Grit Blogs > A Farm Boy Remembers

The Gopher Cat

Larry ScheckelShe was a yellow calico cat. Very quiet, the way cats are supposed to be. She arched her back up when you reached down to stroke her. She didn’t have a name, so we simply called her Cat. Cat would sit on my lap and form a perfect ball. Cat had three or four whiskers on each side of the head. I wondered what those whiskers were for. Other animals didn't have whiskers. I’d tweak those whiskers and Cat would pull her head back. My brothers, Phillip and Bob, and I would put our head close to the stomach of Cat and listen to the purring growling sounds.

Phillip: "It's digesting food. That's the stomach growling."

Lawrence: "No, it's not. That's the heart pumping blood."

Bob: "Tain't neither one. Cats got special parts that make 'em do that. That's why those Egyptian pharaohs had cats running around."

Cat was a house cat in winter and bad weather. She could hang out in the kitchen, living room, or basement. Cat would get a slice of bread soaked in milk, placed on a saucer. Cat was treated special, different that the other farm cats. 

But in summer, Cat was a moneymaker. You see, Cat hunted gophers and gophers had a Crawford County in Southwestern Wisconsin had bounty of a nickel in the 1940s and 1950s. Gopher tails brought five cents, mole feet garnered a quarter, and monies paid for rattlesnakes varied depending on the number of rattles or eggs. 

We would observe Cat out in the fields and along the roadway, crouching down, as still as could be, not making a move. Cat was waiting, watching, ready to pounce on a mouse or, we hoped, a gopher. We knew what Cat was up to. We did not disturb her. But some time later, maybe an hour, we would see Cat walking across the lawn, a gopher dangling from her mouth.

Gopher cat 

Slowly we would approach Cat, convince her to drop her prey, get the pinchers from the garage, cut that prized tail off, and return the gopher to Cat. We had it all figured out. If Cat didn't get her gopher returned, she just might not bring the gopher around for us to see. Cat just might eat the gopher out in the pastures or roadside, and we would never be the wiser.

Gopher tails was stored in a fruit jar of salt kept in the garage. The salt preserved the gopher tails and mole feet. Every October that jar made it over to the Chuck Sprosty farm on Highway E that led down to Lynxville. Mr. Sprosty was the Seneca Township treasurer who counted the contents and paid the bounty.

Why a bounty? It was thought the gophers and moles created tunnels in the soil and those tunnels and holes led to erosion on the steep hillsides of Crawford County.