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The Lowly Muskrat

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On this date in 1910 two North Dakota men found themselves in hot water for illegal trapping. Deputy game warden Thomas Turner obtained a warrant for the arrest of Curt and Paul Haase for trapping out of season. Deputy Sheriff Redmond arrested the men at the Locke Farm near Devils Lake. They had in their possession over one hundred muskrat pelts. The brothers appeared before Justice George Juergens. Caught red-handed, they had little choice. They both entered guilty pleas and were fined twenty-six dollars and fifty cents.

The Devils Lake newspaper noted that muskrats were becoming scarce in North Dakota. The scarcity made the pelts more valuable, selling for one dollar each. The illegal pelts were confiscated by the state, and the game warden would oversee their sale, which would benefit his department.

North Dakota has a long history of fur trapping. The state is home to a variety of animals that are hunted for their fur. The focus tends to be on larger animals, and the lowly muskrat is generally overlooked. While muskrats were becoming scarce in 1910, the muskrat population rebounded. Muskrat trapping continues to be practiced today.

Muskrats are generally about eight to ten inches long. They weigh between one and a half and four pounds. They are semi-aquatic, spending much of their lives in the water. In the winter, they build piles of vegetation on the ice called “push-ups” that cover breathing holes in the ice. These dens resemble beaver lodges. Muskrats feed mainly on cattails and other vegetation, but will also eat small animals. The Abenaki name for the animal was moskwas and may have evolved into the English word. For a time, muskrats were known as the musk beaver for the musky smell it uses to mark its territory. The animal’s tail more closely resembles that of a rat instead of a beaver, so eventually the term muskrat became common.

Muskrat pelts are a less expensive alternative to farm-raised mink. When the price of mink goes up, there is a corresponding rise in the price of muskrat fur. The Haase brothers took a chance on illegal trapping because one dollar per pelt was a high price at the time. They would be amazed to know that today muskrat pelts sell for ten to fifteen dollars each.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Lost Their Musk-Rats.” Devils Lake ND, 11/18/1910. Page 1.

Columbus Dispatch. “Price of Muskrat Pelts Soars.” Columbus OH, 1/15/2012. https://www.dispatch.com/article/20120115/SPORTS/301159783

Trapping Today. “North Dakota Trapper Targets Muskrats.” https://www.trappingtoday.com/north-dakota-trapper-targets-muskrats/ Accessed 10/6/2021.

North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “Muskrat Trapping in North Dakota.” https://gf.nd.gov/sites/default/files/publications/muskrat-trapping-brochure.pdf Accessed 10/6/2021.

North Dakota Furtakers. “Muskrat.” http://northdakotafurtakers.com/EdManual/muskrat.htm#:~:text=Muskrat%20trapping%20in%20North%20Dakota%20very%20often%20means,least%20part%20of%20his%20trapping%20through%20the%20ice. Accessed 10/6/2021.

Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “Best Practices for Trapping Muskrats in the United States.” https://www.fishwildlife.org/application/files/5615/2105/2738/Muskrat_BMP_2014_F.pdf Accessed 10/6/2021.

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