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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Roscoe in Years Gone By: The Mayor of Fort Worth and the Roscoe Rabbit Drive of 1915

Dear Readers,

This week’s posting is a little short of news since I left town yesterday to drive a friend to the VA hospital in Albuquerque and won’t return until tomorrow evening.  If anything major happened yesterday, that's why it isn't in here.  To compensate, I am reprinting another interesting tidbit of Roscoe history, this one from a hundred years ago.  It originally appeared two years ago in the January 2, 2013, posting of the Hard Times.

Edwin Duncan


Children display captured jack rabbits from a Pyron rabbit drive of about 1915.
[Editor's Note: As curator of the Roscoe Historical Museum, I sometimes do research into the history of old Roscoe and occasionally come across interesting information about the town that has been forgotten and would be lost forever if it weren’t located and retrieved from dusty old archives.  The following account is about one such event that occurred in 1915, preserved in the historical archives of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.]

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 serious pests.  The early settlers killed off their natural predators--coyotes, wolves, cougars, foxes, and wildcats--because they were a danger to chickens, pets, and livestock.  As a result, 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 by mail 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 humorous 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, *        (*Oft go astray)
                            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."

However, as Shakespeare put it, all’s well that ends well, and a week later, on Saturday morning, April 3, the rabbits arrived by flatcar at the train station 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.



If you stop to think about some of the implications of certain parts of this story, you can’t help but wonder at some of the differences between the people of a hundred years ago and those of today.

The first statement in the story that gave me pause was from the letter that S. D. Knox wrote to the Mayor in March in which he states that the rabbits are good to eat until May 1.  Just how long did people back then think you could keep a half-cleaned rabbit carcass before it was no longer edible?

Remember, this was in the days before refrigeration, and also remember that the rabbits, beheaded and gutted, were sent on a flatcar all the way from Roscoe to Fort Worth.  Nevertheless, the prospects of getting one—for free!—drew quite a crowd.  How many Fort Worth people today, I don’t care how poor they are, would walk down to City Hall to pick up one of these appetizing delicacies?

Also note that the Mayor was a little put out by the “silk-socked” men—by which I assume he means the unpoor and unneedy—who were there to score a free jack rabbit.  And yet, back in 1915 the prospect of a free rabbit from Roscoe not only drew quite a crowd but was also a political coup for the Mayor, who posed for many photos as he gave them away.  Imagine what kind of reaction such a move by a Fort Worth mayor would prompt today.

Of course mumps is no longer with us today like it was back then.  Even as kids growing up in the 1950s, we were susceptible to the malady.  I can remember my brothers and I all getting it, along with the measles, but it was not common for adults to get it even back then.  And cotton farms are no longer plagued by jack rabbits like they once were.  Roundup on the cotton leaves has taken care of that.  You will see jack rabbits occasionally on ranches—hopefully the rabbits have learned that eating cotton leaves is not a good idea—but they certainly don’t exist in the numbers they did in the days of the rabbit drives.

The recipe for old, tough jack rabbits is also interesting.  Even if we did cook one, I doubt that we would leave it in the oven for two hours as the recipe calls for, even if you did put some pork strips on it to keep it moist.

But times change and so do people.  It makes you wonder what people in 2115 will think of some of the aspects of life we consider normal today.



Both the Plowgirls and Plowboys were defeated by Hawley in Hawley last Friday night, the girls by a score of 37-23 and the boys 64-41.

Here are the scores by quarters followed by individual scoring for both games.

Hawley 64 - Plowboys 41

Hawley            9          29        56        64
Plowboys         3          15        21        41

Plowboy scoring: Kevin Lavalais 16, Javier Leanos 11, Cutter Davila 6, Isaiah Gonzales 5, Rafael Aguayo 2.

Hawley 37 – Plowgirls 23

Hawley             1          12        26        37
Plowgirls          5          10        16        23

Plowgirl scoring: Olivia Saddler 8, Mia Herrera 6, Selena Perez 5, Magali Casas 4.



Last Wednesday evening and Thursday were an aberration.  On Wednesday evening a norther blew in with sustained high winds of 29mph and gusts up to 45.  The temperature dropped to 30°F that night and Thursday’s high was only 39°.  But then on Friday it was back to springlike weather with a high of 68°, and warm, sunny weather has been with us since then.  Saturday afternoon’s 81° was the high for the week, but since then afternoon temperatures have been in the mid to high seventies with lows in the forties.  It’s been a bit breezy at times, but Monday was one of those rare west Texas days when warm winter temperatures combine with calm or only very light winds to make for a beautiful day.

As I will be in Albuquerque when most of you read this, I’m writing this on Monday evening and can’t tell you anything about Tuesday, but the forecast is for another warm day and will assume it was such.  The forecast is for cooler weather tomorrow (Thursday) followed by more warm weather through the weekend with highs in the sixties and lows in the forties.

There is no rain in the immediate forecast although there is a possibility of more in a week or so.



Funeral services were held on Monday, February 2, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Eden for Orville Wayne Paty, 73, who died on Friday, January 30.  Burial followed at Eden Cemetery.

He was born Oct. 26, 1941, to Orville Britt Paty and Marjorie Lane Small Paty in Kaufmann, Texas.  He graduated from Hermleigh High School in 1959 and lived in Roscoe for several years. He was a cattle buyer for many years and loved horse racing and fishing.

He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Sue Paty of Eden; one son, Lynn Lubke and wife Janet of Harlingen; brother, Joe Paty and wife Rosemary of Sweetwater; sister, Pam Knight and husband Flint of Hobbs, New Mexico; two granddaughters, Candace Moss of Lakeland, Florida, and Courtney Lubke of Harlingen; two great-granddaughters; one great-grandson; one sister-in-law, Janie Kennedy and husband JD of Fredericksburg; one brother-in-law, Leo Smith of San Angelo; and several nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents; a brother, Britt Paty; and a grandson, Chandler Lubke.


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