Gopher control was a major topic of discussion 120 years ago in the region.

Gophers are technically ground squirrels and we have at least two species in the area.

The thirteen-lined ground squirrel, stripes, and Richardson’s ground squirrels, flicker tails, are still common inhabitants of the open prairie.

The animals are small and lively, living in burrows while dodging the efforts of fox, coyote, hawks and other predators from devouring them.

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The little critters were and are a problem for farmers and ranchers. The burrows damaged the lands and the little animals could eat up their weight in pasture grass and grain. Farmers of all eras have lived on too close a margin to share the production of the land with others even if they are cute little ground squirrels.

One of the first efforts in gopher control was a bounty system. I can still remember cashing in an old can full of gopher tails for money from the township back in Dickey County in the 1960s and 1970s.

Evidently, this system was not without problems even in 1901.

Newspaper reports of the era indicate some sort of scheme in Sargent County where people fraudulently collected gopher bounties and ended up being sentenced to the North Dakota Penitentiary.

Don’t know if they had a special cellblock in the state pen for hardened gopher tail criminals.

In 1901, Stutsman County opted to go with a poison solution to the local gopher problem.

The county levied a 4-mill tax for gopher control. For reference, Stutsman County now levies 4 mills for economic development.

Getting rid of gophers in 1901 warranted the same effort as luring new business to the county does now.

Anyway, Stutsman County used the money to purchase a large amount of strychnine for distribution to farmers with a gopher problem. This poison was then provided to any farmer through the Stutsman County auditor’s office.

You could stop in at the courthouse, pay your taxes and pick up some poison all in one stop.

Those farmers then went home and coated some corn with strychnine that they could drop into a furrow plowed across the field.

Poison and fraud all in trying to deal with the tiny little ground squirrels native to the region.