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May 3: War on Gophers

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Starkweather gophers beware! Around this time in 1915, the businessmen and farmers of Starkweather North Dakota declared war on their rodent neighbors. Meeting at the Schweitzer hardware store, the group put together a plan to initiate “a vigorous campaign against gophers.” A three-person committee was named to make the arrangements. Because they felt immediate action was needed, the committee declared the following day as "Gopher Day," to kick off the campaign. They also designated prizes for participants.

This was not the only “War on Gophers.” Over the years, many communities have battled to keep the pesty vermin at bay. Among the methods used was poison. The citizens of Garrison even brought in an agricultural college graduate and member of a poison squad. This squad was organized by the federal government and worked under the direction of the North Dakota experiment station. The graduate visited Garrison to show farmers how to best use the poison, which was developed by professor W.B. Bell at the North Dakota agricultural college. Use of the poison required instruction because it took care and experience to make it efficient. The poison was expected to save farmers thousands of dollars annually.

Another effort was undertaken in Renville County where the county commissioner purchased over 2,000 dollars’ worth of gopher poison to be distributed to the townships.

But poison wasn’t the only way farmers fought gophers, or the other rodents deemed a problem. It was reported that a Drayton man, after spotting a groundhog “looking for his shadow,” killed it after “hand to hand conflict.”

The conflict with the rodent’s raged on for many years, and in some ways continues today. Farmers and ranchers must be vigilant. Gopher holes warn of potential damage to trees, shrubbery, garden beds and crops. Their burrowing can also destroy underground utility lines for electricity, water, plumbing, and irrigation. So, it no wonder the people of many North Dakota communities have declared a “War on Gophers.”

Dakota Datebook by Olivia Burmeister


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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