Bludgeoned Bunnies


I’ve been working on the Kansas parts of Gene Smith’s Sink and my nephew Hank Stephenson has been working as my research assistant.  This morning, in the WPA Guide to 1930′sKansas (1939), he came across this passage in the “sports and recreation” section of the book (P. 117-118).

“The jackrabbit drive is peculiar to western Kansas. Advertised for days in advance for handbills and local newspapers, the drive usually starts on Sunday and is attended by great crowds of spectators. A certain area, covering perhaps thousands of acres, is surrounded by beaters armed with clubs and sticks; guns are banned. Hundreds of people take part. Slowly the lines close in on all sides, flushing the rabbits into a large pen or wire enclosure at a central point, where they are clubbed to death. The daily ‘kill,’ which in many instances exceeds 6,500, is reported by the local press. Denounced in other sections as a sadistic display, the drive is defended in the Western part of the State as an economic necessity, since the rabbits feed on green wheat.”

Curious, Hank then found this stunning 1934 video.

When word of this tradition spread, apparently, there was outrage.  Hank found this quote courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society:

“Eastern Kansas residents, who had no jackrabbit problems, were among the critics, prompting some farmers to propose that the rabbits be driven to the eastern part of the state.  The farmers tried to ship live rabbits to eastern states, but Ohio game and wildlife officials realized how destructive jackrabbits were and canceled their order.  Residents of western Kansas rounded up about 1,200 live rabbits to ship to Indiana; the press in Kansas City, Omaha, and Denver as well as the Pathé newsreel company covered this attempt.”

Thousands of bludgeoned bunnies

Thousands of bludgeoned bunnies

-Sam Stephenson

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