In 1918, the US Declared War. On Squirrels.

The BEST Squirrel is the Dead Squirrel — 1918 propaganda points.

War just doesn’t get any more unconventional than this. This bizarre and one-sided battle has just been profiled at some length in Pajamas Media. It did tie in to the WWI war effort, by arguing that the bushy-tailed rats devastated farm production and threatened the economy and war effort. The attack on several species of California ground squirrels, in what was then a predominantly rural, agrarian state in a similarly rural, agrarian country, produced its own propaganda:

Here’s a taste of the article.

For practical application, a poison barley recipe was included.

“Kill the Squirrel” cartoons, essentially propaganda, were also created depicting squirrels as German soldiers wearing spiked helmets and iron crosses. The father squirrel wore a upturned mustache, much like Kaiser Wilhelm’s. The Four-Minute-Men, volunteers who delivered four-minute speeches to garner support for the war efforts, had talking points designed to convince ranchers and farmers to kill the “little ally of Kaiser.” They included:

  • The BEST squirrel is the dead squirrel.
  • The Hotel California board bill for ground squirrels in 1917 […] was $30,000,000—yet unpaid.
  • The squirrel does not recognize daylight saving. He uses it all.
  • He preys on our crops in countless hordes. He fills the ranks of the killed in true military fashion.
  • Why hesitate? We can get ‘em. How? Poison ‘em, gas ‘em, drown em’, shoot ‘em, trap ‘em, submarine ‘em.
  • Are you not willing then to give your whole-hearted support to this state-wide movement to KILL THE SQUIRREL?

By the end of Squirrel Week, children had handed in over 104,509 tails, marking the effort as a huge success.

You Californians probably didn’t know this about your squirrel-cidal ancestors. A propaganda flyer also  instructed readers on squirrel characteristics and behavior, and advised them to stop killing natural squirrel predators, such as snakes and raptors, in order to enlist Nature’s red fang and claw in the Squirrelcaust.

We do recommend you Read The Whole Thing™. The propaganda is reminiscent of some of the mobilizations or campaigns of totalitarian nations, such as Nazi Germany or Red China.

12 thoughts on “In 1918, the US Declared War. On Squirrels.

  1. S

    Astonishing similarity with the War on Emus betwixt world wars in West Aus. They hunted the feathery buggers with Lewis guns, and by all honest appraisal, lost. That is, the emus are still there, and those that opposed them are long since dead and nigh forgotten. The Cal-squirrels also won, yes? Lesson learned: sometimes mere survival is victory, when your opponent has chosen the wrong path. Don’t hinder him on his path to destruction.

  2. Boat Guy

    Boy howdy did the squirrels win in California; they’ve taken over the governors mansion and the Assembly.

    1. 6pounder

      Hahaha! That’s funny right there! Boat guy, I think you are confusing squirrels with rats! Disease carrying rats.

  3. Hillbilly

    I spent a lot of time hunting them as a kid. My dad had an old Springfield 22 bolt action and my mom had an old Sears and Roebuck branded single shot. One of those and a box or 2 of shells made for a good day of running around the countryside terrorizing the squirrel and jackrabbit population.

  4. Videodrone

    I grew up NorCal on a ranch with almost a mile of dirt road to the bus stop, I used to keep myself in .22 by popping off the odd ground squirrel on the way to-from the bus stop

    and when there was a small bore range under the stage, just to just take the rifle on the school bus on those days

  5. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    I’ve personally killed thousands upon thousands of Belding Ground Squirrels in Nevada. Thousands. Sometimes hundreds in half a day. We didn’t have any bounty on squirrels in Nevada – only on pocket gophers. Gophers were $0.50/tail, and we (my wife and I) personally cleaned out the bounty fund for our county when we brought in over 7,000 tails in a two-month period.

    But squirrels were, in many ways, worse than gophers. Squirrels would push up large gravel to the surface, mound it up, which when hit by a rotary hay cutter would launch stones the size of a quarter to a child’s fist out from under the rotary mower/conditioner at sub-sonic but lethal velocities. This gets expensive in damage to equipment.

    I started by shooting them with a .22. This is a pleasant waste of time, IMO. You’ll never put a dent in their populations, you’ll just move the survivors up the food chain. They’d crawl back down their holes, dragging six feet of guts behind them, never to re-appear. They’re cannibalistic, BTW.

