Random animal stories have lit up newspapers for centuries.
We read them for for a few reasons. We’re inspired by the loyalty of a pet, a constant companion, beacon of love. Even the old Unsolved Mysteries program aired a story of a heroic pig that squeezed through a dog door and laid down in the street to call attention to an ill master. We love animals whose intelligence is more akin to ours. Dogs capable of intricate tricks. Gorillas using sign language. And we have a love/repulsion about – though usually at more of a distance – tales of animals getting one over on humans, be it grizzly attacks, hungry Florida wildlife or an abused animal finally having enough.
James Herriot captured the world with animal stories, starting with All Creatures Great and Small, which was later turned into a television series.
With other story work underway, the summer hiatus of the Georgia High School Basketball Project blog is ending gently here, with a few unrelated, utterly tossed together vintage animal stories out of newspapers.
Haralson County did not quite trust groundhogs.
Two days before Groundhog Day in 1968, the Tallapoosa Journal mentioned the usual superstitions of the little beasts seeing their shadow and the odds of an early spring. The Journal also was not too trusting of them, especially if a local one happened to make a prediction.
“The encyclopedia also states that the woodchuck is found from Hudson Bay to South Carolina and nearly as far west as the Rockies. This eliminates Georgia and Haralson County, all of which means that if the sun does shine Friday and a stray groundhog hereabout does see his shadow, extradite him.”
Move that little rascal out to his natural home.
While the Tallapoosa Journal was correct in that groundhogs were not native to Haralson County, the geography actually was not too far off, at least according to Wikipedia. A map of where groundhogs dwell show them at the very northern tip of Georgia, ranging perhaps as far south as Rising Fawn. There was no reason to disbelieve that one might have gotten utterly confused and kept going south.
The March 6, 1952 Monroe Advertiser proudly proclaimed the following on the front page: “The first monkey hunt ever held in Monroe County came to an end Tuesday when Jesse Dumas shot a twenty-pound monkey near Wallis Waldrep’s Fish Pond on Highway 42.”
A description that could have doubled as a Ray Stevens song told the tale of the monkey’s brief life of freedom.
It had supposedly escaped from a traveling circus in Barnesville.
The monkey was first spotted in a tree near the home of Mrs. W.H. Etheridge. We’ll take it that either our first witness thought she was out of her mind or people she told thought so. Who expects to see a monkey in Monroe County? This conclusion is drawn because it wasn’t until the tailed wonder was sighted in the hen house of Otis Sanders that the hunt began.
(No addresses were given for these individuals, so the speed or route of the monkey is quite unknown.)
For three days, Monroe County citizens searched for the monkey. They wanted to capture it alive, probably out of a combination of curiosity and the rumor that the circus was offering $50 for for its return in that condition.
Dogs were brought in to track the monkey, but because a) the dogs had never tracked a monkey before and b) “monkey was able to swing through the trees with the speed of a Tarzen [sic],” no dice. The decision was made to shoot to kill.
Dumas shot the monkey and likely attained legendary status in Monroe County.
A one-line news item from The Quitman Free Press in 1949:
“Stray cattle and hogs using the city cemetery for grazing were rounded up Monday and put in the city pound.”
This really isn’t that strange. There was actually a debate in many Georgia counties at this time about livestock fences. Maybe not to the extent of pigs scratching their backs on tombstones as can be visualized here, but major debate nonetheless.
One, Irwin County, voted in July 1947 for “no fence,” which meant farmers did not have to fence in their crops and instead, livestock owners had to fence in their animals.
“Irwin County joins the list of other progressive South Georgia counties which have restricted the wanderings of cows and hogs from the highways and farm lands,” according to The Ocilla Star.
Thieves of other types
The Bulloch Times and Statesboro News poked fun at its own town in 1930, but it also showed that Statesboro was a much different place then. Then, as now, Statesboro was a college town, but South Georgia Teachers College was a year old. It was a name change from Georgia Normal School, which itself had been First District Agricultural and Mechanical from 1908-1924.
In a tally of recent wildlife kills within its borders, the newspaper noted:
“The record stands as follows: One ‘possum this week; one polecat last week; one rattlesnake last month, and a covey of quail last year. The quail were caught by [Policeman] Raif Brannen as they made their roosting place in the court house. The rattlesnake defied the proprieties of civilization and crawled under Hosea Aldred’s store on South Main [S]treet, where he still presumably is hibernating for the winter.”
Note that the possum and the polecat were not small.
“Master-sized,” said the Times and News of both animals.
The demise of the possum was described as it “was late going in from a night out and the officers espied him as he waddled along in the direct, presumably, of his home, a smile on his countenance. He was late getting under cover and paid the penalty for his delay.”
That’s beautiful use of the English language.
Kids, don’t try this at home
Another circus story out of the city of Register, also in Bulloch County.
A gentleman visiting this circus in 1927 tried to make friends with a hyena by sticking his hand in a cage. He was bitten.
After visiting the doctor for this slight wound, not only did this gentleman revisit the circus that day, he also decided to talk to the hyena again. He offered another hand in friendship. Not surprisingly, said the Bulloch Times and Statesboro News:
“When he extended the other hand, the animal met him in the same spirit of cordiality with which he had met him at first and seized his hand in its mouth. When it turned loose, Cowart’s hand was practically in shreds. It is understood that the surgeons expressed some doubt as to the possibility of saving the hand from amputation.”
Hyenas don’t actually laugh. This one might have.
Sources: The Tallapoosa Journal – Jan. 31, 1968; The Monroe Advertiser – Mar. 6, 1952; The Quitman Free Press – Feb. 10, 1949; The Ocilla Star – July 3, 1947; Bulloch Times and Statesboro News – Dec. 8, 1927, Nov. 20, 1930.