" dead, or try-
ing to run away, would permit the serpent to overtake
it, the quadruped could readily tickle the snake to death
with its grippy tail — this is another tale of the opossum
to be taken with a little chlorid of sodium.

In its arborial travels the opossum uses its prehen-
sile tail as a hand, not in going up, but in coming down ;
when the animal wishes to descend it curls the end of its
tail around a branch, holds fast thereby, and fearlessly
swings down head first to the limb next below, which it
could not otherwise reach, and to which it dare not jump.

When man lost his tail, as he is supposed to have
done, he parted with one-half of his ability as a climber ;
he is still able to go up, but in coming down, otherwise
than with a thud, the insignificant opossum leads super-
man as effectively as it deceives the subtle serpent.

LYNX AND RABBIT

A strenuous competitive struggle for existence is
ceaselessly waged by the lynx and the rabbit ; and though
the contest has been maintained during the ages, neither
has gained more than a temporary triumph; and for
that reason lynx and rabbit still abide in the same terri-
tory. If we begin our observation of conditions at a



NATURE NOTES 547

period when very few lynx exist, we shall find rabbits
exceedingly abundant ; as time goes on we will each sea-
son note an increase in the number of lynx, and a gradual
reduction in rabbit life ; and continuing our observations
for a period of about seven years will find that the lynx
have greatly multiplied, and that only a few rabbits re-
main — a complete reversal of the condition prevailing at
the beginning of the seven-year period. Continuing our
observations we will soon note a very slight decrease in
the number of lynx, and if we extend our study over a
second term of seven years will find each season fewer
lynx and an ever increasing number of rabbits, and at
the end of the seventh year scarcely any lynx, and rab-
bits super-abundant.

The explanation is obvious. The rabbit constitutes
the most satisfying food of the lynx, and when only a
few of the latter exist and the former are very abundant,
the lynx readily procuring an excess of nourishing food
for itself and young thrives and rapidly multiplies, and
the steady increasing number to be fed effects a con-
stant decrease in the food supply, particularly of young
rabbits which are easily caught even by the young lynx ;
with the exhaustion of the food supply the lynx, old and
young gradually perish of hunger, and the birth rate
declines until only a few remain — at which state of the
see-saw the rabbit again begins to multiply — and so on,
ad infinitum.

HOPS

The hop-worm, which feeds upon the hop vine, is a
wasteful devourer ; it eats its way once through a vine at
a point a few inches under ground, thereby completely
destroying it. The skunk is the most deadly foe of the



548 NATURE NOTES

hop-worm, which it esteems as food, and if given free
access at night to single vines or cultivated hop yards,
will unerringly discover the worms, dig them out of
their tunnels and devour them; in a large hop yard dur-
ing the growing season a skunk is worth about five dol-
lars a night.

Unrestrained in operation the hop worm would in
a little while practically effect prohibition, or radical
changes in the composition of common beer; strangely
the despised skunk elects to become the friend and ally
of the beer drinker. It does not follow that the beer
drinker will ultimately develop into a devourer of hop
worms, or that the skunk will necessarily become a guz-
zler of beer, but the record leads to the conviction that
of the two the skunk is not incontroverbility the worst.

POLECAT

The polecat, a European animal, possesses the
strange power, peculiar to a few insects, of suspending
animation without killing certain creatures upon which
it feeds ; it is declared that it effects this result by biting
the frog, toad or other small animal through the brain,
thereby causing paralysis of nerves and sinews, but no
other injury; the creatures thus bitten are carried to its
den by the polecat to constitute a reserve stock of food
which will remain perfectly fresh until required.

BEAVER

The beaver, which builds a greater and grander
house than any of the mighty beasts, is incorrectly cred-
ited with the possession of unerring knowledge, the
claim being advanced that the beaver never makes a mis-



NATURE NOTES 649

take. It surely commits one fatal error in making its
lodge so conspicuous that "the wayfaring man though a
fool" cannot fail to observe it, his observation invariably
being followed by the death of practically every mem-
ber of the colony. It is true that the beaver, as consti-
tuted, would perish of hunger and exposure during the
winter without its wonderful dam and protective lodge,
and this being the greatest peril of which it is instinctive-
ly aware it builds accordingly, without anxious concern
regarding probable bridges, and therefore cannot be
said to be an unwise wise artisan.

Perfect wisdom is not found on land or sea — is not
expressed in the hewn stone castle of a king, or the
judgment of a sage, more surely than in the lodge of
sticks and stones and clay constructed by the beaver.