    Then the .17HMR came out – and now I went from about a 50% hit rate and most of the squirrels running down their holes while mortally wounded, to 95% hit rates, and squirrels were DRT. The .17HMR with the 17gr V-Max pill makes squirrels literally come apart. The bullet doesn’t over-penetrate, it blows up in the first 1.5″ of penetration on a squirrel. The .17HMR is amazingly well suited for the job.

    Still, tho, I could burn up a barrel on a .17HMR rifle and not really make a dent – it was a more productive waste of time, but still a waste of time.

    The only way to really knock them back was poison. Strych is now so tightly controlled that even for people who held a restricted-use pesticide license (and I did in Nevada), it was futile to use strych any more for squirrels. Strych is still used for pocket gophers, but you need to use a gopher getter (tunnel builder) to apply it completely underground.

    Enter zinc phosphide and aluminum phosphide. Zinc phosphide would be put on groated oat bait, which would be left in bait traps along fencelines, and aluminum phosphide tablets would just be tossed down their holes, and some water squirted in on the tablets, then the hole closed off. The mode of action is the production of phosgene gas – deadly as hell, but now there was no secondary kill, as there is with strych.

    Now I could really clear out a 40 acre chunk of ground in day.

  6. TRX

    A few months ago there were several holes in my roof, where squirrels had dug through the shingles and decking right into the attic. It cost me a chunk to get the roof repaired, and then a few weeks later they did it again, and I had to call the roofers back. They also got my workshop that time, for extra expense.

    I’ve put out four traps and poison bait. Now there are blue tarps covering holes in several neighbors’ roofs.

    Meanwhile, the city Animal Control department says they couldn’t possibly do anything for at least three months. Yay for taxes…

    Squirrels are diggers, and every now and then they’ll go after roofs, it seems. Sort of like those Australian parrots that would attack sheep.

    Vile little tree rats. It’s war, now…

    1. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

      Try putting moth balls up in those attic spaces. Squirrels hate the odor of moth balls.

  7. Kirk

    What is interesting about this is the sheer propaganda we’ve got going on here…

    Quite akin to Mao’s little campaign against the “Four Pests”, isn’t it? And, when considered against the background of what Wilson was doing, in terms of demonizing the “Hun” and with his secret police, the whole thing just doesn’t look quite so amusing, does it?

    The WWI era under Wilson is a scary testament to just how easy it is to “do these things”, and the success he had with getting away with it is frightening–I grew up on stories about what kind of thing they got up to, from my maternal grandmother and her peers. Would you believe an American organization going around and confiscating food from citizens, under the pretext of going after “hoarders”, taking the confiscated foodstuffs (mainly sugar and the preserved jams and jellies made with it) down to the local Democratic Party headquarters for it to be handed out to those who were clients of the party? And, oddly, the raids only ever seemed to happen to Republicans…

    Wilson’s legacy is one the Democrats don’t want to talk about, and for good reason. That period is probably the closest we’ve ever come to a totalitarian police state in this country, and nobody remembers a damn thing about it. Just like with FDR confiscating all the privately-owned gold bullion… Nobody remembers, everybody has forgotten, and the next time one of these jackasses gets up to this same kind of thing, it’s gonna be “Unprecedented…”.

    Strange, too, how these things only seem to happen under Democrat administrations, too, innit?

  8. Billybob

    Seems like I’m commenting a lot lately.
    During my stay in the east county of southern Ca. I battled those da€¢£°^π√׶ ground squirrels constantly.
    Kill 5 a day and 10 more would arrive by morning. They could strip an almond or macadami tree in 2 days. They will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first.
    Thank gawd I’m back where they live in trees.

  9. james n

    Got bit by a squirrel a couple of months ago in work. Little guy ran straight past me and ensconced himself in a side room. It was not easy getting him out. He chomped my hand while trying to extract him from a cupboard he really didn’t want to leave. Boy their teeth are sharp. I was wearing gloves and he bit through em like nothing. It reminded me of a scalpel cut, you don’t really feel anything until the blood starts dripping on the floor. Worst part was the hospital a&e who found the whole thing hilarious ( I had to get a tetanus shot) and the several doctors who popped in to see ” the guy who got bit by the squirrel “. Not a common occurrence in Belfast.

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