Plains Folk



We’ve been cussing badgers around our house this fall–ever since that day, out hunting sharptails with Little Angie the History Dog, I stepped into a badger hole, hyperextended my knee, and did a little number on my MCL. The only good thing about the whole episode is this nifty cane I can shake at whippersnappers, but even that is getting a little old.

Our dogs think badgers are wonderful, because of course, they never met one. They investigate every burrow in the bar ditch and breathe in the scent, transfixed.

In the farm setting, dogs and badgers seem to be natural antagonists. It turns out that dog-and-badger fights were grisly popular  entertainments in old England, until outlawed by Parliament in 1835. This was known as badger-baiting. A wild badger would be put into an artificial hole and a dog set to try to drag it out and kill it–no easy task.

Probably such sad spectacles happened here on the prairies, too, but not commonly. I have found this story in the Jamestown Weekly Alert in 1889. It seems a lone badger came trundling up Fifth Avenue and was challenged by a bulldog belonging to one Jo Bishop. “The badger,” our reporter notes, “remained cool and collected.”

As the beasts set to, a crowd gathered, generally cheering the badger. Perhaps Mr. Bishop’s bulldog was unpopular around town. Other dogs stood around barking but not engaging.

The only way a dog could kill a badger was to shake it violently enough to break its back. In this case, the dog was unable to dispatch the badger. The badger was somewhat mauled, but the dog was chewed up a bit, too.

So Mr. Bishop’s bulldog and I both have suffered badger-inflicted injuries, but we never had an experience like a fellow named George Courtney had in 1902 near Dodge City, Ford County, Kansas. He was out jackrabbit hunting when he wounded a badger which retreated into its burrow. At which point Mr. Courtney did a foolish thing.

His dog refused to go in the burrow after the badger, so Courtney dug the entrance out a bit and reached in deep. It went six feet down, just broad enough to admit the intruder’s body; he fell in and was stuck, upside-down.

Fearing suffocation, Courtney spent three hours digging himself free with his pocket knife, while his collie dog pulled on his pantlegs, trying to drag him out.

“Mr. Courtney managed to get himself out of the hole,” our reporter says. “He was in a sorry plight. His clothes were torn badly by the dog’s tenacious pulling, he was in a state of perspiration, worn out and dirty, and lost his hat.”

The reporter got tickled with the story and returned to it a week later, elaborating on the role of the dog. “Whether the dog gave him much help physically or not, his constant howling and tugging was sympathetically and morally helpful,” the reporter wrote puckishly.

When Mr. Courtney slumped home, we are told his handy wife “bathed her husband’s sore and lacerated limbs with liniment.”

Which reminds me, it’s about time to ice this blamed knee again, and do a little more cussing.

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