One other fur-bearer, the muskrat, builds a conspic-
uous house, readily discoverable to the youngest as well
as the most experienced trapper — ^builds to perfectly
meet dangers instinctively apprehended, and has sur-
vived, as it could not have done if, being more human, it
had idly disregarded known perils in quivering fear of
formless foes. Beavers and muskrats may now build
in greater security than formerly, as in nearly all States
of the Union and all the Provinces of Canada, laws have
been enacted for the protection of both animals and their
houses.

FOX

In order to perpetuate the fur-bearers Noah took two
of each species with him in the ark, and since that time,
if not prior to that event, the fox has continued to live
in pairs, and in consequence of this habit has developed



650 NATURE NOTES

individuality in a marked degree; gregarious animals
are all alike as regards methods of procuring their food,
exhibitions of courage, fear, concealment, and other par-
ticulars, but one fox differs from another fox as stars
differ in glory. The young fox doubtless learns much
from its parents, but when it goes out into the world to
seek its own home and living, its new environment,
newly encountered dangers, comparative ease or diffi-
culty experienced in procuring food, and the conscious-
ness, a term seemingly permissible, that it must look out
for "number one" because no one else will, the young-
ster, instead of invariably following the ways common
to all members of the tribe, displays remarkable person-
ality in action, which though readily noticed is rarely
understood and therefore considered fully explained by
one word — cunning.

It is manifest to observers that an old fox knows
more .than a young one, for it is incontrovertible that
if all were governed solely by what we understand as
instinct — "an operation of the mind independent of ex-
perience, and without having any end in view" — old and
young foxes should or would act alike in similar circum-
stances, instead of so unlike as to excite our astonish-
ment.

The fox evidently learns, and as surely remem-
bers, and combining knowledge and experience is able
to initiate; all experiences are not alike; all difficulties
and perilous situations are not identical in cause or de-
tail, but as these unlike conditions arise the old fox meets
them, not in the same way in which it effected narrow
escapes in previous dissimilar circumstances, but differ-
ently, not always wholly independent of past experience,



NATURE NOTES 551

but surely depending upon new tricks and tactics evoked
by the exigency of the moment.

A young fox suddenly aroused by a hound will at
once seek the nearest hiding place ; in like circumstances
the common brown hare will dash away at full speed
and in a few moments, if closely pursued, will invariably
circle back to the spot in which it was reposing when dis-
covered by the hound ; the hunter counts upon this hom-
ing habit, and quietly awaiting the return of the hare
usually bags it, unless he is a poor marksman. The little
hare knows perfectly the tortuous runs and paths which
it has made in the immediate vicinity of its home, but
the outside world is strange to it, and therefore in its
very limited knowledge clings to its home as the only
place of safety; while the hare thus runs its circle with
a definite "end in view," in doing so it readily becomes
the prey of its devouring enemies.

An old fox approached by a hound may, if circum-
stances permit, quickly enter one of its underground
dens and while the closely pursuing dog seeks to follow
it pass out of the den by another somewhat distant and
less conspicuous exit, and so leisurely trot to a known
safe retreat many miles away, the hound meanwhile
continuing to bark and burrow manifestly quite confi-
dent, because of the single sense of smell, that the fox is
still within the den. Instead of pursuing this course,
the fox may at first dash away across fields and brooks
in a straight line, curves and circles, making long, speedy
runs and taking frequent rests, not "without any end in
view," but for a definite purpose, either to cause the
hound to lose the scent, and so end the chase ; or to con-
fuse its pursuer as to the direction taken by the pursued,



562 NATURE NOTES

and so lead the hound to retrace its steps and thus afford
reynard ample time to effect its escape ; the fox in alter-
nately running and resting aims to tire out the hound
which, not apprehending all fox tricks, continues to fol-
low a warm scent until its strength is exhausted. The
fox evidently "knows a lot," much more than we sup-
pose ; it is not conceivable that it chooses a long chase, in
instances continuing many hours, when a short run
would insure its safety ; we may infer that it fairly com-
prehends the unvaried method of an enemy which has
assailed it more than once, and its own most effective
line of defense ; that it knows exactly what to do when
trailed by Fido for the third time, and has recourse to
first one trick and then another, more if need be, when
pursued for the first time by another hound or mongrel.

Reynard, like some humans, lives by his wits; and
sooner or later likewise perishes in consequence of ex-
cessive confidence in fallible wisdom.

In the great State of Pennsylvania the fox is
classed as vermin, and is charged with destroying many
game birds — which sportsmen and pot hunters would
like to get; the sportsmen seemingly forget that game
birds and foxes have been co-inhabitants of the same
patch of land from the dawn of time, and that the fox,
if guilty as charged, has in all ages been a very provi-



Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 31 of 34)