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Varmints A-plenty, Once Upon A Time

By Mike Watson

When this Kentucky land we call home was new to the pioneers, it was replete with wild game of all types. Varmints, by definition of the Blue Ribbon Bear Board, were everywhere. One worrisome wild animal to the early settlers was the wolf. They were identified as the grey wolf, though I have not delved into the true classification.

There were many instances of livestock being killed by wolves, and the eventual killing off of large numbers can be proved with the public records of the early 1800s.

All types of livestock were kept penned up for their own safety and that of the human inhabitants who depended upon them. Cattle and hogs were generally allowed to forage for food, and thus were let loose until threatened by incursions, real or imagined. Sheep, chickens, and other small animals were the general targets of the wolf.

Adair County began business as such in 1802, having been formed by the General Assembly the previous year, entirely from Green County. The first orders of business were setting up county government and swearing in appointed officials.

Close behind was more mundane, but important, business. One issue was the eradication of the wolf in the rapidly growing settled areas.


The Adair County Court, following the lead of laws enacted in Frankfort, began to pay out small sums to those who could prove they had killed an offending wolf.

Wolf Scalps were brought to town on Court Day and presented for payment. Only with the scalp could one prove a wolf had been dispatched. The first term was held in May 1802. In the October 1802 session of the County Court the first bounty was paid out. This to Joseph Casteele, who was entitled to 8 shillings for an "Old Wolf Scalp."

The following citizens presented claims for at the December 1802 term for killing the offending varmints: Ezekiel Thornhill for 2 old wolf scalp2; Samuel Simpson 1, Joseph Harvey 1, Jno. [John] McDaniel 1, Joseph Casteal 1, William Hopkins 1, Jacob Miller 1, William Hurst 1, Archelus Wheeler 1, Alexander Telford 1, Daniel McFerren 1, Alexander Blair 1, James Walker 1, Job Harvey 2, James Evans 1.

November 1803 saw more claims of the Court: Joseph Turnbow for 1 wolf scalp over 6 months old, Benjamin Bristoe 2, Robert Caldwell 6, John Telford 1, Easop Shelton 1, Matthew Robertson 3, Nathaniel Jones 1, Nathan Montgomery 3 under 6 months old, Robert Todd 2, Martin Warren 2, James Millican 2, Benjamin Ball 1 old wolf scalp, John Stewart 1.

And so forth for some years, perhaps until the population was depleted or they became smarter and left the country or outwitted the hunters.

However the problems with other carnivores continued in Kentucky as illustrated here. Adair County Court paid out as of 10 October 1867, for the previous fiscal year, $1.50 "compensation for killing wild cats" and $8.00 "compensation for killing red foxes." Numbers not given.

Which brings to mind an old tale from an early Adair County News: An Old Story--George and Henry Lawless, who many years ago lived in the Eastern portion of Adair County, followed trapping for a living and they generally went together when they started for game. One day they were on Sulphur Creek, and walking along the bluff, Henry in the lead and George ten yards behind. Suddenly a wildcat jumped from a bushy tree and lit on George's shoulder. He did not call his brother to arrest him from the claws of the animal, but instead he reached up and caught the cat by his hind legs, swinging him around his head a few times, he dashed the animals brains out against a sapling. Looking at the cat for a minute, he said, "I let you know, sir, I am a wildcat killer." Henry was the only witness to the occurrence, and in his lifetime delighted in telling it.--8 November 1921


This story was posted on 2020-07-21 07:11:58
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