|Children display captured jack rabbits from a Pyron rabbit drive of about 1915.|
Jack rabbits are relatively scarce around Roscoe these days, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the early days of the community all the way up to the 1950s, there were often so many rabbits that they were major pests. The early settlers killed off their natural predators--the coyotes, wolves, cougars, foxes, and wildcats--because they were a danger to chickens, pets, and livestock. As a result, the rabbits proliferated and created considerable damage by eating farmers’ crops.
To counter the problem, community rabbit drives were organized. These were all day affairs participated in by a large number of people, who would go to a designated area, either a pasture or ranch, to round up the rabbits and shoot them. Men and boys would divide up into two groups, the drivers and the shooters. The drivers would go a mile or so away, and then space themselves out in a line 15 or 20 feet from one another and start walking back toward a similar line of shooters, yelling and making noise to frighten the rabbits and drive them toward the shooters, armed with shotguns, who would then shoot them.
In the meantime the women prepared and set out a big picnic lunch, which was then enjoyed by all. Successful rabbit drives frequently resulted in the death of hundreds of rabbits.
Since tularemia, or “rabbit fever,” wasn’t a problem until the 1930s and later, early-day rabbit drives yielded a lot of edible rabbit meat, which was fed not only to the pets but also often eaten by people, especially poor people.
|Picnic lunch at a Bernecker rabbit drive in 1925.|
In late March of 1915, S. D. Knox of Roscoe wrote Fort Worth Mayor R. F. Milam, offering him all the rabbits collected from a big upcoming drive. He said to expect about five hundred. “They are good to eat until May 1,” Knox wrote. “Parboiled and baked, they are good and wholesome. If the out-of-work people of your city would care for them, we will prepare them and ship them to you. All we ask is that you pay the freight.”
Mayor Milam enthusiastically accepted Roscoe’s offer, announcing that he would set up a “rabbit bureau” in the corridor of the City Hall and give one rabbit to every unemployed man asking for it. He sent his secretary to the Carnegie Library to obtain recipes for both cottontails and jackrabbits, and also received recipes from others.
Here is one of them, claimed to result in “good, tender eating” even if the rabbit is old:
“Fill with dressing to suit the taste, well moistened with hot water. Sew up the carcass, sprinkle well with salt, put in your roasting pan, some strips of pork laid over the carcass, or if you have no pork a little butter will do very well. Bake in medium oven from two to four hours.”
Copies of recipes for fried rabbit, broiled rabbit, roast rabbit, and rabbit hash were also made for distribution under this heading: “The great municipal mayoralty recipes for cooking rabbits, advocated and promulgated by leading scientists and artists of cuisine, and guaranteed to meet the approval of the most fastidious epicure. These recipes comply with the pure food law and will be found to be gastronomically perfect.”
Then the word was spread to the unemployed of Fort Worth. All that was needed was the rabbits, and they were due to arrive on the Monday following the big Roscoe rabbit drive that Saturday.
However, in the immortal words of the Scottish poet Robert Burns,
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
On Monday, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, men and women, boys and girls swarmed in front of City Hall and in its corridors for the promised free rabbits. But train after train arrived from the west with no sign of them. Finally, the Mayor’s secretary made a long distance call to S. D. Knox in Roscoe to find out what had happened.
“Mumps,” was the reply. The rabbit drive had been called off because several of the leaders of the drive had come down with the ailment, prompting the others to stay home for fear of contagion. Knox said, however, that the people of Roscoe intended to keep their promise and would let the mayor know when the drive was held.
What happened next is best expressed by the Star-Telegram reporter who reported on the situation:
"There was no howling from an angry mob when Watson [the Mayor’s secretary] made the official announcement that the rabbits were still loping over Nolan County, but there was deep gloom. Recipes for frying, roasting, and broiling rabbit that had been published by sanction of the mayor were folded and tucked away, and the rabbit hunters moved silently away."
But all’s well that ends well, and on Saturday morning, April 3, the rabbits arrived in Fort Worth.
They were carried in big sacks to City Hall and placed in a huge pile that blocked the main entrance. Mayor Milam then “played host to a constant stream of men, women, and children” that came for the promised rabbits, which had been “beheaded and semi-cleaned.”
Newspaper photographers and even a motion-picture cameraman were on hand to capture the event, and the Mayor, who hadn’t planned to distribute the bloody rabbits, nevertheless was asked to pose doing just that so many times that he wound up handing out as many rabbits as anyone.
“Sad commentary on things in general,” the Mayor said as he surveyed the rabbit applicants. “I believe there are more silk-socked men in that crowd than unemployed and needy, but it’s unemployed first, and the silk-socked boys may have what’s left over.”
And apparently everyone, silk-socked and poor alike, went home that day satisfied.
Information about the great rabbit giveaway comes from these four articles published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
1. “Mayor to Give Away 500 Rabbits Caught in Drive,”
March 24, 1915.
2. “Rabbit Recipes Hold Attention of Mayor Milam,”
March 26, 1915.
3. “Rabbit Drive is Stopped by Mumps; Poor Here Losers,”
March 29, 1915.
4. “Rabbits Distributed to Big Crowd; Mayor Milam Takes an
Active Part,” April 3, 1915.