Chapter 35

Ground Hogs

Ground hogs, known further north as wood chucks, referred to sometimes as whistle pigs, are doubtless one of the animals which have benefited most from the trend to clear land for the agricultural era, as opposed to the great forest era which preceded the coming of the European settlers. They are everywhere there is grass, especially tall grass in the meadows. They live in burrows under the ground, the only animal that makes sizable (four inch, some times more) holes in the ground and eats grass. You can tell where they are in a meadow because their urine and feces fertilize the grass and make it darker green in their area.

In the era of horse drawn agriculture they were hated because the horses would sometimes step in the groundhog’s hole and break a leg. The horse then had to be “put out of its misery.” No eating horse meat, either. Just bury it. A great deal of effort was spent in killing groundhogs. Shooting them required time and patience and poison had limited success.

In times when people were poor groundhogs were considered good to eat. Groundhogs live pretty much isolated from other species of animals and members of their own species, eat grass, and so should be relatively clean and free of disease. They get quite fat and hungry, thin people value that. They became quite rare in the Great Depression of the thirties.

When we first came to the Jesse Run farm (1962), there was a lot of ground hog hunting. The animal adopts an erect posture, standing on its hind legs to get its eyes as far as possible above the ground, about a foot. So the target is about 10 inches high and three inches across, almost invisible to the untrained eye, and the animal stands still for a few seconds only. Then it goes into its hole. Special high velocity, flat trajectory, small bore “varmint” rifles with telescopic sites were used. It was excellent rifle training for young men to shoot this small game at 200 to 300 yards.

We had an older fellow by the name of Freeman that came up from Mount Clare who had very serious heart problems. He would start at the bottom of the coal road and walk up a few yards at a time. (He couldn’t do more.) He would take about half a day walking up and back down the hill, but when he came back he would have three or four in each hand, a real load. The George and James Ables family, who at the time worked for John Kolb in the dairy near the mouth of Jesse Run, cold packed them in glass jars for winter fare.

One of the stories they tell about Aunt Antha, who was my Grandfather Bond’s sister, is that she made a great show of not liking groundhog. One day, when visiting, someone told her they were having rabbit for a joke, and she remarked about how good it was. When they told her that it was really groundhog, she almost threw up.

In this decade we are too well fed to eat them, and most young men don’t care enough about marksmanship to hunt them, so they multiply in peace and aren’t too much of a hazard, except on steep hillsides where they might turn a tractor over, if the operator is not careful. They are hard on the field drains that are so important in our valley meadows, though.

Aside Both sides of my family were church people, Seventh Day Baptists. The temperance movement came to the United States from England about 1840, and spread rapidly through protestant churches. We didn’t consume alcohol, frowned on smoking, and of course left each other’s wives and husbands alone. The other prohibitions of Christianity, murder, theft, and so on, were beyond consideration, and didn’t even have to be preached against. Well, if you don’t drink, don’t smoke and don’t chase the opposite sex about the only indulgence is left is eating.

Gluttony was one of the traditional sins, but among hard-working farm people it took a lot food to provide the energy needs of both men and women. I have been told the beautiful young woman of the 1890’s was referred to as “pleasingly plump,” and pictures of beauties from the time reflect that ideal. Pictures of my more distant ancestors show most were very thin.(My mother and both grandmothers fit the “pleasingly plump” description in their youth, and more so in their later years.) Before the 1960’s my ancestors were quite devoid of low cost luxuries and lived in sparsely populated areas with bad roads. The thing they had in abundance was food they raised themselves. So the feast was the natural way to celebrate.

The Sabbath dinner, holidays, birthdays (when observed) were the form of celebration. Such work as feeding the animals could not be omitted, but work slowed to its least on such days. Along with food, enjoying the family with visits and conversation characterized these days. A vacation was a visit the family in some distant location. We went to Northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York where my maternal grandmother’s family lived with some regularity. Study of family history suggests this family visit tradition goes back to colonial days, and likely far beyond, in England .

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at