Written by: Alexandra Jonassen MOAH Collections
When the first settlers arrived to the Antelope Valley during the beginning of the 20th century, they were met with a diverse amount of wildlife, including animals that are still very much an active part of our desert landscape - coyotes and rabbits.
Antelope Valley farmers often had their chicken coops damaged by hungry coyotes. This problem led to many residents extensively hunting coyotes in the valley, which in turn led to a drop in their population. In fact, in 1892, Lancaster Antelope Valley Bank added buying coyote scalps to its services, stating in advertisements that “We will advance money on coyote scalps; bring your scalps to the Bank and we will do the rest” (Gurba, 2005). Local stores would also encourage the hunting of coyotes by taking coyote pelts and farm produce in return for store merchandise (Gurba,2005). See figures 1 and 2 for images of coyote hunting and pelts.
Figure 1:Coyote caught in trap in 1902 in Lancaster (Gurba, 2005; Photo from MOAH Collections)
Figure 2: Trapper Harold True with many coyote pelts (Gurba, 2005; Photo from MOAH Collections)
The decline in coyotes caused the local Cottontail and Jackrabbit population to skyrocket. Testimony from several early residents have stated that swarms of rabbits roamed the desert. Early resident Evan Evans said at night the ground looked like it was moving because there were so many rabbits (Gurba, 2005). These rabbits would cause great damage to people’s crops and hardware and so again, citizens would turn to hunting to decrease their population.
Throughout the 1880s – 1920s, AV residents organized rabbit drives in which hundreds of rabbits would be gathered and killed. People would ride on horseback or run –on-foot to encircle and close in on rabbits, driving them into corrals where they were beaten to death with clubs (Gurba, 2005). Herds of rabbits can be shown being driven into these corrals in photos (See Figures 3 and 4). Women and children would also participate in these events (See Figures 5 and 6). Trains would come every Sunday bringing in folks from Los Angeles who wanted to participate in a rabbit drive during the 1880s. Once the rabbits were killed, people would head back to the city and eat (See Figure 7). Any leftover meat was said to be given to orphanages in Los Angeles (Gurba, 2005).
Figure 3: 1880s photograph of rabbit drive (Photo from MOAH Collections)
Figure 4: 1880s photograph of rabbits being driven into corral (Photo from MOAH Collections)
Figure 5: Photograph from 1902 with women and children in rabbit hunt (Gurba, 2005; Photo from MOAH Collections)
Figure 6: Photograph from 1910 of successful rabbit hunt(Gurba, 2005; Photo from MOAH Collections)
Figure 7: Rabbit drive party (Gurba, 2005; Photo from MOAH Collections)
Found within MOAH’s collections department is a student research project book, entitled “Mirages, Mountains, and Mysteries: A regional study of the Antelope Valley” which was compiled by a group of one hundred and thirty seventh and eighth grade students from Team II at Park View School in 1972 (See Figure 8). This text features interviews with early Lancaster residents who do recall the early rabbit drives.
Buddy Redman who first arrived in the valley in 1911 was interviewed by students Sue Waligora, Liz Owens, and Tim Fuller and spoke of the hunts. He recalls his own rabbit hunting, stating that farmers with alfalfa fields put up rabbit fences made of chicken wire to keep the rabbits out. After the alfalfa had been harvested and only the stubble remained, he “would go out at night and make a hole in the fence, allowing the rabbits to come in and eat the stubble”. In the morning Redman would “close the hole, fencing in twenty-five to thirty rabbits in a night. Then he took the rabbit pelts, pressed them, put them in a gunny sack, and tagged them for the Los Angeles Soap Company. The company would give him for to six cents for one pelt” (Park View Students, 1972).
In addition, resident Hugh Griffith who came to Lancaster in 1925 was interviewed by student Jan Russell and he too recalls hunting rabbits but in a different manner. He went on a rabbit hunt in 1930s and the interview states that “there were so many rabbits that you could hardly see the ground in some places. There were many different kinds of rabbit hunts. The kind he liked the best was where they would sit on their car and then somebody would be inside to turn the headlights on and they would jump off of the car and bash the rabbits and kill them. But they did that for fun. When the rabbits would get too bad, men would organize a big group and together they would catch them. They would all march around through the sagebrush and drive the rabbits ahead, then they would set a trap and kill them. Some of the rabbits they would eat, like the cottontail rabbits, but the jack rabbits were too tough and stringy” (Park View Students, 1972). Griffith also testifies that it was difficult to shoot coyotes and that they would run away quickly into the darkness.
Thankfully, we do not have this overgrown population problem with rabbits today and we do have these extraordinary images to look back on.
Figure 8: “Mirages, Mountains, and Mysteries” front cover (MOAH Collections).
Works Cited Gurba, Norma H. Images of America Lancaster. Arcadia Publishing, 2005.
Park View Middle School. “Mirages, Mountains, and Mysteries a Regional Study of the Antelope Valley”. 1972. MOAH Collections.